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50 Years Of Music

The 50s

1954:    Elvis Presley records 'That's All Right Mama' at Sun Studios, Memphis Rock'n'roll's big bang. A 19-year-old truck driver fulfils producer Sam Phillips's dream of finding 'a white guy who sings like a negro'.

1955:   Chuck Berry's 'Maybellene' is released 'Maybellene' was Berry's first paean to cars and girls, two of the constants of American rock'n'roll. His guitar and songwriting style permeated the music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen.

1958:   Elvis joins the army When he was drafted at 23, Elvis's blatant sexual energy was still the cause of mass moral pandemonium. However, when he emerged from the army two years later, he sounded old-fashioned.

The 60s

1960:     Inflated tearjerker 'It's Now or Never' was the moment the first rock rebel turned MOR entertainer. 

1961:     The miracles' 'Shop Around' is released The first hit bearing the Tamla Motown imprint. The pop-soul label owned by Berry Gordy and operating from downtown Detroit produced more than 100 singles by the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and the Temptations. Dubbed the Hit Factory, it defined the pop decade more than any other label.

1962:     Phil Spector invents the Wall of Sound. Spector was the first producer as creative artist - and tyrant - treating his vocal groups as just another component in the production process. On multilayered 'Wall of Sound' songs such as the Crystals' 'He's a Rebel' and the Ronettes' 'Be My Baby', he was the first person to make pop sound epic. James Brown: "Live at the Apollo." The first million-selling R&B album, and a dynamic snapshot of the greatest soul act ever to tread the boards. Brown's influence on modern music is immeasurable, beginning with his impact on Sixties Mod groups and continuing apace with his presence in contemporary urban music.

1964:    The Beatles take America Already the most popular pop group in Europe, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan's television show in early 1964. The following month, 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' shot to the top of the US charts, swiftly followed by their four previous singles. In March 1964, they occupied the top five chart positions in America. Beatlemania was born. 

1965:    Bob Dylan releases 'Like a Rolling Stone.' As momentous in its way as Presley's first single, Dylan's great stream-of-consciousness song clocked in at six minutes and singlehandedly ended the era of the formulaic sub-three-minute pop single. Dense, elliptical and caustic, it marked the high point of Dylan's most intensely creative period - January 1965 to July 1966. The birth of the modern rock song as we know it. July 1965 Dylan plays the Newport Folk Festival.1965 The Who: 'My Generation' The Who were the most aggressive - and the artiest - British pop group of the mid-Sixties. Pete Townshend dressed in Union Jack suits, smashed his guitar and wrote songs that perfectly caught the rising tide of teen frustration. The stuttered teen snarl of 'My Generation' remains one of the key moments in British pop, and the most potent evocation of Mod elitism and amphetamine-fuelled aggression ever committed to vinyl. 1965 The Rolling Stones' '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' is released. Keith Richards creates the most famous riff in rock and a still youthful Jagger sounds suddenly bored and petulant. The moment the group transcended their American influences and broke America. In retrospect, an omen of all the indulgence and dissolution that was to come.

1966:    The Beatles record 'Tomorrow Never Knows' Forget the inflated period piece that is Sgt. Pepper's - this was the moment when the Beatles went psychedelic. It still sounds startling in its sonic invention. 1966 Brian Wilson makes Pet Sounds While the rest of the Beach Boys toured their greatest hits, Brian Wilson stayed at home in his studio and created pop's enduring masterpiece - and his swansong. Sad songs tied to the most intricate arrangements, it baffled the rest of the band though their vocal harmonising has never sounded so sublime. It was followed by 'Good Vibrations' which still sounds as close to perfection as a pop single has ever come.

1967:    The Velvet Underground and Nico LP is released Recorded in new York in 1966 but released the following year, the Velvet Underground's debut album was the antithesis of the LSD-fuelled optimism that characterised West Coast rock. Musically, it merged avant-garde experimentalism with pummelling, repetitive rock. Produced by Andy Warhol and wrapped in his now famous banana sleeve, the album was reviled on initial release, but is now regarded by many as the most influential rock record ever made.

1969:    Jimi Hendrix Plays 'The Star Spangled Banner' at the Woodstock Festival. Woodstock, which attracted half-a-million rock fans, was the most dramatic mass flowering of the hippy ideal and, as with all defining moments, the beginning of the end of that same ideal. Hendrix's startling assault on the American national anthem was interpreted at the time as a political statement against the Vietnam war but in retrospect can be read as a swan song for the era of peace and love, and for Hendrix himself. He died in his sleep the following year. 1969 The Rolling Stones play Altamont. It seems somehow fitting that the Rolling Stones, by then the self-styled Satanic Majesties of rock indulgence and excess, should hold the wake for the death of the Sixties. Altamont was the antithesis of Woodstock, culminating with the murder of Meredith Hunter, a young black man who was bludgeoned to death by members of the Californian Hell's Angels who had been hired to provide security. The end of the hippy era. 1969 The Stooges' first album is released The greatest and most influential garage band ever, Detroit's the Stooges made stripped-down, dumb and dirty rock'n'roll like no one else. Fronted by Iggy Pop, the most outrageously self-destructive showman rock has yet thrown up, their debut album, though dismissed in its day, remains the template for punk rock in all its manifestations, from the Sex Pistols to the White Stripes.

The 70s

1970:    Black Sabbath releases their first album. Though rock critics pinpoint the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' from 1964 as the first proto-heavy metal single, this is the moment the form was defined in all its loud, pounding glory. Four hairy lads from Brum sing improbable songs about death and the apocalypse over mind-numbingly repetitive riffs. A genre is born.

1971:    Marvin Gaye: What's Going On? One of the few instances of an artist having total creative control and producing a masterpiece. Dismissed by Berry Gordy, Gaye's boss at Motown, as commercial suicide, the first soul concept album tackled Vietnam, racism and inner-city strife. A huge hit, it paved the way for the radical Seventies soul of Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. 1971 King Tubby and Lee Perry create the template for modern dance music. Osbourne Ruddock, aka King Tubby, was an engineer who experimented with echo and tape delay as far back as the mid-Sixties when he ran one of Jamaica's many mobile sound systems. His innovation was to strip a song down just to the bass pulse, then fade the vocals and instrumentation in and out at will, leaving space for the toasters - or DJs - to extemporise over the top. Dub was born and found its most innovative producer in Lee Perry, who is as influential in his way as Brian Wilson or Phil Spector. Modern dance music as we know it begins here.

1972:    David Bowie creates Ziggy Stardust. The first of Bowie's many exotic personae, and the moment that launched glam rock. Perhaps the most influential album of the decade.

1973:    Gram Parsons dies at the Joshua Tree Inn. It is debatable whether Parsons invented country rock, but he remains its most visionary exponent. Only 26 when he died from a heroin overdose, he left his stamp on three classic albums: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969), and Grievous Angel (1973). Thirty years on, he remains the defining presence in America's thriving alternative country scene.

1974:    Kraftwerk release 'Autobahn.' Kraftwerk signalled the coming of the machine age, creating sleek computerised pop in their state-of-the-art Düsseldorf studio. This 22-minute opus to the monotony of the German motorway system reached the US and British charts in an edited version, and subsequently became a huge influence on hip hop, house and techno.

1975:    Bob Marley & the Wailers: 'No Woman, No Cry' released Bob Marley & the Wailers' first hit single, and the beginning of Marley's reign as an international reggae star. As important a catalyst as Dylan or Lennon, he remains the only reggae artist to achieve iconic status. His death in 1981 robbed the music of its one and only global icon. 1975 Patti Smith: Horses Bearing one of rock's most iconic images - Robert Mapplethorpe's stark portrait of Smith in an oversized white shirt - 'Horses' merged mysticism, beat poetry and proto-punk rock, transcending the sum of its influences by sheer force of will. It remains remarkable in its lyrical ambition and raw musical simplicity, and signals the coming punk era even as it harks back to the Romantics. One of rock's great leaps of faith.

1977:    Saturday Night Fever goes on general release. Travolta and the Bee Gees bring disco overground. The film, though corny in its evocation of New York's downtown disco scene, propelled a struggling actor and an unhip vocal group into the forefront of a global dance phenomenon. The biggest-selling soundtrack ever. 1977 'God Save the Queen' goes to 'Number One' The last and greatest outbreak of pop-based moral pandemonium, and punk's crowning glory. Released at the height of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations, the Sex Pistols' single was deemed so unspeakable that workers in a record plant refused to press it and official chart compilers refused to acknowledge its chart-topping position. It sounds gloriously irreverent now-- back then it was nothing short of incendiary.

1978:     Brian Eno releases "Ambient 1: Music for Airports." The moment when texture rather than song becomes an essential element in modern pop. Music for Airports is Eno's first experiment with the notion of ambience - modern mood music. His influence, like the music he produced, was slow and pervasive, but is detectable in everyone from U2 to Massive Attack.

The 80s

1980:    The murder of John Lennon. Mark Chapman's shooting of John Lennon on the doorstep of the star's New York home shocked the world. That Chapman was a fan, and someone who craved celebrity himself, only added to the chilling unreality of the moment. 'The world is not like the Sixties,' Lennon said in the last interview before his death. 'The world has changed.' The first, and most chilling, manifestation of the dark side of our obsession with celebrity.

1981:    'Ghost Town' goes to Number One The Specials were the last and greatest flowering of the socially conscious pop that emerged in Britain in the immediate wake of punk. They invented the short-lived but vibrant Two Tone movement, whose merging of reggae rhythms and punk lyricism reflected the multiculturalism of urban Britain. 'Ghost Town' was a lament for their beleaguered home town, Coventry, an anti-Thatcherist song that topped the pop charts at the very moment the country was torn by inner-city riots. Pop as on-the-spot reportage. 1981 Grandmaster Flash's 'Adventures on the Wheels of Steel' is released Rap's first landmark single, and the first record to use samples. Snippets of songs by Queen, Blondie and Chic were collaged into one long seamless groove by DJ Flash. 'The Message', released the following year, was a chart hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and broke new ground by replacing the usual lyrical boasting with trenchant social commentary. 1981 The launch of MTV The pivotal moment when the pop video became as important as the pop single. The first television channel devoted totally to music, MTV has grown into a global brand as all-pervasive as Coca-Cola or Nike, colonising and dulling the collective pop consciousness with the tyranny of the rotation play.

1982:     Michael Jackson: Thriller released The biggest-selling pop record of all time, Thriller made Michael Jackson a global icon. Then only 25, he had made his debut at the age of four and had his first hit at 12 sharing the charts with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, and was already the subject of much media speculation concerning his eternal childhood. In the light of all that has happened since, it is worth remembering that he was once a pop genius.

1983:    The Smiths: 'This Charming Man' Their second single and first hit, 'This Charming Man' had a signature sound that would establish the Smiths as the most important British group of the Eighties. Johnny Marr's chiming guitar and Morrissey's odd, genderless lyrics combined to give a new spin to what was essentially a classic rock sound. Quintessentially English, they singlehandedly reclaimed guitar pop in a decade when it had almost been consigned to the dustbin of history. 1983 New Order: 'Blue Monday' A pivotal moment in British pop, and the bestselling British 12-inch single ever. New Order were the first indie band to absorb the technical innovations of American dance music. 'Blue Monday' merged their trademark detached vocals with a futuristic, computer-driven beat that harked back to disco, and had a huge influence on the sample-driven hip hop and house music that would emerge from New York, Chicago and Detroit later in the decade.

1984:    Ronald Reagan co-opts Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA.' Generally regarded as the world's greatest living rock'n'roll star, Springsteen's most successful song was also his most bombastic. The lyrics are about a Vietnam veteran on the poverty line, but it was the rousing, anthemic chorus that attracted Ronald Reagan, who used it during his 1984 re-election campaign. Springsteen was appalled.

1985:    Madonnna's 'Material Girl' is released. The single that propelled Madonna beyond the mainstream and made her the most successful pop brand of modern times. Tied to a video in which she mimicked Monroe, it was the first and most audacious of her various self-inventions, a song that caught the consumerist thrust of the Eighties, even as it supposedly parodied the same. 1985 Live Aid A great moment for charity, a dreadful moment for pop. Two all-star concerts organised by Saint Bob Geldof and beamed live into millions of homes worldwide, the event raised 50 million for charity. One of the greatest philanthropic events of all time, but the moment when pop became enshrined as pure showbiz entertainment.

1987:    Prince's 'Sign 'O' the Times.' Prince was the most prodigiously gifted singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist to emerge in the Eighties. Momentarily ditching the thrust of his earlier music, he created the most perfect merging of dancefloor funk and social commentary since the heyday of politically conscious Seventies soul.

1988:    Madchester and the second summer of love The moment that dance culture moved from the clubs of Chicago and Detroit into the heart of British pop culture and the beginning of the era of the superstar DJ. Clubs such as London's Shoom and Manchester's Hacienda became the new temples of ecstasy-fuelled hedonism, and by the summer illegal raves were attracting druggy revellers in their thousands. Manchester became the centre of post-rave British pop, producing the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, two of the most crucial bands to emerge from the post-acid house scene. 1988 NWA: 'F**k tha Police' The birth of gangsta rap. A record so extreme it was banned by radio and MTV and brought the record company, Ruthless, a warning from the FBI. It kickstarted the career of Dr. Dre, the most successful rap producer ever, and made Los Angeles rather than New York the centre of hip hop. The machismo and nihilism that fed this record reached an apogee of sorts with the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.

The 90s

1992:    Nirvana: 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' The single that catapulted Nirvana into the mainstream. A heady mix of metal and punk, with a structural dynamic that alternated Cobain's whisper with his guttural scream, it said all there was to say about America's lost 'Generation X', defining a strain of  angst that continues to echo through white American rock music.

1995:    Blur vs. Oasis Britpop's big stand-off. Orchestrated by their respective record labels - and hyped by the pop and mainstream media - Blur and Oasis went head to head, releasing singles on the same day. Neither were any good, but Blur's 'Country House' was spectacularly bad. It went straight in at Number One. A couple of years later, when Oasis had eclipsed Blur as the biggest band in Britain, Noel Gallagher would be summoned to a New Labour victory party in Downing Street. The beginning of the end of Britpop and the hype that was Cool Britannia. May 1995: The Spice Girls meet Simon Fuller. The Spice Girls were the most unlikely teen-pop phenomenon of the Nineties, not least because they were the first all-girl band in an era dominated by manufactured boy bands. They fused pop, rap and a strident, if inconsistent, 'girl power' message, and their meteoric rise was overseen by Simon Fuller, perhaps the most influential player in modern British pop. In retrospect, their first single, 'Wannabe', was a harbinger of all that followed, from Posh to Pop Idol .

The 00s

2000:    The birth of Napster. A word that still strikes fear into the heart of music business fat cats. Launched by 19-year-old Shawn Fanning from his uncle's garage, Napster was the download service that provided free music to an estimated 100 million users in 2000. Now legal, downloading marks the end of traditional music formats as we know them.

2001:    George Bush declares Eminem 'The biggest threat to American youth since Polio.' At the height of his notoriety Eminem, who had singlehandedly made rap a medium for the kind of  whining usually expressed by pampered guys with guitars, received the kind of endorsement even the biggest promo budget could not buy. Two years later, a poll of American parents found that 53 per cent agreed that 'America's youth find more truth in Eminem than George Bush'. 

2003:    Beyonce and the triumpth of R&B. For the first time since the dawn of rock'n'roll 50 years ago, none of the artists in the official Billboard American Top 10 were white. The ascendancy of rap and contemporary R&B as the music of choice for young Americans, black and white, was total and irrefutable (most notably Alicia Keyes, 50 Cent and OutKast). If the music has a figurehead, it is Beyoncé Knowles, the only woman in that Top 10 and currently the biggest pop star of the new century.

2004:    Rap music continues its metoric rise in popularity, yet has shed almost all of its initial inner-city consciousness. Bling-Bling becomes king as the South overtakes the genre, thanks to the "Crunk" phenomenon called Lil' John and the East Side Boys.

2005:   We shall see....

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