Music is… A higher revelation than all Wisdom and Philosophy —Ludwig von Beethoven
A question I’ve often pondered is whether a single rock band could define a decade or era they came from. It’s no question that music is powerful. Lyrics from a song or a few cords being played on an instrument can invoke a broad range of emotions or trigger fond memories.
The modern era of Rock Music began in the 1950s. Many of the artists of that era came up through gospel choirs to gain fame in an evolving music industry. Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis are perfect examples of this. They both signed with Sun Records and went on future to stardom.
In the 1960s, however, the cultural phenomenon known as the “British Invasion” ushered in a new breed of bands, such as the Beatles, Kinks and the Animals. Their brand of music sparked the rise of the counter culture movement and forever changed the trajectory of rock and roll.
The ensuing decades 70s, 80s, and 90s would bring major changes to pop music too. The 70s brought folk singers like Patti Smith and Bob Dylan into the public consciousness, while the 80s catapulted “glam rockers” or “hair bands” like Poison and Mötley Crüe to the top of the charts. Then the 90s changed it all when the limelight gave way to alternative rock groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.
But how can a single band or artist be chosen as one that defined a decade?
That’s a question I’ve often asked friends, coworkers and classmates. I typically phrased it by asking, “which rock bands best define a decade they’re from?”
I’ve always posed the question with few simple rules:
- Modern rock music is defined as being from 1950s to the end of the 90s
- Bands from the early 2000s are exempt from the discussion, too new to determine
- Artist(s) must still be alive, except for the 1950s.
- A 20 year separation from a group’s or individual’s breakout album or hit
- Artist(s) must be able to sellout stadiums (no Vegas or fair circuit performers)
- Reunion tours don’t count
With those five basic rules, I went about trying to answer my own question; knowing full well that certain groups and individuals would unfairly be left out.
After much thought and consideration, I’ve reached a conclusion on which artists best define the decade they’re from:
- Johnny Cash
- Rolling Stones
- Bruce Springsteen
- Bon Jovi
- Red Hot Chili Peppers
I chose Johnny Cash for the 1950s because of his crossover appeal with fans of folk, rock and country music. Cash stayed relevant long after many of his contemporaries’ died or their star power began to fade. His success outlasted all of his Sun Records alumni, including Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The 1960s pick was an extremely easy choice. Although the Beatles may have kicked off the “British Invasion,” they eventually disbanded and moved on to other projects. However the Rolling Stones took up the mantle, they have never officially broke up and they have never looked back. The Rolling Stones are referred to as “the greatest rock and roll band of all time.” It’s a well deserved moniker for the septuagenarian rockers that burst onto the scene more than 50 years ago.
My pick for the 1970s was a little tougher to make. It came down to Aerosmith and my eventual pick. Springsteen won out because he aligned more closely with the hit folk singers/songwriters of the 70s; where Aerosmith had success, then broke up, and eventually regrouped to achieve even greater success in the 80s and 90s.
Picking Jon Bon Jovi was a no-brainer. Anyone listing to Bon Jovi in the 80s couldn’t have imagined that of all the “hair bands” of the time; he’d be the one still rockin’ strong in the late 2000s. His continued success is the biggest surprise of the “glam bands.”
Finally, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even though they’ve formed long before the 1990s, they achieved megastar status during the rise of the grunge craze. Unlike Nirvana and other 90s bands that popularized alternative music, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ appeal hasn’t diminish. Suicides, overdoses or creative differences have not derailed the band’s success or stopped them from playing their fiery brand of alternative rock well into the 21 century.
Of course there is room for disagreement. My picks are simply a suggestion. If you have a list of your own, please comment. I look forward to hearing people’s opinion.