There's just no way that music is as good as it used to be, and that's a universal feeling, whether you're harkening back to the Big Band Era, doo-wop, the British Invasion, Motown, heavy metal, disco, hair bands, new jack swing or grunge. Chris Rock says that a guy's favorite music will always be that which was popular when he first experienced carnal pleasures, but I think it's more than that. Music is an integral part of the time that helped shape each and every one of us, the soundtrack that was playing when we began discovering who we were and what we wanted to be. I wanted to be Sly Stone until I learned that he had ingested half the cocaine in South America.
Having said all that, I started to fear for this current crop of young people. I read an article in USA Today that detailed the biggest CDs of this century so far. It caused a shudder.
Now, we all know that the music industry is in big trouble, and most of us, deep down, can't help but think to ourselves, "It's about damn time." The excesses, price gouging, shoddy packaging, crappy products and utter disdain for the consumer by the industry are legendary. What we're seeing now, thanks to the double whammy of illegal file sharing and crappy products, is a free fall. The record store is a thing of the past; the grotesquely huge music conglomerates are plodding along, about to keel over; and the definition of a megahit has been downgraded from 10 million in sales to the new mark of 6 million.
Since 2000 (although the decade officially began in 2001), there are only 15 CDs that have sold at least 6 million copies each, and only three that have reached the 10 million plateau (this according to Billboard). By comparison, the 1990s saw at least 18 CDs hit the 10 million mark in sales.
The biggest-selling CD of the 2000s is *N Sync's No Strings Attached. Also in the now-exclusive 6 million club for the 2000s are CDs by Evanescence, Nickelback, Creed and (gulp) Limp Bizkit. How are young people going to explain that to their kids?
I decided to go back and check on other decades and found that album sales and an enduring legacy don't always intersect. Billboard first began publishing a list of the top-selling albums of the year back in 1956, which is right around the start of the rock 'n' roll era. The biggest album that year? Harry Belafonte's Calypso. I wonder if he got a cut of all the bongo sales that thing helped generate.
During the next nine years, with Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and then The Four Seasons, The Beatles and the Stones cranking out huge-selling hit singles ... the album charts were dominated by movie, television and Broadway soundtracks. From 1957 to 1965, the top sellers, per year, were My Fair Lady (twice), Music From Peter Gunn, The Sound of Music, Camelot, West Side Story (twice), Hello, Dolly and Mary Poppins.
The soundtrack stranglehold was finally broken in 1966 by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights. That album would have sold millions even if there hadn't been any vinyl inside the jacket. Millions of baby boomer boys probably considered it the greatest album cover ever.
It wasn't until 1967 that a modern pop act broke through on the list. Was it The Beatles, the Yardbirds, Bob Dylan or the Stones? No, it was More of the Monkees.
In 1969, when we had Woodstock, Abbey Road by the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin, the top-selling album was In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. Can anybody tell me any other song on that album without Googling it?
Two more soundtracks topped the charts in the 1970s--Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971 and Saturday Night Fever in 1978. I was just wondering: Have we gotten past the "disco sucks" knee-jerk reaction? Can we now accept "Stayin' Alive" as one of the greatest pop tunes of all time? Let the healing begin.
The '80s started off with The Wall by Pink Floyd, but it was followed by Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon in 1981 and Asia by Asia in 1982. What the hell is Asia? Did I sleep through that year?
Michael Jackson's Thriller topped the charts in 1983 and 1984, followed by Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA and then Whitney Houston's eponymous debut album.
The '80s closed with George Michael's Faith (which was a great album) and Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel, which featured the killer single "My Prerogative."
The '90s were a mishmash, with everything from Mariah Carey to Garth Brooks, Hootie and the Blowfish to Janet Jackson. The one weird one that jumped out was 1994's The Sign by Ace of Base. Never would have guessed that one.
So it doesn't really matter. People buy what they buy. The biggest-selling album in U.S. history? The Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, and that doesn't even have "Hotel California" on it. And last year's biggest seller? The soundtrack from High School Musical. I'll accept any explanation you might have.