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Millennials still recognise songs from music’s 1960s-90s golden age, study finds (thejournal.ie)
61 points by laurex 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

My gen Z's listen to the most eclectic things you can imagine. My 14yo loves Michael Jackson.

The musical "generation gap" was a strange 20th century artifact brought on by the fact that the only music you could access freely was what was brought to the store in your neighborhood on a truck (or the ads that played on the radio to sell said music).

Modern day listeners can just type a name and follow a rabbit hole as deep as the history of recorded music. If you're just a kid exploring, you experience Lady Gaga and Duran Duran on equal footing and click both into you favorites with equal effort.

Its a golden age.

Absolutely. Especially when it comes to Baroque/Classical music on Youtube. I've spent many an evening just firing up a 50 minute symphony and enjoying a night with a free classical performance! Beat that!

My girlfriend is a classical musician and it blew my mind how she only listened to music on YouTube. Nowadays I try to listen to classical music on YouTube to see the sheet music scroll by :)

My 16yo daughter loves Steely Dan, ELO, They Might Be Giants and Jack Stauber. It's pretty fun watching her get into various genres and artists.

To be fair, who couldn’t love ELO?

I just happened to read Downbeat (December issue?) where one of their top 5 albums of the year was Steve Tibbetts' Life Of.

I'll wager most people have never heard of him.

There was a jazz/fusion/younameit FM station in Mountain View in the early 80s called KPEN. They got copies of Tibbetts' first two albums (eponymous, and "Yr") directly from him and gave them some airplay. I was hooked, told some friends, and I put together a group buy of his first two albums' self-pressings. So I have autographed self-pressings of his first two albums... with his own original cover art... from 1980!

For those who want to check out his early stuff, check out the song "Sure" on his first album, and the song "Three Primates" on Yr.

KPEN's license frequency, 97.7FM, is now KFOG's South Bay broadcast frequency. KPEN's studio was in the long-defunct Old Mill shopping center, later the big HP development on Central Expressway.

I am always confused about who qualifies as a millennial? Does a 14 or 16 yo today qualify as a millennial?

Is it 18-35 year olds? Is the people who grew up around the millennium? That group must be ageing by now. Then why millennials’ habits matter so much?

my 17-year-old tried to turn me on to Herb Alpert yesterday. I think it's quite wonderful, though I dunno if I'm gonna keep coming back to that particular artist.

Fun Fact: there was no Tijuana Brass. He initially used overdubs of his own horn, then later used top session musicians from the broad assortment most commonly known as the Wrecking Crew.

Start from the beginning, with "The Lonely Bull".

Alpert also gave The Carpenters their first record deal.

They were never called the wrecking crew, that was a retelkig of histroy from one session artist with that as his side band. Look up Carol Kaye for the real story.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindy_effect as explained by Taleb

"If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not "aging" like persons, but "aging" in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of some robustness. The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!"

Exactly. The songs we remember from a long time ago are the absolute best of the best because anything that wasn't absolutely outstanding has been forgotten where as current_year top 100 has a lot of stuff that is ok and only made it there because of its newness.

It just means they’re memorable — being the “best” is more questionable — a lot of good things never see high popularity outside of niche groups, and might be remembered in that niche but forgotten by the public at large; a lot of bad things are remembered, sometimes because they were bad, sometimes because they coincided with other events.

But in general, time is a pretty good filter for quality (you’ll miss some good stuff, but if you only look at the culturally remembered stuff, you’ve still probably got a lifetime of good media)

The other reason is that music has actually, fundamentally changed in so many ways - there are actually fewer hits for people to remember.

So many reasons. Pre 2000, music was tightly controlled, the bar was quite high, and though there was still crap, there was good stuff, and it was backed hard by the industry. Everyone knew what the 'top 10' was at the time and everyone was on the same page.

Now with so much diversity, it's hard for something to really break through.

There are countless other reasons as well we could go into, but we truly live in a different kind of era.

What actually survived the 90s and what was actually considered hits in the 90s are actually really different. The Billboard #1 song in 1992 Boyz 2 Men - End of the Road which is less culturally relevant today than "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (which came in at 32)

Take a look at Billboards Top 100 for the 80s and 90s and see how much you recognize. The bar wasn't very high at all.

And Smells Like Teen Spirit is a lot less relevant today than it was even 10 years ago while lots of bands from the 70s and 80s seem to have an increasing relevance (c.f. people in this thread talking about kids listening to Steely Dan and Duran Duran).

It's been years since I've heard anyone listen to or talk about Nirvana, Pearl Jam...

Boys 2 Men were a very talented acapela group and 'End of the Road' might very well be recognized today.

There's a few other things to this. One is that the music that's still recognized today is the best music of the era, but recent songs are merely average. Some amount of music knowledge is handed down from parents, so while the article calls it the "golden era" of music, it could just be that millennials picked leaned whatever their parents listened to. I have a feeling that interest tails off over time, and the Lindy effect just extends the tail of song recognition. How many classical composers can you name? And they span how many centuries?

The irony is that Lindy's itself dosen't follow Lindy's Law (am aware that the actual effect is about comedians bookings).

HN title:

> Millennials recognise songs from music's 1960s-90s more than new songs

Actual article title:

> Millennials' still recognise songs from music's 1960s-90s golden age, study finds

Actual article content:

> By contrast, their recognition of musical hits from 2000 to 2015, while higher overall than the previous era, diminishes rapidly over time.

Hmm, that sounds more reasonable.

> [recognition of recent hits] is higher overall than the previous era

> considerable correlation between the likelihood of recognizing a given song and its corresponding play count on Spotify

All of the Spotify top 100 are from 2011 or later, except for one from 1975.[1] Readers would be better off with the opposite of the headline.

That song from 1975 is an interesting case. Bohemian Rhapsody received mixed reviews at the time, and though it charted, was not a number one in the US. I'm not sure it was even the most widely known Queen song until Wayne's World. The recent biopic (and associated promotion) is undoubtedly giving it a brand new bump.

Klosterman argues in "But What if We're Wrong?" that future generations will have a pretty random understanding of our pop culture, judging from how poorly we tend to understand the past.[3]

Given enough time, some semi-random song like Bohemian Rhapsody will inevitably become a stand-in for all 20th century music, or at least all rock and roll.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most-streamed_songs_on...

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2017/may/07/elvi...

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27068734-but-what-if-we-...

The main thing that killed pop music was the telecommunications act of 1994. It removed restrictions on conglomerates owning radio stations which led to Clear Channel buying everything and syndicating the same pop music everywhere. Before that, you had a lot of independent FM stations that had music DJs who would go out and discover artists who had an interesting sound and promote them. Live 105 in San Francisco used to have a number of great DJs who used to do this in the late 80s and early 90s. After the Clear Channel Borg bought everyone, it really turned into a monoculture that didn't produce much innovation.

It seems to me that popular music has stopped changing as rapidly in the past 10-15 years compared to over a similar span a few decades ago. Of course that impression could be wrong, like the difficulty of understanding "history" as you live it versus study it from a book. But if not, maybe it's caused by the consolidation you mention.

Look at pop country music. That stuff hit a plateau in the late 90s. It's the exact same stuff. Maybe pop music has ended up in the same place.

I think the parent comment is correct. Things were really bleak in the 90s due to Clear Channel and other consolidation. I'd say pop music doesn't mean the same thing now as it did in the 20th century so it's hard to compare it. There's a lot of variety now but not many shared experiences.

What I want to know is, what happened in the 60s that makes it the "start" of the modern musical era? Why is listening to music from the 60s still cool, but music from the 50s is rather kitsch and old-fashioned? There was some sort of phase change that happened at that time which is so baked into our consciousness that we rarely challenge it.

At least two factors come to mind:

1) It was the first time younger people were able to create music for younger people without the filter of older people (management) deciding what got released/heard who's focus was much more to be family friendly and not offend. Most of the 50's and earlier music (with a few notable exceptions... it did start to change with Elvis and a few others in the 50's) had much more of a filter in place. So a lot of the subject matter starting with 60's music is still somewhat timeless as it's a lot of the same stuff every generation deals with and can relate to.

2) Synthesizers started to appear in the 60's enabling some very different sonic options as opposed to the orchestra/big band/4-piece/solo that was typically the limit before then. So it just sounds (a bit) less dated. (i.e. people still like some of the sounds created back then and recreate them today with a twist using more capable synths)

I'm sure there are others, that's just what I came up with...

My guess is stereo and FM radio. Optimizing for those things in the studio made music sound different. The way people listen to music has a big impact on how it is engineered to sound. I don't have the evidence to back this up, but modern popular music sounds, to my ears, very much like it is optimized for playback in headphones. IMO a lot of it doesn't sound that great when played out loud.

Gotta disagree with this. I usually listen to 70's rock like Rush, Yes, Led Zep, King Crimson, The Who etc etc. One of the interesting things I found is famous rock drummers from that era are usually influenced by great jazz drummers from 50/60's.

For example Keith Moon (big Gene Krupa fan) and John Bonham (his triplets and big boomy kick drum sound reminds me to Joe Morello). My exploration of rock leads me to jazz.

Bottom line: cool music is always cool, regardless of the year they were released at

Of course you're right that each generation of musicians is influenced by the previous generation(s)... back to Beethoven and Mozart and beyond. But there does seem to be very real cliff from an audience interest standpoint.

I wonder if this just has to do with uniqueness of those songs in comparison to the the Max Martin pop formula output we have today. The Beatles' music, while I'm not an enormous fan, is notably unique in chord progression and tempo. A lot of today's pop has little variation because the industry knows the formula works.

If you’re a millennial your childhood is likely filled with your parents musical tastes (60s-90s) and then your own experience 80s to early 2000s. This is pretty much “generation N recognizes music from their youth more than that of generation N+1’s youth”.

If a song was released in 1980, and you're 25, you've had 25 years' worth of opportunities to hear it. If it was released in 2008, you've had only 11 years' worth of opportunities to hear it. Regardless of artistic merit, surely the music you've been exposed to longer, is the music you're more likely to recognize?

A large portion of millennials grew up in the 80s and 90s (myself included). It makes sense that we’d recognize music from our youth more than pop music from our 30s.

I do find it interesting that so many songs from this period persist despite their age and relative obscurity in everyday life.

For example, with the exception of Mariah Carey's Indestructable #1 song, the holiday 100 [1] are predominantly from the 50s and 60s.

I'd love to understand why this is - the Lindy Effect just describes it, doesn't really explain it.

[1] https://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-holiday-songs

The 60's were a decade in time when youth reigned supreme. This was due to a combination of lots of young people demographically combined with plenty of relatively high paying jobs combined with the pill.

It's not too surprising that the 60's state of mind still resonates with youth today. "You might have had your fill but I feel it still."

I would argue that the reason for this is radio vs streaming. In that time period, radio was king. Radio stations tended to play a very narrow selection of hits over and over and over until you couldn’t help but remember every word. These songs became ingrained into our culture. If you wanted more, you had to go to the record store, which was still quite limiting. Now, we have streaming, which lowers the barrier between listeners and many thousands of artists. As a result, people are exposed to a much broader variety of music now, meaning it’s less likely that there are hits that everyone knows.

Music is much more fragmented now, so it doesn't seem surprising

Related, but I also think distribution has made a difference. you can ignore radio and listen to whatever song you want on spotify/ipod with no reason to pay attention to hits/mainstream. before you had a more of a shared cultural experience in listening to the radio. going to the bit on fragmentation, if you liked alt rock in the 90s, you would listen to a station that would play heavy rock to britpop to indie rock all in the same hour on the same channel. i can now listen to the subgenres on separate channels on siriusxm (ie, octane vs. altnation vs siriusxmu).

What do you mean by fragmented?

For one, people are not consuming music in the same way. They're not hearing things on a mass-syndicated radio network and then going out and buying albums based on what they and their friends like...they're quietly adding singles to their Spotify playlists. Their playlist is unique to them. To discover new music, one has to consciously seek it out. Whereas, in the past, it was prohibitive to carry more than a few records or cassettes along with you, people now carry more music in their pocket than they can listen to in a lifetime. So the discovery problem has dramatically changed. It's also harder for young artists to strike lightning and make a significant amount of money, so I think that impacts the amount of talent entering the scene.

There is no more 'mainstream'. In an age where you could only get music on a few radio stations and what could fit in a physical record store, selection was a lot more limited.

In the 60s pretty much every teenager listened to rock. In the 70s disco came and you couldn't get away from it. 80s glam metal and rap started. All the youth watch MTV.

Now, you can listen to whatever you want to on YouTube, Spotify or Apple Music. There are tons of popular genres: edm, rap, hiphop, rock, pop, etc, etc. The reach of the biggest pop stars is much reduced. In the 60s everybody knew who the Monkeys were. I can't think of any modern manufactured band that has that name recognition. Last ones were probably NSync / Backstreet boys.

I would also add, the ability to spread things by word of mouth online is much better in the age of social networks etc. So even very obscure niches can get filled.

For example, so far as I can tell, these guys have gotten most of those likes from reshares of the video (I've seen it several times, from completely random people). Whereas if you did market research, I doubt that "Mongolian bluegrass folk" would rate highly, so finding a publisher might get tricky.


Ah, I guess that would explain very well why people recognize songs less. Simply because less people have heard any individual song.

"The large number of popular songs during the latter part of the 30th century may explain why so many are recognisable decades later." or even before!

I laughed at this typo. I do wonder what music we'll remember in the 30th century...

As someone who's a millennial and also have been involved with music in different ways (and has a perfect pitch according to others) all my life. I know it sounds like a cliche, but "they don't make 'em like they used to".

I can't name a single musician/band of today that stand up to sheer raw talent of the likes of Beatles, Abba, Queen and others from that time period. They were absolute titans of music with unparalleled achievements. There's no band that can make teenage girls go crazy and chase them like they did Beatles. There's no band like ABBA that could fill a concert hall 600 times if they sold all the tickets people wanted to buy when they only intended to do a single concert. There's no band that can make 300K people sing along during a concert like Freddie Mercury could. I laughed at a comment that I read on Youtube couple of days ago: "Year 1980 - Queen is the best band ever. Year 2180 - Queen is the best band ever.", but then I realized it could end up being a fact after all.

Music of today feels overly commercialized, cheap, forced and streamlined. There's also a "mathematical" problem where composers are running out of unique melodies for the classic 3 minute format.

I don't have much time because I'm at work, so I won't write everything I have on my mind. I've been in your spot before, I also have perfect pitch (which I'd argue is irrelevant to the discussion) and I severely disagree. There's more music being produced than ever before. There is a vast amount of music you didn't listen to yet - it's humanly impossible to sift through it all. There's obviously a lot of cheap, quickly produced music, but IMHO the way you describe it makes it feel like "music died 15 years ago". It didn't. E.g. we still have readily identifiable trends in music (eg. indie, vaporwave, chillwave, trap beats).

Filling up concert halls isn't a viable way of measuring an artist's achievement in the internet age for me. People go to concert just because they know the band's name, because someone bought them a ticket or because the media built up the hype.

As for melodies - we won't run out of them anytime soon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAcjV60RnRw

The title is totally wrong. If you read the article, or the study, what they are actually saying is that retention of older songs is longer. Their claim is that older songs are more memorable than newer ones because of the way they are written and executed.

A thought here: Multitrack recording appeared in 1955 : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multitrack_recording. Multitracking opened a new, fertile valley for exploration and did usher in a golden age of pop music that was truly "poplar music". It also made a lot of money. The industry peaked about the year 2000 when napster ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napster) blew the bottom out of sales . The industry makes about 1/3 of what it used to ( see https://www.visualcapitalist.com/music-industry-sales/ for a graphic on how much revenue has declined ). MP3 killed the video star.

There's still innovation and new stuff. People can make any sound they want on their laptops these days.

There's a lot less incentive to go into the business for talented people.

It's not surprising--on average, the quality of those tracks was way better than what followed. There's equally good stuff being made now, but you really have to hunt for it.

Do you think that's just selection bias? I.e. no one remembers all the low quality songs from back then

It's definitely that to an extent, but also the low quality songs were less likely to get released in the first place back then because the barrier to entry in the music industry was a lot higher. There were just as many people making low quality songs but fewer had the ability to record and distribute them.

I can think of hundreds of great tracks from that period. I've managed to discover perhaps an equal number from after, but I had to dig really hard to find them. The "popular" stuff these days is chrome-plated garbage.

I remember reading somewhere that people prefer music they first heard around ages 13 - 21.

Just curious, what age were you when you first heard those tracks?

That's true for me. Unfortunately, I'm an outlier in the sense that I heard virtually zero music before 13 (as if I were living on an Amish farm or something).

Moreover 1960s to 1990s is a larger time frame than from 2000 to 2019

I'd put the golden age at 1969-1984 or so, but that's just me.

For a few simple examples, look up King Uszniewicz & The Usniewicztones, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, or The Shaggs.

Guitar Hero. It was a thing.

Modern pop music is becoming trashier by the year. Loud (as in no dynamic range), obnoxious crescendos and drops, little nuance, simple melodies, no harmony, obvious grooves that lack the subtle swing required to shake someone from the inside. Ever increasing narcissistic and low-brow lyrical content. It's everything I despise.

Pop music has always been trashy, but there's a big difference between The Monkeys and Cardi B. I hear pop songs from the past and hum along. Pop songs from the present inspire nothing but a frothing rage in me.

Thankfully there's a lot of great music that isn't popular! I just have to avoid the radio and television.

> Modern pop music is becoming trashier by the year.

...said everyone in every time period.

There's good pop music being made today. But most music being made in any period is bad. If you look back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there's plenty of bad music that lots of people loved. We just remember the good stuff. The classic example is Like a Rolling Stone ('65) and Engelbert Humperdinck, who was huge in '66 and '67. Guess who we remember today?

I'll go further and argue that the only viable definition of "bad music" is "music that is forgotten". We can't know if music is good until we wait a while and see if it sticks around. Any other definition of quality is based on personal taste which is, no offense, worthless.

That's a good point, and I still hear music I like today it's just that absolutely none of it is on any popular radio station.

"The future of music is not music," meaning: every evolutionary stage of popular music is called "noise" and "that's not music." This goes back at least to the invention of the teenager in the Rock & Roll era, and it repeats at least once per generation. This doesn't mean that every kind of music you don't like is something cutting-edge that you just aren't down with yet, but it does sometimes.

> Pop music has always been trashy, but there's a big difference between The Monkeys and Cardi B.

Now try that with King Uszniewicz & The Usniewicztones instead of The Monkees.

Where do you find it?

Finding music becomes easier the more you practise, but a few things you can do are: 1) Follow the 'if you like this, you might like this' recommendations in your music program of choice. 2) Curate your own playlist/collection to better inform the algorithms. I use Youtube, SoundCloud and BandCamp a lot these days and keep a list of favourites on each site. 3) Go out and see bands if you have access to bars/venues, it's better in cities. See bands you don't know but sound good on paper. There's a ton of good music from bands that aren't signed to major labels 4) Talk to people, what do they like? Check out their recommendations, update your favourites lists, back to 1) and follow your nose. 5) Inform yourself about what labels release music you like. Following labels is often better than following artists, they each curate a sound of sorts and have some variety across that. Discogs.com is a great site for learning about artists, labels, etc and finding specific releases. 5) Listen to community radio. They often have DJs that are really into genre X or sound Y and are a wealth of information and great playlists. Popular radio stations don't exist to play music, they are just advertisement platforms.

What kind of music do you like? I can probably throw a few artists at you.

Super helpful comment! Thanks for taking the time to outline that so clearly.

I can unabashedly and arrogantly claim that the best radio station in the world is 'RadioNova' Paris - nova.fr. Then the BBCs.

I don't know if it's my age and this is normal but this fits perfectly with my feeling that the music which ends up on the charts now sound very similar within their genre. It feels like it's the same tunes being played over and over and as someone who's english is the second (third) language, I grew up not listening to the lyrics which makes it sound even more similar.

I just thought about one song I heard on the radio that stayed in my mind and the first one that came into my mind was "Portugal The Man - Feel It Still" and this is only because it's actually "The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman" from '61...

My personal taste is also stuck in the past somewhere around the time The Prodigy was rhythmic and MTV played actual music.

Yeah my pop music taste froze in the mid 90s and the only new music I listen to is edm which is fairly disposable.

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