1979 vs 2014

In the second part of an unraveling thread I will continue to consider 1979, a seemingly random year but one where singles sales were unparalleled. This alone could give it the accolade of being the epicentre of pop. I was 15 back then and it all seemed relatively normal to me, adults had their music and we had ours and they fought a running battle in the charts and consequently also on Top Of The Pops.

We like to think of the music of our youth being cool, it is much easier to reminisce that the soundtrack of those formulative years was a blend of cutting-edge creativity rather than bland MOR or production-line pop. These things co-existed back in the day. 1979 may have been the year of the first 2 Tone releases but the 3rd best-selling single of that year was by Cliff Richard. Cliff was ahead of Lena Martell and her God-bothering faux-country rubbish (another former no. 1) but behind the mawkish film-tied Art Garfunkel.  It was as if punk never happened.

Film and TV tie-ins are now a recognised and highly successful marketing route, back then it was less obvious even after the stunning performances of Saturday Night Fever and Grease.  It is relatively easy to spot that the limited media landscape provided few opportunities for music but where they occurred they were reaching a wide and captivated audience. An appearance on prime-time TV with your new single was a seemingly guaranteed way to increase sales, driving you further up the chart and resulting in the chance of more TV appearances.

It probably all seemed so simple back then, cause and effect, the glory days. The intervening years have clearly seen a decline in the number of people willing to buy music. It has always been assumed that the younger end were simply downloading it instead but it may be the case that the older record buyer no longer exists in any great number or that they simply do not buy singles. If 1979 was an epicentre of any kind perhaps it represents the tipping point at which the older generation, still buying records as they had in the sixties, met the younger who were embarking upon record buying for the first time.

There’s no way of knowing – in a relatively short opinion piece – whether any of this is true but it dawned on me that I could not remember seeing this argument elsewhere. What if it’s not the fault of youth, perhaps the record companies abandoned their older audience in error. Taking a random sample of equivalent charts from now and then it might be noted that rock was still fairly prevalent in 1979 – Supertramp, Dire Straits, Gary Moore and Wings but the main fight was between competing trends of disco and ‘punk/new wave’, the top 40 featuring 11 ‘punk’ tracks vs 10 ‘disco’, but the prevailing emphasis could still have been considered ‘pop’ in its variant forms.

It’s interesting (at least for me) to note that the novelty songs that I intended to make a big point of were as likely to be ‘punk’ (Who Killed Bambi, Banana Splits) as ‘pop’ (Some Girls, Hoo-ray Hoo-ray..). I had considered that such novelties were a thing of the past and that appears to be the case. These days if you want to do a spoof song it’s likely to be a youtube only affair whereas once it might’ve littered the charts.  Rock is demonstrably absent from the current chart though and there’s nothing very obviously there that appeals only to an older audience where 1979’s chart of this week had Art Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, Showaddywaddy, George Benson and The Beach Boys. The single buying audience is young, whether this is by accident or intent is very much open to question in my mind.

Naturally this is not a solid quantative or qualitative study. It is a snapshot with carefully chosen examples to illustrate my point.  Now vs then seems to indicate the dearth if not the death of rock but very much that pop/r n b is unassailable right now.  The point I wanted to see made is that it seems ‘old’ people are no longer buying singles. Whether this is as a result of the marketplace, the lack of releases or the promotion of those releases is possibly worthy of further debate. It could also be that singles were once ubiquitous, on every High Street – big displays in Woolies, etc. The physical single pretty much doesn’t exist, much like the singles-buyer over 35.