Wednesday, May 06, 2015


The Bad Music Era (84-85-86) Theory proven true by science!

Or at least, 1986 shown to be the most musically dull year on record.

"With help from music website and using the US Billboard Hot 100 as its source material, the scientists employed cutting edge methods including signal processing and text-mining to analyse the musical properties of songs. Their system automatically grouped 17,000 hit songs by patterns of chord changes and tone allowing researchers to statistically identify trends with what they believe is an unprecedented degree of consistency.... 

The study found that 1986 was the least diverse year for the charts, a fact the researchers attribute to the sudden popularisation of drum machines and sampling technology. Harmonic and rhythmic diversity declined as the metronomic, club-inspired beats of the Pet Shop Boys’s West End Girls, the rigid synthesised percussion of Janet Jackson’s biggest hits and the dance production trio of Stock, Aitken & Waterman took over the charts. In rock music too, stadium rock, defined by huge snare drums, wailing guitar solos and crunching power chords drove out the relative melodic sophistication of previous bands. The authors single out “the gated reverb effect famously used by Phil Collins on In The Air tonight, 1981” as an example of the thunderous drum sound copied by every rock band."

Hefty pinch of salt required, perhaps, given that Janet Jackson is shoved absurdly alongside all the other evidence-against-86. Could it be that some rockist bias distorted the research methodology? Or not even a rockist bias: I doubt if they had a filter for "rocks hard" or a metric for levels of thrillingly graunchy guitar distortion; the emergence of  heavy metal does not apparently fare well from the analysis.  It's more like there's a slant in favor of criteria of harmonic and melodic divertissement that are not fundamental to or particular to rock (as if the ghost of Ian MacDonald was steering the research) .

It should also be noted that during the Bad Music Era, the drum machine / sequencer free and gated-drums devoid Indie Charts (then ruled by Americana, shambling bands, sub-R.E.M. college rock, shandy-weak C86, psychobilly, and second-wave Goth)  were even more dire than the pop charts, which did have things like Janet and Prince and Def Jam spicing it up. 

One interesting conclusion from the study  (which in another bias / limitation, is based on the Billboard Top 40, not the UK charts) is that alongside 1964 and 1983, a peak year for pop is deemed to be 1991: owing to “the rise of hip-hop, rap and related genres, as  exemplified by the music of Busta Rhymes, Nas, and Snoop Dogg, who all use chords particularly rarely”.