100 years of rock 'n roll storage

100 years of rock 'n roll storage

Summary: Today's young people can enjoy listening to 60s groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. But back in the 60s no one listened to 50-year-old pop. Why?

TOPICS: Storage, Hardware

Today we experience past music differently than any generation before. We can hear - and sometimes see - the performances that energized today's grandparents. And that changes everything.


What changed? Reliable high fidelity recording and storage. Back in the 50s that meant tape and 45s and LPs.  Until the last 10 years it was still tape. In the 1910s all-acoustic recording technology was primitive, and the 160rpm discs - $1 for 4 minutes, about $12 today - catered to an affluent audience.

In 1960s it was almost impossible to listen to 50-year-old popular music, even if we had wanted to. Why? Because what little recorded music was available then had been recorded with poor equipment and distributed on unreadable wax cylinders or poor quality discs that we couldn't play. 60s phonographs often supported 78rpm, a format not popular until the mid-20s.

So high performance data storage makes it possible for young people today to hear the performances that thrilled their grandparents back in the 60s. That wasn't possible in 1963.

Music by the sheet
Contrast that with how popular music spread earlier. Printed sheet music was the medium. The local talent would buy the sheet music – which also wasn't cheap - to play the latest tunes. You were dependent on the quality of the local talent to appreciate the latest music.

What brought on this reflection is the webpage 100 years of rock 'n roll. While I don't agree with the choice of some samples, the combination of infographic style and embedded musical samples makes it a powerful tool to introduce millions to the evolution of modern rock.

Even more powerful than audio recording though is video recording. Events such as 1964's Teen Age Music International (TAMI) awards show that were recorded in an early form of high-def video capture much more of the cultural and performer's styles then any audio recording ever could.

But the ease of making and keeping audio was, until recently, a key differentiator. Take for instance the Jimi Hendrix concert recording at Royal Albert Hall in London in 1969 that was recently uncovered. There is no way a film recording of such quality could've been made then. But now? Much simpler.

The Storage Bits take
Would kids today be listening to the Beatles if it was only available on sheet music? I doubt it.

The 1960s marked a fundamental cultural shift in music, fashion and the arts. Along with the brutal folly of the Vietnam war it shaped a cultural battleground that has dominated the last 40 years of American political debate.

We can be thankful that unlike the longevity of our storage media, the participants in the 1960s culture war are marching off this mortal coil. Some things - such as inflexible ideological attitudes -are better off not kept forever.

Comments welcome, as always. My favorite piece of proto-rock is Benny Goodman's and Gene Krupa's 1938 rendition of Sing, Sing, Sing at their Carnegie Hall concert. It rocks! What's yours?

Topics: Storage, Hardware

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  • You missed one odd thing now

    In generations past, there almost was this rite of passage that the parents and the children would have things the did NOT share - and music used to be one of them. But starting with the 60s on it is not unusual for parents and kids (and even grandkids) to like a lot of the same stuff. It is not unusual for Grandma and her granddaughter to be singing along with The Beatles or Taylor Swift. Some fringes are different (like kids into hardcore rap or metal, and parents into Barry Manilow or Frank Sinatra) but a lot is shared. And in films it is much more homogeneous. Movies skew across generations quite easily. And that would not happen if the kids couldn't hear and see the real performances. Interesting times, and one of the reasons acts form the 50s on outlive the physical beings that created them. Guess we did achieve some form of "immortality" then.
  • Won't happen if the RIAA get their way.

    They want to charge rental for the bit by the microsecond. (The artist gets the usual 1% of nothing)
    Reality Bites
  • And it also isn't true that you couldn't listen to it.

    The thing that happened was the baby boom.

    Commercial interests was with those that spent the most - so from about the mid 50s on that was the new generation... And there was only so much of the 40's (I used to like that even though I was in the early part of the baby boom generation) to go around.

    Now after the 60s what happened was the huge group of "manufactured" music done by studios. This music was nearly all imitation. If something sounded good, it was imitated to death.. and didn't survive. The result was garbage imitating garbage.

    So the majority of the audience still liked the 60s.

    Now that the RIAA is suppressing music, it is unlikely that very much new music will get around - nothing to inspire new musicians, which leaves the studio imitations of imitations as the only thing promoted.

    The last 20 years of music is a desert of actual music (a few, but nothing very widespread).

    The other problem is the music publishers screwing around with the sound themselves - volume equalization really sucks for nearly everything - and makes it all sound like noise. But that is what happens when you get bean counters in charge of music. They don't understand music, it isn't just in the notes, it is also in the silence between notes, and the volume of the notes provided.

    The group size also changed - it went from 10-20 down to 4 or 5. There were very few groups that recently made it big over that size. Thus more selections, greater range of music. Using electronic amplification/modification made a big change in the number of people needed to make a good sound.

    Listen to some Enya - a dreamy voice... but not THAT special for a single person. Her art (and engineer) allowed it to be 200 voices overlapped... Each voice done separately of the others and added in. Total number in the group 3 (I believe).
  • Not Sure

    Musical tastes are roughly generational. So the music that people liked in the 30 and 40's was not very popular with the youth in the 60's. The same trends are followed and this seems to be one of them.

    Also, many old movies and recordings were destroyed or lost. Often people did not consider them very important and did not make an effort to preserve them. The attitude towards preserving older movies, videos, and recordings changed after WWII to one of preserving virtually everything.
  • When did rock 'n roll turn 100?!

    Love big band music too, including Benny Goodman (mentioned in the article), Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton, to name a few. :)

    P.S. Some rock 'n roll bands included brass (e.g., Chicago; Blood, Sweat & Tears).
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Jazz Before Parker

    I have a large collection of pre WWII hot jazz reissued in the CD era and also manually transferred from analog vinyl disk all of it digitized and backed up on today's huge hard drives. To answer your question it is hard to pick just one, but yesterday I was listening to "Jubilee" recorded in January 1928 by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orch, a band that included Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, and Carl Kress on guitar. My vote for today's forgotten classic.
    BTW I'll be starting a show streamable over the internet.
    I'll probably start streaming in early December.
  • Proto-Rock

    My favorite piece of proto-rock is Benny Goodman's rendition of "Sing, Sing, Sing", the RCA studio recording. It's a much better recording than the live version. Another is "We'll Get It" by Tommy Dorsey.
    Michael Cloud
  • such a cool site

    but why call it rock? It should be called "100 years of recorded music". Rock and roll started about 63 years ago.