The People’s History of Pop

This evening Devon Record Club are doing some recording with BBC Radio Devon for a piece they are putting together as part of the BBC’s ‘People’s History of Pop’ project. They got in touch, asking for some local perspectives, and all we do is talk about our own perspectives on pop music, so why wouldn’t we?

The brief we settled on was to have a conversation about each of the last five decades, from 60s through to 00s, focusing on the Band, Song and Concert of the decade. Coming up with a starter list has been an interesting and, I’ve found, surprisingly tricky exercise.

That’s partly for mechanistic reasons, like the brief which has sufficient room for interpretation to allow questions and debate to sneak in around the edges. Remembering that it’s the ‘People’s History of Pop’, which is intended as a series of personal histories, then we should be able to give a very personal perspective. However, also remembering that this is a piece for local BBC radio and that as a group we are, to some small degree, supposed to have some depth of knowledge of the subject, it feels wrong to be deviating from the expected norms too dramatically.

Take the 60s, for example, a decade I like to debate, but, beyond the legends and folklore, the details of which I am ignorant at least relative to the 80s and 90s. I would pick the Velvet Underground or Bob Dylan as my favourite artist, whilst acknowledging that if I could settle on a favourite Motown artist, they would be in with a shout. However, what right-minded commentator would not put the Beatles forward in this category? Perhaps that’s why were debating, not just enumerating.

My personal history of pop would have The Fall riding high through the 80s. I shall prepare to compromise.

Secondly, running through the process of compiling one’s own list brings home just how much our accepted history of the early decades of pop has settled, at least compared to the last couple of decades.

For the 60s I wondered whether ‘Good Vibrations’ or ‘God Only Knows’ should be best song, happily setting aside ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ which might be my actual favourite, but really just choosing one of the already anointed choices.

For the 90s and 00s it was almost impossible to come up with a choice that I felt would satisfy the general listener with a healthy interest in pop history and also me. I told myself that this was partly because pop in those decades had become so polymorphous that there were no consensuses any more, no single culture that any one listener could be at the centre of. That’s true, but it must also have been the case in the 60s and 70s and yet I chose the Beatles and Bowie in less than 5 seconds.

The truth is, that whilst we have so much more music and choice now, including what has gone before, so many niches to lose ourselves in to the exclusion of so many others, that one day, perhaps in only 20 years, these decades too will boil down to a handful of consensus picks. Could be Beyonce. Could be Kanye. Could be Amy. Could be Taylor. It will be something, and it will feel simpler, but not necessarily better.

Looking forward to the discussion, as always. If we come up with an answer, we’ll let you know.

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