By Michele Kadison
Considered the Golden Age of pop music, what is known as “Oldies” music includes works created during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The term, “oldies, but goodies” was coined in 1957 by renowned DJ Art Laboe, who kept getting requests to hear songs from the early 50’s on his radio show. The name stuck, even to the point where in 1961, a song by Little Caesar and the Romans hit the charts called, “Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You).” Laboe eventually put together a compilation of songs from the era called “Oldies But Goodies” that was on the Billboard top 100 chart for over three years and enjoyed 14 sequels to date.
Oldies Music: The Early Days
The Classic Oldies music of the 50s and early 60’s signify music you can to dance to, sing along to, and fall in love to. With their lyric-driven intensity and their melodic sound, this era epitomizes the golden age of pop music. When the 1960’s came into view, the music began to become more complex and the groups became more diverse in their expression. The singer/songwriter was born, with individuals and bands ranging from folk to pop to rock continuing to break all the rules. Additionally we had a phenomenon called the British Invasion, which changed the face of rock n roll forever.
The Oldies Music Evolution
The early 70’s brought a sound that mirrored what was going on in the burgeoning hippie culture of the time. Expressions of world peace, free love, civil rights, and women’s liberation took hold through rock, funk, and reggae sounds that came from both sides of the ocean.
Oldies: A Musical Revolution of the Times
The popularity of the Golden Oldies music came from vitality, innocence, and innovation. Never before had music sounded like this. Emerging from a myriad of musical styles that encompassed post World War II blues, jazz, and hillbilly country, which in turn emerged from the big band era along with boogie woogie, the Golden or Classic Oldies indicated the birth of rock n roll. Right around 1955 doo-wop groups began to form, showing off a rhythmic sound and strong backup vocals, with groups like the Del-Vikings singing “Come Go With Me,” the Marcels singing “Blue Moon,” and the classic romantic doo-wop ballad by the Five Satins, “In the Still of the Night.” At the same time, in 1955, Bill Haley came forward with a song that broke all the rules with “Rock Around the Clock” and the revolution began. When Elvis Presley appeared on the scene, things broke open wide. Even though Jerry Lee Lewis had been around before him with his wild and totally unorthodox performances and lifestyle, Elvis gave rock n roll permission to be sexy. He still exemplifies the apotheosis of the Rock Star, and will forever be referenced in this context. The label Sun Records, which signed Elvis and Jerry Lee, became the number one label for making many singers important stars of the time. Artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Ritchie Valens were also shaking up the scene with songs like “Mabelline, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Tutti Frutti,” and “La Bamba” respectively. Here was a whole new sound full of life and rebellion and the kids went wild.
Golden Oldies Music TV
As early as 1952, a local show emerged that featured artists of the time, providing a platform for them to be seen by their fans. In 1956 this little show had a change in hosts, with the young Dick Clark stepping in for Bob Horn and American Bandstand was born. It was picked up by ABC in 1957 and went on to become one of the biggest shows on television for showcasing talent, lasting all the way until 1989.
When Chubby Checker came out with “The Twist,” in 1960, the world was galvanized by the song and the gyrating dance that went with it. Then the early 1960’s brought the revolutionary sound of the Girl Groups. Here we had the sexy Shangra-Las singing “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand) along with the Shirelles, the Ronettes, and the Crystals.. Ike and Tina turner showed up with “River Deep, Mountain High” which featured the avante garde sound of producer Phil Spector and his “wall of sound.” With over 25 top 40 hits between 1960 and 1969, Spector’s creations dominated the charts.
Most of the oldies music songs of this time were written for the artists by a group of savvy songwriters holed up in the famous Brill Building in New York City. Soul singers such as James Brown and Marvin Gaye were very much a part of the time, along with blue-eyed soul artists such as The Righteous Brothers. In 1959, Berry Gordy had founded Motown Records in Detroit and created the Motown sound. Artists like The Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and The Supremes are just a few of the heavyweights that made hit after hit at the time. Add to the list Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five, along with many other famous names, and its easy to see how Motown packed its punch. And then came the Brits! The British invasion began with a historic moment in 1964 when a group called The Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. After this, English groups began streaming in as American teens were overcome with Brit-mania. The Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman’s Hermits, Elton John, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield represent a mere smattering of the impact that the British invasion had on music of the day.
As the 1970’s approached, classic American rock was hitting its stride in oldies music with The Rascals, the Association, Fleetwood Mac, The Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, The Birds, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and The Doors. The drug culture was beginning to define rock n roll in the late 60’s, spawning the most famous outdoor rock concert ever: Woodstock. Singers like Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and Papas, The Beach Boys, and the Lovin’ Spoonful added to the mix as singer/songwriters were taking their place in the firmament. Folk artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins were already making their mark in the 60’s. Richie Havens, Carly Simon, Carole King, John Denver, Cat Stevens, and James Taylor enriched the time with their pointed and sensitive songs that made listeners think.
Rock kept growing, with more imports from overseas such as Rod Stewart and the Faces, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, and the androgynous David Bowie, who gave us permission to explore a wider range of personal expression. Funk music was another genre that made the 70’s so musically rich and diverse. Here was George Clinton, Parliament, and Funkadelic along with Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang, and Bootsy Collins heating up the floor and making way for the disco generation to come. From folk rock to psychedelic rock, soul, the Motown sound, and bubblegum pop, 70’s music reflected what was going on in the culture, which meant revolution and change. As the 70’s moved on, other musical styles similar to oldies music began to take root from these sounds, and the beat moved on.