March 10

Trends in Society Reflected in Music


Trends in Society Reflected in Music

By Deborah Johnson

March 10, 2023

Beach Boys, Beatles, core values, cultural changes, John Lennon, Madonna, music artists, music trends, podcast, reinvention, trends in society, Whitney Houston

Top trends in news, business and finances are popular topics, but as art reflects life and vice versa, trends in society are often reflected in music. This has been my field for a number of years and I thought it would be interesting to draw some principles from musical styles through the decades as well as trends in society. It’s interesting to turn back the pages of our history to reveal some of the main songs of each decade that reflect thoughts, ideology and even market trends. The political climate, rebellion, rights and new ideas were all reflected in style, lyrics and culture. This in turn affected business. I hope to at least stimulate your thoughts to do your own research.

Love and heartbreak tended to run through every decade as those themes are timeless, but starting with the 1950’s we will look at some of the artists and styles that reflected the times and culture. Some songs were a response of the time period but others pushed the envelope of thoughts and ideas. The few songs listed in this article may not have all won top awards, but they all made an impact.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Trends in Society Reflected in Music 3-14-2023
00:00:00 00:00:00

Decade of the 1950's

World War II had just ended in 1945. The memory of war was fresh for those who had fought hard to rid our world of a crazed German leader. It was also fresh for those who had seen so many of their loved ones go to war, not coming home with the sickening information about the internment of the Jewish population.

Songs like At the Hop, All I have to Do is Dream by the Everly Brothers and a character like Fonzie and Happy Days focuses on a simpler life. Love was simple, fun and something to celebrate. Our country was ready for a break, but it did not last long.

Decade of the 1960's

By late 1963, there were more than 16,000 Americans on the ground advising South Vietnamese troops in Vietnam. 1964 and 1965 brought an escalation of the war and the anti-war movement mobilized Americans in vast numbers. Many young men that were drafted never came home. The song Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival proclaimed the message of hypocritical flag wavers who sent others off to war. Blowin’ In the Wind by Bob Dylan was performed in protest. Elvis even had a protest song with If I Can Dream.

Also, the 1960’s brought harmonic sophistication. The Beach Boys started with simple surf songs and basic harmonies. But their song Good Vibrations in 1966 burst on the scene with its harmonic expansion led by Brian Wilson. Topping the Beach Boy’s popularity were the Beatles. After creating simple love songs and harmonies with Love me Do as their first hit, they became so popular and rich they were able to expand their music and risks harmonically with songs that spoke of a drug culture as Yellow Submarine which was often interpreted as a reflection of social and political injustices. Light my Fire, written and performed by the Doors, is interpreted mostly as romantic, but many of the songs written during this time reference drugs. Aretha Franklin’s version of the song Respect turned it from the original plea of love to a running anthem for the feminist and civil rights movements.

Decade of the 1970's

1970’s was a time of long hair to the waist parted down the middle, communal living and songwriting and war and protests for the end of war. People were tired of losing their sons in the Vietnam war, which felt useless. Large concerts started taking off with the communal feel of the music industry. Woodstock in late 1969 drew a huge crowd and signified the popularity of large concerts with a large artist lineup. Drugs were rampant with marijuana and very little security. Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker and Creedence Clearwater Revival were some of the first performers at that venue.

The song Imagine by John Lennon states an utopia where  “all the people, livin’ life in peace…” The Beatle’s song Let It Be does urge us to let go, relax and leave worry behind. But it also reaches to all the “broken hearted people in the world, people who hate each other or are at war.” That message still rings true today.

Carole King and James Taylor were some of the most prolific singer-songwriters from the late 60’s into the 70’s and beyond. Their songs still stand as some of my top favorites. Many of the top songwriters at this time wrote in collaboration and they became known as Troubadours.  Elton John’s critical success was at its peak in the 1970’s as a pianist/vocalist, performing with wild glasses and clothes.

Decade of the1980's

The 1980’s was a time for big hair, perms and women starting to emerge even more as their own artists. It was time for electronic sounds and repetitive beats. Madonna’s Like a Virgin topped the Billboard singles chart for six weeks in 1984 as a danceable, love song. The song and the video were thought to be radical at the time, especially the title, but it seems mild today. It makes us wonder if any of the radical messages of today will ever feel normal. Madonna is a good example of an artist who has had a long career because she consistently reinvented herself and her style and this is a principle that is even more important today.

Sheet Music Sampler-Deborah Johnson

Michael Jackson was one of the biggest pop artists of the 80’s with Thriller. Cyndi Lauper burst on the scene with spiked hair and the feminist anthem, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Whitney Houston combined soul with pop as a woman of color who broke through to the mainstream. She was also the first woman of color to be featured on the cover of Seventeen Magazine in the early 1980’s. (Deborah's FREE Sheet Music Sampler)

Decade of the 1990's

With the entrance of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, grunge entered the mainstream, which spoke of apathy and a nonconformist attitude. There was a concern for social issues, particularly young people. Tolerance of difference and support of women were common themes. The style was loud and even violent.

Even though this type of music wasn’t considered mainstream at first, the effect of a slacker and slouch look and mohawk hair picked up momentum in the commercial market. Hip Hop and Rap, with boy bands and black artists emerged center stage. Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill, TLC and others kept pushing style and culture. Even though some of us working as musicians thought this style would die out, it only escalated into the 2000’s.   

Decade of the 2000's

What did die down in the 2000’s was pure grunge, but hip-hop and rap kept escalating into combined styles like pop-punk. R&B also dominated the Billboard charts. Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were producing mostly manufactured sounds by their record labels. But indie artists started to break through, many not backed by the main record labels. These independent artists took risks and helped to expand the style in the 2000’s.

To be independent means you don’t have the major marketing dollars of a record label. But there is more freedom and many artists throughout the 2000’s have chosen this route. Some have bought out their contracts and publishing rights. With the entrance of digital music on iPods and other devices, artist rights became even more of an issue with intellectual property. This remains a major issue today in many areas of business. The digital revolution changed so much for many creators including authors, speakers, inventors and composers.

What Can We Learn?

Even though there is so much more music we can cover, I want to focus on what we can learn from trends in society reflected in the music. Music is even more fluid than business. It reflects and interacts with trends. As entrepreneur, we look at trends, but to only follow trends would leave us as a one hit wonder. For a sustainable future, like most of the artists listed in this post, quality counts and the discipline to keep going and to keep writing counts.

There are so many more mini-trends in society using music that we could approach but looking at some of the main principles should help us evaluate where we are now and look to the future. Here are some takeaway principles.

-One: What we think will never last just might last!

-Two: Always focus on quality, not just a trendy style.

-Three: Be aware of cultural changes but be focused on your mission.

-Four: Society will usually vote with their dollars and their attention on a trend. Look for those.

If you are at mid-career or the halftime of life, I really encourage you to define your core values and purpose. (see article below) Look at the trends, but be true to your heart, your abilities and your mission.

Article on Core Values

What we think will never last, just might!

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,479 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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