Series Preview: The Club Banger Era

Pop Song History is making a comeback. Recent career changes are allowing me to once again research and write about the history of mainstream pop music in America and the intellectual history offered by some of the most popular and commercially successful songs. But this next series of Pop Song History will be a departure from the earlier series investigating the popular songs of the early twentieth century, where Pop Song History left off. Sorry to disappoint, but the previous series about the Jazz Era in America will not be concluded or continued. Instead, I will be focusing on the current era of pop music, beginning at around 1989, which I have been calling the Club Banger Era. There are two major reasons why such a drastic and peculiar shift is occurring. First, I found pop songs from the Jazz Era of the 1920s, 30s and 40s boring to listen to and even more dull to write about. It may be considered an era full of “songs that remain an essential part of the repertoire of today’s jazz musicians and pop singers,”[1] but the whole period lacked fun and amusement, in my opinion. Second, there are many similarities shared between the music culture of the first two decades of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century that is seems natural for this transition. Just as the nature of music in the 1890s or the 1910s existed for almost the purpose of promoting “unique rhythms, curious groupings of words and melodies that gave zest and unexpectedness,”[2] according to composer William Marion Cook, the overall cultural context of songs in the Club Banger Era is to encourage fun, dancing and generally having a good time. This new series of Pop Song History, hopefully, will be a nice companion to previous essays.

There are some considerable pop culture and historical moments and events which set the current era apart form the previous Rock ‘n Roll Era, roughly beginning in the mid 1950s up until the late 1980s. Historically, Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation fizzled out as the Iron Curtain separating Western and Eastern Europe fell during the autumn of 1989 and the Soviet Union crumbled during the early 1990s. In its place, America’s foreign affairs obsession has been a nearly nonstop fixation with Iraq since 1990. Fear for abstract nouns has changed during the Club Banger Era, the fear of terrorism has replaced the twentieth century’s fear of Communism. Pop culture in America in general since 1989 has gotten louder, brasher and more bombastic. Now, serious discourse on social or political substance has bee replaced by spectacle while loud personalities on both right and left persuasion shout at each other from separate media outlets, rarely with discourse concluded. It is much more important that individual media personalities the likes of Morton Downey Jr, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, for example, to have camera time and earn ratings with each one’s specifically targeted demographic. Regular Americans in Club Banger America are more than willing to air their dirty laundry on a variety of daytime talk shows of Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Maury Povich, or Ricki Lake, a tradition which continues with plenty of people sharing, tweeting, liking and commenting on everybody else’s personal drama via social media. Tens of millions of viewers tune into Judge Judy[3] or other similarly formatted shows per week to watch small claims disputes between plaintiffs. Entertainment in the Club Banger Era is not just ubiquitous, but over-the-top and yet, temporary and quixotically only briefly remembered. During the 1990s, television viewers were commanded from NBC that Thursday night was “Must See TV.”[4] At the movies, the tradition of the camera has turned into a delivery device of image to computer, to which increasingly realistic CGI effects are added for sensational blockbuster appeal for moviegoers. This is within this general cultural context of that the Club Banger Era is and has been happening.

A foundation of the ideas behind the Pop Song History blog has been that song lyrics of the most popular, successful songs can be some of the best gauge of American social intellectual history; however, from a lyrical perspective, admittedly, the Club Banger era is shallow. One of the reasons for this change, and part of the milieu of the Club Banger Era, is that there is increased detail in the production of music and songs rather than traditional bones of song craft of words and music. Music has also followed the themes of overall bombast and showiness; as a result, commercial music has fallen back into its comfortable archetype of fun escapism. Current music consumers have a taste for novelty and escapism, dancing and drinking, ego and materialism, sex and temporary relationships; yet, sentimentality can be as big a part of music culture if a specific song hits a nerve with audiences. As well, social awareness often comes into the pop song conscience through the art of hip-hop. This series will look at each of these topics by gathering a number of similarly themed songs and examine their lyrics to see what they have to say, how they converge or diverge in intent and meaning. Love has existed in commercial pop music in America for over century, but this topic has radically changed in the Club Banger Era, songs commonly feature sex and frequently celebrate breakups, which is a first in the long history of commercial song in America. A less surprising aspect of the Club Banger Era is the return of the drinking song to American pop song after a lengthy hiatus from the commercial mass market. Drinking songs have had folk popularity in America since colonial times,[5] but in the Club Banger Era, songs encouraging partying and intoxication, in some years, are the more popular and successful tunes. The Pop Song History blog will be taking many of the topics into consideration when looking at the intellectual content of the songs from this era.

Naturally, there are music trends to write about as well. But since much of this era is focused on dance music and what music sounds like, this raises the impossibility of writing about what sounds sound like. The Pop Song History blog will circumvent this question by not writing about how music sounds during this series unfortunately. Instead, it will focus on how various trends proliferate through music and pop culture and what it means for consumers and the music business. There are some rather large topics to write about during this time period. Two ingredients, hip hop and dance beats, are integral to the Club Banger Era and will be explored. The status of rock will also be explored, notably the rise of modern rock and how alternative has become the mainstream rock format since the early 1990s at a time when “audiences were beginning to look for music that was seen as real, authentic and not fabricated,”[6] according to historian Thomas Harrison. Collaboration and features are also essential part of the Club Banger Era and will be researched, including the commercialisation of the urban folk traditions of hip hop, “the ultimate commercial product because its main formats have often been borrow from other tried-and-true products,”[7] according to author M. Elizabeth Blair. Hip-hop quickly found success with audiences “to such a position that one can say it was becoming one of the most important genres as the 1990s began”[8] and its history as a commercial product is integral to the development of popular song. There are other topics which may be too esoteric to warrant a full essay like European dance tracks of the early 1990s, boy bands of turn of the millennium, Reggaeton of 2005, Autotune of 2008/2009, dubstep of 2012/2013 or Trap over the past couple of years. All of these trends will make their appearance over the next few essays for the Pop Song History blog.

Central to the content of the Pop Song History blog is the reality that, while entertaining, music is a business, a multibillion-dollar industry which exists in order to sell a product to a consumer. During the Club Banger Era, there have been sweeping changes in the ways in which consumers get their pop songs, requiring a transition from a business model dependent on the sale of whole albums to a culture in which consumers demand interaction with music products and do not necessarily need a hard copy of music. This series will look at various ways that music consumers get their product and how this aspect has changed over the past quarter of a century, from the market-saturated CD album boom of the 1990s fuelled by retail outlets and mail order music clubs hawking “10 CDs for a penny”[9] to a time when online programmes like Napster launched a demand for digital music in the and early 2000s. In the 2010s, there are even more avenues in which music is a part of everyday life that technology is vital to delivery of music to consumers including satellite radio, digital download services like iTunes or Amazon, YouTube and Vimeo for streaming music videos that can reach up into the hundreds of millions of views, and subscription streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, iHeartRadio and AppleMusic which provide a musical service rather than an actual physical product. These methods of getting pop songs will also be featured as part this series into the Club Banger Era.

There has been discord in the music business while all of these changes have been happening. Demand for the music market has never been higher and yet, industry is not really in control of the business anymore. The music industry needs to sell a product to a consumer, after all, that is how songs become popular, and consequently make money to make more music for audiences always eager to get fresh products. The business is so pervasive that television commercials using popular songs can be used as an advertisement for the music and as an advertisement for the product shown. In the past, music labels and retailers controlled the market for music, but this aspect has changed and there is disconnect between consumer demand and selling products. The Pop Song History blog will explore how business has had to adjust to these changes in consumer sentiment, or sometimes when it fails to forecast consumer trends. The series on the Club Banger Era will also explore the ways in which the music industry responds to a popular culture where the consumer commands more control of the music market than the media companies. Also important are the numerous ways in which the legal system is involved and how copyright and intellectual property rights figure into a constantly changing technological environment that moves faster than legislation about intellectual property law. It has been a tumultuous time for recording industry and the retail of selling music and the Pop Song History will be there to explore what happened and how it affects pop music and the music consumer who demands it.

So these are the topics which Pop Song History will feature over the coming months. With this renewed vigour, there is great enthusiasm behind studying music from this era; it will be an interesting time, since there does not seem to be much research into intellectual history of contemporary popular music. The next essay will be a discussion on what a Club Banger is, why it merits its own separate era of music history and what separates this era from the previous one in music history. There will also be an explanation on why I do not believe that it is accurate to call it the Hip-Hop Era, even though there has been substantial influence of hip hop and African American music and musicians on the overall pop song culture in America. Thanks for reading, I hope for a prolific series.

References

Barker, Cory. “The End of an Era: A Eulogy for NBC’s Thursday Night ‘Must See TV’ Comedy Block. TV.com. 6 February 2015. Found at http://www.tv.com/news/nbc-comedy-block-is-dead-remembering-the-legacy-142290362410/.

Blair, M. Elizabeth. “Commercialism of the Rap Music Youth Subculture.” Contained in That’s the Joint!: The Hip Hop Studies Reader. Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, editors. New York: Routledge. 2004. 497-504.

Hamilton, Jack. “Columbia House Offered Eight CDs for a Penny, but Its Life Lessons Were Priceless.” Slate.com. 12 August 2015. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/08/12/columbia_house_bankrupt_mail_order_cd_club_s_owner_finally_going_out_of.html.

Harrison, Thomas. American History through Music: Music of the 1980s. Denver, CO: Greenwood. 2011.

Kondolojy, Amanda. “Syndicated TV Ratings: ‘Judge Judy’ Tops Households & Viewers; ‘Live with Kelly & Michael’ Leads Talkers for Week Ending August 16, 2015.” TVByTheNumbers.com. 25 August 2015. Found at http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/08/25/syndicated-tv-ratings-judge-judy-tops-households-live-with-kelly-michael-leads-talkers-for-week-ending-august-16-2015/453256/.

Lewis, Cary B. “William Marion Cook.” Contained in From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music. Kip Lornell, ed. Toronto, ON: Prentice Hall. 2010. 80-84.

Randall, Jessy. “Drinking Songs (United States).” Contained in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: A Global Encyclopaedia. Jack S. Blocker Jr, David M. Fahey and Ian R. Tyrrell, editors. Santa Barbara, Ca: ABC-CLIO. 2003. 208-210.

Starr, Larry and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to Mp3. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

[1] Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to Mp3, 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 65.

[2] William Marion Cook, qtd in Cary B. Lewis, “William Marion Cook,” contained in From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music,” Kip Lornell, ed, (Toronto, ON: Prentice Hall, 2010), 82.

[3] Amanda Kondolojy, “Syndicated TV Ratings: ‘Judge Judy’ Tops Households & Viewers; ‘Live with Kelly & Michael’ Leads Talkers for Week Ending August 16, 2015,” TVByTheNumbers.com, 25 August 2015, found at http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/08/25/syndicated-tv-ratings-judge-judy-tops-households-live-with-kelly-michael-leads-talkers-for-week-ending-august-16-2015/453256/.

[4] Cory Barker, “The End of an Era: A Eulogy for NBC’s Thursday Night ‘Must See TV’ Comedy Block, TV.com, 6 February 2015, found at http://www.tv.com/news/nbc-comedy-block-is-dead-remembering-the-legacy-142290362410/.

[5] Jessy Randall, “Drinking Songs (United States),” contained in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: A Global Encyclopedia, Jack S. Blocker Jr, David M. Fahey and Ian R. Tyrrell, eds, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2003), 208.

[6] Harrison, 62.

[7] M. Elizabeth Blair, “Commercialization of the Rap Music Youth Subculture,” contained in That’s the Joint!: The Hip Hop Studies Reader, Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, ed, (New York: Routledge, 2004), 498.

[8] Thomas Harrison, American History through Music: Music of the 1980s, (Denver, CO: Greenwood, 2011), 23.

[9] Jack Hamilton, “Columbia House Offered Eight CDs for a Penny, but Its Life Lessons Were Priceless,” Slate.com, 12 August 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/08/12/columbia_house_bankrupt_mail_order_cd_club_s_owner_finally_going_out_of.html.

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About morganhowland

I am a recent college graduate with a degree in American History. I am also a music nerd who likes keeping up with current music and knowing anything about pop songs of the past. Combining the two ambitions into a blog of essays on various topics of popular song history seems like an appropriate thing to do.

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