There are thousands of individual moments that stand out in the history of music. Many of them groundbreaking, some are tragic, a few are uplifting. Here are a dozen that I think drastically changed the way music comes to our ears:
November 1918 - The patent for manufacturing records expires, opening the levees for an endless supply of albums that persists to this day. This isn’t a moment that’s often given much play in the history of music, but if anything resembling today’s pro-business government were in power at the time, such an important patent might not have been allowed to expire, perhaps changing the way a huge number of people have gotten their music fix over the years. Though many would say this fact was rendered fairly moot by…
October 29th, 1929 – The stock market in the United States crashes, precipitating the onset of the Great Depression. Of course, people without anything to eat aren’t buying a lot records (unless they’re in college), so this event spelled the effective end of many entertainers’ careers. The production of albums went into a steep and unabated decline that didn’t reverse until after WWII. It’s hard to say how many great voices were lost forever on the day the stocks all turned from money into ticker tape.
1948 (date unknown) - Les Paul invents audio multitracking. And the way that modern music is made was born. Multi-tracking is to music what instant replay is to televised sports – it’s nearly impossible to imagine what happens without this development. You can forget about those Pink Floyd records, that’s for sure.
July 5th, 1954 - Elvis records at Sun Studios. It’s entirely debatable whether Elvis and Sam Phillips invented Rock on this fateful day. For the sake of argument, let’s say they didn’t. This would still rank as one of the great moments because it was the birth of the first true music superstar. Elvis would jump to RCA before he would become a worldwide phenomenon, but there’s no doubt that the spark was lit in Memphis, one day after the country’s birthday party.
February 7th, 1964 - The Beatles arrive in America. When their plane touches down at JFK airport, a crowd of 3,000 awaits, and The Beatles immediately begin their conquest of the country. The volume of records that the Fab Four would sell here sealed their artistic (if not financial) freedom and enabled them to spend precious time in the studio crafting albums like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s that expanded the parameters of modern music.
July 25th, 1965 - Bob Dylan plugs in. When Dylan turned on his electric guitar on this Sunday evening in Newport, Rhode Island, it signaled the arrival of rock music as a culturally significant art form. At this point, The Beatles were just starting to make music that could be called Art with a straight face. Some cases have been made that the violent booing at Newport was about poor sound qualilty – but what those people were really yelling about was the death of the old guard.
June 16th-18th, 1967 - The Monterey Pop Festival. This “wear flowers in your hair” festival set the template for every large scale music festival ever thrown in its wake. And oh by the way, it also hepped the world to Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. Woodstock’s iconic mess and Altamont’s outright disaster took some steam out of the concept, but Lollapalooza reignited the idea full scale to the point where there are no shortage of brand name festivals in circulation today.
Late August 1973 - Cindy and Clive Campbell throw a house party. Cindy Campbell wanted to raise some money for school clothes, and her brother Clive had a killer sound system. The party that they threw during the last week of August 1973 in the rented Rec Room of their apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, South Bronx is generally regarded as the Big Bang of Hip-Hop. Clive later became known as DJ Kool Herc, and later still as the father of Hip-Hop culture.
December 8, 1980 - John Lennon is murdered. Lennon was the musical conscience of his generation. His anti-war activities during the 70’s earned him a spot on Nixon’s enemies list and nearly got him deported. Then he was suddenly gunned down one evening by a deranged, pathetic excuse of a person. His death was tragic and unexpected, and foreshadowed the transformation of the music industry into a bunch of vapid, me-first hair-jockeys. Speaking of…
August 1, 1981 - MTV is launched. And the way that music was packaged, sold, received, and perceived was forever changed. MTV (oh by the way, co-founded by ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith) became a nearly overnight sensation that made stars out of VeeJays (love you Martha Quinn!), Michael Jackson, and hair metal bands. Within 10 years it would become a 24/7 reality TV station with little or no music videos, but its influence has lingered.
October 1st, 1982 - Billy Joel’s 52nd St is released… [wait for it...] on compact disc. This Japanese issue marks the first album to see production on compact disc, and introduces the world to a brand new format.
January 10th, 2001 - Apple introduces iTunes. Behind a podium at MacWorld in San Francisco, Steve Jobs ushers in the digital age of music. This supersleek music application literally changed the way people interact with music. And when the iTunes store opened two years later, the focus of music began a seismic shift away from compact discs and towards MP3s, and (as a consequence) from albums to singles. And although we’re still riding the wave of this development, it’s easy to see it’s a big one.
[A few runner-ups: Monopolization of airwaves effectively kills AM/FM radio in America, Release of Eric Clapton's 'Crossroads' ignites box set fever, Release of live Rolling Stones bootleg 'LiveR Than You'll Ever Be' ignites bootleg fever, Ramones release self-titled debut, starting US Punk movement, Berry Gordy Jr. founds Motown Records.]