Having written two books which have clear temporal boundaries - i.e. between 1966 and 1979 - I have been sometimes preoccupied by the significance, real or imagined, of particular years in the history of popular music. Somehow we seem to have become fixated with the three years of 1965, 1966 and 1967 as the miraculous years, a mid-decade triumvirate that is meant to represent the apogee of achievement in terms of both quantity and quality.
For myself, the years 1978 to 1980 were the three years that I fondly recall for the seemingly never ending amount of outstanding product that unfolded at the time. The so-called ‘Summer of Hate’ (1977) may have been the one of the most interesting year in terms of cultural shift and excitement, with the press as outraged at the behaviour of punks as it had been ten years earlier with that of hippies - both part- and full-time. However, although I remember it 1977 as being both unsettling and a wake-up call in many ways, in retrospect it didn’t really produce an awful lot of immortal recordings, not surprisingly, as one of the selling points of punk was it’s musical atavism. But the following three years, which were eventually named, rather clumsily,’ post-punk’, bore the full flowering of many of the ideas and ideals of the Blank Generation. Gary Mulholland, author of the very readable This Is Uncool: The Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco, sees 1979 as the greatest single year in pop history, “the last year in the playground before it was forced to grow up”, an opinion which I happen to share, apart from my view that the music dumbed down rather than matured from that point on.
All this was occasioned by Richard Williams’ latest blog, about 1965, which he fills largely by a list of the myriad fantastic recordings produced that year. Williams cites Jon Savage’s CD retrospectives of the three sixties anni mirabilii, 1965-67, as further proof, if any more was really needed, of how chock full of goodies those years were. Savage himself seems to have made a good living out of both mid-sixties and mid-seventies music, and good luck to him, he is a fine writer. His hefty book on 1965: The Year the Decade Exploded (2015) is highly recommended, as, of course, is his book on (mainly) 1977, London’s Burning, which still remains the definitive book on Punk. I’ve got the box set, Punk & New Wave, 1976-1979, with it’s great ‘badges’ design, but, when I compare this to the absolute mountain of mid-sixties compilations of mod, freakbeat and psychedelia clogging up my shelves, it seems that the post punk diaspora still has some way to go in terms of historical monumentalism.
I was only 10 years old in 1965; by 1977, I was 22, so naturally the later years are more ‘alive’ for me, although I do have clear memories of the pop scene of the mid.late sixties, as it was so inescapable (having an older sibling also helped). It seems that the sixties trio will forever be seen, by critics at least, as the Golden Age. But what about other years? The venerable David Hepworth had a go last year, with plugging the importance of 1971 of all years, but I remain wholly unconvinced by his arguments. Simon Reynolds was much more plausible with his wonderful Rip It Up and Start Again (the period from 1978-84), but I still await somebody else, probably someone much younger, trying to convince us that a particular year, say in the nineties and noughties, bears half as much musical and/or cultural heft as any of those of fifty years ago. I suspect that the contexts in which music is consumed has changed so much in these fifty years that such a competition might be next to impossible.