- BBC Mundo, @bbc_ciencia
What revolutionized pop music? And when did those musical revolutions happen?
The answer to those questions was sought by a group of British scholars who scientifically studied that musical genre of the last 50 years and found that there were three style revolutions between 1960 and 1910.
Scientists from London Universities Queen Mary e Imperial College, analyzed more than 17,000 pop songs that made the list US Billboard Hot 100, that collects the most popular international melodies.
They studied different characteristics of the songs, such as the harmony, the chord changes, and the tones of the music. And then they analyzed how they changed over time.
And their results were published in the scientific journal Royal Society Open Science.
First revolution: 1964
At the beginning of the 60s, the presence in songs of the so-called dominant seventh chords, present in jazz and blues, began to diminish.
And in 1964, the year that marked this first revolution identified by scholars, was when an “invasion” of British groups took place on the international scene.
According to the scientists, this marked the first style revolution in pop music, understanding revolution as a period of extremely rapid changes in the lists of the most listened to.
What did it sound like? Bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones introduced a radically new rock sound to music.
This first revolution gave way to an increase in major chords and increasing “aggression” with the guitar and less delicate vocals, according to the researchers.
Second revolution: 1983
It was the new technologies, synthesizers, samplings and drum machines that led to this second stylistic revolution.
And 1983 the year it took place, the scientists identified.
What did it sound like? Artists like Michael Jackson, The Police, and the Eurythmics topped the charts in America in this second revolutionary era.
The successful “Sweet dreams are made of this” by Eurythmics, the British duo of Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, was released in 1983.
Curiously, the technopop that characterized the 80s so much, sometimes coexisted with soul and the African-American doo-wop style of Billy Joel, while songs such as “all night long” by Lionel Richie sounded, which incorporates Caribbean influences to funk.
The third and “greatest” revolution: 1991
The year 1991, with the arrival in commercial music of rap, hip hop and other related genres, was the one that marked the beginning of the third revolution, according to the results of the study.
“The third revolution is the greatest,” study leader Matthias Mauch of the Queen Mary University of London.
“This was very clear in our analysis, because when looking at harmony, rap and hip hop don’t use much harmony. The emphasis is on the sound of the voice and the rhythm.”
“This was a real revolution: suddenly it was possible to have a pop song without harmony.”
The rise of hip hop was in part fueled by the popularity of the MTV show Yo! MTV Raps. Thus the emphasis on voice patterns was accentuated, some funk rhythms from the 70s were revived, and all-powerful guitars disappeared.
What did it sound like? As typical examples from 1991, researchers mention the music of rapper Busta Rhymes, Nas, and Snoop Dogg.
Songs like this one of rap, “Around the Way Girl”, by LL Cool J, which was number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1991, were triumphing.
However, the best-selling song of the year had nothing to do with these styles: it was “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adam.
Other more subtle changes
Researchers say that some musical changes were much slower to make the charts, but still made a big impact.
“Minor seventh chords were introduced through funk, soul, and disco in the 1970s,” Mauch said.
“That did not cause a revolution, but these chords were not there before and since then they have not disappeared. New songs continue to use these chords a lot,” he explained.
A year to forget and a myth dismantled
1986 was, according to the study, the least diverse year on the charts.
Or in other words, the most boring. A fact that researchers attribute to the popularization of drum machines and samplings.
It was there when “West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys triumphed and several of Janet Jackson’s greatest hits were heard.
As for rock music, the initial drums of Phil Collins’ 1981 song “In the air tonight” were later copied by almost every rock band of the time.
According to the researchers, the arrival in 1980 of the known in English as arena rock, the popular rock of the great stadiums of artists like Bon Jovi or Bruce Springteen, marked a time when music lacked diversity.
However, academics say that during the 50 years analyzed, music has constantly evolved and they deny the idea that pop music is beginning to sound all the same.
“A lot of people say the music is getting worse but we don’t find evidence of anything like that. There is no general trend that the songwriting, the musical ingredients of the charts, is getting more bland,” said Matthias Mauch.
“What is really fascinating is seeing how that diversity has been changing.”