Usually you’ll find an isolated post or song analysis here on a Friday, but after a number of years of doing that and really taking a close look at many of the classic songs that we all grew up hearing, I thought that an overall analysis would be worthwhile. The 60s and 70s were a period of great experimentation in music, where in many cases the rules that are being used today were just beginning to be constructed. As a result, there are many telling differences between the songs of that period from what we commonly hear today. Let’s take a look at 4 ways classic songs are different from the popular songs of today.
1. The classic rock songs had no formula. The common formula for a hit song today revolves around the triad of verse, chorus and bridge, with a hooky instrumental riff for an intro and interlude. That’s also be the case with some classic rock songs too (“China Grove,” “Feels Like The First Time”), but more often than not songs of the era didn’t contain a bridge that provides a peak in the song. In fact, in many songs the peak (and what could be considered a bridge) happened as a result of the introduction of a completely new section that’s somewhat out of context with the previous part – almost like a different song melded into the original. Examples of this are “LA Women,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Layla,” “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Magic Man,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Free Bird.”
2. Tempo was never an issue for the classics. A look at the Top 40 of the last ten years shows that the tempo revolves around the 120 to 130 beats per minute area. The classic hits that we love have no such restrictions, as the tempo from song to song varies wildly, sometimes even within the song too.
3. The lyrical content was much more diverse. Hit songs have always been about love, either gaining it or losing it, and many have presented it in a lowest common denominator form with forced “moon – June” style rhymes. The classic rock songs certainly had some of that (“Feel Like Making Love”), but for the most part came from a different, more thoughtful place (“Layla,” “Magic Man,” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Dreams”). That said, many of the hits of the past tell stories about everyday life (“LA Women,” “China Grove,” “Radar Love,” “25 or 6 to 4”) or interesting thoughts and experiences (“Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Rocket Man,” “Kashmir,” “Smoke On The Water”).
4. Melody played a larger part in the song. Many of the songs on the charts in the last 20 years have revolved more around the beat than the melody. There’s always some sort of singable lyric involved or it wouldn’t be a hit, but melody played a much larger role in the classic rock hits. Sometimes the melody was closer to that of the standards of the 40s, like “Rocket Man,” or just had a wide range between verse and chorus (“Magic Man,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Feels Like The First Time,” “25 or 6 to 4”). Then again, there was also a fair number of songs where the melody of the verse was basically the same for the chorus (“Dreams,” “Layla,” “China Grove”) too.
So the next time you listen to a song, see if you can work out the song formula that it’s using. If you can’t, chances are it’s from an era long gone by.