In our lifetimes we’ve already seen ’80s New Wave/dance pop, ’70s garage rock, and ’60s chamber/Baroque pop enjoy a revival of sorts. And surely we all remember the heady days of the Swing Revival of the mid-1990s, yes? Those were some good times my friends. Oh, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Squirrel Nut Zippers, why hast thou forsaken us?
Anyway, there other genres and styles that people once loved (or at least tolerated) that we could dig up and dust off as shiny and new? Of course there! Because here in America we hate to recycle plastic, but we sure love recycling music. So let’s look at five styles that could soon be lighting up the charts for the first time in decades.
Peak period: 1900s – 1910s
We’ve all heard, or rather been subjected to, the massive popularity of harmonized, Broadway-esque group singing thanks to the fine people of Glee. And chances are you’ve been annoyed by at least one Straight No Chaser song in recent years. The public’s appetite for group singing may have peaked, but is still quite high.
The natural evolution of this vocal renaissance, it seems to me, is to go the ultimate old school route. No, not doo-wop, as much I love that. It’s time to bring back Barbershop music. No instruments, no AutoTune, no warbly miasma, just four dudes looking dapper and belting out adaptations of timeless but long-forgotten Old Tyme songs like “Sweet Adeline” and “Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby.” Naturally they’d have to assume charmingly stilted names like the Greater Gotham Harmonizers, the Retrotones, or the League of Gentlemen Vocalists.
I think it could work, because let’s be honest — at the same time we were all laughing at the Be Sharps and “Baby on Board” from that classic 1993 episode of The Simpsons, we were also thinking that we could dig it if it were real. For one summer at least.
Peak period: 1970s
Now in some ways, disco has never gone away. But what has taken its place as a mass-market force has been — to my ears — a progression of increasingly grating and unsatisfying dance styles. I’m talking about vintage disco, the best of which was organic and totally fun even if you weren’t sweating your ass off on the dance floor or inhaling mountains of coke.
I get why the Disco Sucks backlash happened. Like most popular genres, disco eventually degraded into something more brainless, soulless, and worst of all formulaic. But consider for a second that it was once so huge that venerable rock acts like Kiss and the Rolling Stones even wanted in on the action a little bit.
And to be clear, I’m not talking about cheesy disco “clubs” where people are encouraged to dress up like ’70s sleazeballs and dance to 40-year-old songs. I think the world could use a bevy of new acts boasting those infectious beats played from real instruments. And hey, it looks like I’m not alone in wanting that.
#3. Bossa nova
Peak period: 1950s – 1960s
Few musical styles ooze coolness and sophistication like vintage bossa nova. Hell, it even made Frank Sinatra cooler than he already was, which was deemed scientifically impossible by a 1959 NASA study. And while one of the fathers of bossa nova, Antônio Carlos Jobim, is no longer with us, I’m certain there are musicians out there who could pick up the torch left by him and elevate the genre’s pop culture status to something more than a lounge room relic of the Mad Men era. Maybe it’s not too late to clone some of João Gilberto’s DNA.
#4. Outlaw Country
Peak period: 1960s – 1970s
I am of course aware that there are many country artists keeping the Outlaw spirit alive today. The problem is that they’re being completely swept out of the mainstream by a tidal wave of bland, brainless country pop churned out of the Nashville hit factory like so much audio sausage. Now it’s probably futile to argue what “real” country sounds like and I certainly am no expert, but when I listen to one of Waylon’s classic ’70s albums it just feels like country to me.
I guess what I really miss is the traditional country sound infused with a rock and roll spirit. Because when I hear what passes for mainstream country now I can’t help but ask myself, “Are you sure Hank done it this way?”
Peak period: 1920s – 1940s (U.S.), 1950s (U.K.)
First of all, I just love saying the word “skiffle.” Try it, it’s fun — skiffle. And sure enough, the music is really fun too. But it had fallen out of style in America by the 1950s, when it exploded in the U.K. It was the British skiffle renaissance and its stars — Lonnie Donegan chief among them — that influenced countless musicians to start playing.
Just look at a small list of legends who were moved by skiffle — Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, David Gilmour, and Graham Nash. And then there’s the most famous skiffle group of all — the Quarrymen, co-founded by John Lennon.
As much as American blues gets credit for launching rock and roll, I think skiffle is sorely overlooked by the average fan. And while I know it could never happen again, if a skiffle revival could influence just one future Lennon, Clapton, or Brian May it’d be more than worth it, don’t you?
If nothing else, it sure would be a ton of fun.