One big difference between pop music in 1975 and 2015

After watching the 1970’s classical/pop group ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) perform at the 2015 Grammy Awards, I was struck by how mechanized pop music has become over the past 40 years.

Here’s just one aspect of this:

Let’s say that a 1970’s recording had a string line behind the vocals during the chorus section. That string part had to be played by a live musician each time it occurred in the song. Regardless of whether it was played on violins or a keyboard, a real person had to record it to tape; playing it anew each time. Nowadays, that same string part would be played once and then digitally duplicated each time it appeared in the song. (The process is exactly the same as when you “cut and paste” in a word document.)

So now, even when a live person (and not a computer) is playing the music, the result is a string line that sounds EXACTLY the same throughout a song. No subtle differences from beginning to end. No emotional growth. No sense of momentum. No built-in variety. No “human-ness.” Just antiseptic “perfection.”

It’s ironic that it takes a group like ELO, who sounded so “electronic” back in the day, to remind us of what music sounds like when played with the human element.

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4 thoughts on “One big difference between pop music in 1975 and 2015”

  1. I love the cut-and-paste Word document comparison because of course that’s exactly what it is. Perhaps the word “Electric” in their name made listeners focus on the electronic sound that they produced, but in their earlier days it was less moog and more cellos, violins, etc. They had a rather large ensemble after their first album or two, and it made travelling and live performances very difficult. Plus mastermind Jeff was always hearing something in his head that he couldn’t quite duplicate on vinyl or disc until the technology caught up with his amazing brain! Even with Richard Tandy’s mad keyboard skills and all the electrical sound I always feel the underlying soul or sense of fun that ELO has in their music.

  2. Well, I DO love both rock and classical music, and there’s a place in my heart for analog synths. I missed ELO the first time around though, because I wasn’t into top 40 pop music much as a teen. So in a way it’s completing my musical education!


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