4 Musical Genres That Have Made a Comeback

By in Music Creation

Much like the Dali Lama and Shirley MacLaine, we can expect just about everything to be reincarnated at some point. In the recent past we’ve welcomed back cultural icons we should never have forgotten—vinyl records being at the top of that list. We’ve also seen things better left to history skulking back into our lives, such as trucker hats and the Measles. While the cyclical nature of things is constant, the musical genres that have made comebacks are often the truest milestones of where our culture is at any given moment. Let’s take a look at four of the genres that have had second, and sometimes even third lives in the era of digital recording.

Welcome back, old friend.

Oh, hey. It’s you again.

1. Motown

Old School Artists: The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye

New School Artists: Amy Winehouse, Adele, Fitz and the Tantrums

Essential Viewing: Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story

While it’s not surprising that the Motown sound made a comeback, what is surprising is that it took so long for it to happen. By 1964, Motown artists had charted 5 #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. By 1971, the label had racked up over 100 top 10 hits. America, and the world, had fallen in love with this sound.

What’s not to love? The Four Tops “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

Motown Records (and their Southern and stylistic cousin Stax Records) continued to produce classic albums throughout the 1970’s, but times and tastes had changed and what was known as the Motown sound had gone into hibernation. That all changed in 2006 when the late, great Amy Winehouse released “Back to Black”, an album that was unabashedly inspired by Motown. Following its’ release an entire new generation of artists came along to re-imagine one of America’s most important contributions to music.

Old School: Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

New School: Amy Winehouse “Tears Dry on Their Own”

In 2014 things came full circle again when Aretha Franklin (a practitioner of the sound, though actually not a Motown-signed artist) covered Adele’s hit “Rolling in the Deep”. Listen to both recordings and it’s a toss up as to whose version is better.

Old School: Adele “Rolling in The Deep”

New School: Aretha Franklin “Rolling in the Deep”

2. Punk Rock

Old School Artists: Sex Pistols, The Clash, Misfits

New School Artists: Green Day, Rancid, The Offspring

Essential Viewing: The Decline of the Western Civilization, The Filth and the Fury

By the mid 1970’s the era of hippie optimism had come to an end and people had pretty much settled into what became known as “The Me Decade”. For many, having lived through the struggles of Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the threat of nuclear war, things had simply gotten too heavy. Understandably, these people felt like they deserved to lighten up and boogie down to some disco jams. But for every action, that equal and opposite reaction exists and it’s no accident Punk Rock exploded on the scene at the height of disco fever in 1977.

A song about boogieing.

A Taste of Honey “Boogie Oogie Oogie”

A song about scabs, junkies and war.

Fear “I Love Living in the City/Let’s Have a War” {Language NSFW}

Punk pioneers from the UK were generally more political than their American counterparts. Their anger was born out of disgust for the dusty and rigid prejudices of the British class system, an economy that made people increasingly dependent on an unreliable state, and a general feeling of disdain towards the previous generation for having given up their ideals. Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash provided a soundtrack for these frustrations. On our side of Atlantic, punk rock was more rooted in goofy nihilism coupled with a dash of a good old-fashioned American thirst for fun. While the Sex Pistols sang about the specter of fascism, The Ramones sang tongue-in-cheek tunes about lobotomies and dance crazes.

Old School: The Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the U.K.”

New School: Against Me! “Thrash Unreal”

Cut to 1992 when I was in a tiny club in the bay area called the Berkeley Square. It was there I witnessed the best local band I’ve ever seen, Green Day. They were playing a gig with a new group called Rancid, who had been formed out of the ashes of another legendary punk band, Operation Ivy. This was a pretty good line up.

Within the next two years, Green Day would sign to a major label and become one of the biggest bands in the world. Their success opened the door for bands like Rancid and Bad Religion to get their records heard on the radio. But unlike the class of ’77, punk in the 1990’s and 2000’s was largely more about suburban boredom than politics. Both old school and new school punk will always share at least one thing—the very natural desire for young men to want to shout and kick and break things. Which is about as punk rock as it gets.

3. Garage Rock

Old School Artists: The Beau Brummels, The Sonics, Question Mark & the Mysterians

New School Artists: The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Strokes

Essential Listening: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, Little Steven’s Underground Garage

The line between power pop, punk rock and garage is blurry to almost anyone who isn’t an adherent of these styles. There are plenty of classic (and mainstream) 1960’s rock bands that fit every reasonable definition of garage, including a few massively popular groups like the Kinks. To me, the term primarily applies to bands that remained in the underground and demonstrated a weirder take on rock and roll. Garage disciples have spent countless hours sitting on bar stools arguing whether or not bands like the Kinks are part of the canon, and you’re welcome to join them. You could be in for a long night.

Old School: Question Mark & The Mysterians “96 Tears”

With the release of their debut album in 1999, the White Stripes gave garage rock a second crack at the mainstream. In truth, this was much to the dismay of many of the fans who had kept their scene a closely guarded secret for so many years. After all, this was a scene that had long identified itself as specifically not being accepted by the masses. It’s ironic that in a scene with such passionate fans, you’ll rarely meet a garage rock band that actually embraces that term when describing themselves. It’s a term that the White Stripes themselves always hated even though it’s clearly an apt description. Regardless of what you choose to call it, it’s a genre that lives and breathes the primitive, visceral soul of rock and roll.

New School: The Greenhornes “It Returns”

4. Folk/Americana

Old School Artists: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan

New School Artists: Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers

Essential Viewing: Don’t Look Back, A Mighty Wind

Folk music is a very broad term, so for the sake of this discussion lets start this story beginning in 1930’s America. It was then that the scholar and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax set about his life’s work to create the definitive archive of the genre. Traversing the country he made thousands of recordings and in the process created the Archive of American Folk Song. In the 1940’s, Lomax hosted radio programs featuring singers including Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. These were the men who came to epitomize what is known as the American folk music revival.



Old School: Woody Guthrie “This Land Is Your Land”

When The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released in 1963, the folk scene was forever changed. Almost overnight, Bob Dylan was elevated to the status of being the savior of the American folk music revival. But he was a reluctant icon. Dylan famously bristled at having his music even being described as folk, and in 1965 he set about shuffling off that tag with the release of Highway 61 Revisited. It was undeniably a rock and roll record—complete with backbeats, electric guitars and an album cover featuring a dude wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a motorcycle on it.

One upon a time, he looked so fine.

When he debuted the songs from Highway 61 Revisited with a rock band backing him up at the Newport Folk Festival in June of 1965, he nearly got booed off the stage. In retrospect, that audience should feel pretty stupid.

Bob Dylan angers fans by debuting one of the greatest songs ever written. “Like a Rolling Stone”

Of course, folk music continued on after Dylan went electric. Bearded men happily continued strumming open chords and blowing tunelessly through harmonicas all throughout the 1970’s. But by the time the 1980’s rolled around folk music had become mostly the stuff of summer camp sing-alongs. This was largely due to the fact that the majority of Americans were too busy watching Falcon Crest and shopping for leg warmers. This was kind of a losing hand for everyone involved.

But folk music really is America’s oldest form of music and it’s never going anywhere. We were once again reminded of this fact in the 2000’s with the arrival of folk revivalists like Bon Iver, the Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men.

New School: Bon Iver “Holocene”

Folk singers in the 1940’s often sang about stuff like the hardscrabble life of farmers working in the dustbowl. In the 1960’s they sang about the injustice of war and inequality. But folk music today often draws from the well of more personal experiences rather than trying to be a herald of modern culture. There’s more emphasis on human relationships and even on romance, a topic that was not greatly associated with the genre in the past. This development has been welcome news for young lovers who have an affinity for banjos and just want to folk all night.

Folk Yeah!

In the end, everything old is new again (and again and again and again). Will we see a revival of polka music? Probably, although I hope I don’t live to see that. Will Reggaeton once again dominate the airwaves? I’m sure it will, but probably just in places like Puerto Rico and Cancun, and I don’t really mind it when I’m down there. As the cycle continues the only thing we can be sure of is that if you live long enough you’re bound to hear your grandchildren playing records that sound suspiciously like something from your youth. I just hope I live long enough to hear some new band ripping off the Cure when I’m living in a retirement home.

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