Once there was American pop music, and lots of it, that scored both here and around the world. Circa 1995 I was in West Virginia and began warbling the old John Denver chestnut on that region that made it big on the ‘70s hit parade; and some young ladies just over from China began grinning along, very familiar with this fine ditty celebrating a lovely part of the U.S.

Earlier composers, many from the Big Apple, also celebrated American regions with fine standards – remember that word “standard” to connote a song most everyone should know? These included the likes of “Moonlight in Vermont,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Georgia on my Mind” (or was that re a lady named Georgia?); and of course “Smog Over LA” (not really!).

As most could agree, there used to be a thriving and more than competent American music industry, and now? Now we have computer archives that are truly a marvel, but which constitute a real two-edged sword. In today’s era both kids and 90-year-olds can punch in this or that old song from a more golden era, or series of them, quickly allowing anyone (of any age) to enjoy, say, Jo Stafford’s “You Belong to Me,” Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes,” the Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway; and the good stuff in my view, starts winding down a bit in the ‘80s, more steeply and drastically (like some recent stock market days) by the ‘90s, and ending in the present, where American recordings that most anyone can love have become truffle-like, i.e., difficult to locate.

To be brief there are few national, across-the-generational-board hits these days. So people go to their PCs, bringing up generally better, often much better old fare from the Swing decades (‘30s and ‘40s), the crooner period that followed (Sinatra, Cole, Clooney et al.); then the young rock epoch of the ‘50s (Elvis, Little Richard, etc.); and into the go-go ‘60s with the Beatles, Supremes and the rest; and then the ‘70s of Elton, the Carpenters, and so forth; and to the ‘80s of many more performers and groups people could handily name (me, I prefer Stevie Wonder to, say, the B-52s from that decade, but we all have our own faves).

In any event: today’s archival facility at a push or two of the mouse is frankly astonishing, but perhaps too darned easy. Even karaoke, which pre-pandemic thrived at numerous bars, is now in the computer, too, and so one can warble away on this or that old tune in the comfort of one’s own home.

Yes, it’s all easy, easy. But “easy” can exact great prices. Why try to hatch new songs, and especially, to get them well-arranged in studios with good piano work and strings, when you can just listen to so much fine stuff in your own easy chair? Of course this archival revolution isn’t the full problem, far from it; but it has helped fuel the loss of compelling new American music, a huge loss to go with – as some might argue – that of new movies which score with everyone (the way “The Ten Commandments,” “The Guns of Navarone,” or even “The First Wives Club” or “Overboard” could once do). Archival facility in such domains plays a role in a palpable decline there, too.

Now here’s a funny segue, a kind of odd jazz riff, if you will. I’m no fan at all of the abominable monster, Vladimir Putin (how did he make it into this article?); but when he avers that the U.S. is now decadent, that it’s passed its peak (he himself used to sing “Blueberry Hill,” among other old American hits known abroad), he does have a point. A biggie, in fact, and one that helped push Horrid Vlad to test our mettle with his insanely ruinous invasion of the Ukraine.

All that aside, and to regain the thread, what in tarnation HAS happened to American pop music? The subject is a large one, indeed, and terse answers to this question, such as what’s provided above, won’t fully unlock the puzzle. But it’s certainly a sad development, isn’t it?

B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.

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