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PD: popular songwriting features and trends17 Dec 2005 17:16
An extremly incomplete list of genre trademarks and lasting influences of popular genres. Sorry for being very sketchy, I tried to concentrate merely on the trademarks that were influenting pop and rock music as we know today.  
Ragtime: important breakthough in terms of syncopation. The 3+3+3+3+4 and 2+3+3+3+3+2 cliches were probably (?) born in the ragtime era.
Jazz: some imporant chord cliches became fashionable: I > vi > ii > V, I > vi > IV > V, chain of fifths. The so-called blue notes were also an important contribution to popular songwriting.
Blues: one of the first minimalistic genres (twelve bar blues cliche). The blues scale became widely used in guitar solos in both popular and heavy metal songs.

swing: important genre-trademarks are the shuffle beat and the tight parallel harmonies (see Glenn Miller's horn arrangements, Andrew Sisters' vocal harmonies).
Tin-pan Alley, Vaudeville: I have just vague impressions of this genre, but as I observed chain of fifths were heavily used in TPA songs.

rock and roll: breakthrough in terms of intense vocal and stage performance.
Harmony-, phrasing- and form-wise rock and roll is simple and cliche-driven (twelve bar blues).
Doo-wop: another cliche-driven sub-genre (I-iv-IV-V).

These two subgenres are heavily responsible for creating the image of non-creative fifties in sharp contrast with the creative sixties. If you look outside of these two genres you will find more creativ songwriters. Toward the end of this decade the modal borrowed chords (bVII, bVI, bIII) were spreading.
1958: the first stereophonic LP released.

Sixties: Rock and roll music breaks free from the cliches. Some important genres to appear: guitar riff-driven heavy metal, progressive rock. Modal chords and chord progressions, inverted chords were being spread. The most important of these: the double plagal cadence. Another important musical device that broke through in this decade is the pedal bass.
Influented by the evolution of studio technique experimenting with new sounds became fashionable around 1960.
There was a breakthrough in terms of songforms (less extensively in the pop music. The Beach Boys and Beatles were important pioneers around 1966-67. Lyrics became more artistic (Bob Dylan's influence should be mentioned).

Seventies saw the classic era of the progressive rock. In terms of complexity they left behind the sixties, but after a few years it became more and more harder to impress people with the overhelming artistic values. The use of pre-chorus became fashionable also in this decade, still very popular.
Disco and funk: Relatively minimalistic genres in terms of phrasing and rhythm. Before disco minor key songs were in big minority. For now they rule dance oriented pop music. Consider this: the 27 No1 hits of the Beatles were all in major key and also Queen's Greatest Hits also were dominated by them.
Punk: minimalistic sub-genre in terms of arrangement form and harmony. In the eighties punk become much more intense and faster paced.

Maybe the least respected decade by critics.
New Wave: I'm still uncertain what musical features define this genre, but you can't fail noticing its influence on the overall sound of the eighties.
Rap: another minimalistic trend. One of the few musical trademarks of this genre is the frequent use of triplets. Succesfull rap song all have memorable hooks. In the vaste majority of cases the rapper has no controll on the musical content.
After some static years Heavy Metal music went through significant changes. Van Halen, Metallica and Megadeth were in the front line.

Until the nineties you could tell about a song which year it was released in. From the nineties on it is getting harder, at least for me.
1.Sebastian 17 Dec 2005 22:04
Guitar evolution is nicely reflected by decades:

- 50s: Memorable solos (e.g. Rock Around The Clock). There were some good players imo but the focus was much more on vocals and orchestras, therefore guitar wasn't as popular as it is now.

- 60s: Blues-influenced guitar players begin to emerge. Solos were rather basic compared to the 70s. At the beginning of the decade guitars didn't play a very big part in the foreground, at the end the market was full of bands with a guitar hero (Who, Zeppelin, Sabbath...), and experimentation on guitar sounds, scales and effects was wide. Hendrix marks a before and after in the topic.

- 70s: Very wide range of guitar styles and approaches, now further from blues. Some guitar players are more classical oriented and acoustic plays an important role. While in the 60s there weren't many twin guitar solos or motifs (e.g. And Your Bird Can Sing), in the 70s they were, even if not trendy, much more spread (Paul&Ace at Kiss, Don&Joe at Eagles). Some of the 70s classics have got acoustic guitar in a principal part of the backing track - Stairway To Heaven, Dust In The Wind, Angie, Chiquitita - although acoustic solos seldom appear. Electric-wise, most of the guitar heroes of the era weren't technically virtuosos, then they replaced it by creating beautiful melodies and being as distinctive as possible (e.g. David Gilmour).

- 80s: Eddie Van Halen, one of the very few technically virtuoso successful rock players of the time, takes the best of both world by joining forces with Jacko and making each artist - an genre - increase their fandom substantially. Even now, imo, most of the pop artists are backed by guitar players who are, technically, much better than 90% of rock hairy heores. Virtuosoism becomes much more popular and we find basically three different approaches: musical pieces fullfilled with fast runs on scales and modes as exotic as possible, instrumental songs in which guitar plays a melody maintaing its virtuoso status, and hard-rock or metal bands doing hoarse tracks, or even ballads, with frantic guitar exhibitions. Exceptionally gifted players such as Kirk and Slash appear, combining a very advanced technique with a unique personality and guitar experimentation now it's not as extreme as before. I mean, the early 70's approach of large racks of pedals is still present in some ways but now the most favoured sound is more oriented to make the guitar be a guitar and not an intergalactic device whatsoever.

- 90s: Many different genres and styles dominate the scene, therefore guitar-adepts are reduced to only a minority, compared to the 80s. There are still guitar vitruosos and many of them are trying more daring things each time, decorating their solos with visual effects (e.g. juggling), but their rank has been diminished and the boundaries between fandoms have been increased, yet a much wider range of hybrid styles appears. Perhaps next year we'll have Yoko and her huge come-back with a light-hard-tango'd-metal-mambo-celtic record sung in Etruscan with dinousaur voice samples and the classic bloody yelling.

It'd be nice to research about the evolution and influence of rhythm guitar. It certainly has changed a lot in these half-century, from the early 60s basic strumming patterns to the elaborate counterparts some records include.
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