I, for the most part, dislike new popular music. This makes me susceptible to accusations of being an old fart who just doesn't get new music. A recent Wall Street Journal article describes this phenomenon. The author calls it generational bias. Vocal members of each generation lament how new music is not as good as the music they listened to in their teens. Generational bias is valid only if you believe the quality of music stays the same or improves constantly. The author of the article doesn't consider that artistic quality may actually fluctuate by era.
Now consider the list of the top 10 albums from 2011 and each preceding decade for the past five decades, as shown on the website Best Ever Albums, which ranks the albums by calculating their rank in other greatest albums charts:
2011: (1) Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes; (2) King of Limbs, Radiohead; (3) Bon Iver, Bon Iver; (4) Let England Shake, PJ Harvey; (5) James Blake, James Blake; (6) Yuck, Yuck; (7) Angles, The Strokes; (8) Kaputt, Destroyer; (9) Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Girls; (10) Wasting Light, Foo Fighters (*Note: I removed the Beach Boys' Smile Sessions from the list for obvious reasons.)
2001: (1) Is This It?, The Strokes; (2) Amnesiac, Radiohead; (3) Origin of Symmetry, Muse; (4) White Blood Cells, The White Stripes; (5) Lateralus, Tool; (6) Discovery, Daft Punk; (7) Toxicity, System of a Down; (8) The Blueprint, Jay-Z; (9) Vespertine, Bjork; (10) Oh, Inverted World, Shins
1991: (1) Nevermind, Nirvana; (2) Ten, Pearl Jam; (3) Loveless, My Bloody Valentine; (4) Achtung Baby, U2; (5) Blood, Sex, Sugar, Majik, Red Hot Chili Peppers; (6) Metallica, Metallica; (7) Primal Scream, Screamadelic; (8) Slint, Spiderland; (9) Blue Lines, Massive Attack; (10) The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest
1981: (1) Moving Pictures, Rush; (2) Dare!, Human League; (3) Faith, The Cure; (4) Damaged, Black Flag; (5) Discipline, King Crimson; (6) My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, David Byrne and Brian Eno; (7) Heaven Up Here, Echo and the Bunnymen; (8) Time, Electric Light Orchestra; (9) Killers, Iron Maiden; (10) Juju, Siouxsie and the Banshees
1971: (1) Led Zeppelin IV; (2) Who’s Next, The Who; (3) What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; (4) Hunky Dory, David Bowie; (5) Sticky Fingers, Rolling Stones; (6) Blue, Joni Mitchell; (7) Imagine, John Lennon; (8) L.A. Woman, The Doors; (9) At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers; (10) Meddle, Pink Floyd
1961: (1) King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson; (2) My Favorite Things, John Coltrane; (3) Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Ray Charles; (4) At Last!, Etta James; (5) Waltz for Debby, Bill Evans; (6) Ole, John Coltrane; (7) Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans; (8) Two Steps from the Blues, Bobby Bland; (9) Showcase, Patsy Cline; (10) The Great Summit, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington
Here's a mental exercise: Choose one top 10 list from the above years to take to a desert island. Did you choose the year that comes closest to defining your generation? I would choose the 1961 list or maybe the 1971 list. None of the other years comes close to the quality of the 1961 and 1971 lists. (I suppose some could make the argument that the 1991 list comes close in quality. I wouldn't begrudge them.) I didn't exist in 1961. In 1971, I was more concerned with tetherball than with pop music. The year that comes closest to defining my generation is 1981. I was in my late teens, the prime time when adult musical taste is form. I would consider the 1981 list one of the weakest of the past five decades, along with 2011. Maybe the boomers are right about their music being better and generational bias has nothing to do with it.
If there's a generational bias, it's on the part of kids today thinking current pop music is better or as good as the music that preceded it. Let's not kid ourselves. Led Zeppelin would've kicked the Fleet Foxes asses down the stairway to mediocrity, where they belong. That's not generational bias. That's the ability to recognize quality.