There’s no question that when it comes to music, U.S.A is far from being sidelined. This year saw the release of some classic albums that will be considered among the greatest of all time, and it was impossible to discuss contemporary music without mentioning the impact that social media has had on our music scene.
One of the best-known examples of how the culture has shifted focus is in the case of David Bowie. For many years, the music icon was known for his classical music influences and was often cited (notably by myself) as one of the icons of the glam rock era. Yet, following a lifelong obsession with anime, he returned with his critically acclaimed album, ★ (pronounced “star”), and it turned out to be one of the best-selling albums of all time, with a peak position of number two on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. What’s more, four of the album’s singles reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and two of them – “Lazarus” and “Blackstar” – reached the Top 5.
While a true masterpiece, ★ is probably best-known for the hit song “Blackstar,” which was included in the closing credits of the 2017 film Black Panther. The track was written and produced by Bowie himself, and it was a surprising return to form for the veteran. He’d previously worked with younger generations in the 1960s with his work with the Beatles, and it seemed that the years had taught him to relate better to the generation that had grown up listening to his music.
Another example of how the culture has shifted focus is with the music of Robert Pattinson. The English actor and musician has consistently been one of the most-talked about celebrities of the past year, largely due to his personal life as well as the fact that he’s an all-time great-looking man. Yet, when it comes to music, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. While his critically acclaimed album, Say Something, was one of the best-selling albums of the year, it was also the first of his albums not to include his full band, the Snow Patrol, which was made up of some of the best-known session musicians in the business. The album was noted for its combination of rock and indie-rock styles, and it was a bit of a departure for the singer-songwriter, who had previously worked with some of the biggest names in rock, including Noel Gallagher, Bono, and Tom Petty. It turned out that working with musicians he’d previously collaborated with was one of the best parts of the recording process. On top of that, the band he collaborated with for the album were all younger than him, which he admits was a challenge. In the end, however, it was an important step in his personal development as a musician.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the music that made him famous and why it remains important to this day.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E
The very first music video that anyone probably thinks of when they think of Robert Pattinson is that of the band U.N.C.L.E. The band is best known for its theme song, “Someday, Someday, Maybe,” which they wrote for the 1966 film of the same name. The song was originally recorded by the English pop group the Tremeloes for their 1965 album, More Golden Memories, and it was later covered by U.N.C.L.E and their U.S. label, Geffen Records. The band was formed in the 1960s, and it was initially inspired by the British Invasion, as the band members were all fans of the era’s biggest bands, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The song became a huge hit in Europe, and it still frequently shows up on classic rock radio stations to this day. While the song itself is a brilliant pop gem, the video – which was directed by Godfrey Ho and features appearances by Twiggy and the Bee Gees – is one of the most iconic music videos of all time. What’s more, it’s one of the first music videos ever made and, at just over three minutes long, it’s also one of the longest music videos ever made. On top of that, it was released just a few months after the death of John F. Kennedy, and it certainly didn’t hurt the band’s sales that the video was very much in the news in early 1966 when it was released.
Born In The U.S.A
One of the most famous songs about the Vietnam War is “Born In The U.S.A,” a protest song written and sung by Tom Petty and released in 1971. The song was inspired by Petty’s experience working as a roadie for Stevie Wonder, and it’s frequently cited as one of the greatest anti-war songs of all time. The video for the song, directed by Petty and filmed in New York City, is one of the most viewed clips on YouTube, with over 400 million views as of this writing. It follows the story of a Vietnam War veteran who, having returned home and begun a new life, is confronted by his country and the hypocrisy that he sees everywhere he goes. In the end, he realizes that he can never truly be accepted back into society because of the stigma surrounding his decision to not serve in the military. This is made evident in the final lines of the song: “Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own home town / I get a pang of sadness when I see some of my friends / They’ll understand, I’m sure, when I tell them why / I wasn’t there when they needed me / I wasn’t there for my own country.”
The song would later become the title track of Petty’s 1971 album, and it was one of the first albums to spawn a string of Top 40 hits for the rock singer-songwriter, who went on to have a hugely successful career that lasts to this day. Since its release, the album has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, and its singles reached the Top 40 on the Billboard charts, with “Room At The Top” reaching a peak position of number 12. More importantly, “Born In The U.S.A” is widely regarded as one of the finest anti-war songs ever written, and it’s frequently included on lists of the greatest anti-war songs of all time. If you’re looking for a list of the greatest protest songs ever written, look no further.
Released in 1989, Prince’s album, Diamonds And Pearls, is considered by many to be his artistic peak. The Purple One, of course, went on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time, with over 20 million albums sold worldwide. On top of that, “Let’s Dance,” the album’s lead single, spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 100 in April 1989, a record that still stands today. With over 1.3 billion views on YouTube as of this writing, “Let’s Dance” is one of the most popular music videos of all time. In the video, Prince is seen sitting at a table, playing drums. Towards the end of the song, he performs a drum solo – one of the most famous drum solos in video game history!
On the song, he sings: “Once you go black, you never go back / You gonna want some of this, gotta get your hands on some of that / You’re gonna want to start a conversation, wanna be invited to your party / I could give a lesson to the master, I could tell you what it means / When a girl says she likes you, well, she really means it / When she says she loves you, well, she really means it / When she asks you to be her boyfriend, well, you might have a chance / But when she asks you to be her husband, well, that’s when you know you’re in trouble.” While many of the album’s songs are considered to be Prince’s best work, “Let’s Dance” is considered to be one of his greatest songs, and it has stood the test of time. If you’re looking for a pure pop gem, look no further than “Let’s Dance.”