TIME Music

Hip-Hop Was the Biggest Revolution in American Music and That’s Backed By a Study of 17,000 Songs

Photo of Public Enemy Jan. 1, 1991
Ebet Roberts—Redferns/Getty Images Photo of Public Enemy , on Jan. 1, 1991

Forget the British invasion of the 1960s or the synth-pop of the 1980s

The explosion of hip-hop onto the music scene in the 1990s was the biggest musical revolution in American pop history.

That’s according to a team of scientists who, for the first time, have analyzed the evolution of Western pop music, spanning from 1960 to 2010, and published their findings in the Royal Society Open Journal.

The team, from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, looked at 30-second snippets from about 17,000 songs from the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 over a 50-year period. The researchers studied trends in style and diversity as well as how harmony, chord changes and tonal quality changed over time.

“We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed,” said lead author of the study Matthias Mauch.

Mauch’s team found that there were three distinct music revolutions: 1964, 1983 and 1991.

1964 was the start of “British invasion” when bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones flooded the American charts. But contrary to popular belief, these bands didn’t initiate the rock revolution, they were merely following existing trends.

The rise of new technologies — such as synthesizers, samplers and drum machines — in the 1980s ushered in a new style of music, personified in bands like Duran Duran or the Eurythmics.

But then hip-hop exploded into the mainstream in the 1990s, sparking the biggest music revolution in 50 years.

“The rise of rap and related genres appears, then, to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied,” Mauch said.

TIME Music

Cynthia Lennon, Former Wife of John Lennon, Dies at 75

Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Cynthia, sit in London Airport, England, before flying to the U.S. on Feb. 7, 1964.
AP Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Cynthia, sit in London Airport, England, before flying to the U.S. on Feb. 7, 1964.

She died of cancer in her home

Cynthia Lennon, the former wife of John Lennon and eyewitness to the early days of the Beatles, died in her home Wednesday at the age of 75.

Her death was confirmed by a publicist and on her son Julian Lennon’s Twitter page. She died in her home in Spain after a “short but brave battle with cancer,” according to a memorial page.

The Lennons met in art school before the Beatles got their start in Hamburg, and married in 1962 after Cynthia Lennon realized she was pregnant. Their marriage and subsequent birth of their son Julian was initially kept a secret, to avoid upsetting the growing Beatlemania, but Cynthia and Julian eventually got a front-row seat to the Beatles’ growing popularity in England and the U.S. The Lennons divorced in 1968, when John Lennon became involved with Yoko Ono.

Cynthia chronicled their marriage and her experience with the Beatles in two books, A Twist of Lennon (1978) and John (2010).

TIME Music

Lou Reed, Green Day, Joan Jett and More Join the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015

Reading Festival 2013 - Day 1
Joseph Okpako—Redferns/Getty Images Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day performs on stage at the Reading Festival 2013 at Richfield Avenue on Aug. 23, 2013 in Reading, England.

Sorry, N.W.A., Chic, The Smiths and Sting. Maybe next year!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced that its Class of 2015 will include Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and the late Lou Reed, whose band The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 by Patti Smith.

Other inductees for 2015 include first-time nominee Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble; “Lean on Me” singer Bill Withers, who hasn’t released new music in nearly three decades; The Paul Butterfield Blues Band; and Green Day, whose debut EP, 1,000 Hours, came out in 1989. They are entering the Rock Hall in their first year of eligibility.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is also honoring Ringo Starr this year; he will be given the Award For Musical Excellence. Starr — the former drummer for The Beatles who were inducted in 1988 — is the last of his bandmates to receive the honor. Also being inducted is 1950s R&B group the “5” Royales, who will receive the Early Influence Award.

Joan Jett has been eligible for the Rock Hall for years — and should have been inducted ages ago. Her nomination gained traction after she joined Nirvana on stage last year for a ferocious performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It has become tradition for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies to end with a massive cross-genre jam session between the inductees — one can only hope that this year they wrap the ceremony with all the artists playing their hearts out to Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll.”

Congratulations to this year’s inductees, and better luck next year to nominees The Smiths, N.W.A., Nine Inch Nails, The Spinners, The Marvellettes, Kraftwerk, Sting, War, and American disco outfit Chic, who have been nominated for the Rock Hall nine times since 2003. While many speculated that 2014 would be their year, thanks to the work of member Nile Rodgers with Daft Punk, the band has been overlooked yet again.

TIME Music

Why John Lennon’s Death Was the End of an Era

John Lennon cover
TIME The Dec. 22, 1980, cover of TIME

The killing, on Dec. 8, 1980, marked a major social shift

John Lennon’s death 34 years ago today triggered the same shock and outpouring of grief as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. So wrote critic Jay Cocks for his 1980 TIME cover story about the legacy of the late Beatle and his death by the hands of Mark David Chapman. The touching tribute — comments from Bruce Springsteen that are included in the piece may bring tears to your eyes — featured one memorable quote from Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono: “This is not the end of an era,” she said in the days after he was killed. “The ’80s are still going to be a beautiful time, and John believed it.”

But in his piece, Cocks makes the case for why Ono’s words were more wishful thinking than a truthful declaration.

The band had broken up a decade before, but Lennon’s death signaled a shift more serious than the Beatles’ dissolution ever did. After all, the music of the Beatles would be around indefinitely, whether or not the band continued to record together.

When Lennon died at age 40, however, everyone who had grown up with the Beatles was approaching middle age too. In addition to their sadness about Lennon’s death, they could not ignore their own mortality. “For everyone who cherished the sustaining myth of the Beatles,” Cocks wrote, “the murder was something else. It was an assassination, a ritual slaying of something that could hardly be named. Hope, perhaps; or idealism. Or time. Not only lost, but suddenly dislocated, fractured.”

There was an innocence and idealism to Beatles songs, Cocks explained, that stood in stark contrast to how Lennon died. Even kids could sense the loss: “I recognize the end of an era — my mom’s,” 16-year-old Gretchen Steininger told TIME. In the days after Lennon died, a Florida teenager and a 30-something man in Utah committed suicide and left notes behind that referenced depression over Lennon’s death.

Mark David Chapman is still alive. He’s now 59, and he’s been denied parole eight times — the most recent was August of this year — since he was imprisoned in 1981. (Ono has publicly campaigned against his release.) “At that time, I wasn’t thinking about anybody else, just me,” said Chapman, who can try again in 2016, at this year’s hearing. “But now, you know, obviously through people’s letters and through things I hear a lot of people were affected here. I am sorry for causing that type of pain. I am sorry for being such an idiot and choosing the wrong way for glory.”

Read the full 1980 cover story about John Lennon, here in the TIME Vault: When the Music Died

Read next: Paul McCartney Thankful for Repaired Friendship Before John Lennon’s Death

TIME movies

‘Walter Mitty’ and the LIFE Magazine Covers That Never Were

Many of the classic LIFE magazine covers on display in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' were, in fact, never LIFE covers at all.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” James Thurber’s classic 1939 short story, is a tribute to the sometimes unsettling power of the human imagination. It’s also very, very funny and, alongside a number of other Thurber gems — “The Catbird Seat,” “The Night the Bed Fell,” “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox” — remains an indispensable example of the uniquely American, mid-20th-century humor that found its highest expression in the pages of the New Yorker.

The most recent movie adaptation of the Mitty story stars Ben Stiller in the titular role as the archetypal nebbish who retreats into an intensely vivid fantasy world in times of stress. (The first film version of Mitty, starring Danny Kaye, was released in 1947.) In this rendition of the tale, Stiller plays a photo editor at LIFE magazine — still publishing, thanks to the magic of the movies, four decades after it shuttered in 1972 — and much of the film is set in the meticulously recreated offices of the storied weekly. In those offices, meanwhile, hang poster-sized versions of LIFE magazine covers through the years.

The covers are stirring, iconic — and, for the most part, they’re fake.

Or rather, the majority of the LIFE covers one sees in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were never covers at all. The pictures on the covers in this gallery, for example — the launch of Apollo 11; Jayne Mansfield luxuriating in a swimming pool; a theater audience watching the first-ever 3-D feature-length film — are, indisputably, classic LIFE images. But none of them ever graced the cover of LIFE magazine.

“When we were selecting photos for the LIFE covers in Walter Mitty,” says Jeff Mann, the production designer on the film, “we focused on pictures that would serve the story we were telling, but that would also capture the diversity of what LIFE covered in its prime. We worked really, really hard to select photos that were novel, naïve — in the best possible way — and that featured significant twentieth-century people, places and events.”

In the end, Mann says, he and his team — and Stiller, who is a photography aficionado — felt that the photos they chose to use as covers, from the literally millions of pictures in LIFE’s archive, had to somehow “convey the influence of LIFE magazine, while at the same time helping to move our story along. It was a fabulous problem, and one we had a lot of fun working to solve.”

Here, then, are a number of LIFE covers that never were — including several that, in light of how wonderful they look, perhaps should have been covers, after all.

[See all of LIFE’s galleries]

[Buy the book, 75 Years: The Very Best of LIFE]

TIME Music

‘The Art of McCartney': The Making of a Massive Tribute Album

Sir Paul McCartney attends 2014 Women's Leadership Award Honoring Stella McCartney at Lincoln Center on Nov. 13, 2014 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images Sir Paul McCartney attends 2014 Women's Leadership Award Honoring Stella McCartney at Lincoln Center on Nov. 13, 2014 in New York City.

McCartney covers LP may have the most impressive lineup ever

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Over the past two decades, producer Ralph Sall has assembled all-star albums honoring everything from Saturday-morning cartoon themes to the Grateful Dead. In 2003, he decided to embark on his biggest project yet: a massive Paul McCartney tribute record. “I never realized this would take me 10 years,” Sall says.

MORE: In Pics: The 12 Strangest Paul McCartney Songs

The Art of McCartney, a 42-track set out November 18th, took so long for a very good reason – nearly everyone Sall approached said yes. The album has one of the most impressive lineups of any tribute record ever: from Brian Wilson, who covered the 1982 deep cut “Wanderlust,” to Billy Joel (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), to Chrissie Hynde (“Let It Be”). The biggest coup of all: Bob Dylan, who rarely participates in these sorts of projects. Dylan chose to tackle “Things We Said Today.” “I was surprised he decided to take part,” says Sall. “That’s not the song I would have picked, but it sure fits him.”

MORE: Paul McCartney: The Long and Winding Q&A

Willie Nelson contributed a stark acoustic “Yesterday,” though it’s not his first time covering the song. “I recorded it when it first hit the market,” Nelson says. “I had a band in Fort Worth, and I told the audience, ‘Here’s a pretty good song I heard by a little country group called the Beatles.’ I just think McCartney is one of the best songwriters around.”

MORE: In Pics: Paul McCartney – A Life in Pictures

In most cases, Sall personally matched the song with the artist he wanted to cover it, and McCartney’s backing band – whom McCartney loaned Sall for the project – provided the backing. Sammy Hagar, who did “Birthday,” was stunned he was asked to participate. “I might have gone with ‘Let Me Roll It’ or ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ ” he says. “But ‘Birthday’ does fit my voice. Great guitar riff, too.”

MORE: In Pics: Behind Beatlemania: Intimate Photos of Paul McCartney

TIME Music

Watch The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus Cover The Beatles on Conan

Strange can be beautiful

The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus continued their campaign of weird on Conan last night with a performance of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne donned a floor-length metallic cape, from which Cyrus, two minutes in, emerged wearing a tinsel wig and googly eye-adorned bodysuit.

The Flaming Lips are promoting its recent album, With a Little Help from My Fwends, a tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band featuring guest appearances by Cyrus, My Morning Jacket and Moby, among others. All proceeds from album sales go to an Oklahoma City non-profit that assists low-income and elderly pet owners with veterinary costs and rescues abandoned pets.

The performance itself was a worthy cover, between Cyrus’ echoing, breathy interlude and just the right amount of intergalactic sound effects. The Flaming Lips are known for featuring extraterrestrial themes onstage, and this performance was no exception. It’s refreshing to see Cyrus get through a song without sticking her tongue out or twerking, and the oddball pair sounded quite lovely together.

TIME

1964 in LIFE Magazine Covers: The World, 50 Years Ago

LIFE.com looks back at 1964 through LIFE magazine covers featuring the Beatles, Cassius Clay (when he was still Cassius Clay), Jackie Kennedy, the New York World's Fair and more.

There’s something alluring about big, round anniversaries. People just can’t seem to get enough of them. On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, for example, virtually every media outlet in the United States—and more than a few overseas—responded with tributes, photos, videos and analysis. Even less-significant round anniversaries—say, the 40th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic 1973 tour of China—often garner a remarkable amount of attention.

Here, LIFE.com looks back at 1964 through the lens of LIFE magazine covers. While not nearly as momentous as other dates from that tumultuous decade (1963 and 1968 come readily to mind), 1964 was, like any other year, nevertheless filled with events, personalities, triumphs and tragedies that, to greater or lesser degrees, still resonate today. From the release of the classic 007 movie, Goldfinger, to the emergence of a brash young fighter named Cassius Clay; from the first rumblings of Beatlemania and the British Invasion to America’s deepening entanglement in Southeast Asia and Vietnam, LIFE covers at the time provided readers with a sort of weekly visual tally of the year’s significant people and moments.


TIME Music

Original Abbey Road Review: Record ‘Crammed With Musical Delights’

Abbey Road
EMI The Beatles' Abbey Road album cover

The album was released 45 years ago

Forty-five years ago, on Sept. 26, 1969, one of the most acclaimed rock albums in history was released: The Beatles’ Abbey Road.

And, unlike some cultural behemoths that take a while to sink in, the grandeur of the album was immediately recognized. As TIME noted in the Oct. 3, 1969, review of the record, there was something special going on:

“We were more together than we had been for a long time,” said John Lennon last week. “It’s lucky when you get all four feeling funky at the same time.” Lennon was talking about a recording session last summer that produced the latest Beatles record. Out this week, it is called Abbey Road, in honor of the group’s favorite studios in London. The disk proves lucky indeed — for listeners who like being disarmed by the world’s four most fortunate and famous music makers. Melodic, inventive, crammed with musical delights, Abbey Road is the best thing the Beatles have done since Sgt. Pepper (1967). Whereas that historic record stretched the ear and challenged the mind and imagination, Abbey Road is a return to the modest, pie-Pepper style of Rubber Soul and Revolver. It has a cheerful coherence — each song’s mood fits comfortably with every other — and a sense of wholeness clearly contrived as a revel in musical pleasure.

…The record’s unity is best illustrated by the tightly knit and unpretentious way it combines a variety of styles. Among them: old-line rock ‘n’ roll (Oh! Darling), low blues (I Want You), high camp (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer), folk (Here Comes the Sun). Though the listener here and there finds such things as a vocal chorus or a swash of electronic sound, most of the time the instrumental textures are uncluttered by overdubbing. Rarely has John played better guitar than on I Want You (She’s So Heavy), a cunning combination of two songs with a chilling, mean blues throb. Rarely have Bassist Paul and Drummer Ringo achieved more cohesive yet flexible rhythm than on Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam.

And, despite a majority of songs bearing the familiar Lennon/McCartney credit, the album was also George Harrison’s time to shine. His song “Something” was already getting radio play, and the time he had recently spent with Bob Dylan was paying off. “This has helped him achieve a new confidence in his own musical personality,” the reviewer noted. “His three colleagues frankly think that Something is the best song in the album”

Read a 1969 story about the “Paul is dead” urban legend started by the Abbey Road album art, here in TIME’s archives: Of Rumor, Myth and a Beatle

TIME celebrity

Watch Paul McCartney Rap About Vegetarians

A promo for Meat-Free Mondays

Sir Paul McCartney is not only one of the most famous musicians in the world, but he is also one of the most famous vegetarians in the world. In a new video, McCartney melds those two passions together into a jingle to promote Meat-Free Mondays.

The Meat-Free Monday movement stems from the idea that cutting out animal products from the human diet — even just getting meat consumption down to one day a week — can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In this clip released ahead of the UN climate summit on Tuesday, McCartney calls on politicians and the public to commit to a weekly meat-free day to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of eating meat.

At the end of the call to action, McCartney starts rapping the web address for the organization. It’s hard to tell whether the former Beatle intended to burst into song, or whether he’s just so musically inclined that he couldn’t help it. One thing is for sure, though, you won’t forget that web address anytime soon.

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