The History Of Pop Music


02 Nov 2017

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Any generation can confidently state that at one time their parents or grandparents stated that current popular music "just isn’t what it used to be." Frankly, they could not be more inaccurate. But how do we distinguish between pop music and popular music? And how does such music become popular in the first place? Unfortunately, pop music does not have a set-in-stone definition or sound, for it constantly evolves and therefore can consist of differing characteristics of multiple genres. According to The New Grove Dictionary Of Music and Musicians, and encyclopedia of music, popular music is described as the music since industrialization in the 1800's that is most in line with the tastes and interests of the urban middle class. Pop music, on the other hand, is a musical genre that originated in its modern form in the 1950s, stemming directly from rock and roll. [1] Since this time, most consider pop music as the music accessible to the widest audience. Bill Lamb, a music journalist specializing in pop music, clarifies that today it is considered as the music sells the largest number of copies, receives the most attention from the media, performs at the largest concert venues, and is played most often on the radio. He has cited it as a melting pot in that it constantly assimilates ideas and concepts from other types of music such as R&B, country, disco, heavy metal, but originally stemming from rock and roll. Even today, a major root for pop music remains rock and roll, with the first pop hit being considered "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley when it skyrocketed to the top of the charts in 1955. While it certainly was not the first rock and roll record, it is widely considered to be the major hit that brought rock and roll into the mainstream culture around the world, [2] as shown by Rolling Stone magazine’s No. 158 ranking on the list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. [3] The music in Billboard Hot 100 may not necessarily be considered pop music by the artists themselves, but the magazine’s list requirements do correspond to today’s basic description of the genre. Billboard’s editors and experts on the music industry choose their weekly Hot 100 based on "key fan interactions with music, including album sales and downloads, track downloads, radio airplay and touring as well as streaming and social interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Vevo, Youtube, Spotify and other popular online destinations for music." [4] In fact, one could argue that the Billboard Top 100 is based on the music most accessible and in demand, which has actually defined pop music as a whole since its commencement in the 1950s.

With extremely rare exceptions, pop music has strayed away neither from its typical "verse-chorus-verse-chorus" structure, nor its basic 4/4 (4 beats per measure, quarter note per beat) time signature. Production remains the most obvious difference between the popular music of the past 70 years, as well as, generally, the instruments being played. Many radio hits of the 40s and 50s depend primarily on a piano and brass instruments to drive the tunes, while guitars became more prevalent for the next several decades. Synthesizers slowly gained popularity in the 1980s and are now standard in pop music. However, what people are unaware of is the fact that the major difference lies between those who sing these popular songs. Clearly, the crooning, deep baritone of Johnny Cash completely clashes with the high-pitched shriek of Michael Jackson. In fact, low-voiced men ruled popular music in the 1940s and 1950s, a prime example being Elvis Presley, but with the exploding popularity of the Beatles throughout the 60s, high tenors became customary for pop music for various reasons. For women, however, the case seems to be nearly opposite. Over the years, altos (the lower voice register for women) have become nearly as prevailing in popular music as tenors have, with contemporary examples including P!nk and Mariah Carey. It seems that instead of having men’s and women’s voices in their own respective low and high octaves, they, over the years, have begun to sing within the same general range. Female vocalists, however, have not faced such dramatic changes overtime.

The human voice remains the oldest and perhaps most powerful, and only human-made, musical instrument. Although the art has existed as long as humans have, nothing informative or instructional has been discovered or written about singing until around five hundred years ago, and that information was limited only to the upper class. Today, particularly in the United States, close to millions attempt to sing, even to the point of shelling out hundreds to millions of dollars in training, with often ninety percent giving up within their first two years of instruction. [5] However, vocal training does not necessarily always results into mainstream success. In fact, many of the most popular and famous vocalists, including Freddy Mercury and…, have cited no formal vocal training, [6] which has certainly become more common more recently due to the convenience of production luxuries such as auto-tune. Even without vocal training, it is vital to have knowledge regarding the mechanics of singing before analyzing more specific aspects of the voice, particularly quality, classification, and placement.

Humans yearn to hear what they can relate to. Therefore, people often enjoy hearing songs that they can either sing along to or feel familiar with. Technically speaking, there are enough possible melodies to last for quite some time, yet there seems to still be so many commonalities between songs, which can be as simple as chord progression or comparable melodic ranges and patterns. Is it a coincidence that the melody of The Beatles’ "Lady Madonna" sounds exactly the same as the verse in Sublime’s "What I Got"? Or that the chord progression in "Let It Be" can be altered to match many hits from the past 50 years? All music comes from humans, which continues to derive from older music created by humans, and clearly pop music alters, and stays the same for that matter, due to humans’ desires. Although pop music has remained similar throughout the past 70 years due to humans’ preference for familiarity in the songs they listen to as well as their craving for a specific structure, subtler differences are apparent in ways other than composition and theory. Popular music has changed primarily due to varying vocals, and each decade the Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits have been revolved around the values of the era, with each popular male voice corresponding to whatever they may be. Despite how much vocal training a singer has undergone, popularity still depends on the listeners’ preference; hence, society’s musical preference of any time period actually determines the sound of pop music, more specifically the characteristics of the male voices they hear.

Pop music, over the years, has borrowed aspects of multiple other different genres, from rock and roll, to metal, to alternative rock, to even hip-hop music. [7] However, despite these obvious changes in sound and heavier and more advanced production, the theory and composition of pop songs remain similar. Gracenote, the largest database of music and video data in the world, currently contains approximately 130 million songs. [8] Since this number only consists of songs recorded and uploaded to the website, it is evident that there have been well over 130 million songs written over the past several hundred years, meaning, supposedly, over 130 million melodies being sung. A melody serves as a succession of pitches in musical time over chords or an accompaniment, [9] often through voice or a non-percussion instrument. A common belief is that since new music is constantly being composed every day and has been since the beginning of time, humans are not likely to ever exhaust every possible melody. However, according to a calculation made by Everything2 user Yerricde,(!!!!) a cessation in humans’ melody-production may be inevitable.

While no scale is perfect, for the purposes of this analysis, the Western scale serves as the most understandable and relatable, especially since all American pop music uses the Western musical scale in composition. Western music, as Elana Mannes states in The Power of Music, "comes home to the root note or basic harmony of a key after moving away." A popular chord progression like that of The Beatles’ "Let It Be" consists of C, G, Am, and F but always returns to the root chord after each phrase, giving the listener a feeling of resolution and familiarity. [10] There are 12 notes total in the Western musical scale, including C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, and B ("b" denotes a flat note), which fill up a full octave. An octave difference possesses notes equivalent in tone yet different heightened pitches, such in that a 440Hz tone with a 220Hz tone is the same note but different octave, as well as a 300Hz tone with a 600Hz tone, etc. [11] Durations of each note being played or sung determine whether it is a quarter-note, half-note, or eight-note. For each measure in a composition of 4/4 common time, the most widely regarded time signature due to the simplicity of having a total of 4 uniform beats per measure, a quarter-note makes up for one quarter of the measure; hence four quarter-notes equal one full measure. Therefore, two half-notes fill an entire measure, which also can equal one whole note. With 32 notes being a typical amount for a relatively long pop melody, the equation will consist of 32 possibilities for the 12 notes. If the amount of possible intervals and note durations of Western music only were multiplied, it would be concluded that there are 36 possible distance vectors between each note. To determine the amount of melodies possible in Western music alone, this number would have to be raised to the 3rd power, due to the fact that the 36 possible intervals can be created by three distinct and basic time intervals, which results into 46,656 different possible melodies. [12] While some variations of these tunes are probable, each of the 130 million songs in the Gracenote database must hold similarities to at least several of the other ones. To put this number into perspective, if around 200 songs in total were written in Western musical scale each week throughout the country, a conceivable scenario, then each of these possible Western musical scale melodies would be completely exhausted in just above 4 ½ years.

The composition and execution are not the only important functions of the human voice in a pop song, for the words and lyrics often play an equal role. Lyrics are most often written in common meter, a poetic meter quite often written for ballads that consists of four lines which alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimester, all the while having an a-b-a-b rhyme pattern. The amount of syllables for the first and third line is eight while the number of syllables for each even-numbered line is six. [13] Possessing a basic, familiar, and sing-songy rhythm, common meter has been used throughout the past few centuries in a wide range of poetry and music, with examples including American folk song "House of the Rising Sun," theme for "Gilligan’s Island," Bob Dylan’s frequently covered "Knocking on Heaven’s Door," and even the Christmas classic "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman." Without knowing this, one may be surprised that John Newton’s 1835 eminent hymn Amazing Grace can be sung interchangeably to the melody of the Pokémon Theme song.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

— John Newton's "Amazing Grace"

I wanna be the very best

Like no one ever was

To catch them is my real test

To train them is my cause

Jason Paige’s "Pokémon Theme"

While the structure of the lyrics remains similar through methods such as common meter (6-8-6-8 syllable pattern), short meter (6-6-8-6 syllable pattern), [14] and long meter (8-8-8-8 syllable pattern), [15] there is no doubt that the subject, phrases, and context of the lyrics of pop music have not significantly altered overtime either. According to an article regarding the inexorable popularity of music in The Economist, nearly half of the lyrics of pop songs involve romance, sexual relationships, and sexual behavior, for quite frankly, songs regarding love and attraction are likely to never go out of style. Though sexually degrading music has become more commercially popular overtime, with an example being…….., songs of love and loss as well as romance such as …… continue to dominate the airwaves and Billboard Hot 100 charts. However, when listening to a romantic pop song on the radio, the only aspect of it with a more enduring effect than the subject matter and lyrics is the voice that sings them.

Sound waves are a result of vibrations that particles make during a period of time. Frequency determines how high or low pitched the sound is. This term, however, actually refers to the amount of vibrations that an individual particle makes per second, with more frequent particle movement creating a much higher frequency. [16] The frequency of a sound wave is actually different from its speed. Frequency denotes how frequently a wave passes through a certain point, while speed describes how quickly the wave passes through the point. An example of this can be seen on a string of a musical instrument, such as a violin, guitar, or cello. Such a string vibrates; creating a specific frequency, though it is possible for many different frequencies to be made by a single string, while strumming the string repeatedly shows exemplifies its speed, showing various durations of frequencies. The three main characteristics of the string that can alter its frequency are length, density/diameter, and tension. Like sound waves, the shorter the length, the higher the frequency, which results in a higher pitch. Therefore, when a violinist holds down a string with her fingers, she shortens the length of the open string, causing a higher pitch to resonate. The higher she moves her fingers, making the string shorter, the higher the sound she will produce. Diameter, or thickness, of the string ensures that the thicker the string, the lower and slower the vibration, causing a lower frequency. Density, or heaviness, of the string holds the same consequence, meaning a dense string causes a slower vibration and lower pitch. Finally, tension describes how tightly the string is extended. Therefore, the tighter and thinner the string, the higher the pitch and frequency. [17] 

Such rules for an instrument string directly correlate with that of a human’s vocal range, which depend on one’s particular anatomy. Vocal chords are dual strips of cartilage within the larynx, also known as the voice box. To produce sound, vibrations must occur among these vocal chords. A boy between birth and eight years of age generally retains vocal chords with a length of 2-3 millimeters, which continue to grow and develop along with the rest of the body throughout the male’s lifetime. [18] Generally, the longer the vocal chord, the lower the vocal range. The reason why men’s voices tend to be far lower than that of women’s is the fact that male vocal chords grow nearly twice as long, with average lengths for female and male vocal chords being 10 millimeters and 16 millimeters, respectively. [19] Likewise, the thicker the vocal chord, the darker and heavier the quality of voice, similar to that of a violin or guitar string.

The voice of a male human varies and evolves, starting as early as birth. From birth until a boy’s seventh or eighth birthday, he possesses what is referred to simply as a "baby voice," for his voice has not matured enough to even match that of a female soprano yet, making vocal training at such a young age futile. [20] Until then, males’ voices remain squeaky and are even capable of hitting some of the highest notes on a piano. Once boys reach young pubescent ages, they are then able to sing and be classified in one of the male vocal parts.

For men, vocal ranges are split up into three primary distinct parts that determine how low or high of a frequency they have the physical capability to sing. These vocal parts, from lowest to highest, include bass, baritone, and tenor. Within each particularly vocal range, there are several subtypes of classifications based on relative range and vocal weight. A lyric baritone, for example, has the quality and range to fit the baritone category, but holds a much lighter, tenor-like tone than that of the dramatic-baritone. [21] Such distinctions are more apparent in musical theater and operatic music, though they certainly can describe popular vocalists of any time period. Lyric baritones tend to be more frequent in pop music than dramatic baritones due to their light and accessible sound and nature, giving less emphasis on vocal strength and more on the melody and lyrics. Most men, however, have access to falsetto, or false voice. One immerses into their falsetto when surpassing the upper break in their chest voice, often giving at least an extra octave (12 notes) of range capable of being sung only in a squeaky, childish, and often quite comical manner. With men’s vocal chords being typically longer that than of women’s, it is no surprise that they are able to sing high notes that their female counterparts are familiar with all the while having access to an octave or two below them. Ralph Brown, a vocal expert of the 1800s, stated, "No voice, either high, medium, or low, lyric or dramatic, has all the admirable qualities." However, the more knowledge one gathers about each of the many different voices, the more appreciation one can give to a voice that may not even be preferable to one’s own tastes. [22] Needless to say, typical listeners of pop music do not hold this level of knowledge for voices, and therefore, depending on the time period, prefer certain voices over others.

A typical pop song almost always lasts between two and five and a half minutes and consists of a verse and repeated chorus, with a bridge section often climaxing into the final refrain. Even if some major hits, including "American Pie" by Don Mclean or "Hey Jude" by The Beatles, run for well over five and a half minutes, radio-edits are created to allow listeners hear a shortened, more convenient version of the prevalent pop song. Though Billboard magazine did not publish their first list of Hot 100 hits until November 12, 1955, they had released lists of number-one songs in the United States starting in 1940. [23] 

Much success came to Tommy Dorsey in 1940 with his #1 "I’ll Never Smile Again," exemplifying the typical radio hit of the decade. Choruses included female sopranos over his own, while he sang alone in his mid-register baritone range for the verses. This formula will again be used quite commonly in pop music of the 2000s, giving most attention to the higher pitched vocals of the refrains sung by tenors, altos, or sopranos while verses are either rapped or more quietly sung by basses or baritones. In 1944, Bing Crosby’s song "Don’t Fence Me In" became one of the most popular songs of the year. Known for bringing jazz to a larger mainstream audience, he also set the standard for male vocalists on the radio in the 1940s. Along with his 1942 greatest hit "White Christmas," a classic that many continue to play to this day during the holiday season, Crosby sings comfortably in the bass range with a baritone-like quality with female backup vocalists to round out the sound. Throughout this decade, vocal-driven pop substituted Big Band/Swing at the end of World War II, although it often used rather large orchestras backing up the vocalists. World War II caused great social upheaval, and the music of this period shows the effects of this disturbance. Johnnie Ray described this music’s decade to "make them feel …exhaust them …destroy them." [24] Such low, masculine voices were ideal in capturing this notion, possessing the ability to get under the listeners’ skin. In "Nature Boy," Nat King Cole sounds much lighter and higher-pitched than the typical male singer of the 40s, though he falls into the lyric baritone category, considered awfully low in today’s standards. To end the decade, "Riders in the Sky," an instant classic of Vaughn Monroe, displays the vocalization of the definitive dramatic baritone of the decade, with a clearly heavier and darker quality than that of Nat King Cole. Interestingly enough, of all Billboard’s #1 songs of this decade sung by males, there is not a single track sung by a tenor.

During the summer of 1950, Nat King Cole’s "Mona Lisa" rose to the top of the charts for nearly a month. Throughout the track, he sings lightly with no note exceeding the baritone range. Though possessing a lower register capability, his tone and clarity in his words distinguish him as a lyric baritone. Later that year, Phil Harris’s tongue-in-cheek track "The Thing" displays an example of a bass-baritone in a #1 hit, which was quite common during this time. The following year, "Cry" topped the charts, with vocalist Johnnie Ray possessing a much lighter, higher range than that of the typical popular vocalist. That being said, his upper range throughout the melody does not surpass a high baritone G4, ensuring that his classification would be of a lyric baritone. The same year, Perry Como recorded "Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)," a typical radio hit including backup female sopranos and all, and displayed his Bing Crosby-influenced baritone, though resting on a much higher end of the baritone spectrum. At this time, Elvis Presley emerged in raising the bar for baritones throughout the late 1950, with a range extending to about 3 octaves, not including falsetto. Bob Dylan began to change vocal styles in this decade as well, for he slowly popularized less properly-trained, sloppier, singing that sounds like slightly modified talking, but nonetheless with his songwriting skills he made an immense impact on popular music (Listen to "Like A Rolling Stone"). Yet another decade passes with baritones and basses completely ruling the airwaves, for no major changes in the popular male voice take place until the mid-60s through the explosion of The Beatles.

Within the first few months of 1964, The Beatles controlled the airwaves with their three back-to-back hit singles "I Want To Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," and "Can’t Buy Me Love." Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon’s vocal harmonies in the first track soar nearly half an octave higher than many other male vocalists of the time, and to a high falsetto shriek the first instant the listener hears the word "hand." One can tell that as opposed to the vocals of say, Johnnie Ray, the execution of The Beatles seems much more forced and strained, making it apparent that they had not received the vocal training that past top hit single holders had been given. While this has been a small step in making listeners more accustomed to sloppiness in the vocalization they hear on the radio, it also has opened doors for those that may not have had the proper vocal technique that most popular artists had once had. [25] 

This decade saw great success for other tenors and singers constantly singing in falsetto. The Beach Boys’ 1966 hit "Good Vibrations" is male harmonization at its finest, with immense emphasis on the top falsetto voices. One would be hard-pressed to find a top single during the 40s or 50s sung in the same manner as "Mr. Tambourine Man" by The Byrds or "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, though limited in his baritone range, pushed even more boundaries through his raspy, nasally, belt style of singing. Despite these vocal changes, some baritones, including Bobby Goldsboro and Jim Morrison of The Doors (Listen to "Hello, I Love You"), did manage to get decent radio play, while basses, by the time of the eruption of The Beatles, had been completely disregarded from pop music. By the end of the decade, with hits such as "Hey Jude" by The Beatles, Marvin Gaye’s "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and many high harmony-concentrated groups with several #1 hits such as The Temptations and Simon & Garfunkel, it was clear that tenors were in high supply and demand, only to increase throughout the two subsequent decades. [26] 

The 1970s had very little male vocal change from the 60s, relative to the latter’s instant jump from the 1950s. However, baritones became even less common than the previous decade, with the major male hits being sung by high tenors including Elton John, Steve Miller, Stevie Wonder, and the falsetto-inured BeeGees (Listen to "You Should Be Dancing"). With amity playing an important role in society, especially after and during the Vietnam War, it is no surprise that the male vocal ranges in popular hits became higher, sweeter, more accessible, and comforting than that of the 1940s and 1950s.

The 1979 hit "Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough" foreshadowed Michael Jackson’s supremacy throughout the 1980s in all his countertenor glory. At this time, unfortunately, synthesizers become common in pop music, though the classic compositional formulas never strayed from its origins, nor were the melodies always completely original. "Thriller," perhaps the definitive pop song of the 1980s and of Michael Jackson’s career, includes a precariously familiar bass line to Rick James’s minor hit "Give It To Me Baby." While many famous artists of previous decades such as Queen, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon continued to produce hits, new artists emerged, with tenors robustly singing higher and higher. One hit wonders such as Survivor’s "Eye of the Tiger" and Wham’s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" tapped into the quintessential 80s popular voice, with more enduring acts throughout the decade including REO Speedwagon, Foreigner (Listen to Juke Box Hero), Phil Collins, Journey, and Bon Jovi belting notes higher than those capable of an alto or mezzo-soprano voice. Throughout this decade, it was considered attractive for men to dress similarly to women, and therefore common for males to dress in a softer, more feminine color palette. Particularly earlier in the decade, many embraced cross dressing, with male outfits regularly including eyeliner, various necklaces, lace gloves, tight pants, all the while growing their slightly teased and often dyed hair well below their shoulders. During this time, femininity was popular in fashion, and this was no different vocally in the decade’s most popular music. What first began as a joke to confuse his choir instructor in grade school, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose taught himself to sing in the tenor and alto range using strictly falsetto, despite being a natural baritone with the capacity to hit even some of the lowest bass notes. His wide range ensured that he had the capacity to compete with the higher, powerful tenors of the decade, with "Sweet Child O’ Mine" displaying his soft, airy, yet upholding falsetto vocals until the outro, featuring Rose singing a low baritone F#2 almost two octaves below middle C.

With the Billboard Hot 100 charts of the 1980s primarily consisting of high tenors and countertenors singing comfortably higher in chest voice than many females, one could assume at this point that the popular male voice since the 1940s dramatically increased each decade. However, the 1990s saw a drastic decrease in the popularity of high tenors. While higher-voiced males still remained popular, baritones at this time reemerged on the radio, singing some of the greatest hits of the decade. In 1991, Nirvana’s album Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten popularized alternative rock music. Not only did "Smells Like Teen Spirit" re-evolve rock music with its irresistible compositional simplicity though never quite reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it set a new standard for the following decade of a typically much lower, heavier vocals than that of the previous decade. Pearl Jam vocalist and songwriter Eddie Vedder’s voice perfectly matches the range, tone, and qualities of a common baritone (Listen to "Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town") yet became a radio staple, a challenging feat for a low-voiced rock singer. However, there is no doubt that music popular to the public continues to lend from past music, as shown by the opening of Nirvana’s "Come as You Are" and Killing Joke’s 1984 song "Eighties" as well as the similarities between the 90s popular band Smash Mouth’s "Then The Morning Comes" with the 1965 recorded "It’s My Life" by The Animals. Even The Offspring use the chord progression and melody of "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" by The Beatles in their 1998 hit "Why Don’t You Get A Job?," although one can see distinct difference between the darker tone and hoarseness produced by the 90s male voice, though they more or less lie within the same general vocal range at this point.

The 2000s popular male voice did not experience much change from the previous decade. If anything, it became more mixed and diverse, with a variety of hits from both sides of the vocal spectrum. Baritones Scott Stapp of Creed and Chad Kroeger of Nickelback managed to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Other alternative rock bands such as Matchbox Twenty and Vertical Horizon skyrocketed to the top of Billboard’s list despite their relatively lower-voiced lead singers. However, immediately beginning in 2002, alternative rock quickly declined in popularity, with major hip-hop milestones being Nelly’s "Hot in Here" and Eminem’s "Lose Yourself", therefore making hip-hop and rap the customary radio hits and in fact becoming the new millennium’s mainstream pop music. Rapping each verse with a singing-melody for choruses became quite popular this decade, with dynamics in that the verses would be recited in often a baritone range while the choruses would be sung by tenors, altos, or even sopranos. The 2008 #1 hit "Live Your Life" consists of rapped verses by T.I. featuring Rihanna for each higher-pitched memorable refrain. High tenors still remained popular though, such as James Blunt and Daniel Powder of 2006, with hits "You’re Beautiful" and "Bad Day", respectively, along with Mario and his common meter hit "Let Me Love You" during the previous year. Unfortunately, due to the more excessive use of auto-tune by artists such as T-Pain throughout this decade, it is a challenge to acquire a completely accurate representation of all of the top male vocalists of the 2000s. Even the past two years of the 2010s, Billboard Hot 100 #1 hits have included especially high tenors such as Bruno Mars, Nate Ruess of Fun., Gotye (Listen to "Somebody That I Used To Know") and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine while the low voiced Flo Rida and pop music duo LMFAO have been just as successful. [27] Between the years 1940 and 2010, the final decade’s pop music holds the most variety by far in the vocal ranges of the male vocalists.

What caused these changes to the popular male voice? The evolution is obvious if one listens to the hits chronologically, which clearly means the people of each decade wanted to hear such voices. Clearly, higher pitches are more appealing and exciting to a typical listener, which may be a significant factor in the drastic change in popularity from the 60s to 80s. Even in operas and musical theater, the romantic lead males are almost always written for tenors, with the antagonist frequently being a dramatic baritone or bass. Often regarded as the very first operatic masterpiece, L’Orfeo, Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera based upon the Greek mythological story of Orpheus, follows this typical formula. Orpheus, the romantic lead, sings in the tenor range as the female playing opposite to him is a high soprano. Antagonist-like roles such as Greek gods Pluto and Charon are basses, creating a contrast to the voices of the leading roles. The music of the ground-breaking musical West Side Story written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim follows this trend as well, with many other musical successors doing the same. Tony, the protagonist and hopeful for love, is a tenor while his gang-leading friend Riff and antagonist gang-leader Bernardo are typically baritones or, on some occasions, easily sung by a basses. Clearly, there is a connection between higher-voiced males and listener, particularly female, attentiveness.

However, according to an experiment done by Plos One, females find men with somewhat low voices the most attractive- most likely baritones, with tenors coming in second before basses. In fact, it has been researched that men with low voices tend to have more children and are believed to be more fertile than tenors. [28] If this is the case, then why have tenors been so popular in the Billboard Hot 100 over the decades? Unfortunately for low-voiced men, tenors are naturally more versatile, covering a large range of genres, and also more thrilling particularly for large audiences. Rock music displays how performing in a higher key results in heavier applause, which is also a nature of the culture. Perhaps this is why high-pitched auto-tune may seem necessary on many radio hits, for it gives women the ability to sing along contentedly to such songs, rather than singing uncomfortably at the bottom of their ranges. As record producer Daniel J. Levitin states in This Is Your Brain on Music, like a tuba, a low voice "evokes solemnity, gravity, or weight." [29] 

The composition of pop music in the U.S. has seen little change over the past 70 years. The Western musical scale tends to listeners’ needs in that it provides resolution and, therefore, familiarity. Humans enjoy hearing what they are accustomed to. In fact, a major element of pop music in general is the familiar structure, with most accustomed to the verse-chorus repetition with a climactic bridge and final refrain. Humans created music. Music influences new music. This pattern will continue for the rest of its existence, though pop will have subtle changes in execution depending on the popular instruments and sounds of the time. The primary difference, the voice, particularly in males, has seen quite a transformation over the past 70 years. The crooner age of the 40s and 50s gave a great deal of success to baritones such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin, which is no surprise since studies have shown that low voices are considered more attractive to hear. However, when the Beatles emerged in the 1960s, listeners became accustomed to hearing higher-pitched voices on the radio, soon temporarily removing basses and baritones from the Billboard Hot 100. This is also due to the inclusion of heavy rock and metal into the top hits, which generally require singers to deliver in tenor to soprano ranges. Since such music is meant to excite and stimulate listeners, higher-pitched vocals are required to electrify their audiences. Not to mention that during this time, femininity in males was considered attractive, displayed by more gaudy fashions and girlish voices in pop music. Since the 90s, Billboard has included a relatively mixed bag of male vocal ranges, primarily due to the larger range of genres the #1 hits have been utilizing.

Will the voice ranges of male pop artists change in the future? Or will they continue to vary? As shown by the general trend since the early 1990s as well as the immense mainstream success of hip-hop, it can be concluded that the next decade will contain a large variety of male vocal ranges, though ultimately favoring basses and baritones. Interestingly enough, an aspect of vocal execution in pop songs has repeated, with often a high tenor or soprano singing along to each refrain as a bass or baritone handles the verses.

The prevalent male vocals of each decade depend principally on the genre of music most popular during that era. The Billboard Hot 100 #1 songs remain similar compositionally throughout the seven decades, but the major difference is through the execution. Instruments and production are obvious, depending on which genre the pop song is borrowing from. These genres correlate to the culture of each era, whether it be the tasteful and sophisticated swing/big band decade or the sloppier, grungier period of the early 90s. The emphasis on the higher pitched brass section as well as soprano back-up vocalists in the 1940s and 1950s contrast the heavy, darker power chords of guitars and falsetto squeals of frontmen of the 1980s. Hip-hop music, with the excess of technology today, is able to produce track samples that hold both of these rations, and can therefore utilize various vocal ranges. In order to predict the popular vocal styles of forthcoming decades, particularly on the Billboart Hot 100, it would be necessary to comprehend what types and genres of music will be most prevalent in the future.

Music is a means of escape from reality, or even company when one is alone. It deeply feeds our minds with notions of human circumstances we hold, connecting humans more intimately. Human voices in music, in particular, have the means to create an even more personal connection, something that no instrument can achieve. The connections and admirations of listeners come naturally, for one does not have to teach others to enjoy song, for the wonder and awe is born with them. In fact, music causes the brain to release the chemical dopamine, [30] the same chemical released during sex, perhaps the most intimate act. A mixture of anticipation and even an element of surprise cause this, hence why the familiar structure and voices of pop music are so accessible to the average listener. The voice is a powerful tool, and as of now, humans have not found a more powerful way to express emotions, revisit precedents, and most importantly, distinguish from other humans of different backgrounds and times.


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