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WYEP Decades: Volume 3

Last year, we brought you five decades of music, from the 1970s through the 2010s, and now we’re bringing it all back with WYEP’s Decades: Volume 3.

1973: Monday, March 13

The year was 1973… Burger King wanted you to “Have It Your Way,” Secretariat won the Triple Crown, and everyone still wanted to know who Carly Simon thought was “so vain.” The iconic “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match saw Billie Jean King defeat Bobby Riggs – making it a historic year for not just tennis and sports, but also for women’s rights as a whole. It was also a time of social change and tumult around the world. In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, signifying the end of the Vietnam War. Later that year, the Watergate hearings began, leading to President Richard Nixon’s eventual resignation in 1974.

In music, 1973 saw the release of MANY iconic albums such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, The Eagles’ Desperado, and Stevie Wonder’s seminal album Innervisions, which marked his evolution from the romantic, teenage balladeer of ‘Little Stevie’ fame to a more sophisticated and socially conscious musical force. It was a year of groundbreaking progressive rock albums from artists such as Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush which pointed to music’s evolution away from the 1960s “hippie” music. David Bowie shed his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, and introduced the world to his American-culture-inspired “Aladdin Sane” persona, intensifying the effects of glam rock with a harder, edgier vibe.

In the Summer of 1973, Led Zeppelin secured their own mode of transport by splurging a whopping $30K on ‘The Starship’ – a Boeing 720 Jet that they used for their US tour which also included a memorable stop at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on July 24th.

On August 11th, 1973 in the Bronx, NYC, a revolutionary event occurred that would pave the way to an entirely new genre of music: Hip Hop. Clive Campbell hosted his legendary “Back To School Jam” under the alias DJ Kool Herc and introduced game-changing techniques like scratching breaks and funk drum solos.

From soul music to progressive rock, funk, and jazz fusion, the sound of ’73 was heavily affected by what had come before it. Musicians were pushing boundaries and attempting to appeal to wider audiences. There is no doubt that the sheer creativity and variety of music that was released made for an unforgettable musical experience. As we take a look at this important year in music history, one thing is certain: 1973 brought some truly unique tunes.

1983: Tuesday, March 14

The year was 1983… A young Tom Cruise slid into stardom while singing Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and the final episode of the TV show M*A*S*H aired on CBS with an estimated 125 million viewers. At the height of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” Margaret Thatcher won a second term as Prime Minister of the UK, and Russian Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov single-handedly thwarted an all-out nuclear war between the US and Russia that could have devastated millions of lives worldwide had it been carried out as intended. All of this talk of war even prompted Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to present an innovative and powerful five-episode arc on the difficult topic of nuclear war entitled “Conflict.”

Conflict aside, the year 1983 was a also year of great advancements in technology. Motorola launched one of the first mobile phones, the Analog DynaTAC 8000X (otherwise known as the “Zack Morris” Phone) – enabling wireless communication on a large scale. Another tech giant, Apple, released “The Lisa” personal computer, a huge failure for the company that would eventually pave the way for all that it is today.

These advances also introduced new music technologies into the mainstream. Sampling, drum machines, and MIDI started to become commonplace by this time, allowing artists to create sounds that could not be achieved with traditional instruments. This technological shift opened up the door for new genres and artists like Thomas Dolby and Howard Jones. More established artists like Herbie Hancock made a bold move to revolutionize his sound with electronic influences for his album Future Shock. It had an immense impact on the burgeoning genres of jazz fusion, dance music, and hip-hop.

Elsewhere in the world of music, Michael Jackson continued to dominate the charts that year with his iconic album Thriller, which had been released in late November 1982 and would eventually become one of the best-selling albums of all time. Other notable works from 1983 include “Every Breath You Take” from The Police album Synchronicity, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, and Cyndi Lauper’s debut album She’s So Unusual.

Here in Pittsburgh, the city became the backdrop for one of the most commercially successful pop anthems of the decade, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara. And to the southwest, the iconic Pittsburgh band The Cynics was formed out of a garage in Canonsburg, PA.

Looking back, 1983 proved to be an incredible year for the music industry, and entertainment as a whole, offering a diverse range of music from the biggest artists and introducing some niche genres that continue to be popular today.

1993: Wednesday, March 15

The year was 1993… AOL free trial CDs started to plague our mailboxes, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd President, a stand-off between federal law enforcement and the religious cult known as the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX ends in the tragic death of 75 people, and a historian took center stage in a revolutionary commercial as he was challenged with answering a $10K question: ‘Who shot Alexander Hamilton during their famous duel?’ for the original “Got Milk?” commercial. It was truly a year packed full of many defining pop culture moments.

In 1993, music was at a unique crossroads: the mainstream continued to feel the force of grunge and hip-hop’s growing power while the undercurrents of Britpop and electronic beats began to make their presence felt thanks in part to bands/musicians like Blur, Oasis, and Björk. Newer artists like Radiohead were just entering the scene with singles like “Creep,” and more established artists found themselves relegated to the genre of “classic” rock.

It was a breakthrough year for female musicians as many of the decade’s most influential artists, from Liz Phair to Shania Twain had put out their debut albums, while PJ Harvey and The Breeders’ critically-acclaimed second albums had further solidified their status in alternative rock music. Whitney Houston’s career skyrocketed with the release of “The Bodyguard” in late 1992. She shined in her performance on-screen, but it was her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” (from 1974) that sealed her legacy as one of the greatest musical icons ever. The single (and album) had topped Billboard’s year-end charts at #1 and became the highest-selling soundtrack of all time. This marked an unseen transition in mass entertainment as television/movies had taken a firm hold of popular culture.

TV shows like MTV’s ‘Unplugged’ were at the peak of their popularity and altered how people experienced music for years to come. In the late fall of 1993, Nirvana would record their performance for the iconic series at Sony Music Studios in New York City; just six months before Kurt Cobain tragically ended his own life. The recording wouldn’t even be released until November of 1994. It was among one of many performances by legendary artists that year – Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young graced the ‘Unplugged’ stage, while Eric Clapton experienced immense success after releasing his live recording album Unplugged (from the year before) – making it one of the highest-selling live albums to date. All this speaks volumes about how powerful corporate television was in influencing the music industry at the time.

It would also be the year that an unprecedented act of rebellion would reignite confidence in creative freedom all across music and pop culture. On the occasion of his 35th birthday, Prince fought back against corporate oppression in the music industry by famously changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol, or ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’, as a reference to how musicians were known on their contracts. His bold and courageous act would become a defining moment in an incredible career. Rage Against the Machine would also make a memorable statement at Lollapalooza 1993; they went on stage naked with their mouths duct-taped shut and silently offered 14 minutes of guitar feedback as an exclamation mark against censorship from Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) committee.

During a time of equal significance, rap/hip-hop was having its watershed moment in 1993. Tupac Shakur, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre all released albums that had an unprecedented global reach and influence – classics such as The Chronic (released in late ’92), Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Doggystyle set the tone for East/West Coast hip hop in particular. Midnight Marauders from A Tribe Called Quest and Black Sunday from Cypress Hill helped to further expand its popularity.

The year 1993 will always be remembered as a transformative moment in music that expanded the scope of possibilities beyond just rock. For this reason and more, it stands as one of the greatest years in musical history.

2003: Thursday, March 16

The year was 2003… Tom Anderson became everyone’s friend with the launch of Myspace.com, the Human Genome Project had finished mapping the DNA structure of humans, Madonna kissed Britney Spears during a performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, and Michael Jackson was arrested on charges of child molestation.

2003 saw the release of generation-defining hits from artists such as 50 Cent, Outkast, and Beyoncé, who released her debut solo album Dangerously in Love that year. It also brought a wealth of new talents to the forefront, including Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol Champion, who topped the music charts with her hit single “Miss Independent,” and the Karen O-fronted band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

That same year, a wave of alternative music took the Warped Tour scene by storm. Established acts like The Ataris and Blink-182 created their own unique spin on emo, pop punk, and punk while younger musicians embraced these styles to create something entirely new called “Scene Music.”

As these new artists and genres continued to emerge, the industry as a whole would forever change when Apple launched its revolutionary iTunes Store, an online library of music that accompanied one of Apple’s greatest products: The iPod. With access to an extensive catalog and each song priced at just $0.99, it quickly made downloading accessible – surpassing Napster as the leading source for digital music consumption.

For WYEP, 2003 was the year that we were treated to studio sessions by Joan Baez, Richard Thompson, Robert Randolph and Keller Williams, The Jayhawks, and their Rainy Day Music topped the list of our top 50 albums, and we paid tribute to legends we had lost like Johnny Cash, Warren Zevon, Nina Simone, Elliott Smith, and soul singer Edwin Starr. In March, WYEP broadcast a sold-out Coldplay concert live from Pittsburgh’s Palumbo Center. That same month, Tori Amos performed a special midday concert for WYEP members at Club Cafe, which was also aired live on our airwaves. WYEP would also go on launch a new nightly segment that year called ‘The 10 O’Clock Local News’ which was hosted by Kyle Smith and aimed to highlight new local releases and raise the profile of Pittsburgh musicians.

For the Millennials in particular, 2003 was an exceptional year of musical creativity and exploration–a watershed moment that defined music culture for an entire generation.

2013: Friday, March 17

The year was 2013… President Barack Obama was inaugurated to his second term, Beyoncé headlined the Super Bowl halftime show (and reunited Destiny’s Child), people all over the world were doing the “Harlem Shake,” and the Lannisters sent their regards during the shocking “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones.

For fans of music, 2013 was an eventful year. In the rock genre, alternative bands like Arcade Fire made waves with their fourth studio album Reflektor, an album to which David Bowie contributed some backing vocals. Meanwhile, in the hip-hop and rap scene, Kanye West was entering his Yeezus era; marking a turning point in his career while simultaneously becoming one of his most acclaimed albums to date. Pop saw major releases from Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake, which were met with critical (and commercial) success, topping charts around the world. Electronic Dance Music (EDM) found its way out of underground clubs and into the mainstream with dance music dominating radio airplay and new festivals popping up left and right. Avicii’s True, Armin van Buuren’s Intense, and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which featured the Pharrell Williams collaboration “Get Lucky,” were some of the most recognizable releases of the year.

On top of these more popular genres, 2013 saw the rise of a number of up-and-coming indie acts from around the world. International artists like Chvrches, Jake Bugg, and Lorde brought their own unique sounds to mainstream attention. Closer to the US, artists such as Haim, Parquet Courts, and Valerie June were dropping new albums and getting the attention they deserved.

It was a huge year for WYEP, too. Jason Isbell had just dropped his fourth album (his first album after getting sober) Southeastern. He and his band, The 400 Unit, performed at WYEP’s Summer Music Festival at Schenley Plaza in June, along with Anders Osborne, Jesse Dee, and the Pittsburgh band Neighbours. The WYEP Studios were packed for sessions from Suzanne Vega, G. Love, Soul Asylum, Guster, Gov’t Mule, Dr. Dog, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. While we saw a great variety of amazing music released, it was also the year that marked the untimely passing of artists such as Lou Reed, J.J. Cale, Richie Havens, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and The Doors’ Ray Manzarek. Members might remember that WYEP stopped offering a “CD of the Week” as a membership thank-you gift, due to changing music listening habits leading listeners to be less interested in getting physical CDs. Certainly, a sign of the times.

Overall, 2013 was a great year for exploration in music and a foundation for some of our favorite artists today.