20 Moments that changed modern music forever

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Like so many other things, music seemed better, more innovative and more influential in the last 100 years than at any other time in history. The variety, the crossovers, the plethora of influences made music a monumental force in culture, society and politics. It changed lives and continues to do so.


So much happened that 20 moments in the whole century will never be enough to even scratch the surface. We hope the following moments help piece together the framework of the last 100 years of music.

Charley Patton first records - 1929

Often cited as the father of Delta Blues and having inspired more subsequent bluesmen than any other artist, Charley Patton made his most important recordings for Paramount and Gennett in 1929. He became known for stage tricks like playing the guitar behind his head, on his knees and behind his back. This was back in the early ‘30s – nearly forty years before Jimi Hendrix would become famous for the same tricks. Blues formed the backbone to rock and pop music and Charley Patton was there at the start.

Related: The history of the Blues

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Invention of the solid body electric guitar - 1940

Although others had produced amplified semi-acoustic guitars before 1940, it was Les Paul who is credited with inventing the solid body electric guitar. It was known as ‘the log’ and bore little resemblance to the Gibson Les Paul that would later be released. For the non-guitarists out there, the solid body guitar is by far the most popular kind of electric guitar and essentially any one that doesn’t have ‘the hole’ in it. The effect on modern music does not need to be explained here, but the design and that of its successors leapt straight to the core of modern music.

Related: 10 essential guitar techniques

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Two turntables and a microphone - 1947

Alleged predatory child molester he may have been, but Jimmy Savile is held by many to be the first person to hook up two record decks with a mixer and a microphone between them. It was a far cry from beat-matching and scratching, but at 1947 was certainly pioneering. He was once challenged by a colleague who asked ‘can’t the audience wait for you to change the record?’. ‘Mine can’t,’ he said. Dead air is now as dead as the dodo in clubs throughout the world.

Related: How to become a DJ

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Elvis Presley makes his first mark - 1954

It was with the recording of That’s All Right that Elvis began his journey to becoming the most recognisable figure in modern music. The record company boss Sam Phillips wanted to find a white person who had the sound and feel of a black performer; he said it would make him a billion dollars. He found such a man in Elvis – at the time a 19-year-old truck driver – in 1954. Rock and roll was around before Elvis, but he was the one who blew it onto the world stage and made it a global phenomenon.

Related: Homemade Elvis costume

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Independence of Jamaica - 1962

In 1962 the independence of Jamaica coincided with the growing popularity of the new sounds of ska and reggae. The national pride of the two million inhabitants birthed celebratory songs and a unique Jamaican identity that would be exported around the world and have repercussions long beyond the decades of its inception. A Jamaican diaspora took the music most importantly to London, where it would later influence the birth of all dance music – particularly jungle, drum and bass, dub step and rave.

Related: How to play a ska drum beat in reggae

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The Beatles invade America - 1964

The Beatles’ stranglehold on pop music in the 60s was only truly confirmed once they crossed the Atlantic, and they paved the way for many more British bands that would follow in their footsteps as part of the ‘British Invasion’. They appeared on TV a number of times and returned later in the same year. It was while in America that the Beatles had their first taste of illegal drugs after being offered a joint by Bob Dylan. The importance of this, and the subsequent influence of drugs on the Beatles and most 60s bands, is also difficult to understate.

Related: Britain's most talented musicians

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Dylan goes electric - 1965

Bob Dylan, famed for his acoustic guitar and harmonica performances and antiestablishment lyrics, was the darling of the folk scene in the early 60s. His decision to “go electric” in '65 with one side of his Bringing it All Back Home – and on his live tour – was met with hostility from folk music purists who said Dylan had sold out. His live gigs – starting with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65 – were played acoustically for the first half and backed by an electric band the Hawks for the second half. He was famously called ‘Judas’ by a fan while on tour in England in 1966. His decision to go electric blew open the doors to the experimental second half of the 60s.

Related: Amazing musicians you have never heard of

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Woodstock - 1969

The legendary free concert that attracted around 400,000 people to a farm in upstate New York rubberstamped the 60s’ claim over 20th century music. It was initially intended to make money – nearly 190,000 tickets were sold before the concert – but faced with numbers way in excess of that, organisers ordered that the fences be taken down the night before the show opened. It had it all – sex, drugs, rock and roll, and mud. Jimi Hendrix’s performance has gone into rock folklore, but only a tiny percentage saw him – most had left by the Monday morning because of the weather.

Related: The top 8 UK music festivals

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Black Sabbath form - 1969

The first true heavy metal band was the ultimate antithesis to the peace and love generation it grew from. With occult references and heavy guitars, the band were inspired by horror films, but also wrote songs on more political topics. Fronted by Ozzy Osbourne until 1979 - and then again years later - the band (in one form or another) has continued writing and touring to this day, surpassing many of the later metal bands they influenced.

Related: Top 10 horror movies of all time

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The Rolling Stones at Altamont - 1969

It was heralded as the day the hippie dream died. The Rolling Stones management had decided to employ the Hell’s Angels as security for their free 1969 concert, but the motorcycle gang members proved the wrong choice as rising crowd violence erupted. Some of the crowd were trying to get on stage and when 18-year-old Meredith Hunter pulled out a gun he was stabbed to death by a gang member. The incident was captured on film and the ill-fated concert was enshrined in the Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter.

Related: Rockers who should be dead but aren't

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Disco arrives - 1973

All forms of clubbing trace their roots back to the discos and disco music of New York in the early to mid 70s. The clubs were particularly popular with the new gay scene, which had become more overt since the late 60s. It was a reaction against the rock music of the previous decade, and was all about dancing. The scene, which was also popular with the black and Latino communities, grew throughout the 70s until household names were made of groups like the Bee Gees and films like Saturday Night Fever.

Related: Top 10 "1 Hit Wonder" UK bands

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Kraftwerk's Autobahn - 1974

The fourth album by Kraftwerk was where their repetitive electronic sounds came together into a piece of work that was the root of the sound of future dance music, the synth-laden pop of the 80s and all manner of ambient electronic music. Performed mainly on cutting edge synthesisers, the band weren’t afraid to use traditional instruments as well. However, it was their pioneering technology that earned them a slot on Tomorrow’s World in 1975, bringing the sound to the average man in Britain. The band – and album – still attract a cult following.

Related: 11 Gadgets you may never use again

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The first Sex Pistols gig - 1976

Hundreds more people than could possibly have been at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 claim to have been there, such is its significance to modern music. It was the moment that punk was born, and was such an inspiration to those who were definitely there that it changed music for generations. Even those who say they don’t like punk can’t deny it changed music. Those known to have been among the crowd were Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner (later of Joy Division), Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley (of the Buzzcocks), Mark E Smith (The Fall), Tony Wilson (founder of Factory Records) and Morrissey (The Smiths).

Related: Top 10 "live fast, die young" rockers

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Rapper's Delight - 1980

Not the first rap song, but the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight was the song which brought the blossoming genre to the masses. At a lengthy 14 minutes 37 seconds long, the ‘long’ version was trimmed twice to more consumer friendly formats. It used a sample from the intro of the Chic song Good Times, copper-fastening a sampling trend that became an integral part of hip hop. However, the sample was used without consent and a member of Chic was surprised to hear the rap song using his own bass line while in a club.

Related: Learn how to freestyle rap

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Roland TB-303 released - 1981

The stalwart of the most important era of electronic and dance music, the Roland TB-303 was a bass synthesiser used by those in the burgeoning Chicago house, Detroit techno, acid house and rave scenes. These scenes brought us the globally renowned artists like Paul Oakenfold, Fat Boy Slim and pretty much every DJ around since the mid-80s. It was only built until 1984, but its popularity exploded in the late 80s, creating a unique sound for the new electronic music. One of the most famous examples of the ‘303’ is in Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness.

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Live Aid - 1985

Using music to change the world for the better was not a foreign concept before 1985, but the two concerts organised by Bob Geldof (in London) and Midge Ure (in Pennsylvania) were the first to do it so successfully. The aim was to highlight the Ethiopian famine and raise money. Its success can be measured in the fact that nearly two billion people are said to have watched on TV and as much as £150million was raised. Simply anyone who was anyone played at the concerts; The Who, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, U2 and Queen, to name a few.

Related: Top 10 British rock groups of all time

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The rise of ecstasy - c.1986

The growing club and dance music scene of the mid to late 80s went hand in hand with the rise of ecstasy. People found in the drug the perfect complement to the repetitive grooves and beats, and it enabled people to dance for hours to the sets. Because of the new popularity DJs became the new rock stars. The popularity of the drug in clubs also forced pubs to change from dour drinking dens for older men into the younger, hipper, brighter and louder establishments we have today. Several highly publicised deaths linked with the drug did little to damage its popularity.

Related: Get out of jail free card: Things you didn't know about the law

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Gangsta Rap - 1988

In 1988 LA-based NWA released Straight Outta Compton, and hip hop found a new, more aggressive sound that retains massive popularity today. The violent stories depicted in the songs brought the lifestyles and frustrations of young, black inner-city men to the world’s attention. The music spoke of crime, drugs and misogyny in a way that shocked but fascinated the mainstream. It terrified Middle America, particularly when Fuck Tha Police became one of the most popular songs on Straight Outta Compton. These feelings of resentment against the police by many in the black community boiled over into violence during the 1992 LA riots.

Related: The most notorious British gangsters

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Napster - 1999

The creation of software that allowed individuals to share music files with each other via the internet changed the way people buy and listen to music. Although it was shut down after only two years because of legal copyright issues, it started the move towards supplanting the traditional formats – records, tapes and CDs – with digital files. Peer-to-peer downloading software and websites are still very much in operation, although Napster is now a fully legitimate business. But we can still trace our digital music culture directly back to a 19-year-old’s garage in America.

Related: The low-down on Internet piracy

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Electronic Dance Music (EDM) makes it in America - 2010s

The modern equivalent of the British Invasion of 1964, the rise in popularity of EDM in America was again Britain selling ice to the Eskimos. The British electronic scene of the late 80s grew from Chicago house and Detroit techno. Britain –and others – took the idea and developed it over two decades, and years later America discovered it, little knowing it had invented it all along. The same was true in the 60s when British bands developed black American R&B and resold it to the Americans in the form of the Beatles, the Stones and others. Dance music’s big break in the states has cemented its place in the global market, with many industry bigwigs calling EDM the new rock and roll.

Related: 8 Essential items for a music Festival

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