Each decade sees distinguished musical trends—some we care to leave behind, some we miss dearly. Saturday Night Live guitarist Jared Scharff joins our discussion on which eras had the best tunes.
What was the best decade for music? Why?
Jared Scharff — Guest Picker (Saturday Night Live)
A: That’s not a fair question. There are so many incredible decades! My favorites are the ’70s, ’90s, and today. In the ’70s there was freedom to create and explore new territory. From the guitar stuff of Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, Sabbath, the Meters, AC/DC, and Van Halen to songwriters like Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Bowie, etc. The ’90s grunge scene was pivotal with guitar joining the MTV and pop culture. Today, I love how artists can take liberties with less reliance on labels. And the rise of beatmakers and producers, which is something I love to do myself.
Current obsession: Bon Iver. The songs, emotions, musicality, production, and complete fearlessness with how they approach recording a song blows my mind on every level. I was sure they couldn’t make an album anywhere near as good as the last one, but I was wrong. I might love the new one even more.
Paul Wilson — Reader of the Month
A: Many are biased to the decade they were teenagers in, but I genuinely think the ’90s was a great time for rock. There was enough appreciation of what came before, and folks were experimenting with genres previously separated (like grunge’s appropriation of ’80s punk and ’70s metal). It was also probably the last decade to give us “rock stars.” That said, as a music listener, there’s never been a better time to live in than now. We have access to entire discographies at our fingertips.
Current obsession: Big Bends Nut Sauce. I like Bigsby vibratos, but until recently I couldn’t trust them for anything other than end-of-song freak-outs. With this stuff and judicious string stretching, the return to pitch is excellent.
John Bohlinger — Nashville Correspondent
A: In ’67, the Beatles dropped Sgt. Pepper’s, showing musicians there are no limits. In the decade following, Queen dropped A Night at the Opera, Fleetwood Mac/Rumours, Skynyrd/Street Survivors, the Eagles/Hotel California, Stevie Wonder/"Sir Duke," the Commodores/”Brick House,” Abba/“Dancing Queen.” Hall & Oates had “Rich Girl,” and Jackson Browne was Running on Empty. Elvis left the building in August of ’77. The Cars, Devo, the Police, and Van Halen all got signed in ’77. Strong in, strong out.
Current obsession: I found these ceramic slide bars by Rocky Mountain Slide Company that I use with my lap steel. I have four of them. They all sound slightly different—all beautiful.
Andy Ellis — Senior Editor
A: 1965 to 1975. Just a few of the game-changers released during this epic period: Smokin’ at the Half Note, Switched-On Bach, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s, Call of the Valley, four Hendrix albums that warped guitar forever, Disraeli Gears, White Light/White Heat, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Music from Big Pink, Surrealistic Pillow, Tommy, Led Zeppelin, Stand!, Bitches Brew, My Goal’s Beyond, 6- and 12-String Guitar, After the Gold Rush, At Fillmore East, American Beauty, Head Hunters, Completely Well, Fragile, Paranoid, Sticky Fingers, Birds of Fire, Innervisions, Virtuoso, Blow by Blow … yow!
Current obsession: My fretless 11-string Godin Glissentar—a mind-bending marriage of oud and guitar.
Tessa Jeffers — Managing Editor
A: I’ll put a strong word in for the mid ’50s to mid ’60s. At the advent of rock, vinyl seemed pure at heart, providing an escape from the pressures of crushing status quo and turmoil during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam. Two sides of the coin here: light, dreamy ballads from soul singers like Buddy Holly, the Drifters, and Everly Brothers, and then music as an outlet for the oppressed; a rebel’s salvation. The freak-flag flyers started to pull their masts, from Elvis to James Brown to Frank Zappa to the Beatles to Dylan.
Current obsession: Watching the Edge and U2 play Joshua Tree front to back at Bonnaroo. Playing 30-year-old tunes, these guys had palpable synergy. Shut the front door, they were powerhouse tight! Locked and loaded.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz