What Was the Best Decade for Music?

Every generation claims that they have the best music. Older people will often remark that “music is not what it used to be”, but is this true? Is music today better than what it was a decade ago? Is there even such a thing as the “best” decade for music?

According to a poll by YouGovAmerica that surveyed the preferences of 17,000 Americans, an overwhelming majority said that the best music was that of the 70s and 80s. 22% claimed that the 80s were the best, closely followed by 21% in favor of the 70s.

The study also showed that 14% preferred the music of the 60s and 90s each. While 6% voted for the 1950s and 2000s.

Although artists such as Taylor Swift, Drake, and Bruno Mars broke records in the 2010s, less than 3% felt that this was the best music, across all decades.

Who Decides Which Is The Best?

The study previously mentioned shows that deciding what was the best decade depends a lot on when you were born. Generation Z (born in 2000 or later) prefers the music of the 2010s (17%) and 2000s (16%) and places these decades on top of their list.

Millennials (born between 1982-1999) prefer the music of the 90s (23%). 

So our preference has a lot to do with the year we were born and what was popular at the time. Scientific studies have supported the idea that this is because our brains have positive associations with the popular music of our adolescent period. 

Another factor is the genre of music we like to hear. Rock fans will say that the 70s and the 80s were the best, but rap fans will disagree and say that the 90s were better.

Why are the 1970s and 1980s So Popular?

The 1970s were an especially colorful decade in terms of popular genres. Instead of the one-size-fits-all like we have today, people enjoyed many different kinds of music.

Disco was one of the biggest genres but the decade also saw the emergence of glam and progressive rock. There was also the tail-end of punk rock. Although hip-hop emerged during this period, it wasn’t until much later that the genre rose to mainstream popularity.

Many new-wave bands such as Talking Heads, Devo, the B-52s, etc dominated the thriving club scenes and merged music with art and lifestyle in the late 70s. 

The 1980s, on the other hand, saw the emergence of many new forms of electronic music such as Techno, House, Eurodance. This is because many new synths flooded the market and many of these new genres used these modern pieces of technology to create and explore a completely new sound.

As disco started to lose popularity, urban genres such as Hip-Hop and R&B used samplers and turntables to create a unique sound. 

The 80s also saw the emergence of soft rock, glam metal, thrash metal, and shred guitar. 

A music survey in Europe polled over 11,000 people. Their findings point to the 80s being the most popular decade. 

Some of the most popular artists of this decade were Michael Jackson, Prince, The Police, Whitney Houston, Madonna, etc.

Analog VS Digital World

How people listened to music in say, the 1960s is very different from the current scenario.

The internet was not the major way people communicated and consumed music before the 2010s. While Youtube was launched in 2005 and Spotify in 2015, these were not as popular. People were still dependent on television and radio for music broadcasts.

Although vinyl has made a comeback recently, these were the main mode of commercially distributing music in the 1950s and 1960s. Cassette tapes reached peak popularity in the 80s and 90s along with music CDs. 

As technology evolves rapidly, so does our music listening pattern. We have the luxury now to access thousands of songs at any given time. 

Maybe this is also a reason why popular music today is written very differently from classical compositions of the 1700 and 1800s (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, etc)

The streaming numbers reflect a kind of tangible success.

Influence VS Affluence

Ed Sheeran currently holds the record for the highest raking concert. It is estimated that his album tour for ‘÷’ raked in $776,200,000 between 2017-19. But to claim that Ed Sheeran is the greatest musician or performer in existence would be massively incorrect by most accounts!

Most music as we know it today all stems from blues and subsequently jazz. While one can trace the origin of the blues to the 1860s, jazz was prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So if one has to pick a decade based on the originality, the late 1800s and early 1900s would fare much better than the 2000s. 

However, one can also argue that classical music is the basis of all music. This would mean that perhaps the Renaissance period (circa 1400-1600) or the Classical period (circa1750-1830) is the best.


It is impossible to pick one decade as the best for music because every decade is unique. But it is easy to say that adolescence plays a massive role in musical taste and preference. So while you may not like the new crop of artists that young people listen to these days, it is important to remember that the previous generations felt the same way.

The good thing about music now is that thanks to the internet, access to it has become a lot easier.  So even if you prefer the music of the 60s, 70s, or 80s, you can always stream your favorite album from your phone instead of rummaging through a stack of vinyl or cassettes. 

The best decade for music is the one you prefer the most. No popular or unpopular opinion can change that. Remember to cut teens today some slack when they listen to their favorite artist. In the golden words of Bob Dylan, “For the times, they are a-changing.”

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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