15 iconic moments in music history
Throughout the years, there have been plenty of iconic moments in music—way too many for us to list here! That’s why we’ve narrowed it down to 15 of the most fire music moments. See if you agree with our list!
The Beatles appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show”
Like all bands, The Beatles started small. After the band created the Fab Four in 1962, The Beatles gained a small fanbase in the UK until their songs obtained significant traction on the British music charts. Slowly but surely, they were on their way to stardom, and with it, international recognition.
Little did they know they would become a part of the musical phenomenon only known as the British Invasion, one that would sweep the music industry off its feet and appeal to the fast-growing generation of Baby Boomers. Never did The Beatles think their music had such a mass appeal until they touched down in JFK in 1964, the same year they would perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Fans were practically foaming at the mouth
Then on that fateful day, February 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan came on stage, where he faced a crowd of excited teenagers, brimming at the ear with excitement and anticipation. Finally, it was time to introduce the first entertainment act for the night. Ed said the now-famous intro, “Ladies and gentlemen…The Beatles!”
For nearly 8 scream-inducing minutes, The Beatles performed 3 songs, each raising hell from screaming teenage girls. After 50 seconds of their first song, “All My Lovin’,” the camera focused on the fans, all of whom looked overwhelmed with excitement and hyperventilation. That night, it is estimated that 73 million Americans tuned in to see The Beatles perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
MTV hit the ground running
Music was meant for record stores and radio stations before the golden age of the 1980s. However, everything changed when MTV launched. The concept of a music channel on television was laughable and made television broadcast stations think, “Who would want to watch music?” To much of the public’s surprise, many did.
MTV launched midnight on August 1, 1981 with the broadcasting of “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. The music program channel almost drowned, seeing as in the earlier part of the 1980s, there wasn’t an abundance of music videos to play, but that all changed with some now-iconic faces.
MTV turned to rhythm and blues
With a small pool of music videos, MTV was on the verge of sinking. It all changed, thankfully, when the program decided to air rhythm and blues artists such as Michael Jackson and Prince. It paid off, and MTV was no longer a cable television channel but a cultural phenomenon that represented an entire generation, inspiring the staple phrase, “I want my MTV.”
Soon, MTV would include pop sensations such as Madonna, Duran Duran, and Whitney Houston. MTV, needless to say, blew up. And in 1984, MTV created its annual Video Music Awards, where Madonna would infamously perform “Like a Virgin” and bust down the doors of what it meant to create music.
Michael Jackson performs the “moonwalk” for the first time
A little over 35 years ago, Michael Jackson performed the “moonwalk” on the TV special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” Though the move was performed only a little over two seconds toward the end of “Billie Jean”, the smooth sweep has since been iconic. Though Jackson was known for creating his own choreography, the “moonwalk” wasn’t an original.
It was first performed by a professional dancer named Derek “Cooley” Jaxson. Jaxson performed a similar “backslide” motion on shows like “Soul Train” and “Solid Gold” (ABC News). After seeing Jaxson sweep across the platform, Michael Jackson’s manager came knocking at his door to teach the King of Pop how to do the same backslide.
Jackson added flair to the “backslide”
After seeing Derek “Cooley” Jaxson perform the “backslide” on television, Michael Jackson’s manager went to inquire whether Jaxson could teach the King of Pop the same move. Jaxson was more than happy to help Jackson with the stint, but not without a couple of hitches along the way.
Jaxson states, “Once we got the chance to finally teach him [Jackson], he kept saying, ‘I can’t feel it. I can’t feel it,’ and we’re like, ‘Feel what? You just do it…’ He wanted to feel that slide.” And of course, after a few trial runs, Jackson was able to recreate the step on stage with his own flair, and it has blown our minds ever since.
Bob Dylan goes electric
Bob Dylan is revered as one of the greatest musicians in history. His ballads have touched, healed, and revived the hearts of a nation since he was signed in 1961. Known as a folk artist, his music in the 1960s tended to be romantic and politically charged. However, all that changed during the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
His fans were accustomed to a bard-like Dylan, and it was the same festival the previous year in 1964 that gave him national attention. He was the voice of a generation and many sought to keep him as their musical leader. So it comes as no surprise that he shocked everyone when he came on stage and motioned for—not his acoustic guitar—but an electric Fender Stratocaster.
Dylan was booed off the stage
It was unclear why Dylan was booed from the stage. There were reports that the booing commenced due to poor sound quality, but the fan-favorite theory is that it was due to introducing the electric guitar. He wanted to go for that rock ‘n’ roll vibe after portraying the “folk singer” for two years prior.
Dylan’s album, which contained the now-famous “Like a Rolling Stone,” was released two weeks before his performance, but many of his fans had no clue until he began playing some of his songs on stage. This did not bode well. The fans felt betrayed with the change from acoustic and booed him off the stage.
Johnny Cash walks the line
It would be redundant to say that Johnny Cash is one of the most recognizable musicians in America (if not the world). He’s one of those iconic musicians who blazed the music trail for anyone hoping to jump into a world filled with rich lyrics, southern comforts, and a closeness to God. Of course, Cash didn’t start that way.
He wasn’t born with a guitar strapped to his shoulders and touring with Elvis. No, the only thing the “Man in Black” was born with was a voice that rumbled from the very depths of the Earth. His love for music molded him into the musician that would create one of his greatest songs, “I Walk the Line.”
“I Walk the Line” was a proclamation of fidelity
A spiritual man, Cash was interested in writing spiritual, gospel-influenced music, however, his record company wasn’t so keen on the idea. However, Cash found a way around that. It’s said that Cash wrote “I Walk the Line” in 20 minutes, a song that was meant to symbolize his faithfulness to his first wife while he was on tour with Elvis in the 50s.
Imagine, you’re touring with The King and with him is a trail of groupies and pretty girls who want to make a mark on famous musicians’ lives. Despite the romanticism, there are rumors that Cash’s famous song was also, in part, inspired by his being faithful to God.
Madonna made jaws drop and a senator’s wife blush
Madonna was the girl everyone wanted to emulate. She had it all: the looks, the confidence, the voice, and most of all, the style. There wasn’t a single high school girl who didn’t wear black lace gloves, and even if you weren’t the religious type, you draped on crucifixes as if you were armed for an exorcism.
The point was, Madonna was the face of the 1980s. However, what really marked her career was her provocative lyrics in songs like, “Like a Virgin.” If the lyrics didn’t warrant your mother’s worry, then it was her performance during the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards that did it. Seductive, and dare we say, a bit lewd, many were shocked at her on-stage performance. It was enough to get Tipper Gore’s attention.
Parental Advisory labels became a thing
Madonna’s onstage performance skyrocketed her fame. She became a musical icon, however, not everyone was impressed. In Washington D.C., Tipper Gore, then-wife of former vice president Al Gore, was mortified by Madonna’s music and helped form a board of concerned parents whose young children were exposed to explicit content. She wasn’t the only one.
Gore gathered other like-minded women who were just as concerned as she was. They were unofficially known as the “Wives of Washington” and rallied together demanding warning labels be made for explicit musical content. Though there was much controversy around the subject, Tipper Gore and her gals succeeded with the Parental Advisory labels you see today.
The day Kurt Cobain ascended into the real Nirvana
Kurt Cobain’s suicide was an event that rocked the foundation of music and youth culture in America. Lead frontman of Nirvana, Cobain offered something unique to the music world, grunge. His music tapped into a generation that was outspoken about the difficult transition from teen to young adult.
However, despite his success, Cobain found misery and pain. And on April 5, 1994, Cobain took his life, leaving his wife Courtney Love and a plethora of fans to mourn over his death. Many close friends believe that his downward spiral was due to his growing fame as his music became more popular. With his popularity skyrocketing, his dependency on drugs increased.
He threw the conventions of mainstream music out the window
When top charts were being dominated by pop and mainstream music, Cobain saw an opportunity to embrace music in a whole different way. He turned rock ‘n’ roll on its head and made pop feel incompetent, cold, and unfeeling. His music commented that it was okay to express yourself and be completely open to communicate those complex emotions.
The way he sang was strained and it reminded many of his listeners of the internal and external struggles of being young adults in a world that no longer belonged to the previous generation. Cobain left a mark on music that left a dog-ear in the most memorable moments in history.
Jimi Hendrix plays the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock
Ah, Woodstock. The festival of all festivals, the precursor that would eventually create a phenomenon that would cater to summer music festivals worldwide, such as Coachella, EDC, and Lollapalooza. Patrons were the first to canonize the iconic flower crowns and bring about a culture that would trigger a new nomadic lifestyle (we all have that friend who hits up every festival).
However, nothing can ever measure up to Woodstock. Over 400,000 people attended the music festival, and performing in the event were some of the greatest musicians of the Baby Boomer generation—one of whom is none other than Jimi Hendrix, a figure who was much more about feeling the music.
His rendition was more than an anthem, it was a statement
Hendrix was a major influence as a musician. He wasn’t the type to perform without sending out a message, often a political one. He was one of the many faces who contributed to the countercultural music scene and often questioned social issues such as race, police brutality, and the Vietnam War.
So, it’s no surprise that when Hendrix stepped out on that stage, his music was double-layered with both sound and message. If you listen to his performance (which we highly encourage), you can hear his guitar turn from the patriotic tune to the sound of falling and exploding bombs. His playing the anthem was a reminder of what was happening in America and how strongly he felt against the wars overseas.
Freddy Mercury performs at Live Aid
Alright, alright, how many of you have recently seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” and have rediscovered your love for Queen? If not the movie, then you’re either a die-hard fan or just love listening to some classic rock tunes. Whatever the case may be, there’s an obvious mutual love for a man who not only loved his music, but also loved his bandmates, his fans, and his ten cats.
Although Mercury is a beloved icon today, there was some push and pull for the band’s success leading up to the groundbreaking event. The previous year, Mercury performed in an apartheid-era South Africa, which diminished the band’s reputation, and it was during that same time that rumors of his sexuality surfaced.
Live Aid was one of his most memorable performances…ever!
With negative publicity circling the band, it was hard to break into American markets, but that didn’t stop Mercury from making an impression. Queen was paired with some of the biggest headliners of the time, such as U2, David Bowie, Elton John, Duran Duran, and Madonna. Of course, what did you expect from someone as flamboyant and as commanding as Mercury?
His presence on stage was an interaction. He didn’t just perform for a mass of people, but rather, incorporated them in the act. It was something that made him completely approachable and lovable. That day, 1.9 billion people tuned in to watch his act and inevitably fell in love with him. We still do.
Elvis thrusts his hips on “The Milton Berle Show”
The day Elvis was dubbed “The King” was the day of his second appearance on “The Milton Berle Show” in 1956. He had just wrapped up an 18-month tour of back-to-back concerts, all of which were one success after another. And once “Heartbreak Hotel” was released, Elvis’ name was one that everyone knew, especially his die-hard female fans.
However, that night on “The Milton Berle Show,” Elvis ditched his guitar and decided to take his place as future king of rock. The 21-year-old took hold of the mic and began to gyrate his pelvis. The Elvis Pelvis, The King of Hip Swings. Needless to say, not everyone was screaming with excitement.
Teenage girls couldn’t handle “The King”
His performance of “Hound Dog” brought a roar from the crowd and made every female fan swoon. You think Justin Bieber fans are strong, well, Elvis girls were absolutely no joke. Unfortunately for Elvis, not everyone was a fan of his performance. Many critics thought his suggestive mobility suddenly affected the quality of his voice.
They called him an “unutterable bore” and commented that his “gyrating” was more appropriate in a burlesque. Harsh, needless to say, but Elvis didn’t give a squat about what the critics had to say. If he did, then he would have never achieved his title as “The King.”
Tupac Shakur to this day remains one of the biggest hip-hop icons in the world. Even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop, that’s fine, you’d still know who Tupac was (remember the Tupac hologram at Coachella?). He was not just a musician, but he was a man of poetry and theater. Did you know Tupac was admitted into the Baltimore School of Arts where he studied dance and acting?
He even performed in Shakespeare plays and wrote poetry. Does it surprise you? Tupac was an eloquent individual who applied his education to his music. However, his life was no comedy, it evidently became a tragedy—one that supposedly began the rivalry between West Coast and East Coast hip-hop.
Tupac may be gone, but his music continues to live on
Before his fatal death in 1996, Tupac was the victim of gunshot violence two years before, and that allegedly began the rift between two different sides of hip-hop. While recording his third album, Tupac was assaulted by two armed men in the lobby of a Midtown Manhattan building where he was recording his album.
At the time, Tupac believed it was because of a rivalry between himself and Biggie and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. Whatever the case, his death on September 13, 1996 could not turn down the volume of his life or music, and he continues to be recognized as posthumous releases of his albums are released.
Beethoven performs the 9th Symphony
The deaf composer might be long dead and gone, but his music is completely immortal. For those of you who don’t know the first thing about Beethoven, here’s something to use as an icebreaker: when Beethoven was 17 years old, it was said that he performed for none other than Mozart.
Mozart wasn’t easily impressed by musicians, believing that he was more talented and had more accomplishments than his peers. Although it’s never confirmed what happened when Beethoven performed, rumor has it that Mozart came out of the room and exclaimed, “Keep your eyes on him—someday he’ll give the world something to talk about.”
The symphony had various meanings
The 9th Symphony was something of a head-scratcher. It could be interpreted in various different ways, but the most popular interpretation of his symphony, according to “The Atlantic Review,” is “as a statement of freedom in the repressive political environment of Europe after the Congress of Vienna.”
His composition was an expression of the art of political freedom, one that “dominated Europe, and freedom of expression, certainly…the mind and spirit.” Beethoven was also inspired by poet Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy.” Regardless of the various interpretations of its meaning, his 9th Symphony remains one of his most popular works to date and will most likely be popular until the end of the world.
Marvin Gaye releases “What’s Going On”
Marvin Gaye has to be hands down one of the most recognizable Motown artists in the music world. His velvety-smooth voice could wrap you up and keep you warm at night. Despite his sweet vocals, Marvin Gaye was also known for musing about issues such as the Vietnam War (where his brother was drafted), drugs, and the economy, specifically in his album “What’s Going On.”
The album was released in the spring of 1971. At the time, talking about such heavy issues in Motown was nearly unheard of, but Marvin Gaye felt that it was in this genre where it was okay to openly express one’s ideas and feelings. After all, that’s what it’s all about, freedom of expression.
He couldn’t write romantic songs when there were deeper issues to discuss
According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Gaye referred to his new album as a “gift from God,” and said it embodied a “spiritual dimension.” When his lobby called him to make a record with romantic lyrics, Gaye had other ideas: “My phone would ring, and it’s Motown wanting me to start working and I’d say, ‘Have you seen the paper today?’” said Gaye.
The paper covered the students who were killed at Kent State University. Gaye was so distraught that he was overwhelmed with emotion. He couldn’t eat or sleep because of the issue: “The notion of singing three-minute songs about the moon and June didn’t interest me. Neither did instant-message songs.” Thus, “What’s Going On” was born.
The day the world stood still for Woodstock
Woodstock, as said earlier, was the reason why millennials wear flower crowns and are suddenly possessed with a sense of zen and free love (seriously, Coachella people are advertising themselves on Tinder). Unlike the tame festivals we see today, Woodstock was its own breed of chaos.
It invited an exodus of 400,000 people, all of whom were there for one simple reason, the music. Want to know something else? The entire event was free. All you had to worry about was getting there, and the rest was up to you (unlike the hundreds of dollars needed to gain admission to a bunch of stables and a polo field).
Everyone there just wanted to have a good time
50,000 people were expected to attend Woodstock (we can hear you laughing back there!). Highways and local roadways were at a complete standstill. A majority of drivers abandoned their cars and just hoofed it to the musical spectacle. Of course, staff was drastically underprepared for the mass of people coming to see headliners such as Janis Joplin, Santana, and the Grateful Dead.
However, it didn’t matter to the peace-loving group. They were all there for one thing only, to escape the hate and to spread the love. A possible reason as to why everything ran so smoothly despite the lack of food and resources was the number of psychedelic drugs being passed around.
Chuck Berry changes music with “Maybellene”
John Lennon once commented that if rock ‘n’ roll was ever to be renamed, it should be “Chuck Berry.” The man was electric with his guitar and created a music genre that is still echoing on the radio and our Spotify playlists to this day. And it all started when an unknown Chuck Berry got up on stage and riffed his famous “Maybellene” in 1955.
Although he may have defined rock ‘n’ roll for a new generation, he was inspired by the blues, particularly the music belonging to blues artist and idol Muddy Waters. Waters was the one who helped Berry get signed to a record label and gave him the best advice a newcomer artist can get.
He got the best advice from his idol
Muddy Waters fostered Chuck Berry by pointing him in the direction of a record label, Chess Records. It was his advice that helped Berry to create this new sound, a blend between blues and country-western. The sound turned into a song first called “Ida Red,” but after some minor alterations and a name change, it turned into “Maybellene.”
After his debut, he defined rock ‘n’ roll using the guitar as one of the genre’s vital instruments. His music would inspire other rock ‘n’ roll giants such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen. All of their music can be traced back to the electrifying cords belonging to Chuck Berry.