Americans say the 1970s and 1980s were the best music decades

Jamie BallardData Journalist
June 16, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

In 1979, Bob Seger sang “Today's music ain't got the same soul, I like that old time rock and roll.” Those words may hold true today, as it seems Americans largely agree that the “old time” music is better than anything new.  

YouGov polled more than 17,000 Americans about which time period they believe had the best music. Among US adults overall, the 1970s and 1980s prove to be the best decades for music, with 21% and 22% of the vote, respectively. Slightly fewer point to the 1960s (14%) or the 1990s (14%) as standout music decades, while even fewer choose the 2000s (6%) or the 1950s or earlier (6%). With apologies to the decade’s top artists like Drake, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars, just 3% of Americans believe that the 2010s had the best music of any decade.  

But of course, there is some disagreement between generations when it comes to the best music.  

Generation Z — born in 2000 or later — put the 2010s (17%) and the 2000s (16%) at the top of the list, followed by the 1980s (14%), the 1990s (12%), and then the current decade (6%). Just one in twenty Gen Z-ers (5%) believe the 1970s had the best music.  

Among Millennials (born 1982 – 1999), about one-quarter (23%) believe that the 1990s were the best decade for music, followed by the 1980s (19%). About half as many say that either the 2000s (11%) or the 1970s (10%) were the best music decade.  

Two in five (38%) members of Generation X (born 1965 – 1981) think that the 1980s had the best music, far more than the percentage who believe either the 1990s (18%) or 1970s (17%) were the superior decades for music. 

Among Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), 38% believe that the 1970s were the best decade for music. Another 28% believe the prior decade, the 1960s, was actually the best. Just one in six (16%) Baby Boomers think that the 1980s had the best music.   

The Silent Generation – born between 1928 and 1945 – is the only generation where a notable percentage (39%) believes the best music was made in the 1950s or earlier. Fewer members (32%) of this generation cite the 1960s as being the best decade for music.  
 
This data suggests a general trend around people tending to most prefer the music that was popular when they were young. Scientific studies have supported the idea that people’s brains have especially positive associations with the music that was popular during their adolescent years.  

Rap and hip-hop fans say the ‘90s had the best music, while rock fans say the ‘70s and ‘80s were best  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fans of different musical genres have slightly different opinions about which decades had the best music.  

YouGov Profiles data suggests that rock is the most popular music genre, with 48% of Americans saying this is one of their favorite genres. Among rock fans, two decades tie for the best music: the 1970s (26%) and the 1980s (26%).  

Among those who consider themselves pop fans (38% say they’re a fan of the genre), the 1980s (26%) stand out as the best decade for music. Among the 32% of Americans who are R&B fans, the 1970s (22%) and 1980s (21%) are tied, with the 1990s (18%) not far behind.  

Three in 10 Americans (31%) say they’re fans of country music. Among this group, 23% think the best music was made in the 1980s, while 21% think the best music decade was the 1970s. 

Although the 1990s get some love from fans of other music genres, those who say rap/hip-hop is their favorite genre are especially likely (26%) to say the best music was made during this time. Slightly fewer (21%) rap fans say the 1980s were the best time for music.  

See full results here.  

Related: Are Generation Z claims that Millennials are unfashionable right?

Methodology: 17,578 US adults, including 358 members of Generation Z (born 2000 or later), 3,704 Millennials (born 1982 – 1999), 4,102 members of Generation X (born 1965 – 1981), 7,814 Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), and 1,532 members of the Silent Generation (born 1928 – 1945) were surveyed between June 4 – 6, 2021. The responding sample is weighted to be representative of the US population.