I'm not old enough to be sure about some of these years, especially those before 1960. But by many accounts, most would start with 1956 - the year Elvis hit the charts hard. Now we can debate about his authenticity, since he stole his sound from black R&B legends of the time. But he is nonetheless the artist who folks from that era remember as starting the trend.
But I can tell you about the years I do know about:
1965: the year the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came to America, and Motown hit its peak. Yeah, I was a little too young to know this, but those who do would agree this was probably the pivital moment that music could never look back from forever.
1967: The Summer of Love. Nuff said. Too many artists to mention, but defintely the year that music hit the mark that defined everything that came after. One cool year, too (even if I was just a little boy then). Life was pretty cool in '67. Of my favorites of this year? Jim Morrison and the Doors (c'mon baby Light my Fire), Sly & The Family Stone (I Wanna Take ya Higher), and Edwin Birdsong (Here comes the Judge). But for many more, The Grateful Dead's debut.
1969: Woodstock. Need I say more? What more can I say about the year that changed America? Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Starship, the list is endless.
1971-72: Shaft, Superfly, Al Green, The O-Jays. And the beginning of TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia). The year America found its five on the black-hand side. And we're better for it.
1973: Earth, Wind & Fire with Evil. Stevie Wonder with Superstition. The Ohio Players, Mandrill, and the introduction of Parliament/Funkadelic. Yes. Boston. Traffic. Eric Clapton. Funk, R&B and Rock hit their stride. And with the jazz-rock-fusion of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Ramsey Lewis and the incomprorable Grover Washington Jr, the modern funk and smooth jazz sounds was born.
1978: The pinnacle of the Disco Era. Without a doubt, Donna Summer and many many others did a helluva job spearheading a revolution in dance music. And a social icon lifestyle standard, the predecessor of the Bling Era, was established. Think Saturday Night Fever.
1983: Michael Jackson. Madonna. Prince. Rick James. Lionel Ritchie, Evelyn Champagne King. Phil Collins. The Clash, Tina Turner. Punk Rock and New Wave were at their peak, a new music form was taking hold (rap) and the aforementioned artists put out music that became legend. For me, this was probably the best music year ever.
1991: New Jack Swing, which was brought to its still-dominant peak by the movie New Jack City (thanks Nino Brown and you Cash Money Brothers). This year inspired the likes of Teddy Riley, R. Kelly, Guy, Bobby Brown/New Edition's springoffs, and also brought us the West Coast Rap of Snoop, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Tupac Shakur. It's also the year I knew I'd never in life move into an apartment building called The Carter.
1997: Perhaps the coolest year ever; I like to refer to it as "the 9-7". I consider this year the current generation's 1967 or 1973, because the hip-hop revolution and the alternative music generation led us into the music download era, and was in fact LIVE and televised. Busta Rhymes, Usher, Common, Erika Badu, and the icons Mariah Carey, Diddy (when he was Puff Daddy), Biggie Smalls, an' on and on and on. Some of the best artists of the genre, many of whom are icons now, started or came of note in this year. And, like 1967, it was a very cool year to be alive. But most important, like '67 and '73, it inspired a new generation of enlightenment.
2000: the year of Bling, the Boy Bands, and Britney Spears. Ok, a little perverted on the history charts, but a significant year nonetheless. Although still part of the hip-hop revolution of 1997, it changed pop music to platinum status as not just music, but a new culture in America, which later inspired political movements like MoveOn.org and politics on the internet that still exist today. And - oops - some wardrobe malfunctions.
footnote: Quincy Jones was in the mix for damn near all of it.