Is Rock & Roll dead?


#1

I think the last monster explosion by a rock and roll band was maybe Green Day or White Stripes.

I took a look at the Billboard year end 2017 Album chart. About the only band that could be considered Rock & Roll is Imagine Dragons or The Chainsmokers, and I’m not even certain I’d call them that.

WTF happened?


#2

So i think it depends how you define “dead.”

Post Napster, I don’t think we live in a world where there’s singular music taste anymore. I think there was a point where “the average Joe” could reliably recognize say, the Top-40, or, from my youth, the TRL top songs of the day from MTV. the album sales figures and news media certainly bore that out, and smaller genres struggled, but persisted.

Nowadays, via music blogs, streaming services, a broad and lively touring scene, direct-support of artists via services like Patreon and Indiegogo, and the “death” of radio/music television, music has really splintered into all sorts of disparate scenes. Pitchfork can make or break a rock band’s career, sure, but that’s an entirely separate ecosystem from whatever remains of the Billboard Top-40 Pop/Rock charts for the most part, or, to put it another way, Taylor Swift is competing from a completely separate market from, say, Radiohead.

So you get a ton of nostalgia touring from bands like Def Leopard and Journey who make big bucks as always. You get arena tours from the girls of pop and bands like, say, Imagine Dragons or what have you. Metal’s still having a heyday; Slayer’s farewell tour is gonna sell out amphitheaters nationwide for months. Rap, techno, alternative: it’s all still there, simmering away in separate pots, doing fine. . . not, you know, Britney Spears circa 2001 fine, but fine!

And c’mon. Royal Thunder exists right now. Rock and roll is so far from dead.


#3

As an old geezer I would say that rock n roll has been dead for a long time, but I would be wrong. I do think the thing that in my day drove rock n roll, FM radio, just isn’t doing that job anymore. I have pretty much no idea where to listen to modern rock in my town. I am sure it is there, somewhere, but I would have to do some research to find it.

Besides, the vocalists of all rock bands sound identical nowadays. :)


#4

I don’t know if it’s dead, but it sure seems like every generation after mine (and plenty of people from my generation or earlier) have settled on music of the rap/hiphop/R&B/etc persuasion as their big thing. I wish I got the appeal.


#5

It’s not remotely dead. There’s plenty of new rock music every year, it’s just no longer king of the stadiums and is relegated to your local venues instead. It’s just not mainstream.

But also keep in mind Rock itself consists of various sub genres.


#6

Yeah, the rock genre isn’t dead, but it has fractured. No longer do record companies have the power to, by fiat, declare what music people listen to. The age of dominating radio is over. The age of radio being the discovery driver is over.

As such studios can’t really push bands like they used to. So everything creeps towards a few narrow bands where they can control the distribution, namely pop. The top 40 format they can still control who gets played, so that’s what gets the resources and the push.

So the days of all but a few major rock acts gettingplatinum sales are over. But there is a vibrant and varied world of bands in the 100k-500k band of sales, one much more interesting and broad than it has ever been.

So rock ain’t dead, it is just underground in a thousand places.


#7

Wax Fang.


#8

I think the official time of death was declared when 97X - WOXY “The Future of Rock and Roll” went off the air.


#9

There’s a lot more to its being dead than sales and market share. During the rock and roll era there was a general understanding that a young person’s personal identity was tied up with rock music.

The original 50s fad where the latest black music style crossed over to whites was completely teen-centered on the white side. We all know the story about the scared parents and preachers, but precisely because the audience were teens the fad was viewed as disposable by most — see the portrayal of rock fans as mindless but harmless dipshits in The Girl Can’t Help It and Bye Bye Birdie.

But once the Beatles and Stones arrived and really took control of people’s imaginations for several years, the premise was generally accepted that rock and roll was inextricable from being young (and therefore from all the other well-known aspects of youth throughout history, such as hallucinogens, being anti-war, and having long hair — not whatever hair you want, but long hair and only long hair). Old farts STILL go on and on about it.

In the 70s and 80s this continued unabated, but listeners split into tribes. Sure, there was Beatles versus Stones in the 60s, but that was nothing compared with Top 40 versus rockers versus punks while the prog nerds sat in the corner looking superior and wishing a girl would ask them who the best organ player was.

When I was a teenager in the 80s actual music critics were referring not just to Debbie Gibson and shit like that as rock and roll, but also to Run DMC and Whodini. This just didn’t make any sense to me — but it did to lots of people, because to them “rock and roll” meant pop music listened to by young people. And this persists — the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is packed with soul acts that never would have called themselves that.

Anyway, I see the grunge/alternative boom of the 90s as the last time this system was renewed. The White Stripes are definitely worth mentioning as a real rock and roll band that hit big after all that, and the labels tried to make a movement out of it but it just didn’t happen. And you never heard anyone say, Look at those White Stripes kids over there. It didn’t define a group identity.

These days it seems to me like pop songs (including rock songs) get packaged with movies. The kids and adults all like music and want a certain amount of it, but it’s part of a larger cultural package they buy a few times a year. Which includes video games! And it is already a truism that video games replaced rock and roll for a lot of people over the years, including many who must be adults now.

I think rock music will slosh around with all the other pop music for a long time, and every now and then there will be a new band and a little revival, but it won’t define anything again. And that’s not a tragedy. I have enough to last me a thousand fucking years of rockitude.


#10

Here’s one way to think about Rock: it’s only as dead as the dinosaurs. The rub is, the dinosaurs have many vital descendants (the birds etc.) so from a standpoint of heritage, the dinos are still with us. So Rock as defined in my youth is no more, but it has spawned a whole class of descendants.

Another thing to think about: during the height of the Rock Era, Rock and Roll IMO was as much about mythology as it was about the music. Think of all the heavy metal tribute T-Shirts, all the “epic rock journey” biographies etc. Heck, I just read “Kings of the Wyld” by Nicholas Eames which is basically rock mythology packaged as fantasy.

So that era of Rock as dominant, or Rock as Myth, is gone IMO. But it’s musical genes persist.


#11

This year I fell hard for a band like I haven’t in years – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They’re multi-genre, but mostly progressive rock and put out a staggering five albums last year (each different from the last). Metal is still going strong as well.


#12

In general across the board there’s been a decoupling of music and identity/aesthetic. I think in part this is a result of music being so easy to obtain these days. Take Goth for instance, there’s been a rise of bands that look goth but don’t remotely sound goth for example Pale Waves

Look at this band and take a guess what they sound like? The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Birthday Massacre maybe?

How about The 1975? (who even direct this video)


#13

I’d argue that the quasi-sequential rise of nu metal, pop punk, emo, and the early/mid-00s form of hardcore represented another rock renewal, and certainly one that a lot of Millennials came to identify “counter culture” via. ~2000-2008 or so, you had identifiable social groups based on that form of taste (e.g., look at those emo kids, look at those straightedge hardcore kids, etc.) who self-identified, self-grouped, and othered versus, say, preps. Down South where I lived, the preps might have been Country kids, whereas pop and hip hop dominated other areas.

Mind, that still fits in with the “death of mass music culture” timeline I posted above–Total Request Live died in late 2008–but it was absolutely a movement. We kept Hot Topic alive when goth went even more underground than usual, we spawned and pushed the Warped Tour summer festival series across the nation (and world, a few times), and were at the forefront of music-based political protest movements in the early 00s.

In the intervening decade, @CraigM’s post rings true: unlike South Korea, where music is still controlled centrally and pop groups are groomed from childhood through stardom by the same handful of multimedia supercompanies (that run the talent scout agencies, training camps, music labels, TV stations, and concert venues, so one company can literally direct the entire course of your chart-topping career from start to finish), here in the US, the record labels’ power withered mightily post-Napster, and their capacity to stamp a broad, nation-spanning cultural mark across upcoming youth generations was massively curtailed. It persists in pure pop music, mainstream rap/R&B, and country, to some extent, but even then, things aren’t nearly at the level they were 20 years ago unless your name is Taylor Swift.

Kids of today consume music very differently than any of us did growing up, and companies are still figuring out how to market to them and gain mindshare. You’re a lot more likely to have a “hit” song among 13-year-olds in 2018 by winding up on a PewDiePie meme video as you are by, I dunno, debuting on the local radio station.


#14

Also Rock n Roll is alive enough A) for this tour to even be happening, and B) for the guitarist of my favorite local metal band to derisively mock it rather than fall to his knees praising the presence of GUITAR MUSIC in our state ;-)


edit: But all that does remind me that simultaneous to the big counterculture upswing of pop punk, emo, screamo, hardcore, and nu-metal, there was also a revival of alternative rock fronted by about “11 Bands that Sound Basically Like Pearl Jam,” like Stained, Creed, Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, 3 Doors Down, Seether, etc. . . that represented “mainstream” or “acceptable” rock for the good Christian kids to listen to.

Both subsets had heavy airplay, TV presence, and record sales through the Aughts.


#15

Tangentially, music on compact discs is Domed!1 at least when it comes to sales in big-box, Minnesota-based U.S. retail giants.


#16

Yes, but what of compact djscs?


#17

I haven’t been compact in a long time, but I like to tell the youths I still know how to rock! Like Bill Haley or the Four Lads!


#18

It’s not dead of course. There are thousands of rock albums released every year, and quite a few really good ones. It might be dead in the “we own the charts” sense. I mean, let’s face it: making drum loops is easy. Miking up a drum kit is a pain in the ass. It’s hard to blame the kids, really.

Anyway, I’ve seen rock be declared dead a dozen or so times in my years. It always seems to make a miraculous comeback…usually about 5 minutes after the last big “Is Rock Dead?” thinkpiece comes out.


#19

There’s also one other thing that rock in the 21st century has to compete with that previous incarnations of rock music did not: barriers to entry.

See, if you want to make a real-life, honest-to-goodness rock and roll band, you’ve got to find a place to practice. There’s no way to practice rock music quietly. Drums are loud. Electric guitars have to have sustain, and you can only get that with volume. And practice space was always something that bands were willing to try to figure out back across 50 years.

…but now let’s say you get the bug to be creative musically. You can sit at your laptop with earbuds and create electronica and hiphop and auto-tuned pop confections without needing to do all that shit.

To me that’s the other thing. When we were all younger, we all knew lots of folks who were either in bands, or wanted to be in a band, or had been in a band, no matter how terrible they sounded doing Journey or Foghat covers. Now? Teens really don’t grow up with that kind of immersion. They all know someone who’s making sick mashups or cool beats to rhyme to. And that’s great too. But it’s different.


#20

A lot of those soul acts are there for the influence they had on rockers - Springsteen and Bob Seger and, hell, ZZ Top learned a lot from Sam and Dave, for example. But more to the point, while those “soul” acts would never have said, “we are primarily and intentionally a rock’n’roll act,” most of them wouldn’t have volunteered “we are primarily and intentionally a soul act” either. They would have said, “we make music that we hope appeals to a lot of people.”

That’s because the primary radio format of the 1960s was top 40, which is to say: whatever was most popular. So the slogan for commercial success in the early 60s was not to sell yourself as primarily a soul act or a r&r act or what have you. It was “get as big an audience as you can and don’t worry about the genre.” Which is where early Motown succeeded so brilliantly. Were “Dancing in the Streets,” or “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” or “Stubborn Kind of Fella” pop? r&b? rock’nroll? Nobody at the time thought too much about it; it had a beat and you could dance to it. “Young America” of all races, creeds and colors lapped it up, and Berry Gordy became very, very rich.

The broad audience of the early 60s began to be sliced up into submarkets in the mid to late 60s, and in turn the music became split up into subgenres. Tracing all that would take up a book, but a big chunk of it was more sophisticated marketing on the part of record companies and radio stations. They found that selling to everyone was really hard, and they could make more money marketing to specific categories - market this particular act to teenage African-American girls in the cities, that act to white male college kids in the suburbs, etc. etc. The creation of the “album rock” radio format (what’s known as “classic rock” today) was a big step in this process. For people who grew up on that format, what those radio stations played was by definition rock’n’roll - and conversely, if it wasn’t on those stations, it wasn’t rock. Which is why today a whole generation of people wouldn’t be convinced that Sam and Dave count as rock’n’roll even if Springsteen, Seger, and ZZ Top turned up to tell them that in person.