The initial burst came with the Beatles and the British Invasion, a new sound everybody went wild for.
Then came the late sixties free-form FM era, everything from the Doors’ “The End” to Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” to Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” Sure, some of these tracks crossed over to AM, were single hits, but this was the era, after “Sgt. Pepper,” when you wanted to make an album length STATEMENT!
In the early seventies, it was about experimentation and musicianship. Ergo, the prog rock bands. Even Queen. We admired those with chops.
Then came the codification and consolidation of FM radio by Lee Abrams and suddenly all the action was on FM and bands being banged on that format went nuclear. Stadium shows were de rigueur. There was so much money involved that it could not be overlooked, ergo, corporate rock, music made to make money.
Which punk was a reaction to.
But punk got press and little sales and they were both, rock and punk, trampled by disco, which ironically survives, even though it’s labeled something different, and is still triumphant.
And then disco records were blown up in Comiskey Park and the music business tanked and then was resuscitated by MTV and the CD.
MTV gave a second wind to rock. Especially the oldsters. But then young acts like Culture Club and Duran Duran got traction, but shortly thereafter so did Michael Jackson and Wham! Rock reacted the same way it did a decade before, with hair bands. Spandex-clad wankers singing safe ballads that were supposed to titillate women. But then that crashed, just like corporate rock before it, and there was a brief heyday of Guns N’ Roses, and then the Seattle sound, and then rock cratered completely. Oh, it splintered, into indie and metal and…
Rock acts were no longer dominant.
Rock survives as country. Albeit too often with lame lyrics.
But all those guys and gals with guitars, they’re goners. Just look at the Spotify statistics.
Now don’t go all vinyl on me. Don’t build up the niche acts. Don’t say Spotify is not representative. That’s like denying Amazon sales. Denying data in an era where data rules. The Spotify Top 50 are rolling in dough, and everyone else is bitching about streaming, playing to a limited audience, unless they were superstars way back when, or on the undercard at the festival.
So there’s a rock-influenced business, it’s just far from dominant.
How did this happen?
Like I stated above, it lost touch with the street. Everybody can make hip-hop. There’s a constantly changing cast of characters, new people are winning all the time, but rock is self-referential and repetitive. We need a new punk movement, something to shake it all up, but all we have is acts that are repeating forty year old formulas. Or moving off in unlistenable directions.
Once upon a time Led Zeppelin was heavy metal. Black Sabbath was seen as tuneless. Now those acts are seen as soft compared to what’s sold as metal today. Which is more noise than music. Hell, I just said that to raise your ire. My only point is today’s metal is not mainstream. Most people don’t like it.
As for the Americana acts, the acts that appeal to the intelligentsia, too many can’t sing. Maybe Bob Dylan didn’t have the best voice, but he was THE BEST LYRICIST OF ALL TIME!
Except for maybe Joni Mitchell. But we got a pale imitation of Mitchell with Sarah McLachlan, since then… Oh, we got Taylor Swift…AND SHE’S THE BIGGEST ACT IN THE WORLD!
Except for maybe Adele.
But the point is singing about your life pays, issuing truth pays. That’s when hip-hop is best. But today’s rock is redundant and features mediocre singers singing lame lyrics. One thing you can say about the Beatles…THEY COULD SING!
So there’s no harmony and no bridge and little lyrical content and the music is not a great leap forward, this is not Yes after Herman’s Hermits, but just a slight twist on what came before.
As for Adele… She too has a great voice, singing songs about feelings with changes. It’s not like it’s a hidden formula. It is about the material, but no one in rock wants to admit that. They just want to sling on a Stratocaster, make a racket and wait for the money to roll in, which it doesn’t.
And it never will.
Rock has hit a dead end. Just like jazz before it. Oh, rock will never die, but it won’t bloom again either. First and foremost we need a new sound. And there’s none on the horizon and all the fields may have been plowed. This is a problem with hip-hop too, enough of the fake drum/TR-808 sound. I mean you’ve got all the winners of yore complaining about Lil Yachty, and I won’t enter that debate, but one thing’s for sure, to survive a medium must progress, keep swimming, or it dies.
But there is a way out. Combining the Adele/Swift formula. Be able to sing well about your life. If you’re not an excellent singer, you’d better be the best player or the best songwriter. But in an era where everybody can participate, everybody believes they’re entitled to a trophy.
It’s not like this isn’t hiding in plain sight. Did you see the WaPo story about the death of the electric guitar? Sales tanked. Kids would rather use Ableton. And I must say, it seems to be that it’s the electronic sounds that always catch my ear these days. You may despise Justin Bieber, but he works with some of the best producers extant. Diplo and DJ Snake are testing the limits. An equivalent person in rock?
Well, we’ve got Dave Cobb, he did a wonderful job for Chris Stapleton. And what happened? EVERYBODY CLAMORED! They wanted the authenticity, not the written for hire songs about babies and church and the rest of the drivel on the country playlists. Proving that people know it when they hear it. But they’re not hearing anything in rock.
I know, I know, you’re a believer.
But even Pete Townshend got old. And classic stars are dropping like flies.
Then again, the Who wrote the first rock opera. Where’s the innovation in rock today? And the Eagles wrote perfectly produced singable songs sung well. The cognoscenti hate the Eagles, but they own the biggest selling album of all time. Who’s right? And before you answer, admit you hated Journey and now you love them.
And Journey was a middling band before the addition of Steve Perry.
So go back to the basics, vocals, lyrics, harmonies, bridges, songs…