Music, Retro Rock

Is Rock Music Dead?

The Who, “Long Live Rock” Single Record Cover.

Rock is dead, they say, Long live rock. Long live rock, I need it every night. Long live rock, come on and join the line. Long live rock, be it dead or alive.

-Pete Townshend, “Long Live Rock”

The notion that “Rock is dead” has been around for a long time. In fact, Pete Townshend wrote the song “Long Live Rock” 47 years ago as a rebuttal to those in the early 70’s who were proclaiming that rock music was dead.

The Who wasn’t the only artist to speak about the subject of rock being dead. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” proclaims, “Just take those old records off the shelf, I’ll sit and listen to them by myself, today’s music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old time Rock and Roll.”

The next year Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” had the following lyrics: “Rock and Roll is here to stay, it’s better to burn out than to fade away, Rock and Roll can never die, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.”

During the 80’s, Huey Lewis and the News song “The Heart of Rock and Roll” states “They say the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating and from what I’ve seen I believe ‘em, now the old boy may be barely breathing but the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating.”

If you have been reading the New York Times, Billboard, Rolling Stone or the Los Angeles Times recently, you may have seen their headlines and concluded that rock music is dead and buried for good. Is this actually true?

Just last week while I was on vacation in Maine, I was reading Digital Music News and that publication posed the question, “So is Rock n’ Roll dead, dying, or something in-between?” So what is the state of Rock music?

According to Spotify, Hip Hop is the number one music genre followed by Pop, Latino and EDM. Nielsen Music reports that R&B/Hip Hop was the biggest genre of music during 2017 with “24.5% of all music consumed.” Billboard states that 7 of the top 10 selling albums last year were in the R&B/Hip Hop category. Rock music sales continue to spiral downward compared to the other top music genres here in 2018.

So you may ask yourself: If rock is dead or on life support, what about U2 selling out concert venues all across America this summer? Other classic Rock acts such as Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Dave Matthews Band are also touring this summer and filling outdoor concert stadiums on a regular basis. Is Rock really dead?

I have a theory about all of the doomsday writers that place Rock music as either dead or on its last leg and never to return as a force in the music industry ever again: For the most part, writers in 2018 say “Rock music is dead” because their definition of the genre is actually based on a “Classic Rock” model.

In these writers’ eyes, the traditional classic rock group consists of four white males, two members playing guitars, one playing the bass and the final member being a drummer. Since there are few of these types of groups either forming and/or playing the “classic Rock” sound during this decade, these writers categorically proclaim that “Rock is dead” as their definition of Rock music does not exist in today’s music scene.

So I ask again: Is Rock music actually dead? When I view rock music in 2018, I see a different picture. Rock music today is broad, varied and has a wide range of different styles within the genre. Besides the traditional classic Rock sound, there are many other forms of Rock being played regularly here in America:

Blues rock, country rock, dance rock, electronic rock, folk rock, industrial rock, jazz fusion, heavy metal, alternative rock, modern rock, pop rock, power pop, rap rock, reggae rock, art rock, punk rock, new wave, progressive rock, indie rock, glam rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, etc.

The make up of Rock group members is also much different now than the old “classic Rock” model of the 60’s and 70’s. Instead of four white men model, I now see diversity with Rock bands. Women are now leaders of many Rock bands and minorities have also become important leaders with Rock groups that have been formed this century. Rock music is not dead, it is just different than the classic Rock model from the 60’s and 70’s.

Today’s Rock music is diverse and to get a feel for the most popular artists and bands trending, here are the number one songs so far during 2018 from the Billboard Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) Rock radio stations chart:

“No Roots” Alice Merton, “Pain” The War On Drugs, “Live in the Moment” Portugal. The Man, “You Worry Me” Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “Severed” The Decemberists, “Lottery” Jade Bird, “Bad Bad News” Leon Bridges and “Hunger” Florence and the Machine.

The Spectrum, channel 28 on SiriusXM, is a station that plays both classic Rock and today’s current Rock and is classified as a Triple A station. In addition to songs I listed above from the Billboard Triple A chart, The Spectrum is currently playing the following in their hot rotation:

“Such a Simple Thing” Ray LaMontagne, “Life To Fix” The Record Company, “Good Kisser” Lake Street Dive, “Lash Out” Alice Merton, “Bad Luck” Neko Case, “Beyond” Leon Bridges, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)” Dave Matthews Band, “Saturday Sun” Vance Joy, “Colors” Beck, “High Horse” Kacey Musgraves, “Four Out of Five” Arctic Monkeys, “Wait By the River” Lord Huron and “Vertigo” U2 (Live from the Apollo).

Those who say Rock is dead obviously haven’t listened to the music played on Triple A Rock stations or The Spectrum SiriusXM radio. With the wide range of Rock being played on radio stations across America this summer, I am going to list my top 4 Rock songs for the summer of 2018:

4. “Hunger” – Florence + the Machine

Currently the number 1 song on the Billboard Triple A Rock chart, here is a statement about the song’s lyrics from front woman Florence Welch published by Pitchfork.com: “This song is about the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more. I guess I made myself more vulnerable in this song to encourage connection, because perhaps a lot more of us feel this way than we are able to admit. Sometimes when you can’t say it, you can sing it.”

3. “No Roots” – Alice Merton

A former 2018 number one song on the Billboard Triple A Rock Chart, Merton is a new star on the rise. She recently explained to Rolling Stone how the lyrics to “No Roots” came to be: “The actual idea behind the song, for me, was very depressing,” says Merton, who now splits her time between Germany and England. “I was realizing that I didn’t have a home. I didn’t really feel at home in one place.” “I wanted the song to be very freeing and have this cool and fun rhythm,” she explains. “Solo, it’s very melancholic and emotional, but when I play it with my band it’s uplifting. It shows the two sides of having no roots.”

2. “Good Kisser” – Lake Street Dive

Lead singer Rachel Price conveys multiple emotions on this breakup song. On one hand she is forlorn and melancholic while at the same time being facetious with a tongue-in-cheek delivery as she tells her former lover, “If you’re gonna them everything, tell ‘em I’m a good kisser.” Bass player Bridget Kearney does an outstanding job and Price’s vocal range is excellent on the best breakup song during the summer of 2018.

1. “High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves

The country singer-songwriter and two-time Grammy Award winner has shifted gears on her newest album “Golden Hour” and recorded a pop-rock tune that actually has a Bee Gees type disco beat. The character in the “High Horse” lyrics is arrogant and has an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Musgraves uses imagery of cowboys and horses and declares in the bridge of the song, “Darling, you take the high horse and I’ll take the high road,

If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good riding solo.” As with her many other astutely written songs, the lyrics are sharp-witted and thoughtful on this latest Musgraves tune.

So there you have my current four favorite Rock songs for the summer of 2018. Obviously, your favorite Rock songs may be completely different from my tunes. I would love to read your thoughts in the comment section of my blog.

So I ask the question one last time: Is Rock music dead? My answer: Absolutely not!

Rock music has continuously changed since the genre was started in the 50’s. Change happened in 1964 during Beatlemania and the British Invasion. During the 70’s, Classic Rock was king and then gradually faded as other forms of Rock became prominent. Every decade brings constant changes with Rock music.

Will Rock music ever be the top selling genre of music again? Who knows what type of music will be popular five years from now. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ famous quote, “The only thing that is constant is change” applies to the subject of this blog: Everything changes and so will Rock music. Rock music isn’t dead, it is alive and well. Rock on!

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8 thoughts on “Is Rock Music Dead?

  1. David H says:

    Good thoughts! Everything in the 50s, 60s and even 70s was new and groundbreaking. Now I think rock is still here but it’s a mix of different styles of rock. Is there a band out there with a totally new sound? Don’t ask me! Honestly, I am clueless about today’s rock. I need to listen to more to get a handle on it. WROV mostly plays classic rock I grew up on. Hmm, are there any over the air stations that play modern rock around Roanoke or do I need to turn to the Internet?

  2. Nancy Childtess says:

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I have no knowledge of today’s rock, as I’m stuck in the 60’s and 70’s music! ( and even some late 50’s!!) I do agree with what you wrote! Very well-written!

  3. Mark Skelton says:

    Excellent review Dave. I’m like Nancy, still listening to the Classic Rock of the 60’s and 70’s. So, I too am clueless of today’s rock tunes. I wasn’t aware of SiriusXM 27, so I plan to take your advise and check it out. Thanks again for keeping Rock alive ! Rock on !

  4. David Maddox says:

    I’ll need slide over to 102.5 and give it a listen, and perhaps create a new custom station on Pandora or Amazon Music. I’m hearing some blues roots here, and listened to a couple of other tunes by these artists. Like David H., I find myself stuck listening to 60’s, 70’s, & some ’80’s tunes. I’m less than thrilled with today’s top tunes to even search out new artists, but I think you may be onto something. Long live rock, indeed, David!

  5. I guess rock music must evolve, personally even as a 30 something male, I do find myself longing for songs that do share more in common with some of rocks golden ages though.

  6. David Hardie says:

    Fabulous blog David. I too have not listened a great deal to today’s modern rock. I am stuck in the 60’s and 70’s. After reading your article I will follow your map on where to go and become better educated. Again your article speaks with passion, is well written, and very in depth and well researched. Rock On !!!

  7. DARLENE RICHARDSON says:

    David, thanks for such an insightful piece! Really enjoyed it. I agree with you that ROCK IS NOT DEAD–it has simply evolved and, like everything else in post-WWII society, has broken off into new or specialized genres or been co-opted by other kinds of music. When I watched the Musgraves clip that you included, I saw all those musicians in the band and thought: what a waste of talent. For the number of players that they had–roughly the size of the band Chicago–I expected the music to be so much better. I’d love to hear what they’d sound like if they really let loose! You know in your heart that if the same band had been put together in the 60s or 70s their sound and songs would’ve been very different. That period produced more “fire from the soul” music that touched us emotionally in some way. A majority of songs, back then, seemed to have distinctively strong instrumentation or bass sounds with messages that stirred passions and moved people to action–whether that was dancing, protesting, kissing or ditching your sweetheart. I, too, have come to listen mostly to classic rock because today’s rock is so namby-pamby. Maybe they’re afraid to experiment or test the full range of their vocals or to deviate from the same formulaic 6-8 chords or to truly say something. I think it has something to do with how America’s comfort level and individual narcissism have changed since then, too. Can you imagine today’s generation of rockers playing on a rinky-dink make-shift stage in the middle of a muddy New York cornfield in the middle of nowhere with sweltering heat of August to half a million free spirits who just came for the music and to party? Where is the Woodstock of today? Where are their protest songs? Don’t get me wrong, I can tolerate some of today’s music, but just know that I’m still waiting for the new rock to get some guts and imagination–to quit playing it safe–and give us some REAL music!

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