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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Music, Retro Rock

1978: The Greatest Year In Music?

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1978 albums I bought at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA.

When I first saw the title of an NPR article, “40 Years Later: Was 1978 The Greatest Year In Music?” I immediately thought that the writers of this commentary about music from 1978 were absolutely absurd. To even consider the possibility that 1978 was among the greatest years in modern music history sounded utterly ridiculous to this fellow.

As a student at James Madison University and having lived through the 1978 music scene, disco ruled as the most popular genre of music that year. Disco songs spent 30 out of the 52 weeks at the number 1 position of the Billboard Hot 100 during that year. Bees Gees, Andy Gibb, Bee Gees, Donna Summer (and did I mention Bee Gees?) all dominated popular music in America. Even the Rolling Stones hit number 1 with a disco record “Miss You” during 1978 for crying out loud!

For many music fans, the disco era was a low point in the recording industry and it was amazing that NPR (or anyone else) considered 1978 to be the greatest year in music. So I started thinking: Let me investigate the music released in 1978. Maybe I was missing something?

So I submit to you that there were actually some great albums and singles released during 1978. As the NPR article stated, “Kate Bush, The Cars, Devo, Dire Straits, The B-52’s, The Police, Buzzcocks and Van Halen released their debut albums” 40 years ago. Disco may have been king in 1978 but new rock artists emerged during this year.

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Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

So I have come up with a listing of worthy top albums and singles from 1978. There are no ranking with my lists and music is listed in a random order. Many of the singles I am listing were not big Top 40 hits but are significant songs by these artists (and much better than the all of the disco songs that were hits during 1978).

“This Year’s Model” album by Elvis Costello and the Attractions: One of the most critically acclaimed albums from 1978 features the single “Pump it Up” which has one of the best rhythm sections from the 70’s and helped to bring Costello into the forefront of the new wave genre of music.

“More Songs About Building and Foods” album by Talking Heads: Released during the fall of 1978, the band’s cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” became the first Top 30 hit for the group. Also in early 1978, a song from the Talking Heads ‘77 debut album entitled “Psycho Killer” was released as a single. This signature debut hit has one of the best bass lines in rock history.

“Outlandos d’Amour” album by The Police: The debut album by the rock trio mixes reggae, punk and rock that many considered “new wave” and has the memorable single “Roxanne.” Also on the album are “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely” that helped to define the music output by the English band.

“Easter” album by Patti Smith Group: One of the leaders of the punk rock movement, the “Easter” album became her most successful with religious imagery from the Christian faith. Smith’s song “Because the Night”, that was co-written by Bruce Springsteen, was the biggest hit single during her career.

“Darkness on the Edge of Town” album by Bruce Springsteen: Since I mentioned Springsteen above, this is the appropriate place to mention that the 1978 album was the follow up to the landmark signature album “Born To Run” from 1975. The Boss delivers three of his best songs ever on this album: “The Promised Land,” “Badlands” and “Prove It All Night.”

“The Last Waltz” album by The Band: Although The Band’s last concert was on Thanksgiving Day 1976, the soundtrack for “The Last Waltz” was not released until 1978. Joining The Band for this historic concert were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, The Staple Singers and a few other artists. In my humble opinion, the best overall rock album released during 1978.

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Stardust by Wille Nelson, a record I purchased at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

 “Stardust” album by Willie Nelson: The “Outlaw Country” music artist switched gears in 1978 and recorded an album of early 20th century American pop standards by famous composers such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Nelson had lots of music variety with different genres on the album: jazz, pop, folk and country. Interpretations of “Georgia on My Mind”, “Blue Skies” and “Stardust” provided Nelson with new respect in the eyes of fans across multiple categories of music.

In the singles only category, there are 4 songs I want to highlight from 1978 that are memorable but were not hits in America: “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. All four of those songs are more substantial than just about all of the top 10 disco hits that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1978.

Although I do not agree with NPR and their hypothesis that 1978 was the greatest year for music, I also can’t totally dismiss the entire year as musically wasted. I do submit that 1978 had many albums and individual single songs that merit consideration as some of the best music to be released during the late 70’s. 1978 is not the greatest year in music history but it does have some excellent tunes that stand the test of time.

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your comments on the music from 1978. Rock on!

 

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Music

Gibson Guitars: End of an Era?

Gibson Guitars on display at Kelley’s Music in Roanoke, Virginia

Last Tuesday, Gibson guitars filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced that the company plans to continue guitar production in the foreseeable future while under bankruptcy protection. Gibson Guitars started in 1902 and continues to be one of the largest guitar makers in America.

According to an article by Jonathan Mattise of the Associated Press, “Gibson guitars have been such a fixture in music history that Chuck Berry was laid to rest with his, B.B. King affectionately named his “Lucille” and Eric Clapton borrowed one from George Harrison to play the solo on the Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’”

One of Gibson’s most famous guitars is the legendary “Les Paul” SG (Solid Guitar). Les Paul was one of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar and the guitar named after him became one of the most popular selling guitars during the 50’s and early 60’s.

According to the Gibson Guitars website, Les Paul withdrew the endorsement of his guitar in 1960 and the company renamed the “Les Paul SG” to “Gibson SG” in 1961.   Then in 1968, Les Paul partnered once again with Gibson and guitars with the Les Paul name are still being made here in 2018.

The Gibson SG remains the biggest selling guitar with the Gibson Guitar Company. The SG model has become a rock standard but it is also a favorite guitar of choice for other types of musical genres including jazz, blues, and country.

The list of rock musicians who have played Gibson guitars during their careers seems endless with many of the performers being members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here are just a few of the many names that you may have heard of before: Chuck Berry, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, The Edge, Dave Grohl, George Harrison, Joan Jett, BB King, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Pete Townshend, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Walsh, and Neil Young.

More Gibson Guitars on display at Kelley’s Music in Roanoke, Virginia

Many famous musicians play Gibson guitars, but I’m most curious about my readers’ experiences with these guitars.

If you own a Gibson guitar, who kind do you own? Are you satisfied with the Gibson guitar you own and would you buy another Gibson in the future?

For those that own other brands of guitars like Fender, Takamine or any other kind of guitar other than Gibson? Would you buy another guitar of the brand you currently own?

My final question for any guitar players: Do you have any stories about your guitar and how it has special meaning to you?

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your thoughts and stories on guitars. As always, rock on!

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