In the past week both Noel Gallagher and the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney have bemoaned the current state of music criticising the charts and the fact that it “became OK with the idea that the biggest rock band in the world is always going to be shit [referring to Nickelback specifically]” respectively. But is rock ‘n’ roll music really dead? This is my, admittedly laconic, attempt at trying to come to some sort of conclusion.
Defining exactly what is meant by the term rock ’n’ roll is, like trying to pigeonhole any genre of music, hugely problematic. This is mainly down to the subjectivity of the term; rock ‘n’ roll, like music, love and politics means different things to different people. For arguments and the purposes of this blog when mentioned rock ‘n’ roll will refers to a credible melodic guitar based music.
It would appear that messrs Gallagher and Carney may have a point about the decline of rock ‘n’ roll when the current British charts are evaluated. In the top 40 album it is just Noel Gallagher himself, Kasabian and The Vaccines which could be classed as rock ‘n’ roll who sit between numbers 15 and 17. Similarly, if you look at the biggest selling albums of 2011 the only rock n roll in the top 20 is once Noel Gallagher at number 14. Rewind five years to 2006 and in the end of year top twenty sit 7 acts; Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, Razorlight, Oasis, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Beatles and U2. Admittedly the charts are just one way to view the state of rock ‘n’ roll but the above finds would appear to corroborate Carney and Gallagher.
It’s not just the state of the charts that that point to the suggestion that a seismic shift in the nature of the music industry has occurred over the last few years. Declining record sales, the falling price of CDs (it’s seems a lifetime ago one had to pay as much as £13.99 for a chart CD) and downloads mean that artists make the majority of their income from touring. The above factors have contributed to the decline of another side of rock ‘n’ roll- the excess. Bands no longer travel everywhere by limousine or have a private jumbo jet with the bands logo plastered across the side. I doubt very much that Serge Pizzorno has a butler. Furthermore it is not uncommon for bands to finance their own records or even ask fans to contribute towards the cost of recording, recent examples of this include The Subways and 22-20s.
This sort of luxurious excess is an indicative side effect of rock ‘n’ roll is declining, and therefore, so to some degree must rock ‘n’ roll.
However there is another side to the argument as for long as there disillusioned young people (which there always will be, especially in a political and economic climate such as the one in which we currently find ourselves) they will pick up guitars and they will create music. Despite the above factors there are still a plethora of great rock and roll bands at large today they simply don’t enjoy the same sort of mainstream commercial success as say Oasis did in the 90s, the Jam did in the 80s (five number ones in a row, no less) or even the Arctic Monkeys did five years ago. The days of the all conquering multi-national behemoth of rock ‘n’ roll may be on the decline (the likes of Muse, Kings of Leon and U2 the current exceptions that prove the rule) but that doesn’t the genre itself is dead.
Despite not garnering the same sort of commercial success in terms of units sold as the likes of the above, bands such as The Hold Steady, Phoenix, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Antlers, Yuck and Mona have all released ostensibly rock ‘n’ roll albums in the last two years. The list could be greatly extended and is only illustrative but proves that the credible rock ‘n’ roll furrow is still being successfully ploughed in 2011
Neil Young once famously sang “Hey, hey, my, my/ Rock ‘n’ roll will never die” way back in 1978 at a time when punk was supposedly set to rip up the rule book and destroy all in its path. The fact that 33 years later we’re still discussing rock ‘n’ roll music at all suggests, to me at least, that if the genre hasn’t died a death by now it never will do and, as ever, Mr Young was correct.
Rock ‘n’ roll music is not dead, its nature and commercial impact have just evolved meaning that it is currently not as prevalent as it once was and is, in some ways unrecognisable from traditional images we have of the genre. What’s more you just have to dig a little deeper in 2011 to find uncover than has been the case in the past and on the whole with rock ‘n’ roll you normally realise the deeper you dig the greater the treasures are that you will find.