Long Live Rock

“Rock is dead they say,” sang Roger Daltrey of The Who. It was 1972 and music critics were passing their eulogies on rock music…only one wave of many such “last rites.” So Daltrey’s next line was an “in your face” response: “LONG LIVE ROCK!” The following year was arguably the finest in Rock history* – so much for the funeral march! Forty years later in 2012, we are hearing the echoes from the past as the critics once more shout “Rock is dead!” As I sit here writing, Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” comes on my music player and it seems just as relevant now as it did the first time I heard it in 1970. One of my sons is in his bedroom listening to Pink Floyd while another is listening to a Def Leppard song. As for my daughter, I caught her listening to the Scorpions. Rock is definitely not dead in South Mississippi!

Oh but the critics disagree, and this time around they come armed with statistics (as if statistics ever mattered to a true rocker). There were a lot of decibels noised abroad in 2010 when a UK article announced that only three rock singles made the Top 100 for the year, down from 27 in 2008. It was Rock’s lowest rating in 50 years. And c’mon, one of the three wasn’t actually a Rock song and can we really count the re-release of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’?” I guess that leaves us with 1%, right? Are you scared yet? Do you believe that Led Zeppelin was concerned about singles on the charts?

There are multiple reasons for the lack of chart success. I observe most charting songs are by individuals, not bands. A quick glance at the Billboard Top 100 for 2011 indicated 71 individual artists and only 29 bands. Labels are looking for “quick” stars for a quick return on their investment. It is easy to take a pretty face, give her a song written by a staff writer, and let her shake her ass on stage. They don’t have to deal with band development, several individual personalities, and a bunch of ugly dudes.

Labels are also interested in formulas. Since this song sold three million copies, we need to rush out ten more just like it. Rock music does not do well with formulas though the labels try to force it on our genre as well. If Nickelback did well on this album, then give us some more like that. Are there really any rockers out there that believe Nickelback has produced any good music lately? Rock is not about formula, it is about experimentation and evolution. Rockers are forever in search of the lost chord. You cannot rush Rock ‘n Roll. Take the David Gilmour solo on “Comfortably Numb.” His outro solo in B minor is one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. But it came about from hours of experimenting with different solos, listening to tapes of them and finally piecing together the best parts.

There was an interesting article this week about Pop music. Researchers in Spain used a huge archive known as the Million Song Dataset to study Pop songs from 1955 to 2010. They ran songs through a supercomputer using complex algorithms and “found that pop songs have become intrinsically louder and more bland in terms of the chords, melodies and types of sound used.” They proved scientifically what rockers already knew, Pop music all sounds the same. I might not be laughing so hard if they took major label Rock and ran it through the same process.

Visibility vs Viability

Rock may not be as visible as it once was, but it has not lost its viability. Remember, viability is the ability of a thing to maintain itself or recover its potentialities. Rock is no more dead than a plant that wilts in the Wintertime, but shoots back forth in the spring. Rock will never lose its viability so don’t be so hasty to chunk it six foot under. They say Latin is a dead language, but my daughter took a class in the local high school last year. Just as no language is dead so long as someone speaks it, no music is dead so long as someone, somewhere is playing it.

Rock is about distinction. It disdains the scent of homogenization. Copycats are repulsive to rockers. True Rock breeds unique identity. Look at our 1973 list below. All of these bands had a very distinct sound yet they were still great Rock albums. Before the days of “pretty boys and slutty girls,” they created their own identity. They had their own look, feel and attitude. Most of them were dawg ugly and could not get an audition today…but man could they play Rock ‘n Roll. Substance has given way to appearance and conformity.

Once upon a time you could identify a guitar player within two or three bars by his tone. If another guitarist was getting a certain chunky sound in Drop C, he wouldn’t be caught dead trying to duplicate it. Yet we have had an entire decade of similar sounding power chords. How much further can you take that? Shredding doodle y-doos may impress the women, but Rock isn’t about how fast you can play a solo. I am not intending to trash the thrash, or anything like that. I would just love to see some evolution and not endless duplication.

The Essence of Rock

Many will argue about the essence of rock. There is the whole “drugs, sex and Rock n Roll” facade and some bands have, indeed, worn it has a badge of honor. But I feel the essence of Rock is the ability to touch the soul. It has the ability to make life bearable in an unpleasant world. Yes, Rock can move the feet but it can also move the soul. It is a marriage of beat AND melody. I don’t think I can word how I feel about the essence of Rock any better than Tom Petty in his song, “Money Becomes King.” He is writing about a fictional band:

We’d all get so excited when
John would give a show
We’d raise the cash between us
And down the road we’d go
To hear him play that music
It spoke right to my soul
Every verse a diamond
Every chorus gold
The sound was my salvation
It was only everything
Before money became king

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Where are the songs with great lyrics, great melodies and great hooks. Remember when you couldn’t get songs out of your head no matter how hard you tried? It was like Hotel California where they could check in, but never leave! If bands would ignore fad and formula, and tap back into passion and melody, we would see a revival.

Where are the great licks? Remember solos where every note was meant to count. It wasn’t about how fast you could play it, but how deep you could plow it. There are old songs that never made it to radio that are better than anything new I’ve heard in years. Take Deep Purple’s “When A Blind Man Cries.” I never heard this song back in the day as it was not on the US release. It appeared in the remastered edition, as a bonus track, years later. In the song, Ian Gillan sings of a blind man that “feels from his very soul,” and you can feel the pain with every note of Ritchie Blackmore’s solo. Same with the uncharted song, “Try Me,” by UFO. Schenker and Blackmore were both capable of shredding, but knew that the right note in the right place would be felt deeper than William Wallace’s claymore slicing through the Sassenach!

And what happened to Rock being fun? All I hear is a bunch of depressed musicians whining about everything under the sun. Move over bro cos you’re standing in my light. Take your black cloud somewhere else. I want music to lift me up, not drag me behind a truck doin’ 80 down a gravel road. If bands could only find something lively to write about, maybe they could draw some attention. OK, so you say “that’s not kewl anymore,” but isn’t there anyone out there happy to be alive? I’m not saying there is no room in Rock for sad tales of naughty girlfriends and overdosing buddies, but c’mon…every song? Rock used to be fun. It used to get you off the sofa, make you grab a broom and run around the room playing air guitar. Now a lot of Rock either makes me sink deeper into the sofa; or worse, makes me want to shoot myself!

Personally, I think we need a return to the essence of rock. It is worth noting that in 2011, record companies sold more Rock albums from their back catalogs than from new material. One can hope that the diversity and musicianship of the older material may ultimately lead to its revival.

Three Chords & The Truth

I am a songwriter, and one day back in November 2007 I was meditating on the state of the world and the decline of Rock music. I wrote a song called “Three Chords and the Truth.” So now I’m quoting myself:

We’re full of information
But void of creation
It’s as if there’s no poetry left in our soul
We purchase entertainment
Rather than create it
Aren’t you tired of the man telling you what to choose

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In this Internet age of information, we are certainly “full of it.” We have the world at our fingertips, but has it helped us? We have ready access to whatever Hollywood or Nashville wants to shove down our throats. Everything is pre-packaged for “consumers.” Gone are the days when we sat on the porch with our guitars and made our own entertainment. The decline in creativity is evident throughout all of the arts. It is a terrible dilemma. What can save us? I submit that good music can help breathe life back into the dry bones once more. “So stop complaining, there’s little time remaining, we can save the world with three chords and the truth” (I’m quoting myself again).

What Can One Man Do…

homer rocks If you are a true rocker and want to see a revival in rock music, what can you do? Well, saving the world starts with us, and our own backyards. Turn off the country stations and tune in to Rock radio. Quit reading this article, get off the damn computer, and pick up a guitar. Turn off the TV, break those old records off the shelf, gather the kids around and sing some great songs. Go out and support the local Rock bands. Frequent the venues that host Rock bands and the ones that don’t…tell them they better start. If you have to be on one of those infernal social media sites, talk about Rock music and especially local bands! And finally, I have one special request: listen to original bands. The only way we are going to build Rock back up is to support the bands who are trying to get new music out there. At the very least, choose an original band to check out every so often. If you are listening to a cover band that mixes in originals…give them serious attention, and applaud loudly. A lot of bands have original tunes, but do not play them because they fear the crowd won’t want to hear them. 3 Doors Down was a little Mississippi Coast cover band (local for us) that mixed in some originals. It’s a good thing they got a little support, huh? Is Rock dead? I hardly think so. It really just needs a booster shot. As for me and my house, we do our part…Will you do your part?

LONG LIVE ROCK!

 

UPDATE 07.12.14:

This article was originally written for Rockin Mississippi on August 1, 2012. Two years later I have a lot more to say, but it probably requires a “whole ‘nuther” article. Let me just say that over the last 24 months I have discovered well over 400 new rock bands from nearly every country on earth. Very few of these are American bands. These are all bands with album releases that I took time to sort out and listen to. They are bands that play sub-genres I tend to favor such as prog, classic-sounding, hard rock / metal, Southern (not country!) and Celtic. They come from countries as unbelievable as Chile, Slovenia and Azerbaijan. Many of these albums are FANTASTIC and would have been huge hits back in the day. In 2014, they don’t stand a chance of being “mainstream.” In fact, they are very difficult to seek out and locate. I spend time every morning visiting sites around the world looking for the hidden pearls. Rock is not dead at all…it is just back to being underground. On this new blog, I plan to write articles about bands that deserve attention AND SUPPORT! Stay tuned to the new “late night FM.”