What happened to Rock and Roll’s place in the music world? (Photo: Instagram)
By Carly Levy
At the end of the year 2016, it was discovered by Spotify that the top artists of the year included rappers such as Drake and Kanye West, pop stars such Justin Bieber, R&B stylings of Rihanna, and even electro-pop from Twenty One Pilots. Hip-hop/Rap and Pop music continues to take over the award ceremonies, the radio, streaming sites, and the ears of many Americans today. My question is, where has the rock music genre gone to; the music that would get your head banging as you belt out the lyrics feeling invincible?
The Nielsen 2016 survey said that rock music was more successful than any other genre in album sales with bands like Metallica, Disturbed, Bon Jovi and may other bands. What seems apparent is how we do not see these bands very often make the headlines that the top five Spotify artists make. Has the rock genre become so nonexistent that bands like Twenty One Pilots are filling in the blank for this category now? I believe that rock music is not buried in the ground gathering dust but just living in obscurity because a new generation of people are seeking to hear something different than previous generations wanted to hear.
Before rock music came about, there was Jazz and Big Band music that would fill up the dance halls. There would also be squeaky clean pop music in the early 1950s from artists like Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Dean Martin that would ask you to “Please don’t eat the daisies” and to “come fly with me.” The people to consider when trying to come up with new sounds of the era were hormone-filled teenagers that had a hard time relating to the songs. There were teenagers who wished they were anywhere other than school, ones who were unlucky in love, and ones who had parents that just did not understand what their kids were going through. Where were the songs that talked about those issues that a young audience could relate to? Just like how jazz music came at a time when audiences needed to listen and move to lively and energetic music as a pick-me-up, rock music came when audiences needed to channel their anger and frustrations at the social constructs of their daily lives.
If there is a specific culture to thank for bringing rock music into our lives, it is the black culture. During World War II, hundreds and thousands of Southerners moved north in search of work. Where they went, their music followed. Because of being in an urban area, instruments were forced to be played more louder and amplified in order to cut out the noise. Black culture gave rock music its guitar blues, R&B, and gospel. White culture also contributed to gospel too as well as country and western. Rock music was unique in giving audiences a heavy beat, intense vibrations and lyrics of self-expression that spoke to a young demographic about defying authority and playing by their own rules. Teenagers in the 1960s felt special knowing that they were growing up with this newfound passion for a musical genre that made teens hyped up and adults cringe. This more than proved how universal music could be and where segregation did not exist.
In 1951, Alan Freed was a DJ on the Cleveland radio station WJW where he would play what used to be called “race records.” He will go down in history as the man who coined the genre “rock and roll” which he was really referring to his show and not necessarily the music he was playing. Sooner or later, everyone just started calling this kind of music “rock and roll.” The first popular rock and roll song was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. It was the kind of song that encouraged as well as instructed audiences to just get up and dance, which they did shamelessly.
Each iconic rock star brought something unique to the rock and roll table. Elvis Presley was rockabilly rock in which he helped define the early beginnings of the rock genre- emotionally wail out his “Hunka Hunka Burning Love”, bringing country western styles to the genre and sex appeal to hormone-crazed teen girls while shaking his hips. He became an icon as he was present not just in records but on the radio, television, and even movies. The Beatles wrote their own songs and had such creativity and stories within the lyrics. Jimi Hendrix introduced the amplifier and played in outdoor stadiums and festivals such as the legendary and immensely popular Woodstock- bringing together heavy metal and singer-songwriters. Bob Marley introduced mainstream audiences to Reggae and gave them a piece of Jamaica. Bob Dylan proved to audiences that folk pop could be both political and poetic. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane brought acid rock to fill ‘60s listeners with psychedelic dreams. Sir Elton John played ballads to light a candle to. Nirvana gave us grunge music that told us to be who we were and that being imperfect was okay. Rock stars spoke to audiences and gave them a surge of empowerment that they never had before.
While rock music brought out teen’s inner anger and rebellion, rap music brought out something different from teens of today. Rap music started getting popular in the 1980s and spoke to teens that lived in poor communities. Youth organization Hip Hop Gives Back said that rap could relate to the current reality that poor teens were facing and gave them a glimpse at a happier yet imaginative world of wealth, fame, gold and silver, and sexy people at every turn. Rap music brings free form poetry and connects to either people who have been in that situation or people who have not but had a full understanding by the end of the song.
In my hometown of Coral Springs, Florida, we do not have modern rock stations unless streamed from online radios. There are only classic rock stations. My dad would tell me that there is no such thing as rock music of today. Is that really true? Unbelievably, it is not. Growing up in the early 2000s, I remember turning on MTV as well as VH1 seeing modern rock music videos playing constantly such as The Fray, The Goo Goo Dolls, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Evanescence, Escape the Fate, Three Doors Down, Lifehouse, Blink 182, and many others. Every school dance and every car ride, me and my friends would sing and move along to these songs. This was considered modern music. Now teens are looking for a sound that is far away from rock music. Now radio stations are filled with Drake, Nicki Minaj, Future, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Beyonce, and many other acts in the rap/R&B genre.
As happy as I am that the rap genre is able to appeal to a wide audience today that it was struggling to do during the late 70s/early 80s, I still feel homesick for my rock tunes. What do we need to do? Have an iconic rock star die just as David Bowie and Prince did early of last year to be reminded of how we ought to appreciate the rock genre? After all, David Bowie’s posthumous album won in the rock category at this year’s Grammys. Why can’t we appreciate what is still alive today? In today’s day, modern rock bands do not make a splash like they did during our parent’s time. Now, it helps to follow bands on websites such as Ticketmaster or on Spotify to know about album updates or about concert dates. There is also the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which premieres on HBO on April 7th where you will see bands such as Journey, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Yes, and many others get inducted. I can already predict the reactions of the viewers watching to be like it is every year- in triumphant cheer and in frustration that it has taken this long for an induction. Better late than never! Hopefully there will be no “blah blah blahs” in anyone’s speech.
The question on my mind is-what caused rock and roll to decline? There is no clear answer. You would think there would be room for both rock and rap genres to co-exist in the music world. According to Gene Simmons from Kiss, he told Rolling Stone Magazine how the decline of rock music could come from file sharing and music streaming. Well, he does have a point. The Huffington Post wrote how these days, it is almost impossible for rockers to get signed. During the early years of rock, record companies would spend millions of dollars to popularize an artist. Now, if the first album does not knock the charts out of the water, see ya later, record label! You would think the internet would help a musician be heard. Many musicians have created MySpace accounts to give listeners the opportunity to hear their tracks along with creating their own songs on YouTube. Sure, they are heard but it does not always pay to be heard. You would have to go through a lot of social media advertising to be spotted. My personal opinion to the decline of rock and roll is how each generation is interested in a certain fad. When one door gets closed, another genre of music emerges. Rock and Roll is black and white whereas rap/hip hop is in technicolor.
In recent news of the modern rock world, it was reported in LoudWire that Linkin Park’s lead singer Chester Bennington felt the need to choose not just between two rock bands, Linkin Park and Stone Temple Pilots, but to even go as far as to choose between music and family. Bennington made his decision in 2015 to leave Stone Temple Pilots as much as he loved his time in that band. He felt that being in two bands was taking him away from his kids and hated being away from them for long periods of time. Bennington is still the lead singer for Linkin Park, a rock band that he has been with since 1996, and still has time to come home to his kiddies.
For those that need more proof that modern rock exists, here is an album recommendation for you all to take a listen to- The Pretty Reckless’ new album Who You Selling For? which was released October 16th of last year. The Pretty Reckless’ frontrunner is How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Gossip Girls’ Taylor Momsen- a cute former actress turned spit-fire kickass lead singer for this post-grunge/hardcore band. When this band first started out in 2010, Momsen was only sixteen years old so you would think maybe this is just a singer who is trying to prove she is no longer the cute little girl we grew up with. Her first album with the band seemed that way in the beginning when they debuted with Light Me Up in 2010. It was hard to take a sixteen-year-old seriously singing lyrics like “late night sex smoking cigarettes” and “there’s a tiger in the room and a baby in the closet.” Hearing each album going forward proves the bands are capable of evolving.
In the band’s third album “Who You Selling For?”, I feel the need to base my opinion on Taylor Momsen being the spiritual child of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in which we hear the raw emotion and grit in Taylor Momsen’s voice just like we heard Kurt Cobain’s voice in Nirvana resemble wild and eccentricity in the electric guitar. The little girl with rosy cheeks singing “Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You” is gone. This all the more proves that a woman does not need to flaunt her sexuality and look cute to be listened to. Women did not politely open the door to rock music- they smashed it down. We get hits such as “Oh My God” that has a similar vibe to Nirvana’s “Lithium” in really giving it all vocally with the accompaniment of the grittiest guitar and the slamming drums to add the intensity in the message of self-doubt and the need for a personality makeover. “Prisoner” is another favorite track that you wish would end up in the first episode of the new season of Orange is the New Black. It has a bluesy classic rock feel as we hear of being in chains but to continue to hold on to your dignity. I like that these tracks try to bring story-telling methods into the lyrics just like the rock music that we used to know and love.
I hope this more than proves my point in how rock music is still alive but not exactly well. That is why rock bands such as The Pretty Reckless need to stay alive and be heard to prove that there is still room for rock in our hearts. It will no longer live in the shadows if we continue to let it. Parents, do what my parents did and force your kids to listen to some classic rock stations in the car to show them what used to be good at their age and can inspire them to be on the hunt for some new rock bands to spread the word about. Maybe one of these days, a new rock band can take the world by storm that the genre can spring back. Until then, let’s sit back, relax, and find a Spotify rock playlist to listen to.
Carly Levy can be reached at email@example.com