Is Rock all said and done?

There was an article the other day about the majority of the most influential rock bands being mostly British: Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, Oasis and of course, U2 (actually Irish). The US has only Nirvana, Metallica, and to a lesser degree, Pearl Jam and Guns’n’Roses, to show off at that level. US has many more big bands collectively, but few stand out as much as the British ones.

In fact, if I was to pick the most important bands in the past decades of rock, it would look something like this:
60s: Beatles, Rolling Stones
70s: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd
80s: U2, Iron Maiden
90s: Nirvana, Metallica

Now, here’s the interesting thing: I can’t find for the life of me a single band for the current 2000s decade that I personally find important and influential. Green Day, Coldplay, and The White Stripes are coming close, but no cake. Green Day are just alt.punk (heard it all before), Coldplay are more pop than rock, and The White Stripes sound just like a more modern version of the Led Zeppelin. But none of these bands actually offers a new, fresh, and innovative sound like any of the bands I mentioned above.

Some will say that the decade is not out yet, and so I haven’t felt their impact to new artists just yet. But I don’t believe that this is the case here. I really don’t see any grass root innovation in rock anymore. The last one was in the early ’90s. Since then, the UK hasn’t had any new big bands, and USA just plays the “maintenance game”. I feel that I have heard it all before.

Let me be clear that there are bands out there that ARE innovative, bands like the Cloud Cult. But I can’t outright call them influential, since only few people know their existence. Even MGMT, who do sound different and have a major contract, only have had moderate success in the grand scheme of things.

I would go as far and say that most of the 2000s is governed by that folk indie-rock sound, like the Iron & Wine, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes. Problem with this is, by being mostly indie (both as a genre, and as a business model), they don’t reach a lot of people — especially not worldwide, like any of the bands of the previous decades have done. Most of Europe couldn’t care less about folk-sounding indie rock, for example. And yet, they were taken as with a storm by the Nirvana!

So, what’s wrong with rock? Why this decade hasn’t produced brand new sounds to inspire the generations to come? There are two schools of thought about this, from two different people that I will indirectly quote below:

1. Eric Earley, the singer/songwriter of Blitzen Trapper (a band that plays ’70s-sounding folk rock), said in an interview a few months ago (on the podcast interview here, and on another similar interview) that everything that can be done with rock is pretty much already been done and that rock might fade away. Also, for him, it doesn’t matter if something sounds modern or not, only thing it matters is if the song is good or not — no matter the sub-genre.

My take: If that’s true, then why people don’t buy old, traditional songs anymore? I know for one, I can’t stand them, even if I realize that some of them are actually good. And, is it enough for an artist to rehash something others did 30 years before him?

2. My husband, Jean-Baptiste, a software engineer, and someone who doesn’t believes in stumbling blocks. He is a problem-solver at Google — that’s his job. JBQ believes that there are always new possibilities, and new things to invent. For him, there will always be that open-minded musician that will surprise us all with a completely new sound, when we least expect it.

My take: if that’s true, why this decade had not had a single major Rock-God band? What if there is indeed a finite number of rock genres and melodies that can sound good to the human ear?

Finally, my opinion: As most of the times when I present controversial food for thought, I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I believe that you can only re-invent something so many times before it still feels old. At the same time though, music software gets more powerful and allows for more experimentation and research: this allows for previously independent genres of music to merge, blurring the limits of what is rock and what is not (e.g. MGMT’s electro sound). Adding to this the upcoming death of the entertainment industry at large, there will be fewer people choosing the profession (although this might prove a good thing, since too many cooks…).

The pessimist in me believes that “rock” (and music as something more important than just a random song playing on the background while eating dinner) had a golden era between 1960 and 2000. We are currently living towards the decline of the multi-billion industry and the highly innovative musical times. I know that for some people this is something that they can’t grasp since they grew up with this status quo, but I can tell you that priorities do change in society faster than you think. Music will never die, but our investment level in it can change dramatically on different times of the human history.

13 Comments »

JIm wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 7:16 PM PST:

As always Eugenia, you are a passionate lover of music and I appreciate your comments. I think it all begins with a song.
But as far as rock and roll is concerned in the 70’s It all pivoted on Jimi Hendrix. There is before Jimi and after Jimi.
getting back to the song, Many musicians feel entitled to fame and fortune. Having had a taste of it in my late teens, I think that it is not a matter of economics, but of work. Want to make a mind blowing cd, then work at it and craft it. If I want a full orchestra, the whole shiteree costs about $7k including recording and charts from eastern europe and it is handled by mail. I see my granddaughters very much influenced by music on tv. I think musicians need to take the time and develop an audience and market themselves. Even renting their own venues and developing an audience.It is more work, but anyone starting a business has also to drum up the business to do and I think we are in exciting times.


memson wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 7:58 PM PST:

Perception. An important word. Your perception of music is very different to mine. I don’t agree with what you are saying at all. You use the term rock in far to broader way, so I think you are destined to not find the pigeon holed bands you desire. Music is forever evolving and it will continue regardless.

Personally, I dislike some of the bands you disregard, but I also look at reality. Those bands will become culture defining icons in the future. We can tell this by the fact that most of the bands you list were not universal successes at the time they were active and have only become iconic after the passing of time.


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Eugenia wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 8:07 PM PST:

I guess, only time will tell then.

As for what “rock” is, well, I think we all can recognize it when we hear it.

Finally, as for music evolving, nobody denied that. It’s only natural to do so. What I do say though is that the evolution is now slower, and there are no big new ideas that take over the world, e.g. like grudge did when it became popular in the early ’90s.


Soundtweaker wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 8:20 PM PST:

Id say Van Halen was a pretty important band in the 70s and 80s.

A for most innovative:

Beatles
Yes
Rush
Primus
Tool


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Eugenia wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 8:25 PM PST:

Van Halen might have been a bit prominent in the US, but not everywhere else. Everywhere else they were just another bad-hair band from the US. Same for Yes, Rush, Primus. The Tool are important musically, but they want to play with their own rules, so they won’t ultimately matter in terms of market penetration. The fewer people get to know these bands, the less influence will have to the next generation.


Soundtweaker wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 9:12 PM PST:

Yea I dont agree with any of that.
Yes is actually a british band.

Rush and Tool are still selling out huge concert arenas all over the world from Brazil to Sweden.

There arent very many rock bass players that havent been influenced by Geddy Lee (Rush), Chris Squire (Yes)and Les Claypool (Primus).

There is no denying Neil Peart from Rush is one of the most talented and influencial rock drummers of all time. Hes won countless drum awards since the 70s and still continue to inflence up and coming bands.

You should probably do a little research first instead of just listening to the garbage on top 40 radio.


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Eugenia wrote on June 20th, 2009 at 9:37 PM PST:

Soundtweaker, you owe me an apology. Do I look to you like someone who listens to the top 40 radio? Seriously? Have you been reading my blog, or actually just flicking around? Please refrain yourself from offending me in this manner again. Offer your opinion, which is appreciated, add something to the discussion, but without having to kick below the belt.

As for the bands you mention, they are important in the music history, but they are not nearly as influential as the kind of bands I talked about above. Not NEARLY. No matter how important Tool want to think they are, their business practices of not wanting anything to do with the digital world and PR makes them irrelevant to a big part of tomorrow’s musicians (remember, we are talking about INFLUENCE here, not which band we like to listen to). And no, they are not as popular as you think they are. They do have loyal fans. But they aren’t a storm. They are underground in many ways (despite a No1 album), and they want to remain so.

Now, some of these instrument players, as you wrote, might influence other specific instrument players, but if that doesn’t translate to the bass player being the band leader and write songs that show that influence, it’s all for nothing. I am mostly talking about new sub-genres in this blog post, not about how to play the bass. While this is part of the whole thing, it’s not the main point.


l3v1 wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 3:23 AM PST:

“Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden, Oasis and of course, U2”

Well, suffice to say, when I found Oasis among the others in that list, for me that was the end of a post about influential rock.


Afrokapsel wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 6:23 AM PST:

Rock has never stagnated, it has just not been in the mainstream much for the last ten years. The big media are interested selling their product and lowering risks. They have learnt that Nirvana’s have too much risks (remember how many alt rock band flopped in the same timeframe).

Additionally, I think you are underestimating the impact of the underground. While most mainstream rock listeners have probably never listened to Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, The Mothers of Invention, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, Minutemen, or Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, they were hugely influential on other musicians and mainstream rock. I think that many of the bands you mention at the beginning of your post are not that inventive, but they were very able to package trends from the underground for a wider public, and something that media companies wanted to sell. McCartney even said “This is going to be our Freak Out!” after Sgt. Pepper was completed. In my opinion Sgt Pepper is dull compared to Freak Out or many of the other M.O.I. albums. But they were too weird for their time to play on the radio.

Bands like Amsterdam’s The Ex have been pushing the boundaries for 30 years, well into the 2000s. No, they won’t directly have a huge influence, you won’t find their albums at Wallmart, or see any material on MTV. But I don’t really care, very often the albums that were recorded on a 2000 copies budget and concerts that are played in small clubs are often far more fun and direct than multi-platinum big-hall concerts. The priority is not money making, but bringing the music to those who love it, and do it in a respectable manner.


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Eugenia wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 11:15 AM PST:

>when I found Oasis among the others in that list

Feel free to exchange them with Black Sabbath.

>Rock has never stagnated, it has just not been in the mainstream much for the last ten years

Have a read here. It’s easy to put the blame to the media…


Memson wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 2:26 PM PST:

So I’ll throw some bands out. Still not sure if they are rock, per se.

Red hot chilli peppers. Flea inluenced a heck of a lot of Bass players in otherwise mediocre bands.

The Pixies. Extremely influential. As also are Sonic Youth.

Nine Inch Nails. Incredibly influential.

Korn, spawned a million numeral bands in the late 90’s. As did the Deftones.

At the Drive In – totally amazing. Their last album, “Relationship of command”, is genius.

Rage against the machine. Are they Rock?

Fugazi – another band that created a sub culture.

No FX – extremely influential.

The Melvins and Dinosaur Jr also come to mind.

U2 aren’t a British band, by the way. They are Irish (as you noted) and Ireland is not part of Great Britain (yes, confusing, but Irish will point this out agressively. )


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Eugenia wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 2:43 PM PST:

While the bands you mention are of course influential to some musicians, they aren’t the ones people will remember in 100 years from now. These guys are playing in a different league.

And yes, RageATM are rock. Even Depeche Mode are under the “alternative” umbrella, so RageATM are even more.

As for the Pixies or the Deftones, if I mention them to my brother, he will stare at me with an empty look. He never heard of them. This blog post is not just about musicians people. It’s about big Rock Gods. It’s about which bands create new SUCCESSFUL genres of rock by influencing other musicians AND get millions of listeners! So stop giving me all these underground examples that only impact musicians but only a few listeners. If I was to talk like you do, even Stone Roses can be called “influential” for bringing shoegazing to more people and spawning new bands. But truth of the matter is, 95% of the people don’t listen to shoegazing (not now, and not in the early ’90s when the genre was more popular). However, there were times in the ’90s AND now where people listen to Nirvana all day long! THAT’S what I am talking about.

I honestly don’t think that you have understood what I am writing on this blog post. I talk about influence and INNOVATION in rock and FUTURE of rock, and you come back giving me examples how this and that band was influenced by this other band, but you forget the NUMBER OF LISTENERS, and you forget to talk about genres, and you forget to talk about NEW genres.

I see no point continuing this discussion because no one is actually want to talk about the future. Everyone wants to talk about their favorite ’80s band and how influential they were. So you reply in a manner that it’s like you have a beef on me for not picking your favorite band in my list above!!! That’s NOT THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE. The point of the article is the FUTURE, not the PAST. The bands mentioned on my article are used as a fucking introduction to my main point, which you completely fucking missing.

This discussion is over until you learn to *read* and try to understand what I write. Otherwise, don’t bother replying or emailing me.


Dimitar wrote on June 21st, 2009 at 2:50 PM PST:

Why start at the 60s and not 50s? In the 50 the Americans dominated. And rock as we know it wouldn’t exist without Elvis. Every rock musician that grew up during the 50s wanted to be like Elvis and imitated him later. The Beatles did it, the Stones did it, Jimi Hendrix did it.

Speaking of Jimi Hendrix, he really is the force of innovation in rock. Few people like him or get him, but you cannot underestimate his influence. His contemporaries in music business sold more than him but they admired him, they envied him, and they imitated him.. and these bands flocked to see him even when he was still playing in clubs in the UK, so they could watch and learn. And they were completely devasted when he played his interpretation of their songs. Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton were known to actually start playing the JH versions of their own songs.

Bob Dylan by the way is also pretty influential.


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