How The Music Died: The Demise Of Classic Rock

Essay written by Scott Bolger on Monday 24, March 2008

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An article on the music of today [Universal For All Ages]

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How The Music Died: The Demise Of Classic Rock I was a baby of the Eighties. True, I wasn't old enough to remember the last days of "Classic Rock," which it's now defined as, nor was I born early enough to really experience the same genre in its heydays: the flowers-in-your-hair-peace-and-love of the sixties or the arm-swinging-soloing-glitter-and-glam of the seventies. Looking back today however, one thing does become evident. I was born right around the time Classic Rock was breathing its last raspy, booze-soaked breath. I just didn't know it yet. Now fast-forward about a decade to the mid-nineties. Gone are the days of four piece rock bands, vinyl LPs have left us about as fast as they came with little or no nod to their years of service, and the age of what is still considered Modern Rock is now upon us, with popular subdivisions being Grunge, Heavy Metal, New Wave and Pop. As a child finally old enough to notice the song as a form of entertainment, I was musically restless. As many others my age, I can remember being spoon fed unhealthy doses of the Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and Britney Spears apologetically informing me that "oops, she'd done it again." Sure, this was all carefully crafted pop music that was made to sell, made to be a hit, and yet I never rushed out to buy the CDs, never asked to borrow a friend's, and never went to see a concert. Even when I knew of nothing else, this music never appealed to me. Then, I happened across a long forgotten art form that lay within music made during the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. Yes, I re-discovered Classic Rock. Modern Rock can be best described to the effect of something like a toilet. It's a stagnant cesspool of stale ideas, commercialism, and money that hasn't been flushed in far too long. What was for decades a musical medium that inspired so many great songs, and brought together so many people, has suddenly been trampled flat by a huge influx of highly produced pop and hip-hop artists who in reality have little to offer us in the way of intelligent lyrics, or even song-writing skills. They exist simply to fit a certain kind of idea that producers and money hungry record executives have come up with in their own mind. To find out and supply youth with what they apparently "enjoy" leads to a lot of money. It's a simple equation, yet the answer isn't, as always, that simple to find. Ever since the hormonal cries from hoards of pubescent girls first drowned out the jingle jangle of George Harrison's Gretsch guitar, one thing became clear: youth was a huge market, a virtually untapped resource of profit. Previous to the baby-boom, children and teenagers alike were virtually forced to listen to whatever their parents were, be it Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. Can you imagine today, your teenage son or daughter sneaking off with some Johnny Mathis CDs from your collection so they could play them at a party? Hard to envision now, but there actually was a time when no one was playing for the kids. The end of the Second World War brought about a huge population boom during the fifties, and by the time the sixties rolled around, the majority of the population in North America was made up of young people. The idea of the older generation continuing on like war had never happened wasn't going to be an option. The younger generation made their presence known, and perhaps one of the most powerful ways they did this was through their music. The sixties were a very experimental time, and with music it was no different. Change was everywhere in the entertainment industry as well as across the world. Teens stopped going to their clean-cut, manufactured for teens movies like Beach Party (c'mon you remember Frankie Avalon,) and turned out in droves for the simply filmed, yet down 'n dirty Easy Rider starring a particularly scruffy Dennis Hopper. With the wide spectrum of popular music ranging from Bob Dylan's throaty vocals, to the Beatles harmonious screams of YEAH YEAH YEAH! it became clear to those in the entertainment industry that they would have to do a little more work in order to get teens and tweens to willingly spend money on them, rather than feeding them Frankie Avalon and other (at the time) highly produced kitsch, like bubble-gum pop. If they wanted to survive, they would actually have to go out and find whatever it was the masses wanted. And so it began: the realization of youth as a huge market. Problem was: in a time with such a predominate "anything goes" attitude, it was hard to conclude just what it was exactly these young people wanted. So record industries did something that forever changed the face of music; they took a chance. Rock as it is today has been greatly harmed by lack of expression and creativity. We are constantly bombarded by images of women flaunting themselves to a techno beat, or men belting out monotone vocals to heavy distorted sounds. No matter what band comes along, they all seem to share a similar mold, one that's designed to sell, and little else. While classic rock sold, and sold a lot, it was composed of something more than just a mold. It contained originality, flamboyancy, freshness and entertainment that came with it. Each band was different in its look, sound and ideology. Songs could be political, and give you something to think about, yet at the same time have a sound that made you want to tear your room apart with excitement. The music could empower you with such feeling (as it did with so many generations) and you could feel a connection to your favorite band because they were fighting to say what they wanted to say, just as much as you wanted to do. The chance that record companies took to find out how to sell music during the times when norms were so drastically changing brought some of the most enduring bands in the history of music to the Rock scene. These bands, that gained a huge following in clubs for little money, were signed into the big leagues by record labels so they could continue to win audiences on a larger scale. These bands worked hard. Bands like KISS, with fire spitting theatrics and makeup face patterns, Pink Floyd with their awe inspiring, highly emulated light shows and Boston with their distinctive and greatly influential guitar sound. Bands like these devised and invented so much of what made them well known; they truly were artists of their time due to what their creative input achieved. Compared to today, music has lost its face. True artists have a duty to examine life as they see it. Any flames of artistic expression that possibly could be left in Modern Rock have been snuffed out by the need for the band to fit in, do well and succeed. So much pressure is now put by labels on them to score a big hit, that anything which could be new or groundbreaking doesn't make it through. Image is now far more important, and so we are left with bands that might look pretty cool, but won't be remembered for anything. We're left with dry, repetitive music that is equivalent to nothing more than a peepshow for you to throw your money away on. It's impossible to say that Rock bands today even come close in revolutionary ideas or performances compared to those before them. Bands like Free, Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Sex Pistols, Iron Butterfly and many more were allowed to use their creativity and mix Rock into so many other genres, like Punk-Rock, Blues-Rock, Acid-Rock, and Prog-Rock. Arguably, nothing comes close in showing the true creativity of Classic Rock as does the Pink Floyd's 1979 grand opus entitled "The Wall", which best illustrates the concept of Opera-Rock. Listening to this album is like reading a good novel, as you are taken into the mind of a rock musician himself and shown ideas about life, isolation, war, insanity, lust and love all expressed through song. Produced and written solely by the band, it is truly breathtaking. Never has music expanded so much than during the era of Classic Rock. Just the other day, a good friend of mind played me a track off a new CD put out by a modern Hard Rock band. I was treated to three and a half minutes of deep, guttural vocals which are impossible to understand without reading the lyrics off the inlay that comes with the album. Fuzzy distorted guitars hide any possible skill the guitarist might (or might not) have. "Why do you like this?" I asked him. "You can't even understand what the singer is saying." "I know," he answered me. "But it sounds awesome, though. Did you hear how fast the bass was?" So it has come to this: music is no longer an art form. Thanks to all the bands that were successful during the Classic Rock decades a lot of money was put into the pockets of the record labels that were lucky enough to sign them. As the years went by, wealth slowly replaced what was top priority in the music industry. The priority to try something new has become the priority to sell. Whatever is the key to more profit, be it the right image or the right sound, is what matters. This has led us to the point where whatever sounds best is best. Even though it is no longer the mid nineties, and I'm no longer musically restless, not much has changed. Alright, so the Spice Girls are now reduced to doing reunion tours, nobody mentions the Backstreet Boys anymore, and as far as the public's concerned, Britney Spears has totally lost her marbles. Still, a whole other cast of musical "puppets" have come to head the scene. Montreal based band Simple Plan is repeatedly telling me to: "Shut up, shut up, shut up" because they "don't want to hear me" in the song creatively titled "Shut Up," while Avril Lavigne complains she doesn't like my girlfriend, and thinks I should get a new one. I could really care a less what Avril Lavigne thinks about my girlfriend, but I am saddened by the choice of music we are presented with. Rock has become so swamped with the need for commercial gain that it has ultimately changed for the worse. Until we become totally sick with prepackaged entertainment, we will never again see something as spectacular as what happened during the decades which defined Classic Rock. In the movie Almost Famous (2000) written and directed by Cameron Crowe, we are given a rare glimpse into the spontaneity, fun and challenges rock bands had to deal with during the seventies. As lead signer of the film's fictitious band Stillwater said: "Some people have a hard time explaining Rock 'N' Roll... but what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music." Sadly, with Modern Rock, there is little to catch anymore.

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