Rock’n’roll – dead and buried? Two fin­gers to that

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

IT’S IN THE pa­pers, so it must be true. Rock’n’roll is dead. It’s gone the way of the hula hoop, Be­ta­max, the Walk­man and, seem­ingly, a bit of ba­sic re­search in the pro­duc­tion of news­pa­per sto­ries.

It’s a head­line that has been flash­ing around me­dia old and new for the past few days. The Guardian de­voted its whole Page 3 to the “story” last Tues­day. Good call – it’s not as if any­thing else is hap­pen­ing in the world at the moment.

This is like some April Fool’s meme with the story get­ting even more ex­ag­ger­ated in ev­ery sub­se­quent “fol­low up and “anal­y­sis”. And look, there’s the “Pro­fes­sor of Pop” him­self, Paul Gam­bac­cini, dug up spe­cially to say that “rock’n’roll is over in the same way the jazz era is over. Rock is now part of mu­sic his­tory.”

The source of this story is a mean­ing­less statis­tic bended out of recog­ni­tion. Ev­ery year the trade pub­li­ca­tion Mu­sic Week looks at the top 100 sell­ing sin­gles of the pre­vi­ous 12 months. For 2010 the fig­ures show that just three “rock” sin­gles made it in. A pretty poor show, given that it’s the low­est num­ber since 1960. In 2009 there were 13 rock songs in the top 100 and 27 in 2008.

First of all, there’s only one ac­tual rock song in last year’s list. Florence & The Ma­chine’s Dog Days Are Over is not a rock song. Nei­ther is Train’s Hey Soul Sis­ter – it’s a pop song. Which only leaves Jour­ney’s Don’t Stop Believin’ the only real rock track in the top 100. And that was first re­leased 30 years ago. The story could have been made a lot worse if those com­ment­ing on it had just got their mu­si­cal genre dic­tio­nar­ies out. The point is: this is all non­sense. Declar­ing rock’n’roll dead on the ba­sis of the sin­gles chart is not far from say­ing that

wind is pro­duced by trees mov­ing to and fro. Rock mu­sic, by the very way it’s pack­aged and mar­keted, is aimed at an al­bum-buy­ing au­di­ence. Look at the dif­fer­ence be­tween how, say, Kings of Leon, El­bow and Arcade Fire’s sin­gles sales com­pare to their al­bum sales.

Sin­gles are loss lead­ers and ex­ist only to pro­voke fol­low-through al­bum sales. Ra­dio sta­tions don’t like rock mu­sic (it’s a de­mo­graphic thing) but will pump out end­less r’n’b and hip-hop. Ra­dio play is di­rectly con­nected to sin­gles sales, so it’s no sur­prise that the two biggest-sell­ing gen­res in 2010’s sin­gles chart are r’n’b and hip-hop.

Move over to the al­bum charts (the only for­mat a rock band will do promo for) and you’ll see a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Fur­ther­more, take a look at which genre dom­i­nates all the head­line slots at the big mu­sic fes­ti­vals.

And how many times has rock died any­way? It def­i­nitely died in the 1990s, when sales of gui­tars hit an all-time low and sales of turnta­bles hit an all-time high. Then Oa­sis came along. It died again as the post-Brit­pop han­gover kicked in. Then The Strokes came along and then it was all “dance is dead”.

The irony is that we’re shortly head­ing into a new golden era of rock mu­sic. It may all have been about “look at me, I’m dead weird” fe­males for the past few years, but 2011 will see a re­turn to the white, male gui­tars, drums and bass con­fig­u­ra­tion.

Mona will be one of this year’s biggest sell­ers, Brother are al­ready hav­ing to con­tend with be­ing “the new Oa­sis”, and great things are ex­pected of The Vac­cines. Also, The Strokes are back with a new al­bum.

Rock’n’roll isn’t drown­ing – it’s just wav­ing two fin­gers.

She’s no rock chick: Florence Welch

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