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