Classic Rock

The Music That Shaped Our Lifetime

With Classic Rock turning 20 this year, we look back at the records, artists and industry changes that have built the rock landscape around us since the magazine was launched.

- Words: Polly Glass

With Classic Rock turning 20 this year, we look back at the records, artists and industry changes that have built the rock landscape around us since the magazine was launched.

It’s curious to think that Classic Rock began in the same year as Google. At the same time as the internet took hold of our lives forever, a group of music journalist­s decided to launch a “rock magazine for grown-ups” – one that would cover icons of old and also celebrate new music that serious rock fans would actually be interested in. You could call it a means of clinging on to ‘the good old days’ in the face of change, and in some ways it was. But the motives were quietly forwardthi­nking as well. The world and rock were going to continue evolve, and we’ be there to document it.

A lot can happen in 20 years. Trends come and go. Government­s rise and fall. In the time it takes a newborn to become old enough to legally drink, drive and procreate, the world can change a great deal. Certainly the music industry has changed immeasurab­ly in the past two decades, as the nature of the way we consume and share music, news and culture – not to mention the way bands begin, function and grow – has moved from comparativ­ely organic methods to a whole new, internet-fuelled frontier. When Classic Rock began, for example, YouTube and social media were still in the future. Music streaming also didn’t exist. Let that sit for a moment: it didn’t exist. Now, it’s the way most of us listen to music, through Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and others. At the start of this year, trade body the British Phonograph­ic Industry (BPI) said that streaming now accounts for more than half (50.4%) of all music consumptio­n in the UK. With this shift in the method of consumptio­n, combined with the meteoric rise of YouTube, has come a greater

‘The nature of the way we consume and share music has moved to a new, internet fuelled frontier.’

emphasis on playlists over full albums. It’s also generated a focus on videos as part of the music-listening experience. These vary from simple lyric montages to full cinematic affairs. Most new singles we get sent today, from artists big and small, come with some sort of YouTube video. And as of this summer, music video views are now counted as part of the UK singles chart. It’s all a very long way from the mixtapes and mail orders we started out with in 1998.

It’s not simply a case of people shunning physical products – vinyl sales went up by 26.8% in 2017 – but generally we are choosing beautiful LPs over regular CDs. One extreme (the tangible luxury package) or the other (the convenient, portable stream or download), essentiall­y, surely spurred on by the likes of Apple deciding to stop making computers with disc drives. And with the decline in traditiona­l album sales, artists have come to rely more heavily on touring and merchandis­e sales for their income. In practice this has resulted largely in artists making fewer albums than they would have done previously (consider this the next time you roll your eyes at contempora­ry artists’ smaller album output compared with their classic forebears).

Crowdfundi­ng came into being, with sites such as Pledge appealing to devoted fans to invest in the artists they care about, in return for exclusive gifts and limited-edition items.

And of course social media has enabled artists to rapidly reach larger audiences, even if sustaining their attention is much, much harder, given the dizzying number of rivals (fuelled by the rise in affordable instrument­s, recording kit etc) vying for the same focus. With the huge amount of stuff now thrust under our eyes every time we turn on our computer/phone/TV – consumeris­t culture at the all-time rampant high we’re currently seeing – it’s a far taller order for any artist to stand out. Yes, a lot can happen in 20 years.

But what about rock’n’roll itself? What’s happened there, with the actual music? Looking back over the music that’s shaped Classic Rock’s world since we came along, there have been some constants, despite all the changes in how we absorb it. Among these, few can rival Slash, whose work with Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver (remember Contraband in 2004?), on his own and with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirato­rs, has kept his be-hatted face regularly in our pages since day one. Maryland stoner sturned-heavy groove kings Clutch are another example, with a regular output of quality records to their name for as long as we’ve been in business. Ginger Wildheart is another long-standing friend, as is Steven Wilson with both Porcupine Tree and his solo work. And at the heart of it all we’ve had bands such as Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Saxon, Whitesnake, Kiss, Uriah Heep and their vintage hard rock and hairmetal compadres – the bedrock upon which Classic Rock was founded.

Lots of consistenc­y there. But as we bid farewell to the 90s, with the likes of Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the

Manic Street Preachers at the top of their game, we were about to enter a decade of reunions, departures and new arrivals.

The dawn of the noughties brought a curious mix of returning classic rock behemoths and fresh-faced guitar bands. Of the former there was

Iron Maiden, reunited with Bruce Dickinson after eight years, Adrian Smith after 10, and an album (2000’s Brave New World) that would come to be regarded as one of their best. AC/DC made a slightly more tentative comeback with Stiff Upper Lip, Tony Iommi released his self-titled solo debut and Motörhead continued an impressive­ly consistent album streak with We Are Motörhead.

Over in the States (chiefly, at least, although bands including The Hives kept Europe in the game) a new wave of rock’n’roll was rising, taking classic influences and making them look and sound cool, and attracting teenagers and 20-somethings in the process. In 2001 The Strokes put New York (and skinny jeans teamed with blazers and Converse) firmly on the modern rock map with Is This It?, while The White Stripes , the Black Keys and others made the blues sexy for a 21st-century audience. Ryan Adams, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Kings Of Leon joined the fray, while Linkin Park pioneered nu metal with Hybrid Theory and Slipknot brought industrial metal to the masses with Iowa in 2001. And in 2002 two seminal records – Songs For The Deaf by Queens Of The Stone Age and the selftitled album from Chris Cornell’s new band Audioslave – put rock back in the big league, and made stars/bigger stars of their respective frontmen.

But nobody, not even those guys, quite matched The Darkness with 2003’s Permission To Land. For sheer unfathomab­le but undeniable success – generated by a gleefully nostalgic brand of music and catsuit-heavy fashion – no rock band since has really done what they did. You didn’t have to be a rock fan to have heard of The Darkness; even your mum knew who they were. They swept the board at The Brits. And best of all, the songs were fucking brilliant. Ultimately it all but vanished in a cloud of substances, fall-outs and

(arguably) just the simple fleeting nature of zeitgeisty crazes, although they have put out good music since then, most notably 2015’s joyous Last Of Our Kind).

Perhaps, however, there was some lasting impact; some productive aftershock­s as old-school rock’n’roll was back in more people’s consciousn­ess. There was good reason to suspect that something was afoot, especially when you also took into account all the surprise reunions that started taking place, involving bands we’d assumed were gone for ever.

In 2007 Led Zeppelin got back together for their first show since 1988 (and their last, for now at least). Black Sabbath also reunited and released a live album in 1998 (this reunion would last longer, it turned out). Pink Floyd threw everyone by playing together, at Live 8, for the first time in more than a decade. There were also reunions of The Police, Twisted Sister, ELP, King Crimson, Mott The Hoople and more for shows and sometimes more. In the process they imbued the next generation – the children of their original fans and fellow musos – with music from a different age.

It feels plausible to suggest that this, in some way, played a part in the new wave of classic rock that has emerged in this magazine’s lifetime. Following on from The Darkness and Permission To Land, and as the aforementi­oned icons reappeared, we witnessed a further surge in invigorate­d but classic-rock-sounding records, with Wolfmother, Airbourne,

The Answer and Alter Bridge introducin­g themselves to the world. The latter in particular, led by nicest-dudes-ever Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti, endeared themselves to the rock community; 2007’s gorgeous Blackbird especially is something of a modern classic for many. It was these guys who also crossed over along with fellow American hard rockers such as Black Stone Cherry, Halestorm and Shinedown. These bands filled arenas and were played on the radio. To an extent echoing the impact of nu metal, they made proper rock commercial­ly viable again.

During this time Joe Bonamassa brought blues-guitar heroism to similarly massive audiences, AC/DC had a big return to form with 2008’s Black Ice, and in 2009 a band from Long Beach called Rival Sons signalled a profound breath of life for rock’n’roll, with one of the most incendiary vocalist-guitarist combinatio­ns since Page and Plant.

Less dramatical­ly, but still significan­tly, popular sub-genres have also evolved, arguably none more so than southern rock. Following 1999 releases by returning veterans (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Edge Of Forever) and turn-of-the-century heroes (By Your Side by The Black Crowes), Blackberry Smoke were among the first 21st-century purveyors of countrifie­d rock’n’roll to generate a serious fan base in the UK. The Cadillac Three, rooted in Nashville icons and also the heavier likes of Metallica and Aerosmith, were another. And after them came a stream of names that’s still flowing and delivering today.

Progressiv­e rock, too, has thrived in our lifetime, fuelled in no small part by our sister magazine Prog (which turns 10 next year), and industry forces including post progressiv­e label K Scope. In 2001 Tool released Lateralus just as swedish metallers Opeth began their journey into progressiv­e territory with Blackwater Park. Since then other hitherto metal types like Anathema have crossed into prog and rock spheres. But of all the modern-day progressiv­e artists no one has hit their stride as much as Steven Wilson. His band Porcupine Tree had something of a golden age in Classic Rock’s early years, with In Absentia and Fear Of A Blank Planet furthering PT’s fan base in the early/ mid 00s. And when they went on ‘indefinite hiatus’, Wilson made increasing­ly triumphant solo records that have seen him fill the Royal Albert Hall, hit the UK Top 10 and go on BBC breakfast telly. Not bad for a resounding­ly self-made, ‘noncommerc­ial’ rock artist.

Inevitably, for a field whose green shoots began growing in the 60s and 70s, there have been farewells. In 2012 Rush released their revered final album, Clockwork Angels, while the following year Black Sabbath began a prolonged goodbye (again!) with 13 and Pink Floyd bid us adieu with Endless River in 2014. In recent years we’ve lost far too many beloved stars, among them Lemmy, David Bowie (just as his captivatin­g last album, Blackstar, was released), Tom Petty, Glenn Frey,

Gregg Allman, Prince, Chris Cornell, Rick Parfitt and Chester Bennington.

But here’s the thing. Even in the face of such scene-shattering departures there has always been good music, from new bands, long-term stalwarts and returning old faces alike. To name a couple of recent examples, MC5’s Wayne Kramer has assembled a masterful MC50 line-up, the Floyd members are active with successful solo work, the newest being Nick Mason, Iggy Pop had a brilliant return to form with 2016’s Post-Pop Depression, and Robert Plant, Judas Priest, Cheap Trick, Def Leppard and Marillion are among those still delivering quality records and tours even after decades in the game. Amazing stuff for classic rock fans. Surreal, even.

Then, last year, things got really weird when AC/DC went on tour (without Brian Johnson, who was forced to step aside for health reasons) with Axl Rose – yes, Axl – on lead vocals. “It’ll be shit!” many cried. “He’ll be, like, three hours late! I want my money back!” Except it wasn’t shit. The

tempestuou­s bad boy of the 80s was as good as gold, and the whole thing was, perhaps surprising­ly, a great success.

So when Guns N’ Roses reassemble­d this year (with Axl) for a thumping great tour, it was slightly less of a surprise that it all went rather well. And that’s before you get on to all the new blood injecting energy and popularity into rock as we speak, all of whom are getting raves from punters, pundits and A-list rock stars alike. These are artists who, given the society we live in, arguably shouldn’t thrive but do. And there’s something rather wonderful about that. Ghost, a bunch of Swedish oddballs in ghoul masks, sold out the Royal Albert

Hall and hit the UK and US Top 10 this year. Glitter-tastic foursome The Struts are bringing old-school sensibilit­ies and modern pop production to rabid young fans. Children-of-Zeppelin Greta Van Fleet (“Best band ever!” “Fucking rip-offs!” yes, they split opinion) have just played three sold-out nights at London’s Forum, on only their second headline trip to the UK.

And still there are those who say rock is dead. Which, in the face of such an overwhelmi­ng raft of evidence to the contrary, seems a rather ridiculous statement. Rock is different. Its place in popular culture is different. The manner in which we consume it is different. But dead? If you think that, then clearly you’ve stopped listening.

‘Wolfmother, Airbourne, The Answer, Alter Bridge and others made proper rock commercial­ly viable again.’

 ??  ?? Classic Rock issue number one, with cover stars GN’R.
Classic Rock issue number one, with cover stars GN’R.
 ??  ?? Clockwise from top left: Angus Young, Roger Waters, Greta Van Fleet, Iron Maiden, The Darkness.
Clockwise from top left: Angus Young, Roger Waters, Greta Van Fleet, Iron Maiden, The Darkness.
 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Led Zeppelin’s reunion show in London in 2007: there are surprises –and then there are surprises.
Led Zeppelin’s reunion show in London in 2007: there are surprises –and then there are surprises.
 ??  ?? Lemmy: one of far too many rock icons whose passing we’ve reported on.
Lemmy: one of far too many rock icons whose passing we’ve reported on.
 ??  ?? Axl Rose: the Guns N’ Roses singer surprised many when he fronted AC/DC – even more so when he then absolutely nailed it.
Axl Rose: the Guns N’ Roses singer surprised many when he fronted AC/DC – even more so when he then absolutely nailed it.
 ??  ?? Classic Rock: carrying the classic-rock news and much more for 20 years.
Classic Rock: carrying the classic-rock news and much more for 20 years.

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