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.

Classic Rock - - Contents - 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.

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.

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.

Clas­sic Rock: car­ry­ing the clas­sic-rock news and much more for 20 years.

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