Lefsetz: The Death of Rock As We Knew It

It’s no longer the sound of the street…

The initial burst came with the Beatles and the British Invasion, a new sound everybody went wild for.

Then came the late ’60s free-form FM era, everything from the Doors‘ “The End” to Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” to Jimi Hendrix‘s “Purple Haze.”

Sure, some of these tracks crossed over to AM, were single hits, but this was the era, after Sgt. Pepper, when you wanted to make an album length STATEMENT!

In the early ’70s, it was about experimentation and musicianship. Ergo, the prog rock bands. Even Queen. We admired those with chops.

Then came the codification and consolidation of FM radio by Lee Abrams and suddenly all the action was on FM and bands being banged on that format went nuclear. Stadium shows were de rigueur. There was so much money involved that it could not be overlooked, ergo, corporate rock, music made to make money.

Which punk was a reaction to.

But punk got press and little sales and then were both rock and punk, trampled by disco, which ironically survives, even though it’s something different, and is still triumphant.

Then disco records were blown up in Comiskey Park and the music business tanked and then was resuscitated by MTV and the CD.

MTV gave a second wind to rock.

Especially to the oldsters.

But then young acts like Culture Club and Duran Duran got traction, and shortly thereafter so did Michael Jackson and Wham!

Rock reacted the same way it did a decade before, with hair bands. Spandex-clad wankers singing safe ballads that were supposed to titillate women.

But then that crashed, just like corporate rock before it, and there was a brief heyday of Guns N’ Roses, and then the Seattle sound, and then rock cratered completely. Oh, it splintered, into indie and metal and…

Rock acts were no longer dominant.

Today rock survives as country – albeit too often with lame lyrics.

But all those guys and gals with guitars, they’re goners. Just look at the Spotify statistics.

Now don’t go all vinyl on me.

Don’t build up the niche acts. Don’t say Spotify is not representative. That’s like denying Amazon sales. Denying data in an era where data rules.

The Spotify Top 50 are rolling in dough, and everyone else is bitching about streaming, playing to a limited audience, unless they were superstars way back when, or on the undercard at the festival.

So there’s a rock-influenced business, it’s just far from dominant.

How did this happen?

Like I stated above, it lost touch with the street. Everybody can make hip-hop. There’s a constantly changing cast of characters – new people are winning all the time – but rock is self-referential and repetitive.

We need a new punk movement, something to shake it all up, but all we have is acts that are repeating 40 year old formulas. Or moving off in unlistenable directions.

Once upon a time Led Zeppelin was heavy metal.

Black Sabbath was seen as tuneless. Now those acts are seen as soft compared to what’s sold as metal today. Which is more noise than music.

Hell, I just said that to raise your ire.

My only point is today’s metal is not mainstream. Most people don’t like it.

As for the Americana acts, the acts that appeal to the intelligentsia, too many can’t sing. Maybe Bob Dylan didn’t have the best voice, but he was THE BEST LYRICIST OF ALL TIME!

Except for maybe Joni Mitchell. But we got a pale imitation of Mitchell with Sarah McLachlan, since then… Oh, we got Taylor Swift…AND SHE’S THE BIGGEST ACT IN THE WORLD!

Except for maybe Adele.

The point is singing about your life pays, issuing truth pays. That’s when hip-hop is best. But today’s rock is redundant and features mediocre singers singing lame lyrics. One thing you can say about the Beatles…THEY COULD SING!

So there’s no harmony and no bridge and little lyrical content and the music is not a great leap forward, this is not Yes after Herman’s Hermits, but just a slight twist on what came before.

As for Adele… She too has a great voice, singing songs about feelings with changes. It’s not like it’s a hidden formula. It’s about the material, but no one in rock wants to admit that. They just want to sling on a Stratocaster, make a racket and wait for the money to roll in, which it doesn’t.

And it never will.

Rock has hit a dead end, just like jazz before it.

Oh, rock will never die, but it won’t bloom again either.

First and foremost we need a new sound. And there’s none on the horizon and all the fields may have been plowed. This is a problem with hip-hop too, enough of the fake drum/TR-808 sound. I mean you’ve got all the winners of yore complaining about Lil Yachty, and I won’t enter that debate, but one thing’s for sure; to survive a medium must progress, keep swimming, or it dies.

Like rock.

But there is a way out. Combining the Adele/Swift formula. Be able to sing well about your life. If you’re not an excellent singer, you’d better be the best player or the best songwriter.

However in an era where everybody can participate, everybody believes they’re entitled to a trophy.

It’s not like this isn’t hiding in plain sight. Did you see the WaPo story about the death of the electric guitar? Sales tanked. Kids would rather use Ableton.

And I must say, it seems to be that it’s the electronic sounds that always catch my ear these days. You may despise Justin Bieber, but he works with some of the best producers extant. Diplo and DJ Snake are testing the limits.

An equivalent person in rock?

Well, we’ve got Dave Cobb.

He did a wonderful job for Chris Stapleton.

And what happened? EVERYBODY CLAMORED! They wanted the authenticity, not the written for hire songs about babies and church and the rest of the drivel on the country playlists. Proving that people know it when they hear it. But they’re not hearing anything in rock.

I know, I know, you’re a believer.

But even the Who‘s Pete Townshend got old. And classic stars are dropping like flies.

Then again, the Who wrote the first rock opera.

Where’s the innovation in rock today?

The Eagles wrote perfectly produced singable songs sung well. The cognoscenti hate the Eagles, but they own the biggest selling album of all time. Who’s right? And before you answer, admit you hated Journey and now you love them.

And Journey was a middling band before the addition of Steve Perry.

So go back to the basics, vocals, lyrics, harmonies, bridges, songs…

Or wallow in your marginalization.

http://www.mb-kc.com/
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20 Responses to Lefsetz: The Death of Rock As We Knew It

  1. E.H. says:

    Rock is a great sound, it’s just that nobody tries anymore. Why? Because a rock fan is just going to download it for free. I guess bubble gum girly pop musik is much less likely to be downloaded by 12 year old girls.
    Best rock bands of all time:
    7. Def Leppard(could have done better)
    2. Van Halen(Sammy did a great job I don’t care what people think)
    3. AC/DC(Flick of the Switch was horrible, they had 7 years of bad albums until Razor’s Edge saved them)
    4. Ozzy Osbourne(Solo/Black Sabbath..Every solo album has great songs except Down to Earth)
    5. Gun’s N’ Roses(combined aerosmith+Led Zepplin’+every rock band=genius)
    6. Led Zepplin'(A little before my time, but still…)
    1. The Beatles(Read Spitz’s book, unbelievable story)

    • Gavin says:

      I don’t want to live in a world where Def Leppard, AC/DC, Ozzy, Van Halen and GnR make a top seven “Best Rock Bands of All Time” list and the Rolling Stones do not.

      • E.H. says:

        Agreed, place the Stones at #2 of all time and slide everyone that’s 3-7 down one notch. Heck, can I really rate Def Leppard at #7 or #8 ahead of Aerosmith?

    • queen sucked last night. Freddie Mercury can’t be replace…queen is dead…
      but I guess the remaining members can’t let go of the past…just like
      hearne and the bald glaze.
      I left this site for a while and still got comments…because Boom Boom
      reigns.
      Hearne had his last stand on the american
      royal but that’s it. Now its glaze and his bullshit about sports. And we all
      know what little he knows about that subject.
      Good luck boys
      BOOM BOOM RIDES THE SURF! BOOM BOOM HAS GOT THE WAVES.
      BOOM BOOM IS ON THE ROLL.
      NOW GO TO BED…ITS 3:40PM

      • admin says:

        It may surprise you Harley that I have a ton of things going on right now as you fade into your sunset years.

        Therefore, I have less time to devote to the site, but I’m hoping to devote more time.

        So keep the fatih, old dude.

        • boom boom says:

          You’re older (but richer than me old man). Know your
          age from your articles.
          Anytime you got money lets see who’s in better shape.
          Would love to kick box the shit out of you old man.
          Yes..youhave so much time to sell cars now that the
          ole lady took money in your divorce.
          And you look like lurch from adams family.
          Come see me at michaels.

  2. Standing on third says:

    Old man yells at cloud.

  3. chuck says:

    Another unneeded, extemporaneous, epistemology of the last 50 years in music, complete with a tortured, incomplete time line and generalizations that leads me to believe, that Lefty sold his soul to Mephistopheles for Nickelback and now pays the piper.

    Lefty must be huffing paint, ’cause he gets even his MUSIC news now from Huff Po in the silo.

  4. chuck says:

    Nickelback tickets. In a hurry…

  5. CG says:

    Great rundown man. Wonderful job. I’m with you. I never dreamed rock would die and we’d be left with mostly this crap…no big rock bands no radio anymore…its very sad…just oldies … ah the days of the Cream, Jimi, Led Zepplin…those were the days…life was so much easier, less violent, just seemed like summer most of the time…now its a ‘new’ world of social media, little nightlife, DUI’s and late night violence…oh for those 60’s,70’s,80’s and 90’s again….thank you for the memories.

  6. Newbaumturk says:

    Quick, name a guitar hero from the last 20 years. That’s what I thought. I’m 47 and the last 15 years of music has been awful. I would rather listen to Buddy Holly or 50’s music than anything new. I gave up on listening to “alternative ” music like 96.5 the Buzz plays. The Buzz sucks. What they play isn’t rock and that’s the worst thing I can say about most of today’s music: it doesn’t rock. I love metal and what is considered metal today sucks too. Everyone is anonymous despite being easily able to look them up on YouTube and nobody is dangerous. There are no exploits like Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, Guns N Roses. They’reall boring and anonymous. There’s a reason so ,many bands play festivals. It’s because they can’t draw on their own. Near as I can tell the last music revolution was Nirvana in 1991. Revolutions in rock used to happen every few years, now it’s just boring. It’s telling how many young people like their parents music. My daughter is going to Green Day, Blondie, and Social Distortion with me and has been to other shows with me. No other generation likes their parents music till this one and that is awful telling.

    • Frank says:

      Probably not “guitar hero” status as you’re probably defining it, but just at 20 years, Interpol came out in 1997 and has their own solid rock sound that still utilizes the guitar heavily. I’ve found that a lot of the newer music that I can listen to today comes from overseas. Admittedly it’s a different sound than 70’s rock, but I can listen to Phoenix from France, Miike Snow from Sweden, Temper Trap from Australia. It seems that a lot of the American bands today are what I’ve seen termed “faux folk”, i.e. The Lumineers, X-Ambassadors. Instead of creating their own sound, they’re trying really hard to recreate a folksy sound that just ends up being featured on Jeep commercials.

  7. Gavin says:

    Bob,

    It’s hard to argue with your central thesis (that rock music is dead), but I would quarrel with your initial point that that “The initial burst came with the Beatles and the British Invasion, a new sound everybody went wild for.” Well before the Beatles and the British Invasion there were the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Dick Dale and all the other California surf rock that kids were eating up.

    And before THAT there was, as you must know, a whole wave of white guys playing black music and stirring up dangerous passions in between the thighs of white kids everywhere. Guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and his Crickets and, of course, Elvis Aaron Presley. Now, was that “rock” as played later played by Led Zeppelin? No. But neither was the stuff that was put out by Herman’s Hermits or Joni Mitchell. But it was rebellious. It was despised by parents, principals and parsons everywhere, just as was Led Zeppelin’s cock rock years later. And Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” rocks so hard Quentin Tarantino used it in Pulp Fiction decades later, all before anyone outside Hamburg or Liverpool ever even heard of the Beatles.

    • admin says:

      No argument from me, Gavin…

      I think Bob was thinking a bit too far out of the box on that one

  8. jacko says:

    You’re old

  9. RickM says:

    Thanks for the warmed-over history lesson, complete with head-’em-off-at-the-pass predictions on how the reader will react to ward off criticism.

    People often forget that 1964-68 and 1976-79 were anomalies. That, with certain exceptions, rock music was at best a cultural marker and not a game-changer and has been written off more time than you’ve had hot dinners.

    Of course, you’re looking at this totally from a charts/sales/downloads angle.

    Burgeoning underground scenes are harder to find these days, but they’re there. The fact that it takes some effort amid the clutter makes it all the more worthwhile. And if it takes a few years of marginalization to rearrange all the pieces in place for a true breakout artist/band to strike at the right time, so be it.

    But what do I know, being such an “oldster.”

  10. miket. says:

    rock n roll started with the beatles??? good gawd lefsetz that’s beyond ignorant. you know better, too. so that makes the statement not only ignorant, but stupid as well.

    it’s a well-documented fact…. tastes and styles change. sinatra once owned the teenagers, then elvis, then the beatles, then… who gives a rat’s ass because there’s not been anyone like them since… no one comes close…

    so for all that, you are right about a couple of things… good songs, sung well, will always find an audience… and

    • admin says:

      I can’t disagree with you mike, but for some people rock started with maybe Petula Clark or Talking Heads.

      That said, it does come off as a bit unenlightened.

  11. Libertarian says:

    Journey was truly a progressive rock band before Steve Perry.

    Rock isnt dead, but the best of it came between 1965, and 1975.

    And ever since Garth Brooks, the lines have been blurred.

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