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Winner's History of Rock and Roll
January 31, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Grantland's Steven Hyden writes the winner's history of rock and roll, in four parts (so far), and charts the death of rock music as a major pop-cultural force in the 21st century by looking at some (not necessarily well-loved) bands that helped to transform it into a Big Business: Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith (and coming up in the next installment, Metallica). Rock isn't dead, by any means. But for better or worse, it ain't what it used to be.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken (82 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you build Kiss to destroy Kiss, you will lose.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:55 PM on January 31, 2013


Everytime I hear classic rock on the radio (and it's the same everywhere you go,) I think, "Wow, those songs sure have great lawyers!"
posted by Catblack at 5:58 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Due to the way he's setting up this series in the first article I'd love to hear his reasoning for not doing one on Nickleback.
posted by sendai sleep master at 6:12 PM on January 31, 2013


I'd read this, but its time for my lunch break and I don't want to lose my appetite. I suppose I'll be back later to start weeping, but rock and roll isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm seeing these guys tonight. They sound like The Replacments and have a new album out. Last week I saw Against Me!, Gary Clark Jr, and Alabama Shakes play to huge crowds. The Killers moved from glammy pop to Springsteen ripoffs. Punk and metal festivals sell out, and even tiny punk bands fill up whatever rooms they play in. Bob Dylan and Robert Plant are still touring. Jim Jones Revue are keeping the spirit of rockabilly alive, and every week I cram myself into a tiny room to howl and scream with my closest friends.

And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

If rock and roll is 'dying', its because people are consumed with apathy and irony (which means the decline started circa Nirvana). They're too 'embarrassed' to get up and scream and shout and sing, even when you literally run into them and try to get them into it. They've abandoned religion, which is usually good but it also means they've abandoned the gospel-minded religious MINDSET that lets you lose yourself in abandon.

Fuck I'm about to start quoting Drive-By Truckers' Self Destructive Zone:

It was 1990 give or take I don't remember
When the news of revolution hit the air
The girls hadn't even started taking down our posters
When the boys started cutting off their hair
The radio stations all decided angst was finally old enough
It ought to have a proper home
Dead fat or rich nobody's left to bitch
About the goings' on in self destructive zones

The hippies rode a wave putting smiles on faces,
That the devil wouldn't even put a shoe
Caught between a generation dying from its habits,
And another thinking rock and roll was new
Till the pawn shops were packed like a backstage party,
Hanging full of pointy ugly cheap guitars
And the young'uns all turned to karaoke,
Hanging all their wishes upon disregarded stars


But the stars aren't totally disregarded, and where there are kids with passion and guitars there will be rock and roll, and if it takes me literally digging up the corpses of Elvis and Johnny Ramone and Joe Strummer I will do it. And all you DJs will say that I'm just retreating into the past, and that rock and roll is spent. But I can stay that dance music can tell you how to dance and rap can tell you how to fuck but rock and roll can tell you how to LIVE AND DIE.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:14 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why is Kiss, a Power Disco band, on this list?
posted by signal at 6:15 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you're putting Led Zeppelin in the same category as Kiss, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith... yeah, no. Aren't you a sports site, Grantland? I think I hear Kevin Durant being humble somewhere.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:16 PM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sports site? I thought they were a videogame site. Unfortunately Grantland doesn't let you filter articles by subject. Hyden used to write for the AV Club, but fellow Grantland writer Chuck Klosterman should school him.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:19 PM on January 31, 2013


rock and roll isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination.

No, it certainly isn't, and that is not at all Hyden's thesis, and a misreading I tried to head off in the post.

As a rock fan who has only really dipped his toes in other genres in all the decades I've been a music lover, I think there's more exciting stuff happening in rock music these days than there has been since the early 70s. I love the fact that bands like Limp Bizkit and all the rest effectively killed Big Rock in the late 90s, and a thousand flowers have bloomed since.

I really like Hayden's take on how that all went down, which he works through in his series, which is why I thought the essays worth posting here.

If you're putting Led Zeppelin in the same category as Kiss, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith... yeah, no.

He isn't, in terms of anything but the effects the bands had on the business of rock and roll and the way huge rock bands (in terms of sales and popularity) left marks on the culture as a whole. I encourage you to read all the articles if you haven't (they're long, I know), to follow the argument he develops. I find it pretty convincing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:20 PM on January 31, 2013


Three actual reasons why hard rock (as distinct from folky/indie/country type music, which is thriving) is not doing so well:

1) The iconic "rock star" became self-parody in the 80s and had nowhere to go from there.
2) Hip-hop became the music of rebellious youth of all races sometime in the 90s
and
3) Pretty much every hard rock band since the 70s has just been a markedly inferior retread of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath (hi The Black Keys and every grunge band!)

But mostly, if you keep defining "rock" as what was going on a long time ago, naturally that's not going on anymore. Things change.

I'm gonna keep rockin' forever...
ever
ever
ever

posted by drjimmy11 at 6:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I encourage to read the pieces if you haven't (they're long, I know), to see the argument he develops.

I tried. The first six paragraphs were about the Arcade Fire. Sorry for the derail.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:22 PM on January 31, 2013


All good. I love longform stuff, and I think Hyden's an excellent writer.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:25 PM on January 31, 2013


I've always been of the opinion that Rock & Roll died before that particular group of bands ever became popular. I don't know, maybe somewhere around Feb. 3, 1959 (as a sort of symbolic touchstone sort of date). Now, "Rock" music may have continued, but part of the problem may be that "Rock & Roll" and "Rock" are not the same thing?

Disclaimer...the above opinion has no basis in music theory... it's only a sort of emotional response from an old guy.
posted by HuronBob at 6:28 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am too old to rock, and my eyes must roll.
posted by hal9k at 6:33 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just finished the Kiss piece and now there's a little piece of me that has vague positive ideas about them that is still outweighed by my dislike of them. Granted, after the piece I now dislike them for entirely different reasons.
posted by sendai sleep master at 6:35 PM on January 31, 2013


Yeah I've gone through periods of only listening to old rockabilly. I kinda define 'rock' as the Death and 'roll' as the Sex.
I think mainstream music these days is just too NICE and polite, but metal is too hard... Rock and roll used to be in the middle. Great bands still exist, but not only are they ignored by the mainstream but even the indie crowd ignore them (with exceptions like Japandroids, which I'm missing because they're playing at a hipster festival).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:35 PM on January 31, 2013


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

Me.
No shortage of love for Led Zep. Bemusement at best for Kiss. Outright loathing for Bon Jovi.

But the series (I've only read the Led Zep article so far) isn't about love or critical quality, it's about how ...

"Mainstream rock" barely exists anymore. To understand how we got to this point, we're not going to learn anything by examining for the umpteenth time how the Velvet Underground invented alternative music, or watching all of the approximately 214 documentaries on punk, or talking to Ian MacKaye about why Fugazi never sold T-shirts at shows. What we need instead is a Winners' History of Rock and Roll that tells the stories behind some of the biggest bands of all time.1 If we can learn how and why those bands became popular, and what those stories tell us about a larger narrative taking place in American culture over more than 40 years, we can track the fissures and failures that eventually caused rock to slouch toward irrelevance — and determine whether it can (or should) wage a comeback.
posted by philip-random at 6:38 PM on January 31, 2013


Obligatory Kids in the Hall.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:41 PM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

BWAHAHAHAHHAHAAAAAA.

Bon Jovi?

BWWAHHAHHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAA.

ahem....


Lots of people.

Kiss are cute in a kitsch sort of way... but I won't be buying their branded beer.
posted by pompomtom at 6:57 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


No shortage of love for Led Zep. Bemusement at best for Kiss. Outright loathing for Bon Jovi.

Livin On A Prayer is one of those perfect rock songs, like Summer of 69. Listen to that yearning in the chorus! Like Meat Loaf says, 'If you hold on to a chorus you can make it through the night' and Livin On A Prayer is one of those choruses that uplifts and saves.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:57 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


...it just smells funny...
posted by NedKoppel at 7:00 PM on January 31, 2013


He totally nails it with the stuff about Bon Jovi and girls. Our girlfriends had no interest in going to an AC/DC or Judas Priest concert with us. Those were boys nights out. But Bon Jovi? Not only would they go to the concert, they'd go enthusiastically. We might diss Bon Jovi in private, but in mixed company we were fans.
posted by COD at 7:13 PM on January 31, 2013


I encourage you to read all the articles if you haven't (they're long, I know), to follow the arg ument he develops.

I've read the first two pieces, and I don't understand what his argument is.

Several things I've read have struck me as grossly incorrect. This is probably the best example: before Kiss, bands didn't coordinate tours with the release of new studio product, or understand how hit albums could generate better box office for their live shows.
posted by layceepee at 7:13 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks stav, I really enjoyed reading these.
posted by goo at 7:15 PM on January 31, 2013


Livin On A Prayer is one of those perfect rock songs, like Summer of 69.

Clearly, you have a different definition of perfect than I do -- diametrically opposed even. Though I will admit that Livin On A Prayer has a cool beginning ... until whatzizname opens his mouth.
posted by philip-random at 7:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

All three of them leave me cold.

I like some of the stuff that influenced them, and some of the stuff they influenced. The odd song or two works for me in the right mood. But all in all I couldn't give a fuck about classic rock. I'll take twee over pompous any day.

Ugh, Led Zepplin. What a bunch of cunts.
posted by Diablevert at 7:23 PM on January 31, 2013



Livin On A Prayer is one of those perfect rock songs, like Summer of 69.

Clearly, you have a different definition of perfect than I do -- diametrically opposed even. Though I will admit that Livin On A Prayer has a cool beginning ... until whatzizname opens his mouth.


Yeah pretty much. I've got a very specific aesthetic -- it's the Hold Steady/Gaslight Anthem/Springsteen 'Certain Songs'/redemptive rock and roll aesthetic. Its about big choruses and things that are specific (the verses) but universal (the choruses). You put on Living on a Prayer or Summer of 69 in a crowded room and everyone will sing along, because everybody can relate to at least one part of it. And in relating you're merging yourself with the singer and with everyone else in the room - uplifting yourself. It goes down to the Arcade Fire and The National and My Chemical Romance and that bit in Jesus of Suburbia where Green Day sing 'City of the Damned/out at the end of another lost highway!'.

And given the quotes he chooses and the fact that he's at a magazine with Chuck Klosterman I think Hyden gets that, which is why he chooses these populist bands. I do lament Led Zep cutting out the old rockabilly sound.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:24 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've read the first two pieces, and I don't understand what his argument is.

Well, I don't know how it could be made much clearer. He lays out his thesis statement in the first piece, part of which philip-random quotes above.

But here, anyway:
The groups that personified what rock sounds, looks, talks, comes, stays, lays, and prays like in the popular consciousness over the past several decades have not railed against the status quo; they are the status quo as far as the majority of rock fans are concerned. Unlike the niche-oriented rock bands of today, these groups are responsible not only for many of the biggest-selling albums of their time, but of all time. This era of rock and roll transformed the meaning of success in popular music, bringing rock to stadiums and mansions, shopping malls and Super Bowl halftime shows, as well as every wood-paneled basement rec room and teenage car stereo from Eureka, California, to Bangor, Maine. This music spoke to millions of people; it informed their fantasies of power and wealth, influenced their way of looking at the world, and spawned a thriving subculture with a booming economy and a living history that informed every new generation of bands. It seemed to stretch outward toward an infinite future, always new but with clearly visible roots, the perfect conflation of novel poppiness with never-ending mythology wrapped in denim jackets and cheap sunglasses.

Even today, the archetype is so fixed and commonplace as to be thunderously obvious: Long-haired men in tight pants, playing crushingly loud music on guitars and drums in front of tens of thousands of people, and held upright by groupies, mounds of blow, and the luxury of deluxe tour buses and multimillion-dollar record contracts.

And yet this archetype has all but disappeared from pop culture. "Mainstream rock" barely exists anymore. To understand how we got to this point, we're not going to learn anything by examining for the umpteenth time how the Velvet Underground invented alternative music, or watching all of the approximately 214 documentaries on punk, or talking to Ian MacKaye about why Fugazi never sold T-shirts at shows. What we need instead is a Winners' History of Rock and Roll that tells the stories behind some of the biggest bands of all time.1 If we can learn how and why those bands became popular, and what those stories tell us about a larger narrative taking place in American culture over more than 40 years, we can track the fissures and failures that eventually caused rock to slouch toward irrelevance — and determine whether it can (or should) wage a comeback.

Over the next seven weeks, I'm going to be writing about seven bands: Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Metallica, Linkin Park, and the Black Keys. I don't love all of these bands, but I do love some of them. My point is that my personal feelings here don't matter. I picked these bands because they rank among the most popular of their respective eras, and they all remain active in some form to this day. I believe they also represent turning points in rock history that haven't always been appreciated or remarked upon all that much. More than anything I'd argue that these bands are important in ways that few other rock bands in the 21st century — even the ones I adore and passionately push on people at parties — seem to be.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:50 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


There used to be this local music video show when I was just a kid, and I remember being baffled and alarmed when they started slipping stuff like Bon Jovi and Whitney Houston in there alongside the new wave bands I was crazy about. I wanted British boys in eyeliner and badass girls in fiberglass dresses, and I was getting You Give Good Love and Livin' On a Prayer. It was like finding a big wriggly worm in your lunch. Their music seemed like it was made by and for pod people, it was so obviously horrible and fake and lame and evil that I just assumed whatever success they were enjoying would be short-lived. People wouldn't fall for that crap for long.

I thought the same thing when George W showed up.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:58 PM on January 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Odd: fans of rock think the New Wave bands are fake.

This is partly due to demographics favoring women, of course, but it's also related to musical attributes that are considered "feminine" in rock music: melody, lyrical sensitivity and/or thoughtfulness, dance-friendliness, sexuality that is playful or sultry as opposed to crass or pushy. (Or, in the case of indie rock, practically non-existent.) These qualities also happen to be hallmarks of popular music; people without pronounced anti-girl hang-ups tend to find them just generally appealing.


This explains so much, none of it very flattering to me. But its great analysis.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:01 PM on January 31, 2013


Odd: fans of rock think the New Wave bands are fake.

You tend to be a bit given to sweeping statements, Charlemagne, and I don't think this one is particularly apt. Some do, or did, sure, I'll give you that. Mods and rockers, after all.

But (and I know this is anecdote, which is worthless) for my part, and the part of every rock-and-or-roll music lover I've ever personally known, pretty much, it doesn't matter if it's prog rock or punk or new wave or metal or power pop or grunge or whatever Tom Waits is or even nu-metal and the like, it's all rock and roll. I think people turning their noses up at entire genres of music (or entire subgenres, as the case may be) are a little more interested in fashion and tribal belonging than they are in music itself.

Which is what I was gesturing at when I said I've only dipped my toes in other genres of rock, earlier. By other genres, I mean things like 'world music' or folk or rap or classical (about which I know little, though I have some favorite artists) or blues or jazz (which I love quite a lot more).

All that's pretty tangential to the point of Hyden's articles, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:13 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


stavrosthewonderchicken, I don't think that's the argument. It's the set up, culminating in ths question that he poses:

If we can learn how and why those bands became popular, and what those stories tell us about a larger narrative taking place in American culture over more than 40 years, we can track the fissures and failures that eventually caused rock to slouch toward irrelevance — and determine whether it can (or should) wage a comeback.

So what I expected from the pieces would be an answer to that question that made some interesting claim.

What I found was some reporting on the "how," some of it flat wrong, and some more about "why," but nothing particularly insightful or comepelling. And I don't know what he's trying to claim the stories tell us about a larger narrative over more than 40 years.
posted by layceepee at 8:20 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, 'dipped my toes in other genres of music' not of rock
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:20 PM on January 31, 2013


So what I expected from the pieces would be an answer to that question that made some interesting claim.

Yes, that is the setup. As I said, it's the thesis statement. It's in the first piece. The argument is being made in the individual articles, I think ably. Presumably, assuming he knows what he's doing as a writer (and I think there is ample evidence that he does), he will return to his thesis statement to wrap things up in the last piece, which is yet to appear.

Now I should probably bow out of this thread, because it's unseemly to comment this much on my own post, I think.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:24 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

Um, hi? I'm generally picky about the music I'll listen to and there's a big gap in "rock music that doesn't annoy the hell out of me" that starts with the death of classic rock and roll and ends with the Ramones. That doesn't mean I think it's crap, just that I don't like it. Springsteen seems like a nice guy, for example, but the music he makes is relentlessly boring.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 PM on January 31, 2013


Springsteen seems like a nice guy, for example, but the music he makes is relentlessly boring.

And that's another thing I hope Hyden touches on - the search for novelty. Its not enough for a song to have some clever lyrics in the verses and an uplifting chorus. Everything needs to be mashed up from 50 million other songs and weird samples, even the mainstream pop. And then the good normal rock like Arcade Fire and the Black Keys gets remixed and processed too.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:49 PM on January 31, 2013


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?


I grew up with a twin brother that loved Kiss and right from the first time I heard them I loathed them completely. I have occasionally thought about it over the years and I think the main reason I hated Kiss so much is the sense that when you get right down to it, they put the least amount of effort into the music they thought they could get away with.
Kiss was always mainly a marketing concept, with the music being one of the tools they used to market the idea of Kiss.
So, for me there is always been a level of short fingered greedhead cynicism to their enterprise mixed with true contempt that stands out in an industry that was has always been about that to a certain extent.

And, of course, Gene Simmons.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2013


And that's another thing I hope Hyden touches on - the search for novelty. Its not enough for a song to have some clever lyrics in the verses and an uplifting chorus. Everything needs to be mashed up from 50 million other songs and weird samples, even the mainstream pop. And then the good normal rock like Arcade Fire and the Black Keys gets remixed and processed too.

It isn't that, just that mainstream rock tends to bore me senseless.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2013




And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

Yea, nay, nay. Maybe "Strutter." Maybe.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:12 PM on January 31, 2013


Obligatory Kids in the Hall.

And: Rod Torfulson's Armada
posted by methinks at 9:24 PM on January 31, 2013


A few years ago, maybe when they were touring in the same package, Robert Plant and Pete Townsend said that their kind of rock had become underground and that was the way they always wanted it. Actually, considering Zep's relationship with the music press when they were touring and their outright disdain for singles, they were kind of the biggest underground band in the world.
posted by Ber at 9:27 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


And who the hell doesn't love Led Zep, Kiss, or Bon Jovi?

If we agree that this is an OR statement, then I can love LZ and hate the other two and it's still true, right?

Actually, I've never really hated (or paid much attention to) Bon Jovi -- never did anything for me musically, but never irked me much, either.

Now KISS - God, what a waste of good stage blood. Kiss's specialty is delivering shameless showmanship with guileless energy and they make pots, not vases, both quotes from the article, does seem to capture their essence.
posted by mosk at 10:09 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


sendai sleep master, will this work? Steven Hyden reviews Nickleback's "Here and Now"
posted by j03 at 10:56 PM on January 31, 2013


I've been reading these as they've been posted on Grantland and they're great - except the Kiss one, couldn't bring myself to read it. I can't think of another musical act that inspires so much irrational hatred and loathing in me just from the mention of their name.

I was surprised to find the Aerosmith post so interesting. I never really knew them in the first incarnation (before my time) and then they came out of nowhere in the early 90s with those 'country tinged power ballads' like Crazy and Amazing. The article makes a great argument that they adapted their music/lifestyle to whatever style was big at the time.

Looking forward to the Metallica one, and wondering who the final posts will be about (I assume there'll be two others if the Aerosmith post was the halfway point). If I had to guess, I'll say Nirvana (or maybe Pearl Jam?) and the White Stripes.
posted by mannequito at 11:16 PM on January 31, 2013


Before Led Zeppelin was the Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin was Nickelback.

First of all, no. That's not true and if he isn't just trolling for controversy then he is sorely mistaken. Now, on to the actual questions the writer poses: why is rock music "slouching toward irrelevance" and "can/should it make a comeback?" Well then, mainsteam rock sucks? What else is new? Real rock music can never be mainstream music, because it is music of rebellion. He references bands such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin which sold of a lot of albums, but selling a lot of albums is not the same as being acceptable mainstream music of the time. Those bands were rebelling against mainstream music of their time, while also pulling heavily from influences of the past. Just like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and The Beatles when they were breaking onto the scene.

I would argue that there is currently a very vibrant indie and underground rock scene of this very sort, amazing bands that are bringing back real garage blues rock such as has not been heard in America for quite some time. The White Stripes are a fine example of a recent commercially successful with authentic indie blues rock roots. The Black Keys might be popular right now, but they sat around in relative obscurity for years (3 albums?). As others have mentioned, there's more where that came from. The Alabama Shakes, Delta Spirit, The Pack AD, The Kills and Shakey Graves are all modern bands doing great blues rock. Who cares what's winning Grammy Awards and topping Billboard Charts?

What killed mainstream rock? Hip-Hop, Electronic, and The Internet. Also, the fact that corporate rock is, and always was, shit. Writing articles about classic rock bands isn't going to change or explain it. Fact is, none of the cool kids are going to the store and buying rock albums on CD today. The tastemakers, the thought leaders, the ones who throw the party and put the track on, the DJ. They were never playing the Billboard Top 10, and now they probably download/stream all their music from the internet anyway. They still listen to rock, and they probably also listen to hip-hop and dubstep and trance and glitch and ambient and maybe they also listen to punk and ska and hardcore and metal. So, rock music isn't irrelevant, I'm fine with it not winning Grammy awards or being on the Billboard Top 10, and no, it doesn't need to make a comeback because it isn't dead. Let's see if the good author can provide as concise an answer at the end of his series.
posted by sophist at 11:50 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's because the article isn't about music, it's about the music industry. It's the only way it makes sense. Look at this part of the article:
If we can learn how and why those bands became popular, ... we can track the fissures and failures that eventually caused rock to slouch toward irrelevance — and determine whether it can (or should) wage a comeback.
If some kid out there wants to make music, and this rock 'n' roll style appeals to them, it's easily available to them and they'll pick it up. But that quote only makes sense coming from an A&R dude, wondering how much of their promotion budget they should devote to artists who play this style.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:32 AM on February 1, 2013


You can all hate Bon Jovi as much as you like but there is no finer driving moment than hitting the highway, in the sun with the windows down, at the start of a roadtrip and cranking Wanted Dead or Alive.

Nail fifth gear and floor it as the guitar solo starts.

I know perfectly well it's ridiculous, but fuck, is it good. Because I'm a cowboy and on a steel horse I ride.
posted by deadwax at 12:52 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bon Jovi is a bit of a sad case. People always toss them in with the hair metal bands, because they got their breakthrough just at the time when hair metal was starting to take off and they looked superficially similar: pretty, long hair, denim. But their roots were as a hard working, working class Jersey dive bar band, which is about as echt-rock as you can get.

They got popular fast because they fit in well with the trends of the time, but because they lived by the hair metal, they died with the hair metal. and nobody important can take any hair metal band seriously because like disco, we've decided as serious pop music lovers that it's all crap.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:15 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sophist, fess up. You didn't read the articles or the thread, did you?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:30 AM on February 1, 2013


They still listen to rock, and they probably also listen to hip-hop and dubstep and trance and glitch and ambient and maybe they also listen to punk and ska and hardcore and metal.

The fact that those first 5 genres are somehow considered as legitimate as rock is proof that it is dying as a mainstream and an underground thing. Rock used to be - and should be - the main game in town.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:11 AM on February 1, 2013


They got popular fast because they fit in well with the trends of the time, but because they lived by the hair metal, they died with the hair metal.

But...they didn't. Like, at all. That was the whole point of the article. Bon Jovi have been a successful touring band for 30 years. There was no reunion. No "getting back together". They never left. They never stopped. They've been releasing albums the whole time, and while they never had a hit for the whole of the 90s in the US, they did have top ten hits in Europe in that decade and toured widely, and returned to the US charts in the 2000s, and were the second highest-grossing touring band in 2011. They are not a nostalgia act. They're just an act.

I didn't know any of this until I read the article, because I never liked bon jovi. My dislike of bon jovi is one of my clearest childhood music memories. But I think this just goes to show why this series offers an interesting perspective --- he's right, nobody has written a winner's history of rock 'n roll. It is kind of bizarre that the critical practice for years has been to treat the most "influential" artists as the ones who defined the genre, instead of the ones that the most people were actually listening to. If you're trying to figure out what people liked about rock, how can you not turn to the people whose records actually got bought, as opposed to the ones they stole from?

selling a lot of albums is not the same as being acceptable mainstream music of the time

How could it possibly not be? Something can be mainstream and still disliked by one's parents. Different generations.

The Alabama Shakes, Delta Spirit, The Pack AD, The Kills and Shakey Graves are all modern bands doing great blues rock. Who cares what's winning Grammy Awards and topping Billboard Charts?

The Alabama Shakes, at least, were nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys, played the nominations concert, and had their debut hocked in Starbucks. If this is the underground, it's an awful lot like those clear tunnels they have 3 stories up between skyscrapers in Minnesota. Rock hasn't stopped winning grammys. The fact the rock is winning grammys and hip hop isn't is one of the signs of rock's irrelevance.
posted by Diablevert at 3:46 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Bon Jovi is still a band, but their audience long ago moved over to Nashville country pop with rock-ey hooks, and the band rolled with that. So ... doesn't fit with The Rawk It Still Rolls Forevah theory.
posted by raysmj at 4:12 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to be writing about seven bands: Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Metallica, Linkin Park, and the Black Keys

More than anything I'd argue that these bands are important in ways that few other rock bands in the 21st century — even the ones I adore and passionately push on people at parties — seem to be


If he's going to use the Black Keys instead of the White Stripes then I can't take his opinion to seriously.

The White Stripes came before the Black Keys and did more to revive a dying genre than the Keys could ever hope to do. And the White Stripes did it better. And I'd even argue the Jack White continues to do so on his own.

I'm guessing he doesn't believe chicks can rock or have a place in it's hisrtory.
posted by Sailormom at 4:42 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


He seems to be focusing on the blandest examples of trends - Bon Jovi instead of The Boss, Aerosmith instead of Guns N Roses - to make his point about trends better. Black Keys are blander and more mainstream sounding than the White Stripes and they compromised to modern tastes by working with Danger Mouse. Jack White wouldn't do that.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:49 AM on February 1, 2013


Black Keys are blander and more mainstream sounding than the White Stripes and they compromised to modern tastes by working with Danger Mouse. Jack White wouldn't do that.

The Black Keys made an entire album length collaboration with various hip hop artists, Blakroc, in 2009 --- before their American breakthrough album Brothers. Jack White released an album length collaboration with Danger Mouse and Nora Jones last year, Rome, a celebration of spaghetti western music. He has also worked with the Insane Clown Posse.
posted by Diablevert at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Livin' on a prayer is totally redeemed by this scene from FDR: American Badass.
posted by khaibit at 6:48 AM on February 1, 2013


Rock used to be - and should be - the main game in town.

Why should it be?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two things make this series boring for me:

- Where are the fucking chicks, man? I like "Livin' on a Prayer" as much as the next guy, but I think something about Joan Jett or Tina Turner or Heart would be more interesting than something about Bon Jovi.

- I don't know if I'm alone in this belief, but for me the stories of the folks who didn't quite make it can be much more interesting for me than the stories of the bands who broke through. Rodriguez' failure-to-success tale is fascinating. KISS? Not so much.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:09 AM on February 1, 2013


Rock used to be - and should be - the main game in town.

I'm with Guilty. There are no "shoulds" in this particular arena. In the case of whatever happens to be the main game in town, it's whatever's filling the biggest void. As for something like dubstep, which I'm not remotely up on in but do keep hearing boomfing around in the background, well that feels like what I'd call rock anyway in the finest sort of Led Zep tradition -- keeps kicking like a piledriver.

Two things make this series boring for me:

Lesson learned from way too many creative writing workshops. Don't critique in terms what you think it should be. That's your story to write.
posted by philip-random at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2013


I think it's an interesting series about how the music biz has changed. I don't know why mainstream white-guy rock bands no longer dominate the planet, but I suspect the availability of music on the internet and the declining power of giant record companies and giant radio has something to do with it.
posted by freakazoid at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2013


To me, the White Stripes are just a blander and more mainstream Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But really, you can take any band and make that kind of argument. Sometimes you just have to look at something and decide whether you like it or not, and set aside where it came from.
posted by Quonab at 9:09 AM on February 1, 2013


- Where are the fucking chicks, man? I like "Livin' on a Prayer" as much as the next guy, but I think something about Joan Jett or Tina Turner or Heart would be more interesting than something about Bon Jovi.

He actually addresses this in the Bon Jovi article, saying he tried to think of a way to include more women and he couldn't come up with any, given his angle. And I think he's absolutely right. I mean, I love Tina Turner and Barracuda is indeed awesome, but he's writing a history of the winners, here. Chicks did not win rock. With very, very few exceptions the belief was that chicks could not rock. Sing, sure. You want to be on backup vocals, you want to shake a tambourine, go ahead. But lead guitar? No way no how. Even being a band that mostly chicks liked was less rock n' roll than being in one that attracted headbangers and denim-wearers. I mean, this is just how it was. Which is maybe part of what's killing it, which is why it's interesting to consider the unifying qualities of those who were incredibly successful at it. The misogyny of rock may be part of why it's dying, but that's the very reason that a winner's history ain't going to have any women.
posted by Diablevert at 9:14 AM on February 1, 2013


I wanted British boys in eyeliner and badass girls in fiberglass dresses, and I was getting You Give Good Love and Livin' On a Prayer. It was like finding a big wriggly worm in your lunch.

I want to take this comment to Danceteria and get it a bump. At the time, New Wave pop looked and sounded like the future, a sexy, queer future. The Hair Metal rock that followed was as disappointing as discovering that the Berlin responsible for "The Metro" was also responsible for "Take My Breath Away."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:19 AM on February 1, 2013


I don't know why mainstream white-guy rock bands no longer dominate the planet, but I suspect

I think it's as simple as the white-guys having had their moment. It started with Elvis etc, peaking (in terms of relevance as opposed to popularity) with ... oh, I don't know, maybe Led Zeppelin who were massively popular, of course, but unlike Aerosmith, Kiss, Bon Stupid etc, actually expanded the boundaries of the form. If you wish to argue white guy relevance further than Led Zep, I believe you're moving past basic rock (and roll) into various punks, metals etc etc etc which have no doubt had influence on the overall sound of things in a myriad of ways ... but not in any kind mainstream, united rock-the-suburbs way.

And if I was a betting man, I wouldn't lay any serious cash on white-guys ever again having a mainstream moment to match past glories. Not for a damned long time anyway. The world just ain't what it once was -- no longer our exclusive oyster.

A little tough on the ego maybe, but this is hardly a bad thing.
posted by philip-random at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2013


Though I will admit that Livin On A Prayer has a cool beginning ... until whatzizname opens his mouth.

I realize this puts me way outside the mainstream, and understand that, as a "music guy" myself, I should never admit this, but I cannot stand, absolutely cannot tolerate, Robert Plant's voice. I recognize that he has a serious set of rock pipes, perhaps the ur-rock pipes that set the standard, but if I'm flipping the radio and I hear Zeppelin, I'll listen until he starts wailing and then change it. Like ice picks, to me.

I also extolled the many virtues of JBJ's hook-writing to some friends last week. So I'm batting .000 for rock cred.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


To me, the White Stripes are just a blander and more mainstream Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But really, you can take any band and make that kind of argument. Sometimes you just have to look at something and decide whether you like it or not, and set aside where it came from.
posted by Quonab at 11:09 AM


Being a fan of both I just have to say to me the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was all about the riff and not much more. And they were great at that no doubt. But the White Stripes not only had the killer riffs, but then took the next Rock -n- Roll step and added killer guitar solos. The kind of solo's the rock gods smiled on. The kind of solos that earned Jack a place next to rock god Jimmy Page in It Might Get Loud. And Jimmy Page of course is one of the reasons the author thought he should write a series of articles on the state of Rock -N- Roll
posted by Sailormom at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


but I cannot stand, absolutely cannot tolerate, Robert Plant's voice.

for much of the Led Zep catalog, I tend to think of Mr. Plant's voice as a necessary evil -- something that could cut the mix. Because seriously, if there were ten other voices on the planet at the time that could do that, there weren't fifteen.

But then, there are those moments where Mr. Plant truly earns his spot in the lap of the gods. Immigrant Song for starters, that howl at the beginning. Which is the first time I ever heard Led Zep. Maybe twelve years old. It came on the radio -- brand new at the time. I immediately had to know more.

And then a few years later, you've got something like Kashmir. I seriously can't imagine any other voice doing it equal justice ... except maybe Nancy Wilson, or Janis Joplin.

Speaking of which, he did deliver an occasional superlative blues ...
posted by philip-random at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


this is the shortest thesis quote from Steven Hyden's first piece on Led Zepplin:
Rock history is written by the losers, in other words, which is why the importance of insurgents is overstated while the people inside the castles — the rich and famous rulers of middle-of-the-road rock and roll — are disregarded or flat-out ignored.
Hyden's mistake is to believe that the rise and fall of rock is about bands. It isn't. Bands are fungible. The trope is the money power versus the performer. Since he can't seem to make the distinction, his conclusion isn't going to make much difference.

What we have here is a typical X-gen defense of conformity and corporate management. Written by somebody who wants simultaneously to be a populist and an elitist about things that he doesn't understand very well. Things that happened before he was around.

So there should be some mention of the Chicago Outfit, Sidney Korshack, Lew Wasserman, and MCA. Likewise the rise and fall of AM radio, the emergence of FM, payola, etc. That story began before rock and is still playing out.

Oh, yeah. Link Wray.
posted by warbaby at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2013


Rock never was the only or even the main game in town, as any repeat of a Top of the Pops or American Bandstand programme shows. It always had to compete with and define itself in opposition to other, often more popular genres of pop music.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2013


It’s still weird to me that people would know Aerosmith as the band that did those 90’s ballads, not the band that did "Toys in the Attic" and "Rocks". In the 90’s I worked with some guys that couldn’t understand why we kept talking about Elton John "the guy that did ‘Sad Songs’". We promptly bought them a copy of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and their mind was blown.

I heard the Rolling Stones had some stuff before "Anybody Seen My Baby", I didn’t like that song though...
posted by bongo_x at 5:25 PM on February 1, 2013


Sailormom: "I'm guessing he doesn't believe chicks can rock or have a place in it's hisrtory."

Right or wrong, one may note that he has a bit of a discussion of precisely that issue - women in rock, and their exclusion therefrom - in the Bon Jovi piece. And he did say there that he'd return to the topic.

Also, I don't know if I would list a band with a girl drummer who unfortunately gets pushed into the background more often than not when describing the lack of female representation on this list, particularly considering the renaissance for women (who are even still marginalized) that the past twenty years have been - from L7 to Neko Case and everywhere in between.

But of course this list that Mr Hyden has put together is based on some fleeting and ephemeral notion of success (which, in defense of your point, Sailormom, the White Stripes did have much more of than the Black Keys can ever hope for). And Hyden translates "success" to money - except when it doesn't suit him, and he views the pursuit of money as crass.

I think he's got some confusion there. For one thing, in its purer forms, rock is not about the pursuit of money but the pursuit of fame and honor. These are very different things; they are tied to each other in our culture, so rock musicians have always been dogged by money-grubbers who take advantage of them, but we should note that this phenomenon has been perennial precisely because rock musicians are stereotypically clueless about actually handling money.

This distinction is essential, because it explains some of the more essential rifts and divides in rock. He's ignoring punk (which is an obvious mistake, but I guess he's being rockist or something, whatever) but this distinction explains punk, which among other things was founded on the realization that the pure roots of the music could be recovered by individuals working side by side to create it. But even that distinction doesn't entirely explain the difficulty I feel he has with his premise and his goal here.

I feel like the project Hyden is hoping to point the way to - the project of reviving rock as it was, as he believes it was - is a doomed project, and even were it not doomed, it's a mistake.

See, the main things Hyden defines rock music by, the main things he seems to believe must be recovered, are fame and filthy lucre. And neither of these things can be the foundation of any really enduring music. They are ephemeral and fleeting. They are not easy to obtain, and they are absolutely not guaranteed for any unit of work. And most of all, I would insist, strongly, forcefully, and point-by-point if I have to, that these are not the foundations of rock music as it did and as it does exist.

I am slightly biased - or maybe I should say experienced - on the topic of revivalism of old musics. I spent an hour today, as I spend an hour every day, working on my now sort of convincing imitation of Harlem Stride piano. This is a form that stopped being popular sixty years ago. Why do I pursue it? Because I love it. Because I see essential and unique markers of the human spirit in it. And because I'd like to think people sometimes enjoy hearing me play it. I am never going to wander the streets at 2am with Fats Waller looking for the next dive to play in; I am never going to see a one-week stand at a 52nd-street club of Art Tatum or James P Johnson or Willie Lion Smith. I wish I were. But, while all that stuff fades, the essential heart of what the music does and what it means lives on. That's something I can do: give it life.

It ain't any different with rock. I honestly don't believe you're ever going to recreate the vast system that birthed AOR and led to the conditions in which arena rock thrived and turn this generation into the 1970s generation. That is not going to happen. Sorry; you have to let these things go. What you can recover is the true spirit of the music, the real beating heart within it. If somebody loves The Who enough, let them start a band that encompasses mod-style garage rock and synth-tinged arena anthems, and let them create what they will. There are bands that do that. There are metal bands right now that are stuck in 1982; and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

People should create the music they love. Getting hung up on building the perfect audience or the perfect industry is a mistake. Focus on precisely what the music is, what it does - for you and the person next to you. That can be rediscovered and recreated over and over again - and it's all that really matters in the end anyway.
posted by koeselitz at 1:38 AM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


For one thing, in its purer forms, rock is not about the pursuit of money but the pursuit of fame and honor.

Nice point. Indeed, I've heard it said as much by at least one very talented, yet never quite successful musician friend: "If it was just money I was after, I'd go to f***ing law school."

As for the women in rock thing, I don't know who you blame there. Maybe it all starts with Robert Plant, who lets face it, for all the old blues legends he ever tipped a hat to, the one obvious, obvious influence I've never heard him mention is Janis Joplin. Could all the great hard rock wailers really owe their greatest debt to a girl? Sounds like it to me ...
posted by philip-random at 10:26 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is positively Paleolithic, and it's certainly earlier than rock, but Bessie Smith deserves a few boatloads of credit, too.
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


But of course this list that Mr Hyden has put together is based on some fleeting and ephemeral notion of success (which, in defense of your point, Sailormom, the White Stripes did have much more of than the Black Keys can ever hope for).

The White Stripes last album, Icky Thump, hit #2 on the US billboard chart and went gold. The Black Keys' last album, El Camino, hit number #2 on the US billboard chart and went platinum in the US and four other countries.

And Hyden translates "success" to money - except when it doesn't suit him, and he views the pursuit of money as crass.

I don't think that's quite the case. He defines success as Number of People Who Bought And Listened To the Music. And I don't think he's particularly interested, in the essays, in how to bring rock back, though he might like that personally as a fan. What he's trying to figure out is why is rock dying? Why has rock lost its place of precedence as the genre of favour for young people, the dominant genre of pop culture?

People should create the music they love. Getting hung up on building the perfect audience or the perfect industry is a mistake. Focus on precisely what the music is, what it does - for you and the person next to you. That can be rediscovered and recreated over and over again - and it's all that really matters in the end anyway.

That's great. And that's exactly what the opera people have been doing for three centuries now, so it certainly can be done. It doesn't mean that the question of why a particular genre comes into favor and then falls out of it isn't interesting.
posted by Diablevert at 12:15 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part 5 is up, for those following along at home.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:00 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good call on Mark Ratner playing the wrong Zep song when he took Stacy out. I was never clear if that was a mistake by Amy Heckerling, or was supposed to be emblematic of Rat's fumbling.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:30 PM on February 6, 2013


But the average rock fan tends to burrow deep into subgenres and sub-subgenres, feasting on refinements of stuff they already like. Rock now caters in specificity, not broadness; most rock records these days are geared toward aging collectors already buried in rock records. The prevailing attitude is, "If I'm in a corner, I like my corner. It's the coolest corner I've ever been in." The insurrectionists won the battle, but the isolationists won the war.

It's like he peered into my very soul (which consists of the underground bands he listed in the first paragraph).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:06 PM on February 6, 2013


Part 6: Linkin Park is up
posted by mannequito at 2:19 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm Mal at the end of Firefly and the Operative is telling me I'm lost and everything I love has already died. Or really any second act low point.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:10 PM on February 12, 2013


Final part, on the Black Keys, here.

Living completely outside of the North American TV ad world, I had no idea that the Black Keys license so many of their songs for advertising.

I know it's a point of view that many people find indefensible, but I feel like I would like them a lot less than I do (which is somewhat to middling) if I were hearing their songs being used to flog products every day.

Huh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:15 PM on February 19, 2013


But the problem right now is that we have a surplus of rock records like Shields and a deficit of records like El Camino. And I mean that in an ecological sense — even if you hate El Camino or mainstream rock in general, the dearth of this sort of music has made the entire system worse for all involved. In order for a band like Grizzly Bear to have any hope of getting on the radio, there needs to be a band like the Black Keys to convince the powers that be that listeners actually still care about rock bands. If a major label — particularly a label that can get you on the radio — is going to take a chance on a Grizzly Bear, there needs to be a Black Keys to make that investment seem feasible.

What rock music needs right now is more gateway bands. When I was a kid, I never would've heard of or cared about Sonic Youth or Fugazi or Guided by Voices had it not been for the alt-rock bands I heard on the radio and saw on MTV. The popular bands connected me with the less popular bands. In 1984, when Born in the U.S.A. put Bruce Springsteen on the same level as Michael Jackson and Prince, a rock fan could go from the Boss to R.E.M.'s Reckoning to the Replacements' Let It Be to Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade to Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime to Black Flag's My War.



THIS, THIS THIS THIS THIS. This is why I dislike indie rock. This is why I love the underground rock albums I've mentioned and Hyden has mentioned a zillion times in this column. I reckon that place will be filled by Gaslight Anthem or The Killers pretending to be Gaslight Anthem pretending to be Springsteen.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:45 PM on February 19, 2013


While I worked out, I listened to the Call Me Lightning album Hyden mentions at the end. Not bad.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:22 PM on February 19, 2013


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