THE BEATLES (AND OTHERS) AT THE BBC

November 17, 2013

The Beatles on BBC Radio. There’s a background story to all this. Why were they on radio? Why cover versions of other people’s songs?

In the early Sixties when British music changed everything so dramatically, there weren’t numerous radio stations in England like there were in America and Australia. There was only the national broadcaster, the BBC. The BBC has a lot of masters to serve. They couldn’t devote themselves to one style of music or one demographic. There was a lot of music the BBC wasn’t playing, or not playing enough of. That meant that a lot of the groups of the day became human jukeboxes for that music. There was a lot of music out there that people wanted to hear or could be exposed to. That’s why the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and others ALL did Motown, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and the rest. That’s where that generation of groups came from, how they evolved.

Where the Beatles were different was that went out of circulation by going to Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles performed live in Hamburg over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.

When they returned to Liverpool they were better than any of the other groups, more experienced. When they came back the second time they had THOSE hairstyles. Amongst all the other Liverpool groups – and there where around 300 of them in just that city – the Beatles where better than the rest and EXOTIC. Some people even thought they were German, What also made the Beatles different was that they didn’t have ONE lead singer. And they wrote their own songs to perform alongside the covers. They were good And they were different. The songs were the ace up their sleeve.

Back to the BBC. One of the masters the BBC had to serve was the Musicians Union. To keep musicians in work there was a thing called Needle Time. There was only so much music that the BBC was allowed to play off record. As this generation of British music grew in popularity the BBC was able to satisfy the thirst with live performances. They all did it for extra exposure. It was necessary to audition for the BBC to get your foot in.

So that’s what we’re listening to when we listen to The Beatles’ On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2, what didn’t make Volume 1 or the Anthology, scraping the bottom on the Beatles’ barrel.

The establishment of pirate radio stations off the coast of England forced the government and the BBCs hand with the creation of Radio 1 (still with needle time) and eventually commercial radio. This history hangs like a ghost over English music. English music fans had to search for their music. They learned to love their music. It’s a spirit that has lived on in the (disappearing) English music magazine culture.

Advertisements

POOR POOR UNPITIFUL LINDA RONSTADT

August 25, 2013

Linda Ronstadt has revealed her struggles with Parkinson’s disease. The much-loved 70/80s singer has confided that the disease means that she physically can’t sing anymore, also inhibiting her ability to walk. She now travels in a wheelchair and uses poles on uneven ground.

Linda was a special singer. I hate talking about her in past tense. She wouldn’t want our pity.
She had a great voice and great looks – there’s plenty of those – but given that she wasn’t going to write her own songs she made it her mission to champion songwriters we weren’t listening to, and should have been (Warren Zevon, the McGarrigles) while also entertaining us with her take on oldies we’d forgotten (‘You’re No Good’, ‘When Will I Be loved’). It sounds simple but she had great taste, and although it sounds like a safe formula she was often brave.

If we’re interested in music we listen to an artist we like and find out where that something we like comes from. Linda Ronstadt made it easy and did that for us.

She’s never married, but there are known celebrity relationships, most notably with Democratic Presidential candidate Jerry Brown. Some were excited by the prospect of the world’s sexiest and highest paid female rock singer at the White House. That thought helped Jerry Brown’s political aspiration’s. It also didn’t help Jerry Brown. He didn’t win and has had to be satisfied with being Governor of California.

He was one of the men in her life. Musically there had been any number of music industry men attracted to her, and some ready to exploit her. The man who steadied the ship was Peter Asher, of Peter and Gordon fame. He’d come from England to continue his working relationship with James Taylor and also found Linda Ronstadt to manage and produce. She was the one who wanted to take the risks. He was the one who had her record songs people could relate to. It was a good partnership.

Linda is not alone today. She has adopted two children, a boy and a girl, about to enter their teenage years.
Next month Linda Ronstadt releases a memoir “Simple Dreams”. The book does not chronicle the diagnosis. She’s not looking for sympathy. She discovered the cause of her physical problems eight months ago.

SID BERNSTEIN AND THE BEATLES

August 23, 2013

Music promoter and producer Sid Bernstein, most famous for bringing the Beatles to Carnegie Hall (their first live concert in America) and Shea Stadium (their last) , has died. He was 95.

In early 1963, Sid Bernstein, 44 years old, was acting as an independent promoter/agent and earning about $200 a week working for the largest theatrical agency in America. He was also taking a night school course which required him to read English newspapers each week. By the time his course had finished in February 1963 he had noted the rise of an obscure rock group from Liverpool who had begun to dominate the British press. Sid had a hunch that The Beatles were unique, and not even having heard their music, found the Liverpool telephone number of the group’s manager Brian Epstein and suggested that he’d like to book the group for New York’s Carnegie Hall. America hadn’t heard of The Beatles yet and rock groups didn’t play prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall.

Brian said that Sid’s plan was premature but they had a deal if The Beatles scored a number one in America.

You can’t just book Carnegie Hall on a whim. The deposit was $500. Berstein looked at the calendar and found a date nearly a year away, February 12, Lincoln’s birthday. The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ made No.1 in America in the last week of January. Their assault of America – including the famous Ed Sullivan Show – was able to be co-ordinated around Sid Berstein’s Carnegie Hall booking. There was so much demand there were two concerts that day, and to maximize audience numbers, some seating was created on stage.

Beyond the Beatles, Bernstein was a key force in the British invasion of America, bringing such artists as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, the Moody Blues to the US. He managed the Young Rascals. Among the other artists that he promoted were Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone and, later, Laura Branigan and Lenny Kravitz along with a just breaking ABBA.
Even though the Beatles had only disbanded a mere six years earlier, the public demand for them to ‘get back’ was peaking in 1976, leading to a mammoth $230 million reunion offer from Bernstein offering the unprecedented sum for a one-time-only charity concert. They turned down although Paul McCartney admits they considered it

BRUCE CRASHES THROUGH WITH THE WRECKING BALL

March 5, 2012

To Bruce Springsteen’s great credit his ‘Wrecking Ball’ is a worthwhile, if contradictory album. I want the people I listen to to move on so I’m not critical of the fact that the storytelling Springsteen we first knew is not in evidence, not even the nostalgic Springsteen. Part of the album is the destruction (thanks to the wrecking ball) of where those ‘Glory Days’ of old took place. Instead of nostalgia there’s resignation and sadness.

Another (large) part of this album is Bruce addressing himself to the “financial crisis” America. He has the bankers and moneymen in his sights – literally. In the song ‘Jack Of All Trades’  he promises ‘we’ll be alright’ by doing what you can, by being a jack of all trades, but then in that same song he finds himself wishing for a gun so he can kill them all. I can hear those Tea Party rednecks waiting for and cheering that part of those song. Is this the way Bruce planned it?

Some of this album is going to be misunderstood, like the song ‘Born In The USA’ was misunderstood and misinterpreted. Maybe I’m the one who has misunderstood. You’ve probably heard the album’s opening song, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’. While this flag is flying we’ll take care of our own. Bugger the rest?

Bruce is the modern Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger. We’ve known that, said that, admired that. He allows himself to be blown by the wind of history. He tried in the aftermath of 9/11 with ‘The Rising’, but it was too soon, too unfathomable  to articulate properly. He does much better addressing the latest calamity America finds itself in. Through imagery rather than specifics he tries to find hope but can’t quite bring himself to promise it. The troubles will come again.

The last two tracks take us to that thought, where are we headed?  ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ puts us on the train scheduled by the Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’, and then comes the final standout track where Bruce Springsteen takes on the Dylan mantle. ‘We Are Alive’ addresses itself to the injustices of the past. They are not forgotten. ‘We are alive’ the wronged assure us.  They’re with us. But they’re dead. 

Despite the lyrical contradiction ‘Wrecking Ball’ gives voice to an era of history we’ve all shared. Music is great when id does that.

THE MONKEES FANS – DAYDREAM BELIEVERS

March 3, 2012

1964 to 1967. What a difference three years made .. still make .. a difference that resonates all these years later in the eulogies for the late Davy Jones from the late Monkees.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. Neither the Beatles nor the Monkees were “boy bands”. Anyone who has used those two words in the last week has completely missed the context. Boy Bands are not “bands”. They are that genre of groups inspired by the Jackson 5, groups that predominantly sing and dance. Who plays the music they sing and dance to is not significant. The relationship “boy bands” DO have with The Monkees and The Beatles is that like these playing groups the focus was on more than one member of the band. Neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney were the Beatles’ lead singer. Davy Jones was NOT the Monkees frontman.

That’s one of the misrepresentations we’ve been hearing in the tributes to Davy Jones. The other one – the BIG one – is the comparison between the Beatles and the Monkees. There is no comparison. These three years between 1964 and 1967 are what matters. I’ll get to how The Monkees happened and how they actually fit into the fabric of popular music in a minute. I just want to focus on these three years for the moment. The Beatles “happened” worldwide in early 1964. The Monkees television show hit the US airwaves in late 1966. Their fans were the kids who missed out on the whole Beatles thing because they were that little bit younger, and were now able to get in on the act. It’s those fans who, in remembering Davy Jones are overstating the “importance’ of the Monkees. They did it then and they’re doing it now. It’s how they perceived it then and perceive it now, trying to put the two groups on the same level. In terms of success and popularity maybe. That’s all!

There were manufactured pop acts before The Monkees and there sure have been manufactured pop acts since. The idea was to create a television show around a pop group looning around zanily like the Beatles in their movie ‘A Hard Days Night’’.  Filmmakers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider had been floating the idea for some time before Screen Gems bought the concept. For a moment an actualexisting  group was offered the show; but the Lovin’ Spoonful turned it down, so those famous auditions were called. Mike Nesmith and Peter Tolk were the only two of the eventual Monkees who the ad found. Davy Jones and  Mickey Dolenz were recruited primarily for their acting experience. Davy Jones’ other big recommendation was his English accent, a marvelous asset for the would-be Monkees during the “British Invasion” period of world pop music. Mike Nesmith made an impression by arriving on his motorcycle wearing his woolen cap and carrying his laundry in a bag, looking and acting nonchalantly, as if he couldn’t care less if he got the part or not. Folksinger Peter Tolk was exactly what the producers had in mind. Tolk didn’t see the ad  When his friend Steven Stills was rejected because of the condition of his teeth, Stills recommended Tolk.

Established songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote and performed the songs for the show’s pilot. Their voices were then replaced by the selected Monkees.  Importantly, a chap called Don Kirshner was brought in to be the series’ musical director. And here is where once more those three years between the Beatles’ worldwide breakthrough and the arrival of the Monkees series becomes significant again. Before the Beatles arrived, music publishers like Don Kirshner and including Kirshner were in change of the songwriters who gave the pop stars of the day their hits. Kirshner had worked with the famous songwriting teams of the pre-Beatles era  Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and  Cynthia Weil. Now, suddenly, because of the Beatles, pop acts were keen to write their own songs. Suddenly, because of the Beatles, Don Kirshner’s clients were out of work and influence. The Monkees series gave Kirshner a chance to maybe turn back the tide.  For the first album he added Goffin and King’s talents to Boyce and Hart’s. The second album ‘More Of The Monkees’ relied even more on songwriting professionals. Mike Nesmith was allowed a single token song on each album. The Monkees had almost no say about the contents of ‘More Of The Monkees’. It was out even before they knew it.

To their credit, The Monkees – especially Mike Nesmith – lobbied for more say, and to be allowed to play instruments on the records carrying their name. During one meeting with Don Kirshner, to make his point, Mike Nesmith put his fist through a wall. Nesmith got his way, but Kirshner wasn’t really listening. He took Davy Jones aside and recorded two tracks without the rest of the Monkees and released them as the next group single. The ‘A’ side was another Neil Diamond song. (He’d written ‘I’m A Believer’). The new single “A :Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You’ was sneaked onto the market and when it met with instant favourable airplay the band had to go with it. But Don Kirshner had gone too far. He was sacked as The Monkees’ musical director.

The third album ‘Headquarters’ had songs from a few outsiders but was predominantly written by the Monkees themselves’ ‘Headquarters’ made The Monkees the first artist to score three American No.1 albums in the same year. Not even the Beatles had managed that.

The Monkees had won their control over their career, although their subsequent two big hit songs still came from “outside” – ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ by Goffin and King, ‘Daydream Believer’ by John Stewart. But they were playing their own instruments on record and on stage – with the help of sidemen. That beginning however haunted them, and hounded them to the end. There was no real shame in the fact that others wrote their songs. A good song is a good song, and that’s what Monkees fans are remembering, forgetting however (or never realizing) how significant the Beatles’ stand had been before that, insisting they only release their own songs as singles. They were SUPPOSED to turn to the professionals for their repertoire. The Monkees helped, but didn’t quite succeed, in putting the old order back in place. At first anyway.

In summation, the Monkees with Davy Jones were a very very popular pop group in the latter sixties who recorded a number of memorable songs.

 

 

 

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

February 21, 2012

The Black Sabbath reunion tour is off and you can bet your sweet dollar that somewhere somehow the heavy hand of Sharon Osbourne has come into play.

After the initial plan for an album and tour by the original line-up was announced back in November they seemed to take January’s Tommy Iommi cancer diagnosis in their stride. They would work around him. They haven’t managed to work around drummer Bill Ward’s insistence on a “signable contact”. At first the remaining band said they’d carry on regardless while Sharon laughed off rumours that she’d been behind Bill Ward’s dissatisfaction. A replacement drummer was announced – Tommy Clufetos a session musician who currently plays in Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band.  Bill followed up with a tactful statement assured fans that he had not quit. The door was  still open. The following day it was slammed shut. We were told dates booked for the reunion would be played by “Ozzy and Friends” – including Geezer Butler. No mention of Tommy Iommi or Bill Ward.  Speculation was that Sabbath stood to earn more than a 100 million from the reunion.

Why don’t I believe Sharon’s not involved somehow? It just wouldn’t be her style. She wouldn’t be able to stand back and not get involved or be involved in that series of events somehow.

Sharon was there when Ozzy and Black Sabbath fell out the first time, back in 1979. The band sacked their singer. He said he was going solo because he was bored. Sharon was 18 at the time. She started dating the married  Ozzy. Sharon’s father Don Arden was Black Sabbath’s manager. Sharon became the solo Ozzy’s manager and her father was not happy. There are many people in the music business who had learned not to get on the wrong side of Don Arden. He was not adverse to hiring thugs to make his point. Sharon alone seems to have managed to survive his wrath. Only just. She went to visit her father and he set his dogs on her. She lost the child she was carrying.

Sharon was a good student. She saw what he father did “right” and what he did “wrong”. She’s adopted some of his forceful management style, but has been determined not to lose her business as her father did. In the mid-1980s, Don Arden faced trial for false imprisonment and blackmail of business associates. His son David was found guilty of the same charge and jailed. Don Arden was acquitted but his management/promoter days where over.

Sharon Arden Osbourne is also someone who shouldn’t  be crossed.   For 20 years she’d never allowed her father to visit her three children with Ozzy, but then for his final days.when he was dyeing  with Alzheimer’s disease she paid for his care. As far as business was concerned ; one promoter was apparently kneed in the groin after defaulting on payments due, and she once personally destroyed the computer system at an office of a company selling illegal merchandise. She was sorry afterwards and went back. She had to. She’d dropped her car keys. Sharon Osbourne has also been known to send parcels of her own shit to people she didn’t like.

That’s the woman who supposedly has been innocently standing by as the Black Sabbath reunion and 100 million dollars has disappeared into thin air.

Sharon Osbourne has been an outstanding manager for Ozzy. You’ve heard the records. You’ve seen him on stage. You’ve watched the Osbournes. He’s lovable but he’s not THAT good. Sharon’s enabled him to keep living the rock and roll life, on stage and off, and come out at the other end a millionaire! Good luck to him, but thank you very much Sharon.

The legendary Ozzfests are an example of the Sharon Osbourne method. In 1996 she had approached the Lollapalooza festival about a spot for Ozzy on what had become a very prestigious event. They laughed at her so she organized her own event. The first Ozzfest was just two American dates. Lollapalooza soon disappeared off the calendar but Ozzfest after a few years was grossing $20m every summer in the US, and  launched the careers of Marilyn Manson, Limp Bizkit and Slipknot.

Black Sabbath IS important. They were the first to take heavy rock down that theatrical neo-satanlc road. Despite Ozzy being otherwise occupied the band subsequently managed to hang on with no less than eight other singers, including a couple of Deep Purple escapees. They weren’t just a cover band during the years Ozzy wasn’t there, but Ozzy and Sabbath are synonymous. That;’s why we were excited about the prospect of the original band back together, why the band stood to make 100 million plus. But that’s gone. Or is it?

 

WHITNEY AND LANA – BORN TO DIE?

February 14, 2012

Whitney Houston and Lana De Rey? It seems a long stretch but hear me out.

Whitney Houston died and again we need to ask the very same question asked when Michael Jackson died, and Elvis died and others died. Where were the minders? How did it get to this? We know that Whitney was a trainwreck ready to crash. There were probably hundreds of junkies who died on the same day. Alone. Famous people aren’t alone. I’m not naive. I know that their fame and money allows them to surround themselves with people who WILL turn a blind eye and WILL assist destructive tendencies, but they’ve still got more chance of being rescued than those other lonely casualties.

Whitney Houston was handed life on a platter. That’s the real tragedy. She was beautiful and she had the gift of a great voice. She already had a potential career as a high profile model on offer when she opted to  follow her mother and cousin into music. Then she was handed “the world”, not an ordinary beginning to a career. Clive Davis searched out songs and producers and months were spent on assembling that debut album. It was an important record in many ways. It introduced us to Whitney Houston. It broke the mould of one producer overseeing an entire album. The industry was never the same. And Whitney and her album changed pop music.  It was so fitting that Jennifer Hudson paid tribute to Whitney at the Grammys. Since American Idol started we’ve seen female singer after female singer emulating Whitney Houston’s “over-singing” vocal style.

Whitney was handed life on a platter. How could it go so wrong? . Is it true that she used to have someone blow cocaine up her backside?

So where does Lana Del Rey fit into all this?  I’m wondering what the hell HER minders are up to. Are they deliberately letting  her commit career-o-cide or are they just incompetent? How could she be put out there so “un-prepared”.  Maybe she really is a starry-eyed wanna-be who’s stumbled into the spotlights, but she actually didn’t get there on her own. She has management, she’s signed to a major record company. There ARE people around her who SHOULD know better.

Has there been another artist who’s been made such a public target for derision? A lot of it wasn’t necessary. Or was it? Is this the way the music industry operates now? Sacrifice rather than support?  The first artists caught lip-syncing on stage were lambasted and ridiculed, but now that’s the way it’s done. Is that what we’re seeing with Lana, the first step in the next era of public illusion? After Lana, after she’s been made to break the ice, is this the way we’ll see artists in the future launched?

The pity is that the ’Born To Die’ album is quite interesting. Lana seems to have idea of the kind of mystique she wants to create. We should have been allowed to focus on that, to share her vision and allow her to evolve it. Already she’s talking about not making another album.  

How did it come to this? How could it go so wrong? Or is this the way it was meant to be, as inevitable at Whitley’s demise. Born to die.

MADONNA IS A JOKE

January 15, 2012

Madonna must be laughing at us.
Do you think that maybe, just maybe her insinuation that Lady Gaga imitated her with ‘Born This Way’ was a calculated ruse – again – to get us talking about Madonna? That’s her history isn’t it? The religious imagery for ‘Like A Virgin’. The nude book. Dropping the “F’ word on Letterman. The Britney Spears kiss. It’s the way Madonna works. Guess who’s got a new album about to be released? If you didn’t know before the Lady Gaga quote you know now.

But who is Madonna to accused Lady Gaga of being derivative? Was or is Madonna SO original? No. She rode the dance disco wave without taking too many chances, making too many inovations. Where Madonna WAS different was the WAY she presented her songs, not the songs themselves. We weren’t left wondering what she’d do next musically. We were left wondering what she’d look like, what her video would be like, what she’d say. There’s no doubt Madonna was a groundbreaker, but not with what she did on record. She exploited the media like no-one before, and obviously still does. Madonna gave birth to the Pop Tart. It’s Britney Spears, Ke$ha and Rihanna who must bow to their “creator” Madonna, not Gaga.

Where Lada Gaga IS the same as Madonna is that she is also a groundbreaker, and not musically, but as a packager of music. Gaga has opened the door to the next generation and closed the door on Madonna and her offspring – and that’s why Madonna needs to bring Gaga down a peg or two. Look at the web reports and you’ll see that we’re all singing Madonna’s tune perfectly. She must be laughing. I hope Lady Gaga can see through Madonna and is laughing too.

Gaga has a new album coming out too. Whose will be more relevant? Whose will you be more intrigued to hear?

GETTING DIRTY WITH MICHAEL JACKSON

January 8, 2012

Maybe we owe Michael Jackson an apology. Hands up who believed that he MUST have molested those young boys, even though he was found not guilty in that famous trial!

We live in a litigious world. The smell of money brings out all sorts of legal claims. The music business reports a new one almost every day. Michael Jackson’s honey pot unearthed them all, the almost obligatory song theft claims, even “wives” wanting their share – but since his death NO child has come forward to say they were inappropriately dealt with by Jackson. If ever there’s been a “window of opportunity” it’s been during the last year and a half. Even his grubby family keep putting their hands out in one way or another, but there’s been a significant silence in this area. You’d think that if there was a claim out there – legitimate or malicious – we would have heard of it by now.

OUR problem was that we live in a corrupt filthy-minded world. We see threats and evil everywhere. We COULDN’T believe that an adult could possibly be playing with children without being a predator.

I’m NOT saying that Michael Jackson was probably as pure as he might have had us believe. Otherwise he wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble – and expense – to silence his first accuser, Jordie Chandler. He never allowed that charge to be tested in court. That was his big mistake. But it’s rather telling that during the media assault he embarked on afterwards to defend his honour Jackson quite openly and innocently declared that that he was sharing his bed with children and saw nothing wrong with it. He really did believe that and WE couldn’t believe it.

Michael Jackson loved the Peter Pan concept – the Boy who never grew up – but truth is he was a tarnished youth from the beginning. That he couldn’t change. He couldn’t change that he’d seen and heard things no “child” should see and hear. Before they became famous the Jacksons played in strip joints where women exposed themselves to him. His brothers and father thought nothing of having sex around Michael. We know that Michael Jackson a distorted outlook on sex. Fellow child star Brooke Shield tells us the first thing Michael wanted to talk about when he got her alone was sex. Nothing happened.

We also know that off stage Michael Jackson was unbelievably shy, another outcome of his upbringing. That shyness wasn’t an act. So, there’s every chance that Michael Jackson DID look at pornography with his little friends, that he DID get himself and them drunk, and maybe he exposed himself to them – but THAT’s as far as it probably went. The shyness would have got in the way. In that respect he WAS the child that never grew up. There has always been a question mark over his sexual relationship with his wives Debbie Rowe and Lisa Marie Presley. We know that his three children were begat without intercourse.

While he was alive that was all a very sensitive aspect of Michael Jackson’s existence, and the moment there was any suggestion of impropriety he threw everything he had – and he had plenty – to bury it. Michael’s not around any more. I don’t think the Michael Jackson Industry that his death has produced would or could be bothered to be as defensive as Jackson himself. We’ve heard nothing. Maybe our suspicious were misplaced. Maybe we had dirtier minds than he had. Things DID happen, but probably not THAT.

NEWS OF ROCK’S DEATH MAY BE EXAGGERATED

January 5, 2012

Is rock dead? It is according to the Black Keys and Ke$ha.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney said “Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world”. At the same time pop singer Ke$ha told MTV News.” People say that rock and roll is dead, and it is my mission and my goal to resurrect it in the form of my pop music.”

The raw facts however suggest that rock isn’t dead, or least is breathing easier. According to Nielsen SoundScan, in America Rock was the biggest music genre of 2011. Rock music had a 1.9% sales increase during 2011 and sold almost double total R&B sales.
It comes down semantics of course. The Black Keys and Ke$ha aren’t talking about the same thing when they talk about “rock”. For Nielsen SoundScan it’s a genre rather than a musical spirit. And that’s where The Black Keys and Ke$ha are in unison. “Rock” used to be that music which had an edge, the music that pushed at the boundaries. Rap has been the new “rock”.

I’m not a fan of bands like Nickleback and Maroon 5, but it’s too easy to make them a target fore derision. There have always been bland bands– Electric Light Orchestra, Chicago – acts which radio gravitate towards because they are safe and non-confrontational. They serve a purpose. We remember them, and we’ll remember Nickelback, for their success rather than their contribution. The bands that define “rock” were more often than not NOT successful in sales terms. Their importance is measured by impact and influence. It’s hard to find that kind of artist amongst today’s “rock” fraternity. Rock doesn’t have an Eminem. I can’t think of a contemporary rocker who might inspire the future. Dave Groel and Jack White are contenders, but they’re keeping the flame alive not lighting new fires.

In those terms rock IS dead but look and listen hard enough there’s some exceptional rock music being written and recorded – The National, Cold War Kids, The Kills, Death Cab For Cutie – and while there’s a band around of the calibre of Radiohead you can’t say rock is dead.

What’s dead is rock music that’s “dangerous”.