Rock and roll is dead

August 21, 2013 • 4:44 am

This is the second installment in the “Hey kids, get off of my lawn!” series.

I woke up this morning and, during desultory browsing of the internet, found an announcement of Avril Lavigne’s latest song, “Rock”. Have a listen, if you can stand it.

Here’s what’s wrong with this song, and with many rock songs and videos these days:

  • Blatant product placement
  • No musicality: shouting
  • Song shows no signs of creativity; sounds like many other songs on the air. Tune (if there is one) is dull; words forgettable.
  • Attempt to cover up lack of creativity with shock value: cursing; girl-on-girl kiss featuring Danica McKellar (think Katy Perry); superheroes; and even a shark beheaded by a buzzsaw. Other recent music videos have covered up the lack of interesting music with unclad women.
  • AUTOTUNING (voices are adjusted electronically): the curse of modern rock.  Who had that bad idea, which is grossly overused?

When all these bells and whistles are used to gussy up what is essentially a mediocre song, you know there’s something wrong.  And the overweening thing wrong is that rock and roll is dead. It’s had its run and now it’s over. It is an ex-music form and sings with the choir invisible.

My theory, which is mine, is that eventually every art form, with the possible exception of movies and the novel, degenerates.  Modern art is execrable, most modern classical music lame, especially in comparison to the greats of the 16th-19th century, modern jazz has degenerated to a cult embracing but a few aficionados. Modern poetry can be okay, but I’d rather read Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, or Yeats.

I know I will face pushback here. People will say, “Hey, there are still some great rock songs around,” or “Hey, what about this jazz musician?”  But really, those are the equivalent of anecdotes. I’m talking about a trend. Can modern jazz really compare to that of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, when Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, and innumerable greats held sway? You’d be hard pressed to make the case, for jazz has largely exhausted itself.  The same holds for classical music. Do you believe that in 200 years symphony orchestras—if they still exist—will be playing largely the “classical” music composed today? I doubt it. It will be Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms.

And in 20 years, do you think the “oldies” rock stations will be playing the rock that is popular today? They should, because today’s kids will be tomorrow’s consumers, and presumably they’d want to conjure up their youth by listening to the music of their halcyon days.

But this is what they’d be hearing: stuff like this week’s top ten songs on Billboard:

  • “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke
  • “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus (gag)
  • “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
  • “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
  • “Holy Grail” by Jay Z (with Justin Timberlake
  • “Cups” by Anna Kendrick
  • “Treasure” by Bruno Mars
  • “Clarity” by Zedd
  • “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities
  • “Love Somebody” by Maroon 5

Now not all modern rock songs are lame; there are some that I actually like. One of them, to use a band on the current charts, is Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning,” but that’s already nine years old. Songs like that are thin on the ground.

No, the songs on the oldies stations in 20 years will be pretty much what they are now: the Beatles, the Stones, the great soul music of the 60s and early 70s, the Band, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and . . . well, I can go on forever.  Why will their music last? Because these people were artists, who produced interesting music, with lovely tunes and (often) meaningful lyrics.  That’s simply not on tap these days. What we have is a crop of overhyped, oversold, autotuned mediocrities.

I am Professor Ceiling Cat, and I endorse this message.

476 thoughts on “Rock and roll is dead

    1. LOL! Sorry, but I reject that assessment for two reasons

      1. The jazz I like was recorded largely before I was born, so the degeneration of the form doesn’t reflect my penchant for the music of my youth. I didn’t even start listening to jazz until I was in my fifties. The great poets all wrote before my time. And I’ve heard Beethoven and Stockhausen, and there’s simply no contest. Or do others feel differently?

      2. SOMEBODY had to live through the era of the greatest rock music, and it happened to be me.


      1. Jerry, you speak from the point of view of your generation. I, being older (but no wiser), was present “at the creation” of rock and roll. My heroes were Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and a few others. These were the people whom the Beatles and the Stones listened too. They stood on the shoulders of giants, as did Newton. And those ‘giants’ themselves came out of a variety of musical traditions–New Orleans, Appalachia, and so on. It’s called ‘musical roots’, something most of the evanescent superstars today absolutely don’t have. I think that is what you may be missing in today’s music.

        In the mid-to-late 1960s music began to take a turn, at which time I mistakenly believed there wasn’t much left to listen to. Fats was seemingly passe’, Elvis wasn’t the same anymore, etc. I did take comfort in Simon & Garfunkel but did not understand Dylan. Although I had discovered Joni Mitchell in the early 1970s, it wasn’t until 1981 that I seriously started to make up for lost time and found out what I had been missing for 15 years, and yes: There was great stuff going on then. The Who became one of my favorite bands, and I could see some merit in bands like The Clash, for example. (I learned a lot by reading books by Greil Marcus and others, too.)

        I fully agree with your assessment of most of today’s music, but two things come to mind: First, I believe that people are generally partial to the music they heard during their adolescent years because it is the score for the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. This is a phenomenon that has little to do with intrinsic quality, I think.

        Second, in any musical age, there’s good stuff and there is crap. Time helps us remember the good stuff and tune out the crap. The question is whether there is proportionally MORE crap out there now, and if so, what is driving this phenomenon? I think the way record deals are made and artists marketed is vastly different than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, for one thing. Artists (if you can call them that) are created, not discovered (Sam Phillips > Elvis). And they tend to be created by formula in order to maximize their sales potential. And we can’t forget the impact of youtube (Justin Bieber? Gimme a break.) Music is only part of the total package if you are going to be a celebrity.

        Sorry to be going on so long, but you touched on something that I think about a lot. (I’m thinking about having seen Lyle Lovett and his Large Band a few nights ago in Las Vegas, and that he is a National Treasure!) There is good stuff out there, as you and I know, but we just have to look for it.

          1. Hey, some of the later Monkees stuff would surprise you. Look up “Writing Wrongs” on YouTube.

            … and I can’t believe I just defended The Monkees.

        1. There has absolutely always been poor music.

          By I do think there is proportionally more these days.

          I think this is because of the artistic community’s embrace of postmodern philosophy. Anything goes. You can’t pass judgment. It’s all a matter of taste/perspective/cultural surroundings/whatever.

          This has discouraged people from investing in cultivating deep, analytical thought about art. Why bother learning what makes Bach so intellectually fulfilling when you can slap any old thing down on paper and be confident that at least some people will rationalize their way into proclaiming it worthy?

          1. Yes, personal taste is not something people think they need to “work at.” Tovey’s “naive listener” capable of understanding Bach even though unschooled in musi has disappeared, if he ever existed.

            “American Idol” is just another hype, in the same league as entertainment wrestling, reality shows, etc.

          2. Um … that’s ridiculous. Art doesn’t “progress” in the manner of science, because human nature hasn’t changed in tens of thousands of years. Artistic progressions are largely constructed retrospectively starting from the constructor’s favourite artist; in practice, everyone’s just trying to do the best they can this time around.

          3. I’m not sure what your comment has to do with mine. I’m not talking about trying to create categories of musical “movements” across time. I’m talking about the difference between peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate soufflés. I think people make more peanut butter sandwiches than soufflés, and in a greater proportion than they used to, for the reason I mentioned. What I’m not saying is “PBJs should go away”, but you have to acknowledge the qualitative differences between the two.

            Ultimately I’m saying I think there are proportionally more dilettantes with delusions of grandeur than there used to be.

            I don’t know what that has to do with chronicling artistic progression, whatever that is.

      2. No, the era of the greatest rock music was the early 1990’s–which happens to be when I was a teenager, but that’s a coincidence, I swear!

        Slightly more seriously, I think you’re just dealing with sampling bias. For comparison with the current billboard list, here’s one from an arbitrarily chosen date during the “era of the greatest rock music”, August 12th 1972:

        “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan

        “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass

        “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right” by Luther Ingram

        “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton

        “Where is the Love?” by Roberta Flack and Donna Hathaway

        “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” by The Hollies

        “I’m Still in Love with You” by Al Green

        “Too Late to Turn Back Now” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose

        “How Do You Do?” by Mouth and Macneal

        “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper

        Only two of those I’d even call “rock” and only one of them I’d call “good”. I guess the music of the 1970s was mostly dreck.

        1. My speculation is that you’re comparing a very small sample of the popular music of the 60’s and 70’s, winnowed from a very large set of mostly forgettable or just plain bad songs, with a cursory and unselective sampling of whatever happens to be on the radio now.

          That and, yes, you’re getting old. 🙂

      3. Here is a dare for our host and anyone else who thinks Rock is dead.

        1) Scroll though these live performances at KEXP Seattle from 23 July 2013 and going back many years.

        2) Read the brief descriptions of the bands and click on those that describe the type of music you like (I’m currently listening to a live Mudhoney concert from the Space Needle on 11 July) and plan on lookng I plan to listen to Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears from 29 May 2013 next.)


      4. “SOMEBODY had to live through the era of the greatest rock music, and it happened to be me.”

        I interpret the evidence differently. Rock ‘n’ Roll was clearly fine-tuned for your enjoyment.

  1. Speaking as a crusty middle-aged record nerd, even autotune has a use occasionally. c.f. Kanye West 808s and Heartbreak. (Kanye is an odd fellow and a mediocre rapper, but a brilliant musician and producer.)

    And y’know what? Manufactured pop has always, always been garbage. It was every bit as awful in your and my days too, it just used different awfulnesses to get there.

    1. Okay, tell me which modern rock musicians are of the quality of the Beatles or of Bob Dylan in his best days. We are talking averages here, not tails or individual songs.

      I agree that autotuning can sometimes be good, but it’s used ubiquitously, and often to improve a singer who can’t sing on key.

      1. It is hard to do that. Partly because it is probably true, but also because we can’t look back yet and filter out the crap.

        I’ve learned to appreciate some very excellent music from non-big-stars. Like these guys:

        And I’ve developed an appreciation for the Irish music with is surprisingly alive with innovation within a very structured traditional form.

        So there is good music out there. Still, none will ever be The Beatles.

        Comfort yourself by bringing back memories of some of the truly awful dreck from your youth, Tony Orlando and Dawn perhaps.

        1. I don’t buy the argument that we can only assess quality in retrospect. No less than a music critic for the NY Times (Anthony Tommasini) made this argument, saying we’re too [temporaly] close [to living artists] to have the perspective that makes judging possible.

          But then I have to ask: “What is the point of being a music critic?” Or more to the point: “If that’s the case, how is art even possible?” Are we really just groping about blindly waiting for time to tell? Waiting for a slow and cautious consensus to accrue, until a critical mass is reached and we suddenly feel comfortable saying “X sucked” or “Y is great”?

          Somebody’s got to know what they’re doing. Otherwise art is just a popularity contest.

          About the OP in general: I agree with others here; there’s always been crap. We remember the hits and forget the misses – mostly. One thing that frustrates me is that people like to categorize musical taste by genre. “Classical, huh? So you must love Vivaldi!” IMO, Vivaldi really should’ve been a miss. But it shows that crap has always abounded.

          1. DJ’s aren’t music critics, but your comment reminded me of David “Kid” Jensen’s, “That’s a song that will be timeless for a very long time.” And, no, I can’t remember which song he was talking about.


          2. This is because canons are constructed retrospectively, starting from the constructor’s favoured artist/style/genre and working backwards. This happens in every art form.

          3. Are they? What about Stravinsky? Bartok? Copland? Etc? Their places were all secured well within their lifetimes.

            Think about what it would mean if quality was only discernible in retrospect: everybody is equally great? At least for now? We’ll let subsequent generations do the discriminating because we don’t know how? Subsequent generations will possess discriminatory abilities which we don’t? Perhaps many people don’t know how, but I don’t buy that there are none.

            The “retrospect” argument strikes me as a cop-out: “I don’t want to stick my neck out, but after a consensus has accrued, I’ll be more than happy to take advantage of the safety found in numbers”.

          4. Mel Brooks quote: “Critics can’t even make music rubbing their legs together.”

            (I reasonably assume his statement is directed at those whose job title is “music critic.”)

          5. Speaking as someone who used to be a rock critic, I consider one of the best things the internet ever did was kill the profession stone cold dead.

          6. Well, rock criticism, and I’m thinking about the NME, has changed from being incomprehensible – Ian Penman – to inept and illiterate; at least, in my sample of reviews that I see online. Had I been an editor, I would have sent all the drafts back for re-editing.

            Take your pick which you prefer; but at least IP appeared to know what he was talking about, even though none of the rest of us did.

          7. I think the problem is mostly that neither of us is aged 16-24 any more, which has always been the target readership for NME 😉

            The extended think-piece era is past, though. What was that, 1980-1982? I recall a few after that.

            What’s happened is that rock journalists also used to be gatekeepers: you couldn’t possibly obtain all of these records, so they would describe them for you. (You’d reach the stage where you thought you knew what a band sounded like when you hadn’t heard a note.) That function has vaporised – you can now hear the actual music and descriptions are an extra, not essential roadmaps to difficult and expensive territory.

          8. Well, I was thinking about gig reviews online, which are uniformly shocking, in my experience; as regards, the extended think-piece, it should be possible to do it – depends on the quality of the writing.

            Here’s an example, written in 2011,about Karen Dalton by my brother; I’m biased, but you’ll go a long way before you find a better piece on pop music.


          9. Yeah, you look at the comments on The Quietus and you get 0,7, 4 etc; such a shame. Jerry gets out of bed the wrong side, mutters bad-temperedly into his cornflakes about pop and 4 billion geeks shout, “I agree; modern life is rubbish.”

            Re: the Minaj piece; standard structure. This is a bit I wrote before about pop, weld it onto this review; purple, show-offy prose degenerates into “I-liked-this-I-didn’t-like-that-track”. End with a) joke or b) icnonoclastic pseudo-profundity.

            But, I’d forgotten about The Q. I’ll visit it from time to time; some other good stuff there, as you say.

        2. Haha, I made the mistake of introducing my 13-year-old daughter to Tie a Yellow Ribbon (Round the Old Oak Tree) recently, and she really got into it, albeit a cover by three young Chinese (or possible Taiwanese) women.

          On the subject at hand, I’m somewhat on the fence: there does seem to be a lot of dreck around, and I rarely hear anything that affects me as much as, say, classic Neil Young or The Beatles, but then, as someone else pointed out, we’re benefiting from the filter of history. Get back to me in 20 years and ask if anything being written today was “classic”. (It would also help if I actually listened to much new music. Apart from when aforementioned teen offspring switches the car radio from NPR and I get to hear some Adele or Fun, I only really hear music from my aged CD collection, which I uploaded to Google Music a couple of years ago.)

          1. That’s a good question! I must admit I carried on buying his records for a few years without really getting into them in a big way. I’ve stopped even doing that now. I think the last one I really got into was Mirror Ball and that was, sheeet! 18 years ago. But that’s probably more of a reflection of how music isn’t as important in my life as it used to be as much as anything to do with Neil Young’s music.

            That said, I did stay up till 3am the other night reliving my teens/early-20s on Google Music. I found Electric Savage by Colosseum II and Phantoms by Alan Hull. Marve!

          2. This is a key point: even Bob Dylan isn’t “Bob Dylan” any more, and hasn’t been since about the 1970s.

            Nostalgia is … frequently a lack of perspective.

      2. Jerry, based on my assessment of your musical tastes, I think you might like Feist’s last album called ‘Metals’.

          1. And I would bet a large number of songs that Paul Krugman highlights Friday nights would be interesting too…though some of it tries too hard to be Indie.

      3. Unfortunately, every generation will have the quick convenient manufactured pop. Which is basically about dollars per beat. Any one of any generation has to hunt to find true art. By not shutting out anything after a certain date, and finding artists who reference past greats; Dylan influencing Springsteen, Springsteen influencing Frank Turner, Frank Turner being obscure because he doesn’t compromise, and wasn’t “discovered” on reality T.V.
        As well as an overwhelming amount of drek being foisted on us because of the information age. With a little poking around (I suggest Jango.) Treasures can be found among the turds.

      4. I’m your age Jerry, and will say that you have to look for good music and you will find it. Most of the music you hear on the radio/tv falls under the rubric “corporate rock” (e.g. your video example): what is going to sell to lovesick 15 year olds and might attract a larger audience simply by exposure?

        You live in Chicago. Have you been to the Lollapalooza Music Festival any time in the last few years? If so you would have heard dozens of examples of good, recent rock ‘n’ roll. It has been live-streamed on the internet(as are many of these festivals) for the last 2-3 years) and is easy to listen to in the background on you computer (I’ve listened to a dozen, live as they were happening). Start checking around the end of the month to see if the next big one (Bunbershoot in Seattle) will be streamed.

        So here are some of my recommendations:
        Black Keys
        Alabama Shakes
        Gaslight Anthem
        White Denim
        Michael Franti & Spearhead
        Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa

        Every bit as satisfying as many of the artists I’ve been listening to for the past 60 years.

        1. I agree. There’s plenty of good stuff, but it’s mostly all Indie. I will never grow tired of ‘Radiohead’. Amy Winehouse (not rock, I know) I will love forever. ‘The National’ – one of the only American bands I listen to. ‘Muse’. In the late 90’s ‘Massive Attack’ were especially memorable for me – in particular the album “Mezzanine”. ‘Manic Street Preachers’. ‘The Cure’. ‘Underworld’. ‘The Stone Roses’….. All the best stuff is British for me.

      5. Radiohead + side projects, Bob Mould, Future of the Left, Surfer Blood, Grouplove, The Soft Pack, Neutral Milk Hotel etc etc etc. All chosen for their writing AND performing abilities. I could take an hour digging through my iPod for other current examples but I think this list makes my point.

      6. Some ideas:

        Bruce Cockburn (yeah, he started in the 60s)
        Amos Lee
        Martin Sexton
        The Finn Brothers
        Parry Griffin
        Patty Larkin
        John Hiatt
        Pearl Jam
        Hothouse Flowers

        From a quality standpoint (not quality X output).

        I don’t think anyone will exceed Los Beatles for the concentrated quality and quantity (and innovation and influence) of their output over a given period of years. They set a very high mark. And Dylan’s been at it for 60 years — it will take a long time for anyone to be accurately judged against him.

        (Listen to the covers on the I am Sam soundtrack.)

        The best music being made today is not on the pop stations. I think part of your point is that the good stuff is not on the radio anymore. And the recording industry is cranking out pre-molded “stars” with no soul. Agreed.

        Defining “rock music” is rather hard to do as well.

        1. Dylan arguably stopped being the least bit innovative around the ’70s.

          (I remember trying to work out something nice to say about a review copy of Empire Burlesque [1985]. I eventually got it to “the music’s not great, but the lyrics are good poetry.”)

      7. That’s exactly it. It comes down to what unique sound an artist has, and these days any kind of unique creativity is knocked out of them way before any record deal is signed.

        Simple thought experiement – imagine an appalling show like “American Idol” (we’ve got an equally horrible Australian version), and go through great artists and ask how they’d fare. How long would Dylan last? Seconds. Otis Redding? No chance. The Allman Brothers? No way (how can you have two drummers??). Et cetera.

        I don’t doubt the ability is there, but they aren’t allowed to express it in a way a corporate music industry will approve of.

        I play guitar myself, and I get funny looks when I tell people I work songs out by ear and play solos to suit a song (or not at all), rather than show off to impress my guitar teacher.

        I’m only 41 but I’m just as curmudgeonly as anyone!

      8. I’ll go for that list,

        Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello is arguably one of the best guitar players ever to grace a stage.

        Green Day, they had a few mediocre albums but Standouts like Dookie and American Idiot, Nimrod and their massive staying power and imaginative story telling puts them equal to any band in rocks supposed hay day.

        Muse, I don’t really need to elaborate about the awesomeness that is Muse. Songs like Uprising, Knights of Cydonia, Supermassive Black Hole and Starlight speak for themselves.

        Queens of the Stoneage harkening back to the root of Rock these guys play hard and fast but manage to work in lyrical harmonies that define their sound.

        Blue October. Justin Furstenfeld is every bit the lyricist that Bob Dylan is claimed to be, but he writes music that people actually like to listen to.

      9. Right from the get go i can name two very good musicians that would outmatch the Beatles if they had to make it today.
        1. Joe Satriani
        2. Steve Vai
        I hope i at the age 50+ to will be able to concentrate on the good things instead of using the internet connection to post bitter rants about how everything was better ‘yesterday!.
        I say the crap today is still the same numbers against the good tunes.
        Because the music overall gets more in quantity and us getting older, we sure have to face the crap first before seeing the light.
        I think it is possible at any age.
        If you live up to only two or three styles of music, that makes it a bit harder i guess?
        Stop giving up.

    2. Manufactured pop has always, always been garbage. It was every bit as awful in your and my days too,

      This is a good point and it’s why to us fogies, the past always looks better than the present; because we selectively experience the bits of the past that were best.

      JAC doesn’t listen to all the crappy songs from the 60-70s, he only listens to the good ones. The ones that are generally still around 40 years later because they are that good.

      No doubt, 40 years from now, people will be complaining about how 2050s rock n’roll is terrible compared to 2010s rock, and part of the reason they will say that is because they will have selectively forgotten about the Avril Lavignes.

      1. Some of the early Beatles stuff was real crap, commercial manufactured music (complete with commercial manufactured images and PR) very much parallel to the stuff today, controlled more by producers than by the artists. Inane lyrics too! They eventually rose above that, but it took a while.

        1. YES!!!
          Looking back it’s easy to say, “The Beatles are amazing! The Beatles will never be topped! The Beatles will never happen again”

          But look at what they did pre- Sgt. Pepper… A few hits, a LOT of mediocrity, and some down-right awful. Even some of their “hits” are just the pop-trash of the day.

          Time filters out the bad. There is PLENTY of garbage from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, even though it was the “Golden era” of rock.

          As for classic rock… I’ve heard tracks from Metallica’s Black Album on classic rock stations for years, and that album is from 1991, but we’ve already forgotten about Color Me Badd, C+C Music Factory, Timmy T, Stevie B, Ralph Tresvant, etc. etc.

          Look at the Billboard top 100 from any year, and see how many names are still relevant. As years go on, the percentage gets smaller and smaller.

          1. Those albums were decent, but they have nothing on the post Sgt. Pepper Beatles. I wouldn’t say they were awful, but taken in the context of their later work, they’re easy to gloss over, with the exception of some of the singles. That being said, I’ve never been much of a “singles” person. I prefer to listen to one album, front to back, on repeat several times over. Before Sgt. Pepper, a good, coherent rock album of that sort was hard to come by.

          2. Are you a young fellow? At the time, both of those albums broke ground musically.

            On the other hand, if your point is that they continued to grow as musicians after that, well, of course. That’s part of being a good musician.

          3. @gbjames I wouldn’t consider myself “young” but I’m definitely too young to have experienced the albums as they came out. So, having to listen to The Beatles’ catalog in retrospect, the first truly stand out record (as a whole) is Sgt. Pepper. There were just too many “firsts” on that album that carry through today… ACTUAL use of stereo recording, purposely over-driven amplifiers, lyrics in the album liner, the “concept album,” and the list goes on. Some of their early stuff is good, but their later stuff is SO much better that it marginalizes their older work to some extent. Those who lived it will have a different perspective as they actually lived it, and saw the transition. From the outside looking in (or the future looking back on the albums as they stand on their own) there is just no comparison.

            Put another way, if Rubber Soul and Revolver were created by someone other than The Beatles, I’d probably have a higher opinion of the albums because they’re likely to be the best thing that particular group may have ever done. I feel the exact same way about early Pink Floyd as well. Pre- Meddle… meh. After that, it gets amazing.

          4. Ah ha! You young whippersnappers just don’t understand what it was like to have your mind blown by “early middle period” Beatles.

            Their earlier stuff also was groundbreaking. Bob Dylan was famously impressed:

            “We were driving through Colorado, we had the radio on, and eight of the Top 10 songs were Beatles songs…’I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ all those early ones. They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid…I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.”

            Musical greatness is measured in part by the context in which it occurs. The fact that they kept getting better and better is part of how great they were.

            Calling it “pop trash of the day” just says you don’t know what “the day” was like.

          5. Your quote from Dylan is interesting and surprising. “I want to hold your hand” is one of the songs I was thinking of when I wrote my comment about “inane lyrics”. Many of their early songs really did have inane simple repetitive lyrics. But maybe a real musician (which I am not) could detect the musical greatness that I could not.

          6. I also think of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and “She Loves Me,” as poor examples of good Beatles songs. Or good examples of bad songs by good musicians, or something along those lines. Maybe they were great when they came out. If so, then the early 60’s weren’t all they’ve cracked up to be. If the argument is about rock n’ roll, these songs should be omitted. They’re poppy, boy-bandesque jingles. Once they moved away from that, they got amazing. Sure, they’re talented, they always were. The members of N’Sync are talented singers… doesn’t make them less of a boy-band. N’Sync was forgotten because they rode their gimmick, and once their gimmick ran out, they disbanded. The Beatles couldn’t have held on to that “gimmick” forever. They were able to leverage their fame, and make truly amazing music… later in their career.

            If I was alive back then, I probably would have liked it. I know I would have liked Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, both of which must have been amazing to experience in their time. Given the context of my time, I can’t even understand why Led Zeppelin is still popular. They did some game-changing things in their day, but everyone since has done it better. They do have a few great songs, but they are the songs that don’t sound like most of their music.

            I think there are a few bands in every generation that just break molds in such a way that they’ll live on. The Beatles, Hendrix, Beach Boys all did it in the 60’s, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the 70’s, the hair bands of the 80’s, Nirvana in the 90’s. After that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to popular music. Once “pop” moved away from rock, I became less interested.

            To the original point, I think there are a lot of great modern rock groups. Most of them will never be played on the radio for various reasons. One of them being that the groups I generally like record records as a whole, where any individual track would not translate well to radio. It’s unfortunate that their exposure is limited because of this, but the music is what matters to me.

          7. Contrast the lyrics of “I wanna hold your hand” to those of most Joni Mitchell or Dylan songs, or even most Beatles songs of later on…..there is an important difference, and it matters to people who care about lyrics.

            Admittedly lots of people seem to care more about melody and ignore lyrics—-I am not one of them.

          8. Lou, Contrast the music of The Beatles, in the early-mid time we’re talking about, with that of Bob Dylan. It goes both ways. Which is why they influenced each other.

            Of course, you may the kind of guy who thinks Beethoven’s only really great work was the late quartets. And his 1st symphony was just pop junk because the 9th is so much better.

            Historical context matters when discussing greatness in musicians. Personal taste is a different thing.

          9. If a song is only great because of its historical context, then I would venture to say that it probably isn’t “good.” It certainly wouldn’t be “timeless.” Historical context matters for things like influence and change, but isn’t terribly relevant to musical enjoyment. That’s why I can respect Led Zeppelin for what they did, but I can’t really enjoy their music. Or how I can like the Beatles from Sgt. Pepper on, but not really enjoy most of the catalog before that (with a few notable exceptions.)

            There are other bands that I like, and their later work has swayed my feelings on their earlier work. Sometimes I like the early stuff more, sometimes I end up not liking the early stuff because the new stuff is so much better. The history has very little to do with my current enjoyment. It does play a small role in my decision to make a purchase though.

          10. Musical enjoyment and music appreciation are two different things, I suppose.

            I’m not trying to influence your enjoyment. But I am trying to counter the assertion that early Beatles was the “pop trash of the day”. Because it wasn’t, regardless of whether you find it boring, repetitive, or not as good as later work. Other music filled that slot in the early 60s.

          11. Fair enough. Which then leads me back to the question, if those songs were so outstanding for their time, was that time really as good as people make it out to be, or is there a certain amount of romanticism that is coloring the past in a shade of “slightly better than it was?”

            I, for one, think that this is the case. It’s less about the fact that music overall was actually “better” than it was “things” were better, and the best of the best music from that time invokes feelings of those times when “things” were better.

          12. Ant, sure, simple doesn’t necessarily equal inane, but some lyrics, including some early Beatles stuff, qualify as both, in my opinion.

        2. I even like the old “crap” Beatles songs.

          I’ll Follow the Sun
          I’m a Loser
          It Won’t Be Long
          All My Loving
          Little Child
          Please Mr. Postman
          You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me
          I’ve Just Seen A Face
          You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
          It’s Only Love

          These are some from the early albums I think are good songs. The Beatles lyrics and unique vocal style just have something special that I’ve not heard in other pop groups of the time.

          I love all the early Bob Dylan albums from the 60s two, even though lots of people think they’re crap because his voice.

          A lot of this just has to do with the emotions I felt in those days, and the memories I have. So what. One man’s crap is another man’s gold.

          1. I love nearly all of those songs too. I notice you didn’t list “I wanna hold your hand”. I suspect we would largely agree on what is crap.

          2. A minor quibble: Please Mr. Postman and You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me were both covers; I strongly prefer the Beatles’ version of the latter, but like the Supreme’s version of Please Mr. Postman almost as much.

          3. That was exactly my point. I used “crap” sarcastically in response to Lou Jost above, who generalized all the early music as commercialized crap.

            My point was that the songs I listed are good songs that I like, and it was just very quickly culled from some of the early Beatles albums I have on my iPad. There are many other good songs prior to Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Sgt. Pepper.

            Goodness gracious, I would never like anyone to think I was saying that “Yesterday” was crap. On the contrary.

        3. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” still gives me chills, and I think “She Loves You” is a fantastic song. As for early Beatles “crap”, there isn’t much: “P.S. I Love You”, “Hold Me Tight”, “There’s a Place”, and a few other songs. Oh, “I Saw Her Standing There” is another favorite. “All My Loving” is another (I just love how that song “swings”).

          The Beatles were great from the start, and if you hear those first two albums in their remastered mono versions, you hear a band that was really punky for the time.

    3. “Manufactured pop has always, always been garbage. It was every bit as awful in your and my days too…

      Nah nah nah nah! The Archies “Sugar Sugar” is genuinely good manufactured pop. Lightweight, yes, but still enjoyable (not that it would make my top 1000 songs of all time list).

      Speaking of nah nah nah, another bubblegum music classic – that I’m sure many people hate – “Nah Nah Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam was absolutely manufactured as well – to be a B-side so horrible that DJs would never even consider playing it instead of the A-side. It was manufactured to be awful and became a hit. (I’m sure there are many who agree that they achieved their goal of making the worst song ever, though they’d be wrong because of artists and songs far to numerous to enumerate).

  2. Shouting? I like shouting (although as I play in a heavy metal band that goes with the territory).

    Completely agree with everything else, though. Oh, and her shouting isn’t all that great either!

    It were all trees around here when I were a boy, etc, etc.

  3. I totally agree. Rock and Roll died a while back. It was orignally rebellious, edgy, dangerous and boundary-pushing. But everything that could ever be done has already been done. The boundaries have not only been pushed back but torn down. So there is no rebellion left to be had. It’s all been done before. All that’s left is to repeat the past and be a cliche. But, ultimately, this is a great thing. Now there’s the opportunity to create something original and new. We just need someone with talent to come along and do it!

      1. Check out The Divine Comedy (the band). Only a few of their songs have a big band element to them, but the rest are great too, often featuring – in addition to vocals, guitar, bass, drums, piano, harpsichord, clavichord (and other similar keyboard based instruments) and the occasional synthesizer – a full orchestra. The Divine Comedy is quite the find. I suggest starting with their best-of: “A Secret History: The Best of the Divine Comedy.” Many of their full length albums are great as well, including several released since the “Best Of.”

        1. A la Big Band, ongenially recommend Pink Martini. In the vein of the Beatles’ “Goodnight,” recommend their “Over the Valley,” written by China Forbes.

          Have you ever been wonderfully, serendipitously, rapturously rendered immobile and silent upon the first hearing of a song?

  4. Hear, hear!

    When I attended a Black Sabbath concert a few months ago, I tried to think which of today’s “bands” would be able to attract a crowd of twenty thousand forty years after they formed. Or who could earn new fans (such as I) who were only born a decade and a half after their peak.

    One Direction, anyone?

    1. I went to an Iron Maiden gig a few years ago and there was more than one group consisting of 3 generations from the same family.

      Not sure whether this is due to the quality of the music, or that we are a tribal lot!

  5. I don’t know whether music really is “over” although I will agree that a godawful amount of gunk gets published these days.

    However, I am am not sure that the “will it still be played in 200 years time” test really is a fair indicator.

    Mozart’s Magic Flute still gets played today, not only because it is great music, but also because it didn’t have nearly as much competition as a composer writing today.

    My theory which is mine, is that if Bethesda Softworks still exists in 200 years time, and they are release TES40, then Jeremy Soule’s opening credits music will still be performed, still be well-known and will still be eminently hummable.

    On Youtube: /watch?v=EMao-aSeO2w

    1. Another thing that might be influencing what gets onto the charts, is there is a big money difference between music now and music 30 to 40 years ago.

      Back then, if you really liked a track enough to add to your collection, you had to take your money and pay for it.

      I am willing to bet that a very high percentage of 30 year olds and under own a large music collection that they have ripped off from various media and never paid a cent for. The music industry knows this and doesn’t take chances with any artist unless they seem eminently marketable in the concert ticket department. Cue Justin Bieber and The X-Factor.

      There are plenty of great musicians out there, but you won’t have heard of them because they don’t have a big marketing machine behind them.

      1. There are plenty of great musicians out there, but you won’t have heard of them because they don’t have a big marketing machine behind them.

        Indeed, and sometimes one is lucky enough to stumble upon a few of these. The feeling that accompanies this is wonderful. It is, however, like Jefferson said about certain teachings in the Bible:”diamonds in a dung-heap.”

  6. Yeah, most of the music you reference is electrified folk and blues. Avril Lavigne is Pop. So is Maroon 5.
    You are entitled to your opinion (at least that’s the word on the street), but Pop has always sucked. Rock is music whose makers will smack you in the face for telling them their music is Rock. May I suggest Marilyn Manson (High End of Low)? The Dead Kennedys perhaps, if you have vintage taste?

    1. At the same time, techno and hip-hop have inspired some great music, even if the end results are neither techno nor hip-hop. Meat Beat Manifesto, Pop Will Eat Itself, and Renegade Soundwave have created some great music by incorporating strong elements of hip hop especially, but techno as well.

      Yes I know no one has heard of these bands (not 100% true, but probably true of the readers of this site) and they were never in the Top 40 (in the US, that is), but they produced – and in the case of MBM, are still producing – excellent music by cleverly and melodically mixing genres.

    1. It started long before Disco…think Pat Boone taking early rock hits and singing it his way during the ’50’s.

        1. Did you ever see that album cover with Pat Boone in a leather jacket and, I believe, tattoos?? Maybe mid-70s…I cringe to confess that I actually liked his songs when I was 10…

          1. I think I’m lucky that I haven’t seen it. Sounds like one of those things that can’t be unseen.

            But if you want to keep up with Pat, surf on over to Whirled Nut Daily. I think he writes a column there.

  7. Foo Fighters. My Morning Jacket. The Black Keys. Anything with Jack White. Trent Reznor/NIne Inch Nails. Gary Clarke Jr. Muse. Florence and the Machine. Kaiser Chiefs. WolfMother.
    I can name hundreds of amazing Rick acts from 2000 on. All your post proves is that you chose to limit your exposure to what’s going on on the scene.

    I’m 49 years old (50 in December). Whenever I read a post like this one by anyone, I need to remind myself that the author is merely showing their own ignorance of the true current music scene, due to a bias for the music familiarity of their own youth.

    1. Seriously, how do you know that I’m ignorant of the current music scene. I keep pretty well up on what’s popular and do listen to it (though I don’t like it much) and for years–up to two years ago–I would sit in the lab every day, push flies, and listen to current rock for hours.

      Your comment is pretty insulting, actually.

      1. Personally I gave up following new music in 1992. I haven’t missed it.

        The real problem is that yes, rock is dead – as the most important cultural force. It’s not a matter of individual artists (as good as the Beatles or Dylan were), it’s that rock in toto is not where it’s at.

        Compare the novel in its heyday. Where are the Hemingways? Even the Salingers? Are novelists all terrible now? Well, no, they’re not. But the form isn’t where it’s at any more.

        I have all the good music I could ever listen to and more. But it doesn’t matter to the rest of the world.

      2. Oh, the other thing about Avril Lavigne and so forth – pop music isn’t actually that popular any more. In 2013, you can have a UK number one single with 20,000 copies sold; in 1983, that number would have got you into the higher reaches of the indie charts, because actual hits were selling hundreds of thousands, or millions. It is literally not a popular art form any more.

      3. Trying not to being insulting, but most people don’t listen to Top 40 or Pop music and consider it Rock. Avril Lavigne is not Rock by any stretch of the imagination. That’s like calling One Direction Metal.

        Granted categories are fluid, and they can change over time (my Rock music is now considered Classic Rock), and maybe that’s what your decrying – the drift of Rock to Pop. Even a quick check at iTunes has Lavigne listed under the Pop category.

      1. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I really liked The Foo Fighters when they opened for Dylan a couple of years ago in Toronto. In fact I liked them much better than the current incarnation of Dylan. Dylan’s songs and albums are some of my all-time faves, but the two times I’ve seen him live I was sorely disappointed. He was so BORING. Every one of his songs sounded the same…droning and dull. I could hardly recognize the songs I’ve known for
        40 + years. He didn’t seem to give a damn about his audience, yet I understand he does something like 2- or 300 gigs a year. The previous time I heard him live was during his Jesus phase…need I say more?

        1. I can not agree with you more, merilee. I saw him a few months ago here in Milwaukee where he was touring with Mark Knopfler. Knopfler was great and played a lot of newer stuff (new to me, anyway) as well as a couple of familiar Dire Straits numbers.

          Dylan was awful, for all of the reasons you mention. A gigantic disappointment.

          1. That is, indeed Dr John, with Jools Holland, who used to be in Squeeze (well worth looking out for try this: ).

            Jools is a man with no musical prejudices. He now has a two-seasons-per-year TV show on the Beeb, which is the TV outing of choice for many bands. He usually has half-a-dozen bands in one big studio, playing one or three numbers live. A typical line-up might be Primal Scream, Jack White, KT Tunstall, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Vampire Weekend and The Strokes, with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant popping in for a chat.

          2. He just sat at his keyboard in the shadows with his hat pulled low and droned and droned and droned. I took my early 20s son along, who likes the old Dylan, and he was totally bored, too.

  8. It always amazed me as a child how lovely the 15th and 16th century buildings in the village that I grew up in were, and I wondered why the modern buildings were not as attractive. At some point it occurred to me that there were lots of crappy shacks around back then but they never survived, so all we get to see now are the ones that were well build, worth preserving in some way and lucky enough not to be burned down.

    I think a similar sifting occurs with music. I grew up in the 70s with a lot of horrible music and a few gems. The gems are still there, and occasionally I hear an oldie that reminds me how bad things could be.

    Shouting? Shock value? How about all of the mid-70s punk bands (in England at least – punk in the US was a much more civilized and prolonged phenomenon). It still produced some classics from, for example, the Clash and the Stranglers emerging from a bunch of basically similar sounding shouters who have mercifully faded into memory.

    My kids do listen to some of the same bands that I did – Zeppelin being a particular favorite of my son’s and I listen to some of the music they like, Lana Del Rey, Ed Sheeran, Lily Allen. Sheeran, for example, seems to have lots to say, but the guy is still very young, ask me if he was up to Dylan in a couple of decades. Its unfair to say that Dylan has been better over his 200 plus year career (he was ancient, at least in my eyes, when I was a kid) than someone who has only just started shaving.

    1. I was in college in the 70’s and I remember that back then (and for many years afterwards in early 80’s) once a song stopped being popular it stopped being played. The ‘oldies’ stations were stuck on the rock ‘n roll of the 50’s and 60’s. I used to complain that hey, the 70’s had some good music too — but noooo, it was like a big black hole as far as the radio was concerned.

      That ended.

      And yes, the good ones survived and the less-than-memorable was no longer remembered – or played. Though at the time you couldn’t predict which was which very well.

      I had a professor for a music appreciation class who once went into a personal rant over the horrible lyrics of the current music. There is no content, no poetry, no depth today in the year 1978. As I recall, he compared “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to a popular tune I can’t remember , but it pretty much consisted of repetitions of “I love you, oh oh I want you baby.” I thought to myself “Yeah: now try comparing “Dust in the Wind” to “Mairzy Doats.”

    2. Very true.

      I am old enough to understand that most music produced is actually pretty rubbish (same goes for most cultural artefacts that I can think of), including that in the genres that I was fanatical about as a kid.

      The good stuff will always last, the bad usually fades into well-deserved oblivion.

  9. You are only remembering the good stuff that has weathered the test of time but not all the forgettable crap of yesteryear. (for example, bands like Grand Funk Railroad)

    1. Yet…GFR did Closer To Home and We’re An American Band. Noit a complete schlock group that can create a rock standard.

  10. My, we do think alike. I’ve questioned faculty in our music school as to why orchestras today do not play modern music very much, but mainly stuff that is 50 to 400 years old. They never have an answer, interestingly!

    In the 19th century and earlier, orchestras played what was then “contemporary” music by living composers, and the older music too. Today, almost no music is played by a composer still alive. And what is written today is of little interest except to musicologists, but certainly not the general public, or else orchestras would be playing it more.

    Since there is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine (violation of the 2nd Law) one should also not expect that human creativity is limitless either (at least within a particular discipline). So, I’m not surprised that various forms of art have a birth, lifespan, and then die out.

    The real question is what will replace these art forms that will add value to our lives? No wonder “oldies” radio stations became so popular, even back in the 70’s. Long live doo-wap and songs with melodies. At least you can sing those tunes and you don’t need a synthesizer.

    1. We have to remember that most of the so-called “classical” music was written for or as popular entertainment. It’s similar to Shakespeare: He wasn’t writing to create high art, he was writing to fill the seats and bring in a living. There were plenty of Salieris (sp?) for every Mozart…and there always will be.

      As for orchestral music…I think the people who are writing their music to try to produce something in a 400 year old form are missing the point. They MAY produce good music, but how will anyone know. The orchestras of the future will be playing the best of Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks. Many of both of those forms are banal and mediocre, of course, but the great stuff is truly great.

  11. I find “modern” rock unlistenable. Something bad happened between the 80s and 90s – not sure exactly what. I feel a little like my parents, who told me that all rock sounded the same. Well, now it’s true.

    1. What happened was that the level of musicianship got so high that kids forming bands couldnt play it, and most non-musicians didnt have the ear to appreciate it. So rock rebelled against itself and simple music like Nirvana replaced the virtuosos of the 80’s.

      Rock started out simple. The electric guitar was not meant to be a solo instrument. Thats why the neck is is so narrow and the strings are so close together. If you played rock in the 1950’s and knew 5 chords, you knew 2 more than you needed.

      But the level of musicianship rose and rose. By the 70’s there were some really good players. In ’78 Eddie Van Halen came along and blew everyone’s mind, raising the bar several notches. In the 80’s the level of rock musicianship continued to rise. Try playing a guitar solo by Ratt, Motley Crue, Guns and Roses, Iron Maiden, Randy Rhodes (Ozzy), Jake E. Lee (Ozzy), or Vivian Campble (Dio). There are very few bands with that level of musicianship today. The kids dont seem to care or even notice.

      1. The kids dont seem to care or even notice.

        Looking at my nephew, the amount of time and the effort he puts into mastering the bass guitar and the effort of the others in the bands he plays in, I know that that is just an old persons rant.

        1. Yep. It’s a bit more complicated then that. I’m all for technicality but would rather listen to Nirvana than Yngwie Malmsteen.

          Many of the modern heavier acts are spectacularly proficient at their instruments. It’s frightening how technically well a lot of very young guys (mainly guys) are now playing. Prog is making a limited comeback where virtuosity is almost a pre-requisite – there are a lot of guitarists influenced by Dream Theatre out there.

          The problem that this sometimes brings is that music becomes more about “what you can do with your instruments” then “what you should do to make music”. Too much tech and not enough to move me viscerally and I get really bored, really quickly even if I appreciate the technicality.

      2. Sorry I disagree with that.

        You’re talking about one style of rock only. Yes if you want to play metal some players are amazing. But it’s the same trying to play Duane Allman’s slide solos, or Jimmy Page, or Mick Taylor. Robert Johnson’s guitarwork stands the test of time just fine, and that was the 1930s!

        It’s not the complexity of the musicianship that matters, it’s more basic – how good are the songs? Not all songs need guitar solos. I play guitar and love my favourites, but I also love Dylan’s early (acoustic) albums just as much.

        It’s having good songs, a good sound, and enough emotion to make people like it. Whatever style it is.

  12. I agree, Professor.

    I despise RAP ‘music’ which is often nothing but chanting, all to the same rhythm.

    The genre I especially despise is Country Music. For 60 years, this nasal caterwauling has only one song with various inane lyrics.

    There are a few current artists and a few recent songs that are of high quality, but is is really few and far between.


    1. Where can I buy sheet music for any given Rap “song,” showing the melody line? 😉

      As regards Country music, how about the “Nashville Sound” (Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, etc.) and Western (Marty Robbins, Sons of the Pioneers)?

      1. I no fan of rap either (though I do have to admit to liking a few British white boy hip-hop influenced bands), but does there need to be sheet music showing a melody line for something to be considered a song? Ever hear one of Brian Eno’s ambient pieces, particularly from “On Land”? There is no way you could write sheet music for it.

        Oh, and all country music is intolerable.

  13. How true! I am 64 and two friends and I jam every other Sunday. We play songs written and performed by Neil Young , Bob Dillion, the Zombies, the Yardbyrds, the Animals, the Young Rascals, Them (Van Morrison), Spencer Davis Band, etc. We played this stuff in the 60s and it sounds great today.

  14. Everything popular is wrong.
    Oscar Wilde

    If you want soul and artistry you need to look into the alternate musical scenes. If it is on the top 100 list then it is probably soulless corporate crap produced to make a buck.

  15. Don’t forget Sturgeon’s revelation. The reason you like stuff from some time in the vaguely distant past is because the 90% has already been filtered out and all that anybody remembers is the 10%. Modern music (and everything else) hasn’t yet had that filter applied.


    1. I repeat my question. If that’s true, then there should be some musicians around these days who are as good as the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dylan, and so on. And remember, those people were all contemperaneous.

      So, Ben, where are the Dylans and Beatles that haven’t yet gone through the filter?

      1. Couldn’t tell you. I don’t have the patience to wade through the huge volume of dreck to find the few gems.

        Check back in a couple decades, when music from now starts showing up in the rotation of the “Golden Oldies” stations….


        1. I don’t know about that.

          I remember listening to an oldies station 20 years ago, playing 60s/70s stuff. They’re still playing 60s/70s stuff.

          1. I remember the comment someone made sometime in the 90’s, when a local station changed its format to play “The Best Songs of the 80’s”:

            Nobody listened to the Music of the 80’s IN the 80’s.”

          2. That’s because Gen X is a small demographic so we either listen to what the Baby Boom generation likes or what Gen Y likes.

          3. I listened to the music of the 80s in the 80s. A lot of it was good and some even popular and good(think new wave and post punk).

      2. As a member of the Millennial generation (I’m 6 months younger than Avril Lavigne) I feel qualified to answer this. I feel there are musicians around that are as good (but not nearly as popular) as the bands listed, and I am a huge Beatles and Dylan fan.

        To name a few that will get little to no top 40 airplay, but plenty on independent radio stations:

        Andrew Bird
        John Vanderslice
        The New Pornographers
        The Mountain Goats
        Built to Spill

        Currently my pick for best song of 2013 is from Kurt Vile’s ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day.’

        Unfortunately these bands will probably never get on classic rock radio, with the possible exception of Radiohead. However, even today Classic Rock is starting to play more recent bands like Nirvana, alongside the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, and Dylan.

        But I get the point, if we are solely judging but what is on top of the Billboard charts, I’d take what was topping the charts 40 years ago over what is topping them today.

        1. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

          if we are solely judging but what is on top of the Billboard charts, I’d take what was topping the charts 40 years ago over what is topping them today

          The Billboard Top 100 Singles for 1973:

          1 – “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” Tony Orlando and Dawn
          2 – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” Jim Croce
          3 – “Killing Me Softly with His Song” Roberta Flack
          4 – “Let’s Get It On” Marvin Gaye
          5 – “My Love” Paul McCartney & Wings
          6 – “Why Me” Kris Kristofferson
          7 – “Crocodile Rock” Elton John
          8 – “Will It Go Round in Circles” Billy Preston
          9 – “You’re So Vain” Carly Simon
          10 – “Touch Me in the Morning” Diana Ross

          Sure, there’s some OK stuff there, but do you really want to listen to Tony Orlando? Novelty Elton John (however fun the song may be)? Lame Wings?

          I suppose it’s just a matter of personal taste…

          1. But 1974 was MUCH better than ’73! Then things went into a bit of a slump, except that Punk started up and eventually reached radio…
            I’d say that the apparent quality of the Zeitgeist depends a lot on what particular radio stations, DJs, live venues or older friends’ record collections you happen to be tapping into. At any particular time the fresh pickings may be a bit thin, and older stuff will usually predominate.

          2. SOB! After years of suffering from “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” as a regular spontaneous head-worm, I had managed to consign it to some deep, dark part of my memory. It was, of course, replaced with other awful head-worm tunes, but these were never so dire and bilious.

            It is EASILY my least-favourite track of all time. I’d sooner listen to a whole album of The Smurfs. I’d all but forgotten that it had ever existed and you went and put the bloody thing back, and in the spotlight, too.

            Damn you! 🙂

          3. I can clear that out of your head:

            Oh my darling, knock three times on the ceiling if you want me, twice on the pipe, if the answer is noooooo…lol

          4. Why did you have to go and do that? What with Bruce @ #40 quoting “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”, I now have three of the worst tracks ever released buzzing in the back of my mind in some kind of demonic medley. I am at a loss as to what to Agadoo, doo, doo!

            Reaches for iPod.

          5. Try Ernie’s (Bert’s buddie) Do de Rubber Duck(duck, duck, do de rubber duck – to a reggae beat…)

          6. How’s “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” as a “cure” for “Yellow Ribbon”?

      3. I need solid criteria to judge good by. I can’t believe no one has been pedant enough to ask yet!

        I suspect many are using varying criteria not to mention the difficulty in quantifying “taste”.

        1. Yes, this is the problem. Does great = wildly popular? Millions of units sold? Original/ creative? Influential?

          How does one measure some of these?

          1. Yes as well as confirmation bias. Someone needs to do a deeper analysis using consistent criteria.

        2. Yes. yes. yes. I haven’t read all the way down the comments yet, but this is what I’ve been thinking the whole time. It’s very hard to judge how much “high-quality” music is being made right now when you don’t have a definition for quality. If the main criterion is longevity, as Jerry seems to imply, then we can’t really measure it yet.

          1. No, I never implied that longevity is a criterion for quality, it is simply a byproduct of quality. When, for instance, some of the Beatles’ albums came out, like Sgt. Pepper, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, many of us instantly recognized that here was a new and wonderful kind of music. Ditto with Santana, Hendrix, and the like.

            I simply don’t hear new music that has that instant “click” like those albums or songs did.

          2. How many of the bands that we’ve mentioned have you listened to, Jerry?

            Biggest “click” I ever had was listening to Leftfield’s Leftism. One of the definitive albums of electronic dance music.


          3. Ant, your and my tastes converge on the wonderful Leftfield and not much else. Here’s another effort I prepared earlier for another platform.


            The tree-house has gone cold turkey for… oh, 15 minutes and nerves are jangling: the hallucinatory stage.


            “What the devil?”

            “Correct! Please allow me to introduce myself. Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, the Horned One, the Beast. So, sinners, can I tempt you to some musical refreshment? A little techno to replace the loss of your chemical high?”

            “Yes, please, anything, Master.”

            “How much do you want it? A lot? Do you crave it? Or shall I hold it back?”

            “Please, Sire, now, now, give it to me now.”

            “But surely, my dear little playthings, the anticipation is better than the real thing. Can’t you just wait a little longer?”

            “No, no, fix it now, the devil has the best tunes.”

            “Why thank you, underlings. But in all modesty, I only have the best rhythms; and I really do think you have to grasp the joys of deferred gratification. Leftfield knew this; the harmonious resolution of the parts only comes together at 3 minutes 20. ‘Release the pressure’. By the way, when are you North European godless types going to stop patronising these basket-cases with their belief in reincarnation? “In this creation…”, indeed. Next thing, you’ll believe in heaven. Now that’s what I call deferred gratification.”


          4. “I simply don’t hear new music that has that instant “click” like those albums or songs did.”

            This is a statement about you, not about the world.

            Here’s an experiment: Go through a “top 100” or “top 500” list in any music magazine in the past 30 years; these things are common enough. Go through YouTube for songs from these albums, they’ll be there. How’s the click factor vary with distance in times and styles from your personal musical high point?

          5. Ok, a by-product. Fair enough. But if we’re going to advance a theory of music’s degeneration (which I took to be essentially the topic of the post), surely (ding!) we must have something to measure, some number that can be seen to go down over time. Otherwise, you’re left with nothing much beyond, “ooh, I like it” and “ugh – don’t like it”.

            Longevity is really the only thing you referenced that can be measured, and I actually think it’s a pretty good (that is, useful) criterion; I just don’t think it’s possible to use it to evaluate today’s music.

        1. Yikes! I didn’t know that the Amazon URL would turn into to a huge image like that. Sorry if that seems like an unseemly plug!

        2. Don’t forget Klaatu.

          Back in the day the rumor was that they *were* the Beatles. In the witness protection program. Or something.

      4. It’s cleverly hidden away. I do think that it’s out there based on past experience, I just no longer have the energy, or know where, to look to find it.

        “…there should be some musicians around these days who are as good as the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Dylan, and so on.

        While they’re no longer together as a band and their last album was released in 2000, XTC fits on that list. They put their first album out in ’78, but they were never popular or in style. They are the best band you’ve never heard of though. I HIGHLY recommend their “Skylarking,” “Apple Venus Vol. 1,” and “Nonsuch” albums. They have many other good albums, but the previous 3 are great and should be classics. They share with the Beatles a maturing process over the course of their career, both musically and lyrically. In both cases you’d never expect, based on their early songs, that they’d ever be able to pull off the melodic, lyrical, and conceptual brilliance of much of their later stuff. They also share with the Beatles a strong Beach Boys (“Pet Sounds”/”Smiley Smile era) influence.

        Seriously, Ben and Jerry (that sounds oddly familiar), do yourself a favor and give XTC’s Skylarking a listen or several (I actually did not like it upon first hearing, but it now ranks in my top 5 favorite albums ever. I recently introduced a friend to XTC via Skylarking. XTC is absolutely one of his favorite bands now).

        As for bands still recording, the Divine Comedy could hold their own with artists you list, Jerry. Of course both XTC and the Divine Comedy were influenced by the Beatles, but that’s to be expected. If you’re going to be influenced by any pop/rock band, it should be the Beatles.

        One last modern artist definitely worthy of checking out is The Animal Collective, though based on the albums of theirs that I own, only 2 stand out as classics (the other 2 albums almost sound like a different band). The must-hear albums are “Merriweather Post Pavilion” and “Fall Be Kind.” Both are very unique and have a modern sound to them, but there are also some obvious classic influences, most prominently the Beach Boys (especially the vocal harmonies), Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, and some other influences that I can’t quite place, but which nonetheless tickle my brain. While these influences are clear their music in no way sounds derivative.

        So those are the few that I know of. If I think of more I’ll post more. Definitely get Skylarking though. You’ll be glad you did.

        1. I forgot to mention, Skylarking (and be sure you get the 2001 remastered edition) contains the atheist anthem “Dear God,” which is mostly about the problem of suffering.

    2. And a related point: people said similar things “back then” too! That’s why I’m skeptical. That said, the rare times these days I listen to music, it is eccelectic from all ages, not just contemporary stuff. I think part of also why contemporary stuff can be seen as awful is that is so much easier to produce stuff these days.

  16. I have to speak up for Imagine Dragons, my new favorite band, taking over the spot formerly held by The XX. “Radioactive” is good, but there are even better on their album. The lead singer, Dan Reynolds, is one of the best in rock, imho. Will be getting to see them in the tiny venue of Caesar Chavez Park in Sacramento in about 10 days.

    This happenstance continues a trend in my life of discovering a band and then finding that they will soon be performing nearby, or more often, had just done that. I narrowly missed the then largely unknown Elton John not long after his first album came out, playing at a community college gym in Riverside, CA back in 1970, while I was sadly uninformed about 5 miles away at UCR, and most recently missed by 1 day Fleet Foxes (a great, GREAT band) playing in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library. I did get to see them 6 months later at one of the great venues for music, the Greek Theater at Cal Berkeley.

    I really wish I had kept a log of all the great bands I have seen over the years. Like Santana a week before Abraxis dropped, at the Swing Auditorium in San Berdoo, where they played all that amazing music that we had never heard up to that point. Mountain, with the great Leslie West, at the same venue, with Felix Pappilardi on 6-string bass. Iron Butterfly doing the long, long version of “In-a-gadda-da-vida” in the horse arena at the fairgrounds in Indio, CA. Good times.

    1. Best concert I caught was a 1970 triple- header of BB King, Ike and Tina, and The Stones at the Oakland Coliseum. Each band played 2 hours and the show started 10 PM ( they had all done a previous afternoon show). I had considered going to Altamont the following week and am very thankful I changed my mind…

      Somehow I hadn’t heard of Mountain at the time, but 20 years later had a cabin next to their great drummer Corky Laing 11 years in a row at a resort up in Ontario’s Muskoka Lakes district. My kids played w Corky’s and we all had lots of laughs waterskiing. Corky was astoundingly funny on karaoke nights…

    2. Seconded. I just happened on Imagine Dragons yesterday. “Radioactive”, the tune that’s getting some rotation on radio, is quite good.

  17. I personally enjoy the direction that modern music is moving. While this may not be a great song, for me it’s way better than having to listen to anything by The Beatles:)

    1. Mjr the brave. Good on ya’.

      While many of the songs on the top 40 don’t interest me, I keep finding ones which do. I want to keep my iPod up to date. I’d never heard this particular song by Avril Lavine before — don’t listen much to the radio — but I actually liked it. I may even end up downloading it. And the video made me laugh.

      Taste is a weird thing. I apparently have horrible taste. Or, rather, it’s eccentric, erratic, eclectic and completely unpredictable. When online forums I frequent get into discussions of music there’s a very good chance that I’m eventually going to start feeling as if I’m on a different planet. Either I won’t recognize anyone mentioned, or I will listen to a highly recommended song and not care for it, or everyone will be up in arms over a piece of drek that I enjoy. Sometimes I even realize that it’s pretty terrible. Yes, I have Celine Dion’s “The Heart Must Go On” on my iPod. Bite me. I’m a frumpy small town middle-aged woman. It’s allowed.

      I also have stuff which would be approved. Classic masterpieces. Moldy oldies. Esoteric bizzareties. Or that which is edgy and hip and with it, as the kids say nowadays. I am multitudes.

      Maybe I’ll buy “Rock” just to be a rebel.

      1. Base on the admittedly limited examples of your blog comments I have encountered in the past few years “frumpy” definitely does not fit my image of you.

        1. Thanks. I was thinking ‘appearance: it’s mostly jeans and t-shirts for me. Though I have been recently trying to work on my look and go for retro hippie eccentric with skirts and hats.

          I just looked at my collection of favored cds: it’s heavy on the Enya, Afro-Celts, and Rusted Root. I will have to add beads.

          1. I’ve probably got you beat in the frumpy department (handmade cotton dresses or multipocket hiking shorts with men’s shirts). Plus I’m a crazy cat lady, which pushes my Frump Index into the stratosphere.
            Our music collection includes several hundred traditional folk CDs from around the world, plus wassoulou, garifuna, chicha, klezmer, and other acoustic music. And lots of old blues, Medieval European “early” choral and instrumental music, etc. A sprinkling of oddball modern stuff (Arvo Part, Wendy Carlos, Jocelyn Pook). The rock music is my husband’s and is mostly older “classic” albums; neither of us listen to the 1990s and newer rock and pop, and I have a particular hatred for 1980s pop, which I was force-fed 24/7 in my college dorm.
            So I can’t say whether I agree with Jerry, since I’ve mostly sidestepped the issue by avoiding popular music.

  18. I concur. Being a jazz fanatic it pains me to hear well established artists using computerised programmed support instruments such as bass and drum lines. What is the point of improvising but have a PC as your supporting artist?

    It is like driving a porche on a gravel road.

  19. You’re correct to the extent that rock is now a museum piece and we are living in the age of electronic music, which runs the spectrum from academic formal ‘electroacoustic’ music to the most commercial ‘edm’.

    1. I also think the most exciting rock music of the past 30 years is extreme metal but given your dislike of ‘shouting’ I suspect that’s not your cup of tea..

      1. Agree about metal, and there are a couple of bands I would personally put in the Beatles-and-Dylan category. Okay, the genres are very different, and I understand why many people don’t like this stuff. But those of us who do like it can discriminate between the good, the bad, the ugly, and the superlative. The trick is not to expect the best music of 2013 to sound like the best music of 1970… not even to expect it to be trying to achieve the same things. There will never be another Beatles, another Dylan, if what you want is someone to sound like them and have the same musical objectives. But there is a comparable level of creativity to be found if you’re prepared to look for it; but(as Ben Goren says) that means being prepared to wade through a lot of dreck first. The difference, broadly, is: in 1970 the best stuff was popular. In 2013 it isn’t.

  20. There is more talent and creativity today then there has ever been, we all have access to the knowledge and wisdom of the greatest teachers and thinkers, some of us embrace that and don’t get lost. The problem is that everyone has the same access and thinks themselves great, thinks that they deserve attention. Whatever creativity or talent there is is difficult to find, and we can’t pay attention for long enough, we get lost, we are distracted the next best thing.

    With music it all died when CDs became commercial, at that time music videos became popular, then the internet came all too fast. When CDs came the record labels still ruled, they resold all the back catalogues and suddenly everyone could listen to the greats who changed their younger days. With music videos image was suddenly important, musicians used to look like normal people, then they because TV stars too. The labels were making too much money too quickly. They used to give £multimillion advances and raise bands to become great, very few of them did but and we remember them, most are forgotten. There was an innovation in genre about every 6 years for about 40 years, that stopped about 15 years ago. Labels wanted musicians to sell hugely on their first album or they were dropped, they couldn’t raise anyone else to become great, musicians had to start great. Labels tried harder to extract more money from artists with 360 deals (labels got royalties when artists toured and sold merchandise, which is quite offensive) and the RIAA suing the fans for online downloads. Now the only innovation is technological, the illusion of originality in combing genres and replaying the styles with new technology. Now musicians have to be their own label, their own manager, their own promoter and stay connected to fans constantly or we will get distracted and lost. I’ve stopped caring about new music.

    I can record a band, or create a song electronically, in my (my Nan’s) house and garage and release it too the whole world the same day. So can a million other people. It’s just a hobby, but that’s how non-calssical or folk music started. We’re getting better.

    1. I was a bit over excited when I said I stopped caring about new music. Bjork, Sigur Ros, Tom waits, Rammstein (just a limited example) have all released new music in the last few years that I care about very much.

  21. Jerry, I’ve been waiting nearly two years for you to mention Joni Mitchell and now you have (:

    But,if you want to hear the old as new again, have a listen to Neil Young’s 2012 album, “Psychedelic Pill” or, to pick one song from that album, “She’s Always Dancing”. Magic.

    Techno and Rap?
    Get outta here.

      1. Joni Mitchell is also the favorite pop musician of !*classical*! singers Renee Fleming and Dawn Upshaw!!!

    1. There is some great rap, which I love for his lyrics. Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 is a great album. Try Dance with the Devil, which is a fascinating story, Cause of Death or Harlem Streets. The music is cheap and easy but his words are important most of the time, he’s a bit into his conspiracy theories.

  22. Any art form to reach its audience has to have a suitable vocabulary. True of ‘Rock’, true of ‘Classical’. The average person would be in favour of Rock (I mean Rock in a very wide sense). Its more ‘modern’, available, has street cred, various issues: many people who dislike classical music, I think reject it often for ‘social’ reasons, often without really listening to it or understanding it. It takes time and effort to get to know it in any case. Their friends would take the mickey and would rather go dancing at a disco or rave. Peer pressure often determines taste.

    I think the problem is the same with Evolutionary Theory: people stay with what they are comfortable with, what allows them to fit in. If you grow up in an imposing religious community you will be terrified to contest it because of the consequences, not because you think it is true or false, good or bad. Art is not that different.

    Modern ‘intellectual’ art forms went through the same process: music passed from Wagner to Stockhausen, lost its ‘vocabulary’ so it has little ‘popular’ appeal. Same for visual art, literature. The ‘limits’ which defined vocabulary and hence meaning were stretched to breaking. I can ‘understand’ the Beatles or Wagner in a cultural sense but Stockhausen possibly I can understand as a sort of mind game which communicates little even though I might understand the mental pathway being followed.

    A ‘pop’ song is intended (by buyer and seller) to ‘entertain’ for a few minutes and have an appeal sufficient to make you pay something for it. If it survives its almost an exception. It has as much artistic value in most cases as spending the same money on a hamburger. Short term satisfaction. Mostly art as a product for mass consumption . All art has its economic constraints, some more venal than others. Art is not egalitarian: some things might appeal to virtually everyone, some only to an initiated ‘elite’. Neither is really concerned with worth: that is a question of taste

    1. I’m a huge fan of many modern composers (some still alive), but I never liked Stockhausen. Odd how he often appears as the “go to guy” when anyone wants to find a name for a post-Prokofiev composer to kick around.

      If I want to listen to “difficult” music, I’ll listen to that ECM disc of string quartets by Kurtag or some Takemitsu. But Ligeti remains one of my favorites of recently deceased composers. “Lontano” and “Atmospheres” are great works as are, as mentioned before, his piano etudes.

  23. Although you are right as regards to current Mainstream(!!!) popular music, I will defend contemporary music to my death. Only ignorance could lead a person to think that no brilliant music is being made today.

    Please do not look for it in the billboard charts or popular music radio, but it does exist. Even some of the popular bands are better than you give them credit for, Daft Punk most definitely out of your list.

    Many good ones were released last year alone, including:
    Gazpacho – March of Ghosts
    The Imagined Village – Bending the Dark
    Kashiwa Daisuke – Re:
    Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light
    Wintersun – Time I
    Wild Nothing – Nocturne
    Anathema – Weather Systems
    Dead Can Dance – Anastasis
    Trespassers William – Cast
    Swans – The Seer

    1. I agree with your sentiments, Miika.

      I’m not familiar with most of the artists, but since you include Anathema (the best band from Liverpool), I guess the others are worth checking out.

      IMHO, there are many contemporary bands that are just as clever songwriters and skilled musicians as any of the artists Jerry enumerates. But why are they not so well known?

      I think one of the trends is increased “narrowcasting”, there’s a greater variety of music catering to more, smaller audiences: There just isn’t the same mass market that there was and “pop” is increasingly manufactured “product” (the artist as well as the music) targeted at unsophisticated youngsters across multiple media.


      1. Oh, cool! My tastes are pretty eclectic yes. I’m glad if I can help anyone find even a single band that fits their tastes.

        This thread actually does work for checking out a few new artists for me, too. But most of the time, what helps me personally keep up with good new music are a couple of music forums or blogs and communities like sputnikmusic. Basically all internet based, cause the radio and TV of today don’t seem to feature much of the interesting stuff at all..

  24. While I share Professor Coyne’s despair over the state of rock music today (and perhaps share many of his tastes from 1960s and-70s rock and R&B, I’m forced to say that’s all we share: a matter of taste.

    Remember that survey of philosophers that WEIT posted and commented upon a couple of months or so ago? As I recollect, 41% of the respondents believed that aesthetic judgments were objective. An astonishing percentage, given that no one to my knowledge has as yet come up with an aesthetic theory that would give us confidence in the authority of our judgments. I wish the case were otherwise. I’d love to believe that ‘In My Life’ is beautiful and, say, ‘Surfer Bird’ isn’t. But I don’t know what ‘beautiful’ means, philosophically, nor do I understand the memetic effects of time upon culture.

  25. Curmudgeonly middle-aged blokes who miss their youth, unite! Here’s one I prepared earlier for a somewhat less academic site.


    I blame the fall of the Berlin Wall, la’eez ‘n’ gendermen, brothers ‘n’ sisters, comrades ‘n’ friends. Ever since then, no-one, of any vague Mrs. Quillish blanditude, has had any -ism to believe in, and when you have nothing to have faith in, you have only yourself to worship – to paraphrase that religiose old fraud and non-sequiturist extraordinaire, G.K. Chesterton.

    Hence, the recurrence of the content-free, look-at-me, marketized, form-adulating zeroes, nothings, voids and vacuums which have littered pop culture for the last 20 or so years. It all started with The Spice Girls – what a promising first 10 seconds to their debut single – and what did they want? They wanted to ‘Huh…zig-a-zig, aah’. Hmmmm, it’s all gonna be witless, meaningless, anti-inspirational, self-regarding, narcissistic, polished excrescence from here on.

    And that’s what we got. An infinite line of infantile (usually young female) warblers lining up to follow the Pied Piper and his rats to instant, unearned, cynical pop stardom; all you had to do, girls, was to karaoke your version of Aretha, autotune your nasal croon, wobble that vibrato in fake deep soul, always sexily breathe a ‘h’ sound before every initial vowel, and your Svengali manager and producers – second-raters from the 70s – could sell you like you were the ‘Second Coming’, a working-title for an album by a raunchier popette who mistook her own sub-prime voice for an alternative to unfettered and euphoric financial capitalism. Your ambition, Milton, your achievement, McGonagall; the Barron Knights-ization of pop.

    You know who I’m talking about; Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and, yes, Adele. She’s hopeless. Another in the line of fraudulent chanteuses, graduating from some British Academy of Talent, spotted as an 8-month foetus, abused by pushy parents, a Dick Emery version of Doris Duke; the opposite of free-wheelin’ pop, disorganic, schooled, finished, varnished, honed, cloned.

    OK, ‘Rolling in the deep’ is a decent tune. But, why does she copy and paste her vocal line on the chorus? Utterly and completely useless. Can you imagine Aretha doing that?

    We all know the 60s yield was better than the current crap crop. Because it was innovative, talented and, above all, free of the sickening cynicism, which administers this production line of female impressionists, impersonators, mimics, imitators and empowered-puppets-on-a-string.

    Let’s celebrate soulsters who could really sing from back in the day; and who sang that way because that was the way they sang. What about Cissy Houston’s ‘I just don’t know what to do with myself’. Effortlessly brilliant, isn’t it? And you can’t hear the joins, because the music was in her, not inculcated into her.

    Pop music ain’t dead, it’s just getting old; it’s still about little, sweaty and dirty pub venues, attended by fat, bald 50 year-old blokes waving something digital at the pop combo, then sharing it with ‘friends’ on facebook.

    Speaking of which, there is, in JAC’s neck of the woods no less, a man called Aadam Jacobs, monikered the Chicago Alan Lomax, who has recorded thousands of live small gigs in the Illinois area; could be worth checking out.

      1. Blimey, David; I’m in Yeah Yeah Noh, contemporaries of – and with a much shorter early incarnation than – a lot of the Factory Benelux types. Mind you, Mat Snow, who slagged off Crispy Ambulance, wrote our sleeve notes back in the day.


        1. Are you? Hey, you guys were good!

          (People who regard the ’80s as a black hole for taste? We’re talking in this thread about the other ’80s, the brilliant ’80s, as fostered by His Holiness the great Saint John Peel.)

          1. Were? WERE??? What’s with the were?! Next gig that I know of is a John Peel gig in Preston, promoted by Rico – Tufflife Boogie – if you know him; Sat 26th October, can’t remember the venue. Would be nice to see you there, if you can make it. See √√x facebook for details to be posted soon. Not even Rico has advertised it yet; you heard it first here, folks.

            Sorry, Jerry, for the extended personal back-and-forth and the advert; I’ll stop now.

          2. Or you can do what Section 25 did: the singer died, so his daughter took over. And they’re still making new records. Punk rock is a family trade now.

          3. Alternatively, you could kill a fellow band member. Mind you murder didn’t do much for Charles Manson’s rock ‘n’ roll sales. Then again, death has always been a good career move amongst pop groovesters – you’ve given me an idea, David.

            Why not go one step further with a bit of internecine pop combo blood-letting? Nothing, if not innovative. Thanks, neo-psych snuff funk, here we come.

    1. It started waaay before the spice girls, it may go back even further but my suspicion is that those sh*ts Stock, Aitken and Waterman (don’t care if I’ve spelt that wrong) may have started all this ultra-engineered to sell sell sell crap. Add to that Tom Watkins, grrrr…

      I remember vividly being rounded on by the rest of the girls in my class, them all astounded that I didn’t like Bros as well- ugh! I was horrified they genuinely liked such drek!

      Damn Pete Waterman, damn Tom Watkins, damn them all to hell! (invoking Charlton Heston)!

      1. You did spell it wronly, Amber; ‘shits’ has an ‘i’ in it.

        The rant is just that, not meant to be Aitken seriously, and demonstrably…er, unprovable.

        I had a similar experience in my 70s adolescence in England. I loved Tamla, Stax, Atlantic, the Philly Sound, everyone around me loved Glam, Never really got on with Bowie, T-Rex and their descendants ever since.

  26. I agree with you Jerry, but keep in mind it’s “easier” to be original when a musical form is relatively new. Also, somebody once said that about 90% of every art form is actually crap. There may be something to that.

    1. 90% seems a bit low. That may have been said a while ago, it seems reasonable that it’s getting closer to 99%.

    2. This was the point I was going to make (I was just scrolling down as it was inevitable that someone had made it first, seeing how this thread is at over 200 comments).

      One of the defining features about good ‘art’ is that it’s novel; that it’s original; that it breaks away from the mundane to steer off the path into new territories.

      Nowadays I think there is little novelty being produced — it’s all about trying to make the most out of what’s already there.

      I’m not all that much into music, so I shouldn’t comment (although I should confess that I mostly listen to 80’s music, although I am myself younger than that), but I’d like to offer Disney vs. Pixar as an example of this: Disney produces a lot of garbage these days, trying to cash in on successes that were produced a long time ago. Pixar (albeit not these days as much!) went in the other direction and did original things; that’s why I remember the Pixar productions of my own youth much better than the contemporary ones by Disney.

      It’s the same with music: it is less about art these days and more about money and ‘fame’. It’s easier to create something from a ready-made template than trying to re-invent the wheel, so to say. But when the wheel has already been invented, any new offerings of the sort are going to be bland.

  27. What is the secular equivalent of “Amen”?

    I generally agree, however, as pointed out above, we do tend to forget the bad stuff. Just look at an old music show on television and you’ll see there is a lot of filler.

    Also, there is very good music still being made today, but it is not part of the popular culture.

  28. Rather than getting pushback I think a lot of people will heartily agree with you, especially people old enough to have seen deterioration of arts in their lifetime. I’m not sure why you think movies and novels are exceptions. I suppose the percentage of good movies among crap hasn’t changed too much since the 30s and novels are written by lone artists -disconnected to whatever is poisoning the arts in general.
    So the question is: why are the deteriorating? That need not be the case. Arts can evolve for many centuries without becoming crap. I think many would point to the usual suspects; materialism, mass media, the contribution of the ‘proletariat’ to the culture and economy etc…

    1. 42 And Moses said unto Pharaoh, “Let my people go or else,” 42 and Pharaoh replied, “or else what?” 3.1415 and Moses replied, “or you will hear a thousand voices that sound of a donkey braying into the hind quarters of a camel.” 2.7182 and Pharaoh released Moses and his people until God hardened Pharoahs heart. 1.4142 And Pharoah did raise his arms to the heavens and shouted, “stop that you jerk.” 299792458 and God was deaf to the pleas as the people’s ears did bleed. 1.6180 And God saw that it was good.

  29. “Youth Club Group used to wanna be free – now they want anarchy!
    They play too fast, they play out of tune – practice in the singer’s bedroom
    Drum’s quite good, the bass is too loud and I can’t hear the words

    This is the sound…
    This is the sound of the suburbs”

    The music is not aimed at you Jerry! No self-respecting Lavigne fan would WANT anyone ‘old’ to like their music! It is all about belonging to a group – & you are not part of that group.

    As for the electronicall tuned voice, it was Cher I think who popularised that in ‘Believe’

    & yes, it does cover a multitude of weaknesses.

    I agree that art forms decline, but it gets harder & harder to make an impact & be new. As for a girl kissing a girl, well that is hardly shocking – well, this side of the Atlantic anyway – I know the US is a very prudish place

    1. As for the electronicall tuned voice, it was Cher I think who popularised that …

      Which is especially sad because Cher used to have a good strong voice.

  30. Today’s composers and artists aren’t going to become famous by sounding like Mozart or looking like Monet. Inviting comparisons will not end well for them. They become famous by breaking new ground, by doing what has never been done before. Hence, dissonance, abstract art, and (my personal favourite) disumbrationism.

    Today’s cash-strapped orchestras can pay for modern licensed compositions that will draw a limited audience, or they can play old favourites that are out of copyright and always draw a crowd. It’s hardly even a choice, is it?

  31. My theory, which is mine, is that eventually every art form, with the possible exception of movies and the novel, degenerates.

    That theory is older than you are but you can appropriate it.
    Any random bag of Lego™ blocks will only go together in a finite number of ways and go together in interesting ways much, much fewer still so, yeah, rock is dead.

  32. I think a lot of rock music from the past is just as contrived and premanufactured as it is today. Some relatively recent rock bands that can perhaps sit along side those mentioned by Jerry: Nirvana, Radiohead, Oasis.

    I think there is something to the idea that the first of anything gets etched in stone and are held up over time, deserving (Beethoven) or not (the ten commandments). I would argue though that a lot of the first 10 years of rock music was just as lame as anything today. It is simple music that is the product of the times. If they had auto tune and electronics it might very well sound like what we have today.

    1. Yep. We remember all the great stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but forget all the crap that was on the radio alongside it.

  33. At one point I felt that way – then I listened to the top ten hits people don’t generally remember from the 60s and 70s.

    I’d take Rebecca Black’s Friday over Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.

    Rock has always been the odd raft of brilliance in a sea of crap. Same for pretty much every other musical genre or artform.

    It is not that there are less great rock songs or acts out now, it is that the mediocre stuff from the past is generally forgotten.

    1. Again we are arguing anecdotes rather than trends. Yes indeed, there were blatantly stupid songs from the 60s; I could name many. But if there are bands out there as good as Santana, The Beatles, the early Stones, and the Band, where are they? According to your argument, they should exist but haven’t yet been filtered out from the dross.

      When I asked Ben Goren to name such bands, he claimed that he didn’t have time to mull this over. But if there were such bands, the answer should be obvious!

      There were a lot more rafts of brilliance in the past, and I’ve named some. Those who make the argument you do should be able to name many rafts of brilliance right now. After all, the groups I named in a post above were all playing at the same time.

      1. Sheer numbers suggest that there are plenty of writers and performers out there better than Lennon, Dylan and Clapton. Why wouldn’t there be? People love music and there are more people now, *and* they have more free time for art. Obviously, there is a disconnect between the selection process for fame and artists’ talent.

        It seems like you’re asking for brilliance but judging that brilliance by fame, which is clearly not a perfect measure with today’s music.

      2. Jake Bugg, U2, Deftones, Muse, Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

        1. Very good choices, and you’ve thrown some metal in there. Metal may be one of the last bastions of originality simply due to the lack of restraints the genre places on itself. Metal has a large canvas to paint on because it (generally) doesn’t care about radio play, length of song, etc. It also has the benefit of being able to experiment with time signatures, key changes, odd scales, syncopation, 7 and 8 string guitars, extremely long songs with thematic changes within, and all this without losing the listener.
          My preferences for metal are of the progressive sort following in the footsteps of Rush, Yes, Kansas, etc. I’m talking about bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X, and others. Also, bands like Mastodon are doing some really interesting things with sludge metal.
          On the guitar front there are guys like Guthrie Govan doing amazing things. Check out his band The Aristocrats.
          Also, there is an interesting 80s metal parody band called Steel Panther that is fun to listen to (but very, very vulgar!)

          1. I’m quite fond of ‘The Dance of Eternity’ – 128 time signature changes in a little over 6 minutes, just for the hell of it.

          2. All very true – plus metal loves to create weird and wonderful hybrids with other genres. Folk, symphonic, rap, funk, glam, (neo)classical, prog rock, punk, grunge, latin, celtic, industrial, pirate – you name it, there’s a metal for it! (and ‘pirate’ is totally a valid genre – Alestorm are great fun!)

            Dream Theater and Symphony X are both fantastic, and I cannot recommend them more highly.

          3. +1 for Dream Theater too.

            I second the sentiment about metal: with all its subgenres (there is classical-, punk-, jazz-, folk-music influenced metal just to cite the most obvious trends), technical virtuosity and sheer crazy fun, it’s the place I constantly go back to when I look for original stuff. And there is an impressive, still growing, amount of it out there (e.g., there are 90,000 bands on Encyclopaedia Metallum).

            For example, take Gorod, the band whose t-shirt I’m wearing right now: it’s a French progressive melodic death metal band. Of course, their technical blend of metal growls, classical progressions, intricate rhythms and jazzy parts is quite brutal most of the time (the “death metal” part), and that’s arguably an acquired taste – I know it is for me, at least. Still, they create some achingly beautiful music of a kind which was unthinkable only a few years ago.

      3. I think part of the confusion here is to mix up quality of musician/music with popularity of musician/music.

        I think there are equivalently good musicians out there but the market is different, the world is different. So whey you (Professor Cat) argue trends instead of anecdotes, you stack the deck in your favor. History isn’t going to repeat itself in a way that we 60-somethings can grant equivalent status to the music/musicians of today. ‘Twas ever thus.

      4. At any given point in time, there will always be some band that is “the best of all time” (so far) according to some reasonably objective standard. I wouldn’t argue with you if you said that right now that band is The Beatles. As such, it doesn’t really make much sense to ask who is today’s Beatles. That’s like asking who is today’s Newton or Einstein.

        I think it would be better to pick bands near the high end of the curve but not at the top, and ask who today’s equivalents are. For me, the best Florence + the Machine songs are in the same tier as the best (say) Fleetwood Mac or Beach Boys songs. In an era when bands seem to focus on individual songs over entire albums, I listen to Lungs all the way through. I think “Dog Days Are Over” will still be played in 20 years (even though I like “Rabbit Heart” better). Only time will tell whether she has many albums worth of material this good or just a couple.

        After college, it’s super hard to stay in touch with great new music outside the mainstream. I try to attach myself to young people in the hopes of finding hidden gems. 🙂

        p.s. We should expect the number of spectacular new rock bands/songs to decrease over time because it is easier to write good original stuff when the genre is new. What you really want is the next revolutionary genre X. Then you can declare Rock is dead, long live X!

      5. Morcheeba, System Of A Down, The White Stripes / Jack White, Beck, Sublime, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine.

        Just to name a few more off the top of my head, all of which have even had some exposure on popular radio. There are many, many more. I can understand you may not like or appreciate most of this music, but I think this really comes down to your personal tastes. By any more objective metrics these bands, and many more, are as good as the best bands of 60s and 70s.

      6. Radiohead, Beck, Neko Case, The Mars Volta, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, The Black Keys, Jack White, The Shins, Interpol, Modest Mouse, Cursive, Feist, Man Man, The Walkmen, The Strokes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs… and that’s just stuff to my taste. There’s lots of good things I’m no doubt unaware of (or didn’t list). But if you don’t find that any of the artists listed above are putting out consistently interesting and entertaining music, then I don’t think you actually like rock and its associates.

  34. I’ll add my anecdotes to the others:

    1. The album off which the #4 song on the Billboard Charts came, “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk, is excellent both lyrically and melodically.

    2. Classical music is alive and well. I submit to you the music of Glenn Buhr. Check out “Winter Poems I: Tranquillo”, here:

        1. Yes. Agree. These guys are all cool, although I’m a little surprised to see Glass getting a nod as he’s one of those composers that classical listeners often love to hate. When Glass is mentioned it seems that words such as “poppy”, “sell out” and “soundtrack” tend to surface, whereas Reich is much more accepted as art music. I’m a fan of both, but while we’re mentioning worthy minimalists, let’s throw my favorite, John Adams (the most “romantic” minimalist) into the mix.

          1. I don’t consider “soundtrack” to be disparaging. I think there are many fine composers that are writing principally or signifantly for film: John Murphy, Atli Örvarsson, Ludovico Einaudi, …


          2. I agree that Adams can be great. Like some Glass, but found his opera Satyagraha incredibly boring and pretentious…Heard (and saw him on keyboard) set some Leonard Cohen songs to music here in Toronto about 5 years ago. Pretty good all around.

  35. I have no idea if this is true, but it does echo many people’s views:

    Sir Thomas Beecham (an English conductor) was once asked if he had listened to any Stockhausen. “No,” he replied, “but I once trod in some.”

    Has Prof CC tried any Powderfinger?
    (An Ozzie Rock band)
    I quite like “My Happiness”

  36. Jerry, I will agree that the vast majority of popular music is mass-produced, auto-tuned garbage. On the other hand, I really feel that music has never been better than it is right now, but you really need to know where to look. The radio is no help at all, and neither is MTV, mostly because radio stations have fallen into the hands of fewer and fewer companies. In Toronto, most of the stations are owned by the same company. Gone are the romantic radio days of the late 70s and 80s where the DJ chose the music s/he played.

    We should not also forget that in the glory days of classic rock, there was some truly awful music on the AM band. Today, most of the good music has been pushed off the airwaves altogether, making it hard to find.

    When we are confronted with idiotic shows like American Idol, where musicality and integrity really play no part, can we really be surprised that radio tries to emulate that formula?

    I can’t give you a list of all of the fantastic artists recording today, but I will name a handful off the top of my head and encourage you to keep looking. Most college and university radio stations have some pop music programs, and they really are great at identifying wonderful new music that will never be played on corporate radio. NPR also has some great programming.

    Just a few: Arcade Fire, The National, Spoon, The Flaming Lips, The Hold Steady, Radiohead, TV on the Radio, My Morning Jacket, The Black Keys.

    And, with respect to classical music, we shouldn’t short-change Philip Glass and Steve Reich. I think that their music will endure.

    By the way, there may never be another Bob Dylan, and that is just fine with me. Unique talents like that don’t come around so often, so I am happy enough that we got to hear his songs.

    1. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced Dr. John’s 2012 album “Locked Down”. The song “Getaway”, besides being awesome, is a total throwback to the 70s; even the liner notes of the album say something about that album bringing back 70s rock and roll.

    2. I love Arcade Fire too 😀

      I love Bjork.
      The White Stripes (and Jack White).
      Blur (and Damon Albarn inc Gorillaz).
      PJ Harvey.
      Kate Bush is still going strong- I adore her.
      Fleet Foxes.

      And Fever Ray! Mustn’t forget ever Ray!

      There’s a lot a fantastic stuff being made now, you just shouldn’t look for it on regular radio/TV

      1. I’m very much looking forward to the forthcoming Arcade Fire album. I read somewhere that they had been working on it together with James Murphy, he of LCD Soundsystem. The results should be interesting.

        1. Oh me too me too! I’ve got that nervy feeling of ‘oh I hope it’ll be as brilliant as their others, please oh please oh please!’ too though, the odds Are excellent…!
          I love them so much!
          I’d love to go and see them again when they tour but I’ve been severely put off by the last time I went some utter ****** threw a pint of piss over me and beings as I already struggle with anxiety/depression health issues it’s really spoilt it for me.
          Sorry, that was a bit of a downer!

          October- the new album!!

  37. My personal preferences are in line with yours.

    However I have to try to recognize that my tastes have been formed by a lifetime of experiences, and that what one knows and is familiar with heavily influences our aesthetic judgements.

    The kind of argument you are making here has been made over and over again generation after generation, and it was even being made when Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and Bennie Goodman were in their prime, except those crazy jazz hop heads were the targets of disdain, being compared to older popular songs. No doubt there were many ragtime and gospel enthusiasts, and other nostalgics fondly lamenting the present degradation of standards cringing at the jazz of the 30s and 40s when it was being newly created.

    By saying this, I’m not defending this particular horror in the video above against the timeless classics. I’m just saying that I don’t trust that my own particular preferences are universal or timeless.

  38. The problem is you are listening to the top ten charts. The problem isn’t music, but that the media is focused on consumerism rather than any kind of culture. History isn’t dumber now just because the “History channel” is focused on gator boys and ancient aliens. To be highly condescending for a moment, the average American is stupid and has really simplistic taste. Thus avril lavigne is the music that is on the radio.

    There are still great musicians that are actually artists, you just rarely hear them on the radio. People like Damon Albarn, and Thom Yorke come to mind.

    Damon Albarn was in the band Blur, but then started the “Gorillaz” a collaboration project where he brings in all sorts of artists that you never hear on the radio to create songs that have political, environmental, and existential themes and undertones that capture the problems and feelings of the modern generation. I am confident that in fifty years people can point back to songs like “Kids with Guns” or “Feel Good Inc.” and say that those were powerful, artistic songs of the age.

    The market is the problem, artists still exist. Also you’re getting old.

  39. As a sixty year old and the creator of Pressman`s Rock Trivia which sold three quarters of a million games world wide, I would like to say that in terms of any genre of music including present day rock and metal ; it is all in the eye of the beholder of what is creative and what is not. In your column you actually abuse the term rock. Your definition , by way of your selections are more in a pop orientation with a few modern rock bands tossed in. You need to check in with the active rock playlists for radio stations before you actually comment on “rock” music. Present day rock bands do quite well in terms of cd sales and huge festivals , just like their predecessors . It is just that you are out of the loop. Many of the listeners have gone to none to traditional listening mediums like internet radio and satellite radio. There are still active rock stations that do well also. It is cd oriented , not specifically song oriented like pop music. From new bands like Killswitch Engage, to Five Finger Death Punch and classic artists like Manson and Zombie that perform before tens of thousands, the genre continues to thrive and will not stop. I recommend a new book that captures the genre by two music critics. I also recommend the Book Louder than Hell to demonstrate the survival of the genre. I think the problem with your column is the your lack of knowledge about rock and the improper usage of the term. I will grant you thoughts on Avril.

    1. Brilliant response. Thank you.

      There is also the “You are what you were when” phenomena. With music it starts in the early teens (I’ve read specifically 13). So if you were born in 1950, circa 1963 will be the year’s music you will be most nostalgic about; 1960 = 1973; 1970 = 1983, etc.

      The 10 to 16 hours a day I have my computer on, I have one tab opened to Pandora Radio. My ‘shuffle’ list has about 20 music genres from Doo-wop to Motown to roots of rock, to some newer genres and “personalized’ stations such as the ones I call Iko Iko Radio and Tipitina Radio (grabs a lot of old and current New Orleans style R&B).

      I cal myself a “rock and roll shark” it is like if I don’t keep moving forward with the newer stuff, I’ll sink to the bottom and die.

  40. Anyone remember Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, the comedy band from the 70s who did parodies of every genre around? They had a song with lyrics “I’m the rock n roll undertaker” – 30 years ago…!

  41. Also, classic rock radio stations don’t play classic rock because it’s good. They play it because of its appeal to the lowest common denominator of those with money to spend and those who are most influenced by radio ads. They play it because it sells advertising minutes, specifically minutes intended to be heard by baby boomers with money.

  42. Doesn’t this really just come down to personal taste? You can claim Bob Dylan is amazing but I want to smash the overhead speakers every time his songs play on the radio at work. And I could tell you that Nine Inch Nails is one of the most brilliant bands ever but you might think it merely abrasive noise. General consensus isn’t always the truth, if there is such a thing. What the radio pushes out isn’t necessarily what is the best, just what happened to become popular at the time.

  43. Radiohead, wilco, grizzly bear, field music, dirty projectors, tune-yards, Phoenix, the shins, maps and atlases…

    jazz: Joshua redman, brad mehldau, pat metheny, Wayne shorter(still innovating), Chris potter.

  44. Every art form does degenerate, but rock and roll has a great capacity to reinvent itself. The crap on the Billboard charts is crap, but there is plenty of good rock and roll out there, if you know where to look. Here’s one place to start:

    That’s Minnesota Public Radio’s rock-and-roll station. Unfortunately they cater to the mellower end of the genre, but it’s a good place to hear new stuff.

  45. Tend to agree on the pop music, but a list of greatest classical composers surely includes 20th century examples like Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Debussy, Ravel, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

    The best current symphonic music is being composed in the field of opera, although no one quite as great as Benjamin Britten (20th century) is on the horizon now. Mark Adamo (Little Women, Gospel of Mary Magdalene) and Jake Heggie (Moby Dick, Dead Man Walking) are pretty decent though. It’s still a thriving musical art-form IMO.

  46. More rock: Elbow, Owen Pallett, feist…

    older guys still making the goods: Donald Fagen, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, David Bowie…

    1. A big thumbs up for Elbow. They were something of a cult and festival phenomenon until they won the Mercury Prize with ‘Seldom Seen Kid’.
      If you aren’t familiar with them, this is a good start: , and, if you have an hour, this is them with the BBC Concert Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, running through Seldom Seen Kid: . If you haven’t seen this before, go on, give yourself a sublime treat this weekend.

          1. From “Lucky Man” (OK, sappy but popular) through “Karn Evil 9”, there had to be more Top 10’s in there!

            But… if there’s not, I bow to reality.

          2. I didn’t mean it that way, Ant. I was just using those songs to delimit the range of their work I was talking about.

            And I was thinking more about albums than singles. I looked it up and found these peaks in album sales:

            4 – Welcome Back My Friends…
            5 – Trilogy
            9 – Tarkus
            10 – Pictures at an Exhibition
            11 – Brain Salad Surgery

  47. I’m going to sound incredibly old and unhip, but I’ll say this anyway. When I was I high school, a band was considered cool if they were good. To today’s kids, it’s the other way around.

    1. I think you’re looking through nostalgia-coloured glasses there. Popular music has consistently been about group identification, particularly to the young, with individual musical taste having always been a rarity.

  48. Sturgeon’s Revelation applies to music, in spades. Despite that I have found that I tend to like at least a few of the best examples of any genre. In general I really don’t like Country, Hip Hop, Rap, House, for just a few examples. But even in those genres there are a few songs I really like.

    I think it is difficult at best to compare the quality of classic rock artists with current artists. There is so much more music generated these days, so many more artists, that it is impossible to listen to any significant percentage of them, let alone become familiar with them. The artists that become popularly known, for however long, are the ones that someone with money decided were a good bet for making more money. And musical talent is not usually part of the metric.

    These days if you want to become familiar with the best the music scene has to offer you have to really work at it because of the huge amount on offer, and include sources other than mainstream outlets.

  49. NOFX and Bad Religion – smart punk rock bands spanning decades but still producing smart, interesting, albums.

  50. I know this post was about the music, but from a comic geek’s perspective it’s Ms Lavigne homage to Tank Girl which is just bloody depressing.

    25 years, from punk comic to pop bollocks, by way of Hollywood flop, where did all that time go?

    … makes a man want to go get really drunk and sing Dusty Springfield hits at the top of his voice.

    1. Yes, truly awful, I wonder if Avril was even aware of Tank Girl before her puppet masters suggested it?

      I just listened to the song too- it was even worse than I feared- how can people enjoy listening to this sort of stuff?

      Jerry’s so right about all the trying to be shock value stuff too- it’s like they’ve just gone through a checklist- in fact I think that’s exactly what they did.

      I always think aren’t the performers Embarrassed to perform it? How can they not be???

  51. I have many things to say, but it’s hard to type on my phone. For now I will leave it at this. For anyone who likes Blurred Lines and is unfamiliar with early Robert Palmer, do yourself a favor and go listen to the album Sneakin Sally Through The Alley. Especially the first three songs – sailing shoes, hey Julia, and sneaking sally through the alley. You won’t be disappointed. It’s kinda like what Blurred Lines would be if it was eleventy bazillion times better.

  52. With you 100%. I listent o the drivel leaking out the pop radio stations now* and I weep (almot) for the kids today.

    (* And, like you said, so ridculously over-produced and over-engineered: Hey, the guys in the 60s and 70s actually produced the sounds you hear on the records. They over-dubbed; but that was about the extent of the studio wizardry. The rest was mic placement and mixing.)

    My kids actually prefer the music of the 60s and 70s, I’m pleased to say!

  53. My personal opinion agrees with Celing Cat. I wonder how many tracks today are made by a bunch of musicians playing in. The same room at the same time. The interplay of great musicians working off one another seems to be one of the things that makes great rock/pop/jazz (insert your favourite here). I wonder if too much modern music is made on a laptop.

  54. Rock ‘n’ Roll, like the dinosaurs, ain’t dead, it’s just evolved, and needs to evolve some more, and then continue evelving. There are a lot of vanilla-flavoured artistes out there, and always have been. They will just find themselves unable to compete in over-populated niches and evolutionary dead-ends, leaving the few with innovative adaptations to survive and drive further evolution.

  55. Rock hasn’t degenerated; it has moved. The U.S. record labels are no longer interested in that music and are pushing stuff that takes far, far less effort and talent to produce. It is now predominately basic synth pop, infantile “country rock”, dubstep, hip hop, and pretty crap acoustic work. However! Rock is alive and well in Scandinavia, Japan, Italy, etc. There are so many great melodic rock bands coming out of Europe these days which have made sure that high-skilled electric lead guitar and a strong lead vocal is going nowhere. Japan is doing its part as well. And a lot of it is in English so if you need your hard rock fix and you need it NOW, just look up Work of Art or W.E.T. or Treat or Vamps or Violet Sun or Lionville or tons of others.

    And there’s always Muse to put the rest of the English-speaking world’s bands to shame. They’re at least keeping UK from being an embarrassment.

    1. +1 for Muse

      Also (for the UK) Threshold, Panic Room, Magenta (Chris Fry is one of the most under appreciated rock guitarists; up there with Steve Howe), Anathema (see above, #28), Aeon Zen.


  56. I also wanted to add… if you argue that current examples of “good music” are mere “anecdotes,” I fail to see how your evidence for music of the past being superior will amount to anything more than “anectodes” in turn.

    I love lots of old bands. But there are current bands that I also think are fantastic. They’re just not all at th top of the charts (except Muse). The Darkness is one that comes to mind that really embodies and carries on so much that was great about rock n roll in the 1970s and 1980s and they’re not exactly mainstream here (though I did get to see them at a small venue this year and it was a blast).

    And as for art… wow, really? Just open up a Spectrum book for any year, any year at all. And then tell me with a straight face that good art is dead, or that it has “degenerated.” The talent pool is bigger than ever. We just don’t put this stuff in museums for easy access… yet.

  57. Reminds me of the old joke, “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells that way”. Fortunately, modern technology makes it possible to hear all sorts of great music that’s been recorded for nearly 100 years, so there will always be something good to listen to.

    I don’t know, but suspect that there’s a lot of good music being written and performed that hasn’t found a mass audience (yet?). Here’s an interesting interview in which Frank Zappa gives his analysis of the decline of the record industry and why good new music doesn’t reach mass markets….

    Professor Coyne, as a fan of jazz music, you’re lucky to live in Chicago where there
    are still a number of clubs where you can discover good music being made in the here and now. If you haven’t been there, try
    checking out The Green Mill, Jazz Showcase, Martyrs, Andy’s, or Katarina’s, to name a few.

  58. Maybe the obvious comeback is “What is rock and roll”? =D

    Nitpick: Technically that piece has musicality since you can dance to it (but not much, neither artist nor music).

  59. It’s pop music as well. Whenever I go to the grocery store or some other public venue, the pop Muzak is *always* at least thirty years old. It’s 70’s and early 80’s, no later.

    Who would have thought that that genre would degenerate from its former “peak”?

    1. Well, one day we were going through Target and my wife decided to stop in the music department. An attentive salesperson promptly asked if he could help her find anything. She said, “Yes, I am looking for albums by the group 10 Years.”

      Looking a bit taken aback the salesperson said, “Ohh! You won’t find anything like that here.” Why not? Is it because 10 Years doesn’t have the manufactured marketing support of One Direction, and might even offend someone who just loves nothing more than finding things to take offense at on behalf of everyone else, especially the children? Or is it because One Direction makes great music and 10 Years’ music sucks? After all they sell plenty of music at Target that sells less than 10 Years’ music.

  60. To be fair, the Billboard charts back in the 60s weren’t all Beatles and Bob Dylan. They were also filled with forgettable songs. The occasional memorable band or song was the exception rather than the rule, even back then.

    The songs listed in the post are likely forgettable in the long term. Over the span of a year, though, there is bound to be a song or two that will persist.

    Selective memory strikes again!

  61. Science is dead. Where are the contemporary equivalents of Einstein and Darwin? Back in the day intellectual giants produced works of awesome brilliance but today’s scientists produce derivative mediocrity.

  62. There was a roughly thirty year period where electrification and then recording technology changed everything. The Beatles and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys via Phil Spector began to explore the new technology, using the studio as an instrument. There is simply not as much room for technological innovation in rock music now.

    However, the singles chart is irrelevant. Even by the late sixties albums were seen as the medium for serious rock.

    There has always been a lot of dross. The sixties are no different for that.

    In the late seventies, Led Zep, punk, then new wave: Talking Heads and Elvis Costello took that into the eighties. Then there was the alt rock of bands like Sonic Youth. Then indie rock: The Smiths will still be listened to in 20 years. In the nineties, The Stone Roses were part of the crossover of rock into dance music. Shoegazing produced some excellent music. The Verve’s A Northern Soul is a slightly lesser known classic. Nirvana were not a band that will be quickly forgotten. Radiohead, though not a favourite of mine, did new things and are highly influential.

    Yes, rock music is morphing into other forms, but I don’t think it died as early as the seventies.

    1. Technology did also drive much of the inovation in the 18th and 19th century. Nirvana and grunge became possible thanks to dynamic compression. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible for Kurt Cobain to whimper in some parts of the song and scream at the top of his lungs in other parts, yet remain at the same loudness level. The same applies to drums and guitar.

      For an impressive example of how technology drives music, listen to the following amazing 1967 demo record for the vox wah wah effects pedal. It prefigures Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zepplin and what was to come in the late 60ies/early 70ies.

        1. The wah wah effect is an adjustable band pass filter. A slice of the frequency spectrum passes through. The player can adjust the mid-band frequency of the slice.

          A volume knob on the other hand lets all frequencies pass equally.

          Also, one is operated by hand, the other by foot, leaving both hands to play.

          Both devices are pretty much orthogonal.

          1. Already knowing all those facts, I stand by my comment. Most people wouldn’t know the difference. (I’ve seen this in action many times.)

  63. I seem to recall a study (~10 years ago?) that showed that people were “imprinted” with the music they listened to during their late teens (or something like that).

    Not sure if that explains a lot of the back-and-forth going on here, but it might…

  64. “But if there are bands out there as good as Santana, The Beatles, the early Stones, and the Band, where are they?”

    What makes these bands/artists good?

    Let’s take the early Stones. Ripping off Irma Thomas, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and [insert blues artist, preferably on Chess label] doesn’t qualify as the apex of much to my mind. At least not much that is important. I think the Stones conceded as much when they visited Chess Records in 1964 and bowed down before Muddy Waters in the early 80s at shows in Chicago.

    As for The Band, I would put Son Volt/Jay Farrar (and Uncle Tupelo, though it’s no longer around) right up there in the folk-rock genre.

    “the Beatles, the Stones, the great soul music of the 60s and early 70s, the Band, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and . . . well, I can go on forever. Why will their music last? Because these people were artists, who produced interesting music, with lovely tunes and (often) meaningful lyrics.”

    Eric Clapton spent years doing his Freddie King imitation yet he’s an “artist”? Why not a rip-off artist?

    When Baby Boomers die out, the music created during their collective youth will not be on the radio nearly as much as it is now. You discount the fact that it’s the music industry and that commercial concerns have a paramount role to play. As long as there is money to be made off of nostalgia, it will be done.

    By labeling these musicians as artists, are you implying that they were somehow immune to the commercial side of the **business** they were a part of or are in some way “pure”? Recall the Stones ripping off the blues artists they love and doing a Rice Krispies commercial?

    Remember Cream’s Falstaff commercial?

    When you pronounced those bands artist it really came across to me as if you were thinking that that ended the argument. You say they were artists so QED. If so, I call BS on that.

    Do you think the bands/musicians you noted go around saying that there are no great bands today? Or is this the province of aging fans?

  65. There is too much truth in what you say, Jerry! When I was in junior high/high school in ’80s, I was a big fan of 60s music and my parents and teachers found it awfully strange. But it’s interesting to note that high school kids are still often gravitating towards the music from that era!

    Having said that, I do think there is something to Sturgeon’s Law. Not that I think there is likely another Dylan or Beatles lurking around there somewhere. They may be just too special to ever be matched. But there is definitely good stuff out there! Unfortunately due to a whole range of factors, I’m not sure that the cream rises to the top anymore the way it once did. That applies to contemporary art too, where I agree that a great deal of it is execrable. It’s a hard time to make a go of it as an artist when the art world has become far too academic for it’s own good. There seems to be a fear among artist’s and curators of appealing to the “lowest common denominator.” With that kind of arrogance, it’s unlikely that art will be brought back to the people any time soon, but some of us try! 🙂

  66. I listen to classical more than to anything else these days (and that includes a lot of modern and “difficult” music — Ligeti’s piano etudes are for all time; LOVE those pieces), but here’s a brief list of rock and pop people who have some value:

    Aimee Mann
    Tori Amos (not really rock)
    Robyn Hitchcock
    Andrew Bird (not really rock)
    Death Cab for Cutie
    The Decemberists
    The Shins
    Travis (first album sucks)

    And although I don’t know much about her (except that she abandoned her Christian rock roots years ago), Sam Philips seems to be a pretty good songwriter. I saw a rave review somewhere of her just-released new album (her 10th!), “Push Any Button”.

    I just asked a friend about all this, and he just sent me this recent live clip of Aimee Mann appearing on Cona O’Brien’s show. It’s a nice song:

    But Avril Lavigne IS lousy and she makes for a terrible “random” sample. (And I know this might be rock/pop heresy, but I never understood Eric Clapton’s appeal. David Gilmour and Brian May are better guitarists!)

    All that said, my mood these days is for the great composers — and many of whom worked long after Brahms: Strauss, Prokofiev, Britten, Sibelius, and Nielsen. I think Shostakovich’s symphonies are over-written and are often bombastic, but his fifteen string quartets are great. Probably the greatest cycle of string quartets from the 20th century. Prokofiev’s two string quartets are also great (as are the two by Janacek). Berg’s Violin Concerto can be tough going for some people, but it’s a great work. As for more “obscure” composers, I’ve heard a couple of symphonies by Rubbra (the Sixth and Eighth) that are gorgeous. Jerry, check out Britten’s Piano Concerto. That ought to be in the repertory. True, it does get played but hardly enough.

    Finally, one shouldn’t confuse lack of good music being created, with the public’s inattention of such work. In both the classical and jazz world, things are dead only in so far as there is no real audience anymore. I don’t dislike jazz but I’m not a fan either, but as a friend argued recently there are jazz musicians who could blow any of the heroes from the past off the stage in a live cutting session. But it’s irrelevant because hardly anyone cares anymore. Same with classical. That is, nobody cares enough for it to gain traction and become “famous”. True, there’s lousy music written at any time, but the general problem isn’t with the music being written. It’s with the culture.

    1. While my Guitar Gently Weeps.

      He channeled the great blues men better and before most other white boys did (Peter Green excepted.)

  67. If things were better in the past (I maintain that some of this is confirmation bias) I have to say that TV is better. It’s my opinion that we’ll look back at this time as the golden age of TV.

    1. Holy, hoppin’ Hank!

      I stopped watching TV in the mid-1980s (and have never gone back — no time for it). My little bit of exposure to it now makes me instantly think of bang-bang video games (which I also avoid). Constantly shifting editing, gratuitous eye-catching FX all the time, etc. Bleck — un-watchable. And “reality” TV?! Really?

      I’m sure there are some good drama series out there. But I don’t have the time.

      Maybe it’s because I wasn’t raised with video games or the internet.

      1. With the rise of (a) the DVD box set (b) channels where the viewer is the customer rather than the product, there’s actually incentive to make series that don’t suck. Obviously there’s still a lot of garbage, but (a) is where stuff like The Wire comes from and (b) is where stuff like Game Of Thrones comes from.

  68. Does anybody know of where to find the Top 40 list for random weeks in history? Wikipedia has an entry for List of Billboard number-one singles, which is close, but doesn’t show the full breadth of pop music. Anyway, starting with their first year in the Hot 100 era, 1958, I checked each decade. 1958 wasn’t particularly full of good songs. 1968 was actually pretty good. 1978 was horrible. 1988 was decent. 1998 was decent. 2008 wasn’t particularly good, but it was still better than ’78. So, even just going by that, my opinion is that the average level of pop music from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000’s was better than the average from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. But the late ’60s was a high point where good and popular converged.

    If I look to bands from my high-school and college days that were comparable to the Beatles and Stones, I’d pick Pearl Jam and Nirvana. They even had the rivalry, and were very influential to the music that came after them. And personally, even though I like all four bands, if I had to pick a pair to listen to, it would be the modern ones.

    And what’s the purpose of music as an art form – to tout technical aspects, or to elicit emotion? If the latter, I can’t think of any music from the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s that comes anywhere close to doing what Rage Against the Machine has done. But even from the past, Howlin’ Wolf is one of my favorite musicians, but I wouldn’t call his music particularly complex.

    Anyway, as far as modern bands, many people have rightly pointed out that pop isn’t necessarily the best, and there are many good bands right now. Personally, I find it a bit overwhelming trying to keep up with music, because there are so many good bands out there. But you have to do a little looking for them since they’re not necessarily going to get much radio time (especially in Wichita Falls, Texas, where the only stations play country music, jock rock from the ’70s/’80s, bubble gum pop, or Christian pop). Bruce Gorton had a good list up above. bcameron had another one. And Scott up in comment 10 listed another. A few other bands I’d add would be Them Crooked Vultures, Daft Punk, Sonic Youth, and the Pixies (even if those last two are on the older side of ‘modern’).

      1. Right, but that’s not nearly the same thing as saying ‘Rock and roll is dead’. Rock and roll is still doing quite well, with a fairly good sized following. There hasn’t been a steady decline in quality, nor even a steady decline in the quality of popular music. There was one brief period where the most popular music just happened to be good rock music (by my standards, at least), but just prior to that period (Doo-wop, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., etc.), and just after that period (Disco), the popular music was no better than it is today.

        And a lot of this is just grumpiness and nostalgia. Even with rap’s relative ‘youth’ compared to rock, I already hear people complaining that the rap these days just isn’t as good as what it used to be.

        1. “people complaining that the rap these days just isn’t as good as what it used to be”

          Oh, hey, that makes me really laugh out loud!

          Listen to Gil Scott-Heron and Lou Reed, among others. The rappers these days (even the “classic” rappers) are waaaay late to the party.

  69. As one of those notorious ‘young people’ you hear so much about, I’d like it to go on the record that I’m afraid this is simply nostalgia speaking, mixed with Sturgeon’s law and the inexorable progress of time swallowing up yesterday’s dreck.

    In fact, speaking of Sturgeon’s law, one would assume that 9 of the top 10 songs listed should be crap. However, both Imagine Dragons and Daft Punk are actually pretty damn good. The rest can be jettisoned, but 20% is still better than expected, especially when talking about chart music.

    I listen to – and enjoy – music from plenty of different eras. Hell, the Who are one of my all-time favourite bands (and certainly better than the Beatles). Now, obviously it gets progressively harder to produce originality whilst remaining completely within the original parameters of the genre – but originality isn’t everything (and whole new original *genres* do just keep on proliferating). From a purely qualitative, aesthetic point of view, I enjoy recent music from Radiohead, Kasabian, the Black Keys, Dream Theater, Muse, Symphony X, the Foo Fighters and Gorillaz (to name some of the more well-known acts) just as much as I do Santana, the Stones, the Who, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, T-Rex, the Kinks, the Doors, etc.

    This is without branching out into the stuff that doesn’t make the charts – quantitively speaking, there is a lot *more* music produced these days, meaning that a lot of great music goes relatively unnoticed. For example, over the past few days I’ve been discovering Django Django, Woodkid and Tame Impala. And this is not to mention all the music I listen to a) from non-rock/pop genres, and b) in non-English languages.

    Music from past decades is *great*, but so is more plenty of modern music. Of course, in fifty years or so, I’ll probably be starkly opposed to whatever chart-topping act is currently popular – but I hope this won’t stop me from appreciating the genuinely good music that will undoubtedly still be appearing. A certain level of nostalgia is probably inevitable, but hopefully my rose-tinted glasses won’t obstruct my vision to the point where I cannot appreciate authentic quality.

    1. I forgot to mention The Doors up above in my comment. Honestly, how can people discuss good bands from the past and not bring up the Doors?

      And, I agree with your comment wholeheartedly. Plus, given the bands you named who I know, I think I’m going to have to check out the bands you named that I hadn’t heard of.

      1. I don’t know… I always found The Doors a bit pompous. I leave them off of my “great bands from my youth” list.

  70. I don’t mind the new stuff so much and like some of it. It might be caused by my joy at having something, anything replace RAP. Although there were one or two rap song that I enjoyed as well.

  71. The way music comes to us is different these days. The monolithic big labels are dead. In the UK the live music scene is hopping at all scales from little pub back rooms up to the many, many open air festivals. Anyone who wants to make music today can take a shot & get heard ~ probably not make any money at it though.

    Rock music is as good as it’s ever been. There’s more bands/musicians playing than ever before. Over here at least there’s a heck of a lot of great music on the non-commercial radio channels by unsigned touring musicians. I particularly enjoy late night BBC Radio 2 on the weekend & the evening & late night sessions on BBC Radio 6 Music

    Spoiled for choice in every genre

    The established bands that come to mind which are the equals of Neil Young are the likes of:-
    Massive Attack, Stereophonics & Radiohead. These are now old school 80s/90s, but there’s plenty coming up underneath.

    Here’s PROTECTION by Massive Attack which I Hope you’ll try for size

  72. I find a better way to look at the musical landscape is to look at it from a cultural evolution point of view. Genres, like species, breed new sub-genres, which often become more dominant than their roots and change the landscape. This leads to new sub-genre being formed… etc etc… you get it.

    I think the real story is that everyone now listens to music a lot and there’s a lot of it at our disposal so popular music is music which targets the lowest common denominator. Looking beyond that… the genres and sub-genres that exist today which aren’t mainstream are full of talent and creativity. Music lovers nowadays have to peer beneath the layer of bullshit, but, beneath the bullshit, there are more gems than one can gather in one’s life.

    In fact, I think you’re being a little of a curmudgeon because there’s quality stuff of every genre which actually bubbles to the surface.

    Most popular rap is crap… but old Eminem, old Jay-Z and Outkast we’re all innovators of the genre with consistently thought out albums.

    In terms of rock… most of pop rock is crap… but Radiohead has been one of the biggest rock bands for 20 years now. And their catalogue has no comparison. Feist, Portishead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Band of Horses… the list goes on.

    These are the genres that can still compete with dance/pop crap on billboards… then we can look at the sub-genres which can never make it mainstream…like all the distinct forms of metal we have today. Each has it’s own list of awesome “big bands”… they’re just not big enough to compete on the billboard charts, the radio, etc with the lowest common denominator pop music.

    Music ain’t dead…it’s just covered in a thin film of shit.

  73. Rock didn’t die, it evolved and branched into hundreds of new forms. In the same way that Blues evolved into Rock. Some of the new forms are very good, but as always, you have to sift through the dross.
    Music is more mature and diverse today than ever. But if you prefer to listen to the same songs from 40 years ago, (over and over again), that’s fine too. Whatever makes you happy.

  74. Try a band called Stone Axe. Nostalgia based 70’s rock and roll. Or Graveyard, a Zeppelin-esque rock group from Sweden. If you like those, there’s plenty more where that came from.

    Rock and roll is still alive and kicking, it’s not the music’s fault that no one is listening.

    1. Dead right Russell, there’s some terrific from young bands out there playing cracking rock music. You just need to get forward and search it out. I’ll try out every band people have linked to in this thread, if 1 in 20 are for me then that’s a winner.

      My particular thing is the classic era heavy rock style, Sabbath, ACDC, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake and the like. As much as I love those bands I’d be bored to death if all I did was listen to them over and over. Here in the UK we’ve got loads of very talented mainly young bands that have the 70’s sensibilities that I want but also have the things a bunch of old rockers simply can’t reproduce (ACDC excepted), namely the energy and attitude to carry it off. And usually for less than 15 quid a gig.

      Try these, all rock but all very different

      Just ignore the dross Jerry just like you did back in the day when most popular music was actually just as crap as it is now.

  75. Can I recommend Bandcamp as a great place to check out and support “new” artists? Caveat: Sturgeon’s law still applies.

    You can generally listen to full tracks/albums before deciding to buy (or not!). Your money goes direct to the artists (or indie labels in some instances), with the money from every eleventh purchase going to Bandcamp itself. Prices are competitive with iTunes, with the option of paying more if you think the artist deserves it! (Some have no minimum — free, if you want to bilk the artist.) And downloads are available in lossless formats at no extra cost.


    PS. My Bandcamp collection. Caveat: Sturgeon’s law might still apply.

    PPS. I have no financial interest in Bandcamp! I just think it’s a great way of supporting the artist without adding to Amazon’s, Apple’s, &c. profits.

  76. Well, if you’re tuning into pop radio to listen to rock n’ roll, of course you’re going to come away empty handed.

    But, there are a few things that I find wrong with your analysis.

    “Blatant product placement”

    I’ll give you that.

    “No musicality: shouting”

    Musicality does not refer to a style of singing. It refers to the organization and structure of the overall song. Does the song’s keyboard part compliment the guitar part? Does the song’s drum part compliment the bass? That’s what you look for to find musicality. And this song is teeming with it.

    “Song shows no signs of creativity; sounds like many other songs on the air. Tune (if there is one) is dull; words forgettable.”

    This could not be more wrong. The amount of work put into this song is staggering. You’d be hard pressed after hearing this once or twice on the radio to forget some of its melodies. And it sounds like many other songs because it’s a pop tune–it’s designed to sell. The words may be forgettable to you, but then again, you’re not a part of the 13 year-old audience.

    “Attempt to cover up lack of creativity with shock value: cursing; girl-on-girl kiss featuring Danica McKellar (think Katy Perry); superheroes; and even a shark beheaded by a buzzsaw. Other recent music videos have covered up the lack of interesting music with unclad women.”

    Dude, this is what got rock n’ roll popular to began with–think Iggy Pop or David Bowie. Now, granted they had a better back drop of music to support their antics. I mean even Elvis was going against the common trend of his day–dyed his hair black, sang about getting girls, etc. This is just a modern day technique of doing that.

    “AUTOTUNING (voices are adjusted electronically): the curse of modern rock. Who had that bad idea, which is grossly overused?”

    Once again, it’s pop music. It’s meant to be perfect. And it’s become a new style. It’s roughly equivalent to anyone who picked up a guitar and became a front man after seeing The Beatles. First, somebody starts by doing something outrageous, and then somebody else thinks it’s cool and follows suit. Big bosses in nice suits see that “it’s all the rage” and start pumping it out like jelly beans. It’s just the biz.

    “My theory, which is mine, is that eventually every art form, with the possible exception of movies and the novel, degenerates.”

    I think you are absolutely wrong. When you take one segment of any art form–pop music–and claim that that entire franchise has gone down the toilet, you haven’t looked very hard. You critique is equivalent to me looking at every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and saying that film is dead. All his movie’s ever show is people getting shot in the face and fountains of blood. It’s the same for art. Do you really think that the art pumped out of the corporate tower is innovative or new? Those lumps of concrete thrown into the middle of college campuses? Those paintings of nothing that sell for millions of dollars?

    I think if you’re looking for rock n’ roll, you should dig a little deeper than pop radio…

    1. “think Iggy Pop or David Bowie.”

      That’s nearly a line from Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express.’

      And Kraftwerk truly rocked. As did Can. Love those crazy Germans.

  77. BBC4 often shows episodes of Top Of The Pops from the 70s and 80s. Of the dozen or so songs in each episode, there will be one or two that are still played on classic radio and enjoyed, with the rest forgotten. The same will happen to today’s music. In 30 year’s time, the classic radio (or equivalent) of the day will only play the few artists who have been remembered, with the rest only existing to embarrass the old and be mocked by the young. Meanwhile, it will be my turn to complain about the quality of pop music today.

  78. I lasted just under 2 minutes.

    Here’s my insight: Pop music like this is nothing but commercial advertising to get people to buy it.

    1. But it serves a purpose. It’s like eating lots of sugar or watching action movies like Die Hard. I can listen to Brittany and feel like I’m a vacuous girl too. That I matter in society because I’m what society wants – a dumb girl. It’s comforting.

  79. Well, I think your entire article lays on a certain definition of rock n’ roll, which to many people means many different things.

    But, alas, there are a few general points of disagreement…

    “Blatant product placement”

    I’ll give you that.

    “No musicality: shouting”

    Musicality does not refer to the method of singing. It refers to the structure and overall organization of the song. Does the keyboard part compliment the guitar part? Does the drum part compliment the bass part? That’s what you look for to find musicality. And this song is teeming with it.

    “Song shows no signs of creativity; sounds like many other songs on the air. Tune (if there is one) is dull; words forgettable.”

    There is so much creativity here I don’t even know where to begin. There are scores of people working their asses off to get this song to fit a certain bill. Groups of musicians slaving over which part to put where, how to emphasize certain things, and how to get this song to be as catchy as possible. Now, I’ll agree that I’m not a big fan of this tune either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not eaten up by its 13 year-old audience.

    “Attempt to cover up lack of creativity with shock value: cursing; girl-on-girl kiss featuring Danica McKellar (think Katy Perry); superheroes; and even a shark beheaded by a buzzsaw. Other recent music videos have covered up the lack of interesting music with unclad women.”

    Well, I guess this depends on your definition of rock n’ roll. When I think rock n’ roll I think of Iggy Pop or David Bowie–and these guys were nothing but outrageous. David Bowie was an androgynous star-man while Iggy Pop was a raging drug addict. Even Elvis was an iconoclast of his day–dyed his hair black, sang about getting girls, etc.

    “AUTOTUNING (voices are adjusted electronically): the curse of modern rock. Who had that bad idea, which is grossly overused?”

    Well, this is just another method of perfecting a song. Also, I’m sure that the first person who auto-tuned was a big iconoclast. But, given the nature of the music biz, someone heard that auto-tuned song, thought it was cool, and then followed suit. Then, the big wigs in their fancy buildings saw that it was all the rage, set their business model to “auto-tune everything”, and away we go.

    “My theory, which is mine, is that eventually every art form, with the possible exception of movies and the novel, degenerates.”

    Well, you’re taking one segment of an art form and condemning the art form as a whole. I don’t see how this doesn’t apply to movies as well. I could just as easily say that film is dead because every action movie is full of nothing but blood and thin movie plots. And what about all those dreadful Twilight movies? And what about romance novels? What about science fiction novels? I’m sure many of these are full of cliches and fancy writing plots that are nothing but generic back wash. All disciplines have their sell stream, and you can’t claim that any segment of that art form is dead because its popular stream is nothing but glossed up garbage.

    I think if you’re looking rock n’ roll, you should dig a little deeper than pop radio…

  80. Funny, about 2 weeks ago, I was asking a bunch of friends to name 10 rock bands that STARTED in the past 13 years that would be around in 20 years. Could think of maybe 2.

    1. That’s not very surprising. The three bands Dr. Coyne mentioned in the OP were the Beatles, the Stones, and The Band. Only the Stones have been active continuously since they first hit the scene. The Beatles were only active for about 10 years before their breakup, and The Band only made it about 13 years before their first breakup.

  81. I’m getting to this too late for my comment to be noticed I’m sure. I agree with Jerry on almost everything other than the specific pieces of music he may like vs what I like. I thought for years rock was dying and was distressed about it greatly. Then one day I discovered Kyuss, which led me to Sasquatch, Truckfighters, Dozer, Colour Haze, Droids Attack, Valley of the Sun, Feuerzeug, The Admiral Sir Cloudesely Shovell, Cowboys & Aliens, Firestone, Freedom Hawk, Brain Police, Astroqueen, Orchid, Elvis Deluxe, Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Enos, Steak, Estoner, Arenna, and HUNDREDS others. There are two general genres of underground rock in which hundreds of bands worldwide are making listenable, sometimes incredible music, and in which thousands are listening. One genre is ‘stoner’, sometimes called ‘fuzz’, and more rarely referred to as ‘desert’ or ‘high desert’ rock. The other genre is a bit more nebulous in that no one has landed on an official genre name, but kids who grew up listening to their parents’ old 70s and 80s rock, and then were fed a good dose of 90s and 00s rock to boot, are standing on the shoulders of those past greats and creating their own brand of blues fueled classic or retro rock. A considerable amount of it is awesome!! None of it seems to be able to make headway in terms of popularity among the masses, but then these are all musicians who create music for the sake of it, knowing good and well they must squeeze in touring and studio sessions between vacations from their day to day job. These musicians are hungrier than those manufactured dweebiciles playing on Clear Channel stations and late night talk shows. Not all of them are talented to a high degree, but there’s enough there to warrant quality time on the headphones listening to what they’ve conjured out of thin air and decades old roots.

  82. The same holds for classical music. Do you believe that in 200 years symphony orchestras—if they still exist—will be playing largely the “classical” music composed today? I doubt it. It will be Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms.

    I’m surprised our resident trumpet player hasn’t weighed in on this one…

    1. Orchestras will certainly be programming a good number of early-to-mid-century 20th c composers: Mahler (time to give him a rest though), Sibelius, Nielsen, Prokofiev.

      But if you really want to get esoteric I wish somebody would program the Mennin Piano Concerto — and a new recording of that work is needed as well.

  83. JAC, you may be amused by this recent story, about a ten-minute-long experimental contemporary Canadian composition for violin and harpsichord called “Blurred Lines” that is apparently accidentally going viral as a result of people looking for the pop song and finding this instead. (I’m not sure if the song in the linked article will stream outside of Canada. Regardless, it certainly doesn’t suffer from any autotuning, shouting, or product placement!)

    1. i wasn’t born at the time, but being a Beatles’ nut I am aware of the song: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in German because they still had a large German following at that point in time. That song, along with Sie Liebt Dich, appear on the “Past Masters” double CD.

  84. Another thought: The popularity of a song need not have anything to do with its musical qualities. Mostly what it takes is figuring out a way to broadcast it in such a way that listeners don’t switch stations. Then they will get used to hearing the song, and once they are used to it, they usually like it.

  85. Of course, everyone’s taste in popular music is formed as a teenager, but you can learn new things as well! I am not really excited about most of my teenager’s music choices, but they aren’t top 40, so I don’t complain too much. But he has found some really interesting music that cannot be directly compared to your classic rock icons, but is instead something completely different.

    I know that there is a bunch of 90’s rock stations that play what would be classic rock equivilent for 40-50 year old folks now so there is that.

    There are bands that have been around 40 years, that are still making interesting music, I refer to Rush (it might not be your thing but they are still evolving.)

    Foo Fighters are great rock music and been around 20 years or so!

    Also check out NPR’s all songs considered show plus which collects all their msuic programming. There is always something new and interesting.

    I’d suggest there is no such thing as simply “Rock” music, and really there never was. Its a spectrum and each person needs to decide which bits of it they like.

    1. My 3yo is going to have the most eclectic taste in music. His dad prefers classical and…wait for it…Norwegian death metal. I prefer almost everything except modern country, ska, funk, and “smooth” jazz. So right now he listens to Donna Summer, Daft Punk, Beastie Boys, Beatles, and…death metal-ish stuffs. Also Nightwish. In fact right now he is hanging on my neck demanding Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights’. Oy! I suspect by the time he is a teen, he will be uncovering a lot of jewels!

    2. Again, I mention Brian Jonestown Massacre. One of those under appreciated, long standing, evolving bands that I believe is truly “rocking on”!

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