October 4, 2006

One Man's Opinion:

I have a guest today! This is Arlen's opinion on how Rock 'n' Roll has changed over the years and has lost a lot of its talent and originality. Your opinions welcome too!

When music started to drift into rap and grunge, I abandoned the “popular” music scene, the Top 40 and the underground, which seemed to be filled with ecstasy-popping industrialized rhythms and semi-one hit wonders. I believe this occurrence happened for me in the mid 1980s.

Back in the 60s and 70s, artists tended to be more creative (my opinion)

1) The public and the record companies demanded it

2) Social culture was changing in a much more radical way and

3) Technology did not drive everything; creativity did.

Here are my explanations:

1) Artists such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would
produce an album of original material, sometimes as often as ever six
months. The public was hungry for it and the record companies wanted
profits. In the 70s, this evolved into an original LP about once a year

But when Michael Jackson released Off The Wall in 1979, he basically took three years off. Now it’s true he came back with Thriller in 1982, but then he took 4 years off. And after the release of Bad, he took another 4 years off before 1991’s Black & White.

The Beatles released Paperback Writer in 1966 and were on hiatus for only 9 months. But then came arguably the best album of the rock era, Sgt. Pepper. And then Magical Mystery Tour. And then The White Album (a double LP I might add…) And then Abbey Road. And then Let It Be.

Check out how many releases Elton John had between 1970-1977. He was arguably the best selling act of that time period. (Sidebar: when Elton took longer times between releases, his commercial success rapidly declined and his music was but a shell of its former glory.) Now artists have to be pushed to release something every other year; partially because they fail to come up with something new and partially because niche radio passes them by.

2) Socially, there was a major difference in the culture. My parents are only 20 years older than me, yet we were worlds apart on musical tastes. My kids are 28-34 years younger than me, but for the most part, we like pretty much the same artists. Many of today’s so-called artists have to “sample” in order to have a hit. Ventura Highway, Every Breath You Take, Oh Girl and countless other numbers have been sampled, not actually covered, but sampled. Why don’t today’s artists try to do something original?

3) Finally, technology has spoiled today’s artists. ProTools software make people like Rosie O’Donnell sound great, though I would venture to say that she wouldn’t know an in-tune piece of music if it bit her. Drum machines, electronic percussion and vocal software have made stars of the likes of Brittney Spears, Jessica and Ashley Simpson, Hillary Duff, Christina Aguliara and on and on and on. Not one of them, or all of them combined, could equal the command, power, yet subtle tones of Linda Ronstadt.


BeckEye said...

It's all in what you call "rock 'n roll." True rock will never die and there are still some great artists around keeping it alive. The unfortunate part is that a lot of them aren't signed! Most of what we hear on the radio today is not rock. Rock is not slick, it's not corporate, it's not agreeable. Rock was always meant to shake people up or wake them up. It was supposed to buck the system. I think a little more of that is coming back now that there is so much more going on in the world that promotes that rebellious attitude.

As far as "grunge," I never liked that label because, to me, it was the return of real rock 'n roll, maybe a little harder, a little edgier, but it was rock. It wasn't glossy like all the hair bands that were dominating the scene at the time. The media can call it grunge until the end of time, but it's still rock 'n roll to me.

One thing about technology - it's not always a bad thing. It's certainly a power that should only be used for good! I don't believe in AutoTune programs to make idiots like Paris Hilton sound like they can sing on key. But, I have a friend who's in a band and they are essentially a two-piece. He is one of the most talented people I know. Great lyricist, great musician, awesome performer. His guitarist is AMAZING. But since they're a duo, they use computers and effects in their live shows. (Now, they are not what I would consider rock, but they come from a rock perspective and they've blended in techno, world beat, funk and many other influences.) I don't think it takes anything away from their creativity or their musicianship.

BeckEye said...

By the way, I think it's a shame that so many of the groundbreaking or inspirational artists who paved the way for today's rockers have gone corporate and forgotten what they used to be about. The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, even The Who (to a lesser extent). That's the biggest disappointment of all. It's hard to point to those bands as the example that today's rock artists should follow when they've caved to the industry's bullshit and their own greed.

Jeff said...

I'm not really sure what to think about this. I mean I really like the points of how lazy artists are compared to artists in the 60's and 70's. I'm lucky to receive a new album every other year from my favorite new bands. I don't really know what creates the lack of originality now and days, I think it's just the times. Back in the 60's and 70's experimenting with drugs was a huge thing, now and days drugs aren't quite as prevelant and if used, are used for different reasons compared to in the 60's and 70's. Drugs aren't the only reason for a lack of experimentation in music though. I don't want to get to into this because I think I might want to write a little bit about it on my blog, but a very thought provoking statement.

Ben Heller said...

An interesting and well written post.

I really strongly believe that there is some fantastic new music still out there and the last 3 or 4 years has been a return to those halcyon days of the late 60's and 70's.

Personally I completely disregard the Pop charts and mainstream radio and have found much of my favourite new music via the internet and one or two music publications (NME, Q, Mojo).

Speaking from a UK perspective, live music is bigger than the movies, music sales are up 8% this year (vinyl sales up 150% !).

New American bands are flocking to the UK to be discovered (which I think is brilliant). I watched a band called We Are Scientists a year ago to an audience of about 30 people. They came back a couple of months ago and played to packed venues of 3000+ and their album got into the UK top 20.

The scene is so vibrant right now, I just wish it was the same in the States and I'm so sorry it isn't.

Rhodeislandrock said...

One of the big differences IMO is that artists of the 60s and 70s thought it was important to be well-skilled in playing their instruments. Today, it's all about being popular and the skill can come after the popularity, if at all.

Today, hype drives the system of mainstream music whereas it was actual talent 20, 30, 40 years ago. I can't be bothered with radio or MTV, the best music is either from the past or a new independent/label-free release. Good music has to be searched for.

Arlen Crawford said...

Brilliant post, my dear (tongue firmly planted in cheek...)

Layla said...

Rhode, thanks for stopping by! You make a great point. I find all my good new music from some of the guys who read here - like Gran Bel Fisher, never would have found him on my own.

Hee hee! Glad you liked it. It is one of my better ideas.

Jamey said...

Interesting post but I don't agree with many of the points expressed.

Drugs have always played a HUGE part in creative expression with each type having its own associative 'personality'. 30s - 50s: Alcohol, pot & opium drugs of choice for blues, jazz & then emerging rock musicians. (Alcohol = 'Yee-ha, let's party' aspect ; Pot & opium = 'Introspective, other worldly & experimental' aspects) 50s - 60s: Alcohol, prescription 'speed', emerging cocaine use & then pot being drugs of choice for explosion of pop & rock musicians. (Alcohol = More 'Ye-ha, let's party' aspects ; Prescription 'speed', cocaine & pot = 'Worky worky, more more' aspects + needed to keep up with emerging concert 'business' & its associated pressures.) Late 60 - 70s: Alcohol, pot, LSD, barbituates,'speed' & cocaine as variety of substances, experimentation & usage grows. (Alcohol = More of same 'party & go nuts' aspects ; Pot, LSD & other psychedelics = 'Mind/conciousness expansion + creative expression' aspects ; Barbituates, 'speed' & cocaine = More of same 'Worky worky, more more' aspect + continued & expanded need to keep up with now established & grueling concert 'business'.) 70s - 80s: Alcohol, pot, cocaine, psychedelics, 'speed', barbituates & growing interest in opiates (Heroin, morphine ect) as drugs become 'mainstream' in the music industry. (Aspects from previous decades now common with Heroin ect being the emerging 'F#@% business' aspect.) 90s - 00s: All of the above + constant introduction of emerging 'designer' drugs, i.e. Ecstacy, vicodin & even viagra as drugs of choice. All of these now completely 'mainstream' in the industry. (Again, each can be associated with particular style/personality aspects in music industry.) 'New' aspect of the 90s - 00s: NO DRUGS = 'Disney' aspect... heh-heh.

The 'public' of 60s & 70s didn't personally 'demand' creativity. Market factors drove this 'need' as 'boomers' came of age becoming a HUGE market. Remember, there are more of them than ANY other demographic. Couple that with a predominately good capitalistic economic climate, i.e. more money all around, and there you see an equivalent rise in supposed consumer 'hunger'. More people + more money = more product, simple rules of supply & demand. And, isn't that the nature of any 'business'? To either recognise a demand (desire) or create one and then supply it with product.

Also, the music industry was still evolving economically as well as technologically. It was, therefore, possible as well as necessary to take chances to incorporate the innovations & changes taking place. Technology has always had direct influence on creativity. In that, with more technical ability to realise artistic visions, you will have an equal rise in creative possibilities and the resuting products. (Sgt. Pepper's LHCB is a direct result of technology driving creativity! And, then there was Hendrix followed by Yes, Genesis ect. Need I say more!!!)

AND, you are making a HUGE assumption that the material on any given LP was created in the months before its release. MOST artists end up with more than an LPs worth of tunes in the studio and they certainly don't throw the 'rest' away! (Look at EVERY Steve Miller LP and you will find a 'hidden' clue from the next LP in either the songs or on the covers! The ultmate Kow Kow Calculator.)

The concert business was still a growing industry in the 60s & 70s and considered secondary to creating product. Artists had more time devoted to studio work than they did to touring. Most apearances were geographically local in nature or relegated to 'big' acts who did tours limited to a few large cites. (Fewer venues meant less time on the road.) As the concert industry grew, it became a large factor in the shrinking availability of time to create & produce product. Ergo the decline in product! It's only in the last 20 years, out of the approximately 60 years in the existance of a music 'industry', that touring to support product has become crucial.

As for your 'beef' with todays artists 'borrowing' from others... Give me a break! Musicians have ALWAYS 'borrowed' from other sources for their supposed 'innovations'. Most 'new' sounds are the result of artists who are either, 1) more aware of other artistic forms in the world OR 2) actively searching for artistic forms not currenty recognised or known by the mass audience. Ergo the cumpulsary, "What are your influences?" question in soooo many interviews. Which always provides answers! ALL popular music has 'roots' in some genre or other.

As for some of the comments above: Beckeye: It's all music. Each genre having its own peculiarities. Rock... what type? 'Rock N Roll' to the Beatles (and practically anyone over 60) meant Elvis, Gene Pitney, Little Richard ect. 'Rock' came some 20-30 years later. How 'grunge' is a return to 'real' Rock N Roll' is hilarious and rather naive! (Time for a history lesson!) For that same poster... Music has been commercialised since the 50s (again, time for a history lesson). John Lennon said his 1st impression upon seeing live musicians was, "That looks like a good job"! (Interesting that one known for 'All you need is love" left a multi million dollar portfolio as well as lots of great music!) All these 'artists' mentioned do it for both personal expression AND money! It is so naive to think it is all about 'art'. BS!!! Music just happens to to be an art form that has evolved into many potential career choices. That is a wonderful thing! (Of which I, personally, am eternally grateful!!!)

Rhode: You couldn't be more wrong! Just listen to some of the live bootlegs from 60's & 70's artists and you will hear the truth. Lots and lots of fudged and questionable playing! (Many artists from that period would probably admit that they were learning as they went along! Many have and therefore don't listen to old recordings.) Anyone can sound great on a studio recording. If you screw up, do it again or (as it became possible) overdub. It's a fact! The large percentage of todays musicians are schooled musicians and are not self taught. Ergo the large number of musicians who make a living teaching at the large numbers of music stores, high schools, colleges and private 'institutes'.

Humans have an intrinsic desire for their 'heroes' to come from altruistic origins. The fact is, most of them don't. So what! I believe that the music is not so much on your records, tapes, CDs, Ipods, computers, radios, videos or what have you. The music is in YOU!!! ...It's just that someone else has done the work to create and express that which you cannot.

...Thanks, I feel so much better now! Sorry if this seems long, maybe I should just get my own damn blog!!!

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