BY: JOEY REAMS
Rock music is an electrifying genre that was once considered the number one genre across America. Although today the genre is still widely listened to worldwide, many recognize the genre has fallen behind other mainstream genres such as hip-hop or electronic. This point is proven repeatedly through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which has opened honor to musicians beyond rock. This controversial decision has led some music fans to lose sight of rock music is, further straying the genre from its true form. As a result, the genre is staying alive through subgenres and other variations of the genre. To help remind fans where the genre originated from and where it’s going, we’ve decided to take a look back at its path.
Origins of the Genre
Like most genres, rock and roll originated from a combination of several other previous genres. Around the 1940s, some of the biggest genres included jazz, country, boogie-woogie, gospel, and rhythm and blues, all heavily influenced by Black America. Eventually, one man, Alan Freed, noticed these evolving genres and began to play them on his radio station WJW (850 AM). However, unlike other disc jockeys at the time, the Cleveland DJ would “play the original singles by the black artists instead of waiting for a white singer to cover them.”
As a result, some of rock and roll’s biggest pioneers and influences began to receive air time on the radio. These artists include Robert Johnson, The Orioles, Hank Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Woodie Guthrie, and many more. While these artists were all within their own respective genres, eventually, the sound would evolve into a new collectively agreed genre. Songs such as “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and His Dominoes and “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets began to mention these terms of rocking and rolling. Eventually, it got to a point where Alan Freed needed a term to categorize these songs, landing on ‘Rock and Roll.’
“Rock ‘n’ roll was an inevitable outgrowth of the social and musical interactions between blacks and whites in the South and Southwest,” writer Robert Palmer said. “Its roots are a complex tangle. Bedrock black church music influenced blues, rural blues-influenced white folk songs, and the black popular music of the Northern ghettos, blues, black pop-influenced jazz, etc. But the single most important process was the influence of black music on white.”
The genre would become the number one genre of America and the majority of the world. Rock and roll eventually led to glam rock in the 1970s, then grunge in the 1990s, and finally landing on alternative rock. Unfortunately, the musical juggernaut couldn’t hold its position as number one forever. Some people, including former rock stars, have recently admitted rock music is no longer the most popular genre.
Falling from the Top
Rock music would stand at number one for many decades, eventually growing into stadium-filling concerts with tickets averaging well over $100 for floor seats. Eventually, the genre fell into competition with other genres, mainly hip-hop, in the 1990s. Simultaneously, the two genres were considered head to head, with artists such as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Jay-Z, Tupac, Dr. Dre., Rakim, Grandmaster Flash, and Biggie Smalls leading the charge for hip-hop.
Hip-hop, and other rising genres, were put in the spotlight, and rock music on networks like MTV. Eventually, the channel would reflect what fans want to hear and shift towards hip-hop and other genres. Still, rock was a prevalent genre and stood well, even through the 2000s. It was at the point the idea of rock was beginning to die. Subgenres kept the genre alive but misconstrued what rock is. Two big subgenres from this era were punk-pop and indie, including bands such as Green Day, Fall Out Boy, The Postal Service, and Dinosaur Jr. The former has aged less favorably than the latter, but both have kept the genre alive, despite its new look. Then, Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons went on to officially declare the genre’s death in 2014.
“Rock is finally dead,” Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons said in an interview with Esquire. “The death of rock was not a natural death. Rock did not die of old age. It was murdered. It’s very sad for new bands. My heart goes out to them. They just don’t have a chance. If you play guitar, it’s almost impossible,” Simmons tells his son Nick, who interviewed him for Esquire. “You’re better off not even learning how to play guitar or write songs and just singing in the shower and auditioning for The X Factor. And I’m not slamming The X Factor or pop singers. But where’s the next Bob Dylan? Where’s the next Beatles? Where are the songwriters? Where are the creators? Many of them now have to work behind the scenes, to prop up pop acts and write their stuff for them.”
There are many reasons for this, as Simmons mentioned. Another reason why many argue the genre is no longer alive is that the sound has changed. What most believe rock is would now be considered classic rock. Bands such as The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, Queen, Black Sabbath, and many more helped solidify the genre during that time. Once the sound strayed from that one, the discussion began, and older music fans believe the current state of the genre is no longer what it once was.
Where Rock is Going Now
Despite what many believe, the genre is not dead. Instead, it has once again evolved to survive. The same way the genre adapted from glam rock to grunge, and then grunge to indie, rock is still moving. As mentioned, the genre began competing for music’s top spot with hip-hop in the 90s. In a strange way of adapting to that, the genre branched out and attempted to win hip-hop fans with nu-metal. These bands include Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Rage Against the Machine, incorporating elements of lyrical flow with their music.
More recently, the genre has fallen into competition with another genre, electronic, which has taken off in more recent times. Now, rock is competing against hip-hop and electronic for the biggest genre. Unfortunately, the two other competitors have managed to jump to number one and two by working with and incorporating each other. Rock has recently attempted to do this as well, adding elements of electronic in newer bands. This can be heard in bands such as Twenty One Pilots, MGMT, Foster the People, girl in red, Empire of the Sun, CHVRCHES, Ratatat, and many more.
The genre will continue to adjust and grow as it always has. Today’s critics may not be happy with today’s genre, but they likely only miss the “good ol’ days” of rock filled with over-the-top concerts. Recently those same fans got their wish granted when Grate Van Fleet broke onto the scene in the 2010s. Despite sounding almost identical to Led Zeppelin, rock fans were still not satisfied, claiming they sound too much like Zeppelin and having no originality. Nonetheless, there are still rock bands out there that would hold even the toughest definitions true. Bands such as Royal Blood, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Highly Suspect, Wolf Alice, and Biffy Clyro have all carried on the hard-rock notion that fans have all come to know and love.