There was once a time when rock co-existed peacefully with soul and pop. Then came a series of onslaughts from techno, dance and hip-hop. Rock came through slightly wounded but on the whole largely unscathed.
Now a new voracious predator has moved in, and is devouring all the native species. Since 2002, when Kelly Clarkson won American Idol’s first season, products from reality TV have made steady inroads into the rock and pop music charts (though I must admit to a sneaking regard for Kelly, since she does co-write lots of songs, has tried to stand up for herself and also sounds kind of rocky).
Labels have long regarded solo recording artists as a lot easier to work with than a volatile four-piece band. Easier to control, easier to style, far more compliant (ie easier to bully), and providing a good outlet for the company’s tame song-writing factory. Compare this with an on-the-edge rock band, riven with the angst of youth, who dress how they like, and for whom helping with promotion is akin to selling your soul to the devil. Plus there’s always one member of the band whose recreational drug use spirals out of control.
Today the labels’ life has been made even easier. The participants of American Idol and similar shows are beholden to the system from day 1. Any contestant that shows a spark of individuality, originality or character never makes it to the finals, voted out by a public easily manipulated by the svengali-like judges.
The finalists emerge from the show with an overwhelming ‘debt of thanks’ to the hierachy. Plus they’ve had a bucket-load of publicity, which a good record company can easily capitalize on.
Taking a leaf out of these sing-along, hyped-up karaoke TV shows, the record industry at large has redoubled its efforts to find solo performers. A&R guys are given remit to seek out new single artists, ripe for manipulation and promotion.
So let’s see if the figures match these observations. Taking the Year End Top 50 charts from 1969 to 2008 at 5 year intervals, it’s straight-forward to count the number of slots occupied by rock bands (see the raw data appended). And sure enough, these figures show an ominous downward trend. Letting the computer find the line of best fit and linearly extrapolating the data, it’s possible to see that, by 2026, the year-end top 50 will be totally devoid of rock groups. An appalling conclusion, sure to send shudders down any rock fan’s spine.
The picture may look bleak, but there is some light brightening the landscape.
Solo artists suck big time when it comes to outdoor festivals. How often do you see the fans yawning and chatting as the thin weak voice of the solo performer rises from the stage only to disappear unheard presumably into some big hole in the ground. Yes, the fans are all patiently waiting for the decent rock group headlining act.
So rock bands are an endangered species soon to be confined to the wildlife-park equivalent of festivals and college gigs. And of course inane Guitar Hero tracks!
Data (from year end charts at www.popculturemadness.com)
2008 8 in top 50 Metro Station – Shake It, One Republic – Stop & Stare, Coldplay – Viva La Vida, Buckcherry – Sorry, Secondhand Serenade – Fall for You, Linkin Park – Shadow of the Day, Paramore – Misery Business, Three Days Grace – Never Too Late
2004 11 out of 50 Bowling For Soup – 1985, Jet – Are You Gonna Be My Girl, The Killers – Somebody Told Me, Linkin Park – Numb, No Doubt – It’s My Life, The Darkness – I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Counting Crows – Accidentally In Love, Maroon 5 – She Will Be Loved, Green Day – American Idiot, Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes, Evanescence – My Immortal,
1999 10 out of 50 Santana – Smooth, Jamiroquai – Canned Heat, Dave Matthews Band – Crush, Pearl Jam – Last Kiss, Blink 182 – What’s My Age Again?, Blink 182 – All The Small Things, The Offspring – Why Don’t You Get A Job?, The Offspring – Pretty Fly For A White Guy, Savage Garden – I Knew I Loved You
1994 18 out of 50 Bon Jovi – Always, Aerosmith – Crazy, Culture Beat – Mr Vain, Counting Crows – Mr Jones, Nivana – All Apologies, Bryan Adams – All For Love, U2 – All I Want Is You, Aerosmith – Amazing, James – Laid, John Melloncamp – Wild Night, Wet Wet Wet – Love Is All Around, Rod Stewart – Having A Party, Green Day – Basket Case, Prince – The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Beck – Loser, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Meatloaf – Rock And Roll Dreams Come True,The Offspring – Self Esteem
1989 18 out of 50 B52s – Love Shack, U2 – All I Want Is You, Guns N Roses – Patience, Fine Young Cannibals – She Drives Me Crazy, Bon Jovi – Lay Your Hands On Me, U2 – Angel of Harlem, Guns N Roses – Paradise City, Bon Jovi – I’ll Be There For You, Aerosmith – Love In An Elevator, The Cure – Love Song, Love and Rockets – So Alive, Roxette – Listen To Her Heart, Bad English – When I See You Smile, Roxette The Look, Motley Crew – Dr Feed Good, Warrant Heaven, Great White – Once Bitten Twice Shy, Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down
1984 19 out of 50 U2 – Pride (In The Name Of Love), Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark, ZZ Top – Legs, Culture Club – Karma Chameleon, Prince – Purple Rain, U2 – I Will Follow, Culture Club – Miss Me Blind, Huey Lewis and the News – Heart Of Rock and Roll, Twisted Sister – We’re No Gonna Take It, Prince – Let’s Go Crazy, Bruce Springsteen – Cover Me, Bon Jovi – Runaway, Scorpions – Rock You Like A Hurricane, Van Halen – Jump, Huey Lewis and The News – I Want A New Drug, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot – Bang Your Head (Mental Health), Laid Back – White Horse, Quiet Riot – Mama We’re All Crazee Now, Twisted Sister – I Wanna Rock
1979 20 out of 50 Bob Seger – Old Time Rock and Roll, Earth, Wind and Fire – September, Blondie – Heart Of Glass, Earth, Wind and Fire – After The Love Has Gone, Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’, Blondie – One Way or Another, Earth Wind and Fire – Boogie Wonderland, Supertramp – Take The Long Way Home, Supertramp – Take The Long Way Home, Styx – Babe, Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing, Eagles – Heartache Tonight, Toto – Hold The Line, Allman Brothers Band – Crazy Love, AC/DC – Highway To Hell, ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down, Meatloaf – You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Police – Roxanne, The Knack – Heartbeat
1974 14 out of 50 Lynyrd Skynrd – Sweet Home Alabama, Bachman Turner Overdrive – Takin Care Of Business, Redbone – Come and Get Your Love, Chicago – Wishing You Were Here, Eric Clapton – I Shot the Sheriff, The Hollies – The Air That I Breathe, Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock and Roll, Golden Earring – Radar Love, Bachman Turner Overdrive – Let It Ride, The Carpenters – I Won’t Last A Day Without You, Brownsville Station – Smokin In The Boys Room, David Bowie – Rebel Rebel, Steve Miller Band – Living in the USA, Bachman Turner Overdrive – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
1969 21 out of 50 Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup, Steam – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, Spiral Staircase – More Today Than Yesterday, Credence Clearwater Revival – Proud Mary, The Beatles – Something, Archies – Sugar Sugar, Doors – Touch Me, Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women, Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising, The Beatles – Come Together, The Ventures – Hawaii 5-0, Zombies – Time Of The Season, Clear Clearwater Revival – Down On The Corner, Crazy Elephant – Gimme Gimme Good Lovin, Blood, Sweat and Tears – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy, The Beatles – Get Back, Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Rock and Roll Restaurant, Credence Clearwater Revival – Green River, The Guess Who – These Eyes, Santana – Jingo, Beach Boys – I Can Hear Music