When did rock ‘n’ roll die? I nominate 1993

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You can get a lot of nominations for this. Don McLean seemed to think it died with Buddy Holly — but you know, there was still a lot of great stuff after that.

Of course, we can argue all day what “rock ‘n’ roll” means. It gets confusing. For instance, back in the ’60s and I suppose into the ’70s, we sort of relegated the term to that “old stuff” from the ’50s. Elvis, Little Richard and the like. Buddy Holly, of course. Wonderful stuff from history, to be sure, but terribly dated. What we listened to in those days was “rock,” preferably “album-oriented” stuff, via FM — by the ’70s, anyway. “Rock” was cooler, more refined, more sophisticated than those 3 minute-and-shorter bursts of exuberance from the ’50s.

But then, it crept back into our language. We were listening to something that had always been (in our foolish young minds) and always would be (in our innocence). Little did we know that we would live to see it die, and be replaced by the kind of frothy, commercial, packaged pop that used to dominate radio and TV variety shows before The Beatles.

We resisted it, in waves of rock ‘n’ roll fundamentalism. There was punk. Then later, grunge. But grunge came at the very, very end. After that, there were good pop songs to be sure, but rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t think so.

By the term, I sorta think what I mean is guitar bands, although not exclusively. There’s a certain loudness and wildness to it, although not always. It’s definitely male-dominated, being a sort of semi-constructive (by comparison to other, less-savory, behavior) outgrowth of what happens to boys in their teens — although we also thoroughly enjoyed “Blondie” and Joan Jett and Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.

Anyway, I know what I mean. In my last post I made a passing reference to “The State” being on MTV when “rock ‘n’ roll was still alive,” and then noticed that the series came along in 1993, and thought harder about it, and realized that may have been the year it all ended.

If so, it went out with a bang. Here are some of the top songs from that year:

Yeah, I know UB40 was reggae, but I wanted to include it because it was good, and because it harked back to the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, to the King himself, which seemed fitting.

Anyway, Google the top songs of 1994, and you’ll see a big drop-off. Sure, there’s stuff like Beck’s “Loser,” and indeed there was some decent stuff leaking out here and there over the next few years. But the age of rock ‘n’ roll was over. And in late-1960s terms, the age of just plain “rock” was done.

Note that I didn’t pick anything from when I was a kid. I’m not claiming that 1971, the year I graduated from high school, was the last cool year or anything (although it was pretty great — think “Sticky Fingers” or “Who’s Next,” or Leon Russell). Rock stayed alive through the 1970s, producing some wonderful stuff like Elvis Costello. And then music got a shot of adrenaline stronger than anything they gave Trump at Walter Reed when music video exploded in the ’80s. I was busy being a Dad and a newspaper editor then, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But I think 1993 — coincidentally the year I turned 40 (on that birthday, the Battle of Mogadishu happened) — was the end. Since then, we’ve been crossing a long, dry desert.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking at the moment. What do you think?

29 thoughts on “When did rock ‘n’ roll die? I nominate 1993

  1. Norm Ivey

    This sounds an awful lot like Get off my lawn, you little whippersnapper!

    I disagree with your premise that rock and roll has died. I would argue instead that rock and pop are no longer synonymous terms. As other styles of music filled the pop airwaves, rock and roll went back underground where it is alive and well. And growing. You just have to search a little harder to find it.

    You’ve occasionally lamented the loss of a limited media supplying us with our daily Dead. Not me. I embrace it. I have to dig a little harder, but I’ve found a couple techniques that keep rock fresh for me. YouTube Music just replaced my preferred Google Play Music, but I suspect this would work with any streaming service.

    I queue up a band and song I like and choose the “Radio” option. The chosen song will play followed by a thread of similar songs that the algorithm thinks I might like. I “Like” the good ones. They’re right often enough that I discover new bands and songs that I would never encounter if I was still listening to local radio and their endless commercials.

    Another method I use to discover new music is to create a playlist of the top 4 or 5 songs for every artist performing in an upcoming music festival. (Back when we still did that sort of thing.) I put the playlist on shuffle, and as the songs play, I hit the like or dislike button. On the day of the festival, I know which bands I want to see, and I can even sing along with a few of their songs. It also turns me on to local and regional music I can experience in person. (Back when we still did that sort of thing.)

    Finally, YouTube Music has a Discover option that plays new songs for me based on my previous Likes, which brings me even more new stuff. Digital music and streaming has vastly expanded my interests and library.

    Rock and Roll is not dead. It’s just hanging out in the backstreets, garages, breweries, and festivals instead of on corporate radio. It’s right where it belongs.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Several points to make:

      • Rock music, as a central part of our culture and as a vibrant, driving force in our society, is dead. It doesn’t matter that you can go FIND it if you look hard enough. You can find any kind of music, from any era, if you go LOOK for it, especially with today’s technology. You can say that ragtime music played by left-handed Lithuanians is still “alive” because you can find it and listen to it, and if you live somewhere in New York, or Vilnius, you might be able to find it being played live. But that’s not being alive as a significant cultural force. It’s not inspiring a garage full of kids on every other block in America to start their own band to try to be a part of it.
      • Speaking of the technology — if I weren’t listening to podcasts so much these days, I’d still be listening a lot to Spotify and Pandora. They’re great. Everything in the world I might want to listen to, free (the ads I have to listen to are an insignificant price to pay for the privilege of not paying a price). And it’s not just stuff I’ve loved over the years, and stuff I always meant to listen to but didn’t get to, but as you say, stuff I didn’t even know about, and the algorithms have turned me on to. Those services are WAY better at figuring out what I like than Netflix and Prime are. (I think those streaming TV apps are more about pushing me stuff they happen to have and want me to watch that they are at figuring out what I’d like to watch.) But hey, this is like having a high-tech shovel I can use to dig up buried treasure in my backyard. It’s not the air I breathe. It’s not a living cultural force.
      • There are some kinds of music that are “alive” now and you can hear people yammering about them on TV. Some of it’s pretty good, as we were reminded by having Adele host SNL (which is also dead, which we can discuss in another post) the other night. The music of Taylor Swift is alive, and she’s had some decent songs. You can find signs of life in Drake and Megan Thee Stallion. But not rock ‘n’ roll.
      • The way you’re using it, I think either “cue” or “queue” kinda works. You queue up the music until you’re ready to cue it and listen to it.
      Reply
        1. Norm Ivey

          Yeah. When I wrote it it, I was thinking “the first song in a line of songs”. Then when I re-read the post I looked funny. I should have used “cue”.

          Reply
      1. Norm Ivey

        Rock music, as a central part of our culture and as a vibrant, driving force in our society, is dead.

        Agreed.

        Does our culture have a “vibrant, driving force” you can point to like rock music? I guess you could argue that social media fits the bill, but that’s really just a bunch of platforms. The content that comes over it is so varied that I don’t really think of it as a genre/entity like “rock and roll”.

        It’s not inspiring a garage full of kids on every other block in America to start their own band to try to be a part of it.

        Maybe not, but there are still an awful lot of local bands making solid rock and roll, and it is alive.

        Hey, hey, my, my.
        Rock and roll can never die.

        If Neil Young says it, it must be so.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          There it is! We haven’t had that joke on the blog for too long. Glad someone brought that oldie back. Love it.

          Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I knew this post (an obvious, desperate attempt to think about something other than the election) could go one of two ways: people would offer other dates for the passing of rock n roll, or they’d argue that it’s not dead.

      Either way is fine. Y’all are allowed to be wrong — about this. It’s not like you voted for Trump or something.

      Dang! I was trying not to think about that…

      Reply
  2. Bryan Caskey

    Yeah, mid to late 1990’s rock really turned into “PopRock” with songs like: Closing Time, Fly Away, What it’s Like, Heroes, etc. That was all the popular music on the radio when I was finishing high school (1999, if you’re scoring at home) :)

    However, that was really when music started to fragment. The cool thing about being my age is I’m right in the point where we were young and the culture was all still one (more or less) monolithic culture. You had to get your music from the store, but we were in high school when you could kinda-sorta download it. I also had a radio with an integrated cassette deck that allowed me to tape songs right off the radio. The real trick is getting to the tape deck fast enough to get the record button started. Accordingly, most of my songs that I listened to over and over missed the first 5-7 seconds of the song.

    The fall of 1999 was my freshman year of college, and it was the first time that I:

    1. Wasn’t living at home full time;
    2. Had a high speed internet connection in my dorm room;
    3. Had Napster to download literally any song I could think of.

    It revolutionized music for everyone my age. I began listening to songs that I had never really been exposed to because we could share play-lists with each other from dorm to dorm, and the cross-pollinization effect was amazing. I had thousands of songs where just a month ago, I had just a dozen or so tapes and CDs.

    So, yeah. At that point music irrevocably shattered for millions of us into what we wanted to listen to. For me, that’s moved into a blend of rock from the 70’s and 80s (what I was listening to before college) country, classical, and a small segement of newer music.

    I think it would be accurate to say that I very rarely, if ever, listened to the radio after 1999, whereas before, that was close to 75% of my music.

    Reply
    1. Norm Ivey

      At that point music irrevocably shattered

      I think that’s a much better description of what really happened to rock and roll. It shattered. It splintered.

      Napster. Man. I was unscrupulous with that. I didn’t share anything because I didn’t have any digital tracks to share, but man, did I download other folks’ stuff. I still have some of that ill-gotten booty floating around my library.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You young Napster pirates should be ashamed of yourselves! I never used that platform even once!

        I used LimeWire.

        I wonder what happened to all those songs I downloaded from there. Probably on some hard drive that went to a landfill or got recycled years ago.

        I liked the challenge of it. I’d try to think of a really esoteric song, something I’d never try to find in a store, and see if I could find it. Something that seems really goofy today, because all those songs are now so easy to find, and legally play, with a few keystrokes.

        There was nothing free about LimeWire. If you translated into money the time spent looking for the song, examining the various sources to see which looked like they might work, and then the long wait trying to download one, finding it didn’t work, trying another, sometimes trying four or five links to get one song…

        I figure each song cost about $20 worth of time, at least…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          In more recent years, the fun I had hunting for songs on LimeWire has sort of mutated into trying to track down ancestors and relatives on the Web for my family tree. It’s a similar sort of treasure-hunt challenge…

          Reply
        2. Norm Ivey

          Oh, wow, man. Limewire!

          The first song I pirated from Napster was Marty Robbins The Chair. I heard it a couple of times on the radio about 1969(?) and it stuck with me. I looked for it extensively after I was grown, but could never find it. Someone had it on Napster. I still have that original download. I have a massive external drive that I back up everything to every time I replace a device. I never go back to any of those files for anything.

          I was probably still on dial-up in those days. I remember downloads taking a looong time.

          Reply
  3. Ken

    Rock hasn’t died. It’s just that some folks have gotten too old to appreciate the cha-cha-cha-changes.
    Bill could set the record straight on this if he hadn’t been banished by the Stuffy Old Man contingent.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That Stuffy Old Man contingent sounds pretty bad.

      But for the record, Bill hasn’t been banished by anybody.

      But that makes me wonder… where’s he been lately? I just checked… he hasn’t weighed in in two weeks…

      Reply
  4. bud

    ABBA broke up in 1982. Pretty much downhill from there. Although I did enjoy a couple of songs by the Spice GirlS and Katie Perry.

    Reply
    1. clark surratt

      bud, you and I must be close in line here.
      I am quite old, and my music world started in the 1950s, with an acquired appreciation of early rock, top country, old standards and show tunes. I drifted into the 60s liking doo wop, pop, Motown and rythm and blues.
      I liked a some stuff in the 70s, including your Abba, Bee Gees, a little disco.
      But, alas, my appreciation of new music died about 1980 also. Fortunately, all that mentioned above going back to big band etc. stayed alive.
      Thanks

      Reply
  5. Barry

    Nah.

    Matchbox Twenty had a lot of good stuff and they formed in 1995 and has sold 17+ million albums.. I don’t like all their stuff but they were solid and Rob Thomas is a great rock singer. He also wrote most of their hits and I always respect the singers that can write good music.

    Real World
    Back 2 Good
    3 Am
    Push
    If you’re gone
    Unwell
    Bright Lights
    Bent

    All really solid cuts.

    Reply
  6. Norm Ivey

    There are still some things that are hard to find. The late Mac Davis album Texas in My Rear View Mirror was a favorite. You can find that song, but not the album. The was a track called Me and Fat Boy that I still sing, but the past time I heard it was a quarter century ago.

    Reply
  7. Bob Amundson

    At that point music irrevocably shattered – Brad
    I think that’s a much better description of what really happened to rock and roll. It shattered. It splintered – Norm

    Rock didn’t die, shatter or splinter; it evolved! I find my life is much more fulfilling when I take the glass half full approach (“things” evolve) rather than a glass half empty approach (“things” die). I am having fun enjoying the evolution of prog rock – e.g. Annie Haslam of Renaissance and Floor Jansen of Nightwish. Nightwish’s cover of Phantom of the Opera ROCKS (“symphonic metal”).

    Reply
  8. Barry

    Texas Republicans trying hard to make sure democrats can’t vote

    https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/31/harris-county-drive-thru-votes/

    For 18 days of early voting, Harris County residents waited in line, had their identities verified by poll workers, and cast their votes in a presidential election that has seen record-breaking early turnout.
    But for the nearly 127,000 people who did so at drive-thru polling places instead of in traditional indoor sites, many are now watching with fear as a wealthy conservative activist, a Republican state representative and two GOP candidates aim to throw out their ballots at the last minute in the state’s most populous — and largely Democratic — county,

    Reply
      1. Barry

        One of the main conservative GOP petitioners trying to get the ballots tossed out is a huge conspiracy theorist. He spreads a ton of crazy stuff online.

        He posted some today about the Pope, the Vatican, Soros, Buffet, and a select number of Jewish men running the world.

        Congrats to the modern conservative movement. I know they are proud.

        Reply
  9. Scout

    Nah – I didn’t hear Jump, Little Children for the first time until 1995, so it couldn’t have died in 93. I agree it’s gone underground a bit but it’s still there to be found.

    Reply

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