The Music Lounge

The Slow Death of Classic Rock

It’s been a long time coming….

screen-shot-2014-09-22-at-12-42-46-pmFans of so called ‘classic rock’, and I am one of them, have been watching their beloved musical genre enter a slow and agonising free fall for some time now. Classic rock, Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Heavy Metal, call it what you will, it’s all but hung up its cowboy boots, bullet belt, leather and denims and swapped it for death and golf.

Glastonbury this year was a case in point. Motorhead, fronted by a pale, tired and unwell Lemmy played a greatest hits set that did nothing to boost record sales. Had Lemmy been fitter would he have allowed a drum solo? I doubt it. The Who closed the festival declaring the sound system ‘f*****g s**t’ thus living up to their grumpy old men image. Contrast that with Robert Plant’s performance last year with a group of diverse, younger and very talented musicians and the cracks in the walls become ever more clearer.

In recent years I have watched Ozzy Osbourne doddering around the Black Sabbath stage swapping forgotten lyrics for expletives, I have read about coked up sixty-something drummers assaulting partners, one-time stadium filling supergroups willing middle aged balding men to sing along to an old hit whilst the young replacement with a full head of hair and his own teeth looks ridiculously misplaced. Tragically it’s all looking a bit tragic.

But what of that music? When Deep Purple finished, Rainbow and Whitesnake followed. Black Sabbath handed the baton to Metallica, Journey gave AOR up to Bon Jovi and everyone was happy. In short, we had succession. In the nineties Guns and Roses took the Glam Metal bands of the past ten years to another level and with the possible, grudging exception of the Foo Fighters that particular crown remains locked in the tower with no discernable alternative or successor in wait.

Whatever happened to the ‘rock hit’? You remember ‘All Night Long’? ‘Fool for your Lovin’? ‘Number of the Beast’? ‘Paranoid’ and ‘School’s Out’? When was the last one? The last memorable song that appealed across a wide audience? It’s not just the musicians who have slowed down, it’s the whole machine. Next to nothing is happening anymore and magazines and websites dedicated to the genre struggle to fill space with anything like news. Remember a time when you couldn’t afford to see all of your favourite bands touring in one year? Not anymore. Even Def Leppard, once a huge commodity in the States are now sharing the bill with Whitesnake and with Richie Blackmore set to ‘return to rock’ for a few shows next year you know the time is almost up.

The problem for any band wishing to step into Metallica’s boots now is, without doubt, the download. It has inspired diversity at the expense of band loyalty and by that I mean you no longer have to buy into the band and the entire album. Bands made money on the back of almost tribal-like followers who had to pay to hear a song, look at an image and the only way to see concert footage was to buy a ticket. According to Metallica’s manager nobody really knows who their fans are anymore and bands face the reality of the public owning only one or two of their songs. He admits the days of selling an album are almost over and the prospect of playing festivals to a disconnected crowd evermore realistic.

In fairness, it’s lasted a lot longer than most other musical styles. Techno and hardcore trance came and went (mercifully) as did Britpop, New Romance, Punk and so on, it survived fashion and political correctness until, one by one, its architects began to lose their inspiration. It was always going to happen but still we clung on, and we clung on because it’s all we’ve got left; crackly vinyl, broken CD cases and thirty year old memories.

As Mick said: “It’s all over now”

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