Classic Rock Refutes Reports Of Rock’s Demise
“The rock era is over…” So says Paul Gambaccini. “My arse,” says Classic Rock.
Words: Al King
“It is the end of the rock era. It’s over, in the same way the jazz era is over,” declared Paul Gambaccini, the veteran DJ and ‘professor of pop’, yesterday in The Guardian newspaper.
Gambaccini added: “That doesn’t mean there will be no more good rock musicians, but rock as a prevailing style is part of music history.” (The pop-loving Guardian followed it up today with another attack on rock’s relevance here.)
Gambaccini’s original quote was made in response to figures from Music Week which saw the percentage of rock songs in the singles chart drop from 13% in 2009 to 3% in 2010 – well behind hip-hop/R’n'B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%.
We beg to differ.
Rock has never been a singles chart genre. Led Zeppelin underlined this emphatically in the 70s by refusing to release singles (in the UK at least). So, looking at the top 100 best-selling albums of 2010, we find rock bands accounted for a whopping 27%, down just one percentage point on 2009.
As Tony Wadsworth, chairman of the BPI, one of the most informed men in the business, said: “Rock isn’t dead if you look at album sales.” Indeed not, Tony.
According to Gambaccini in The Guardian: “The problem lay, in part, with short-sighted record labels investing less in the talent of the future and more in instantly profitable acts such as former X Factor stars. I feel sorry for rock artists today, because record labels have started chasing the quarter-term profit rather than long-term development.”
‘Short-sighted record labels’ may well apply to majors but it’s about the specialists who ‘get it’. That’s why Classic Rock set up new label Powerage: to promote upcoming acts that the magazine champions to our readers and wouldn’t get a look-in with a major.
As Chris Ingham, publisher of Classic Rock, said: “Over the years we’ve discovered an amazing raft of new hard rock talent at Classic Rock. It’s always been a huge frustration that nobody at UK labels seems to notice all of these great bands and give them the support and backing they need. If traditional record companies wouldn’t release these albums, we knew our readers still wanted to hear them, so decided to team up with Plastic Head to make sure we got these out to our audience.”
Take a look at some of best rock albums of 2010. It’s an inspiring mix of experienced artists and young guns, paying homage, collaborating and stretching boundaries in equal measure: Slash by Slash, Band Of Joy by Robert Plant, The Final Frontier by Iron Maiden, Scream by Ozzy Osbourne, Black Country Communion by Black Country Communion, The Union by The Union, Brothers by The Black Keys, American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem.
George Ergatoudis, head of music at Radio One, said ‘brilliant’ rock songs were rare. No rarer than ‘brilliant’ songs in any other genre, I would suggest. Radio One is a pop station. I suspect he doesn’t listen to much rock. There were some excellent rock songs scattered across dozens of albums in 2010, songs with the potential to be major hits if playlisted on his radio station. From the modern-day drivetime rock of Grace Potter And The Nocturals’ Tiny Lights to the riffy blues rock of Baddass by Black Robot; the anthemic and defiant We’ve Got A Long Way To Go by Joe Perry to Taylor Hawkins And The Coattail Riders’ Way Down, a 70s rock tribute with Brian May on guitar; Black Country Communion’s One Last Soul to Black Keys’ Tighten Up – all radio-friendly, all pretty much ignored. The Slash album alone has half a dozen hit singles on it.
Record sales alone can never tell the whole story though. It’s about the rock community and the many other ways in which fans consume their rock ‘n’ roll with unrivalled passion. Look at the live sector. Rock has always been about performance and here the music is well and truly thriving. Take a look at the top 10 worldwide band concert tours according to Pollstar (ticket sales):
1. Bon Jovi – 1.9m
2. AC/DC – 1.8m
3. U2 – 1.6m
4. Lady Gaga – 1.5m
5. Black Eyed Peas – 1.3m
6. Metallica – 1.2m
7. Michael Buble 1.1m
8. Eagles – 0.8m
9. Paul McCartney – 0.7m
10. Roger Waters – 0.7m
I make that seven rock acts. Seven out of 10. 70%. That’s a staggering 8.7 million tickets sold for rock shows by seven artists. The trend continues as you go through the whole Top 50, by the way.
I asked Andy Copping, Head Promoter at Live Nation, how 2010 was for him.
“Immense,” said Copping. “In June, the Download Festival drew 105,000 people, second only to Glastonbury. That’s massive. New bands like Stone Sour, Airbourne, Coheed & Cambria and Five Finger Death Punch sat comfortably alongside the old guard of AC/DC, Billy Idol, Saxon and Aerosmith.
“Tours in the UK have been strong in 2010… Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, AC/DC: all sold out! Not just the heritage acts either. Linkin Park, Muse, Bullet For My Valentine, Biffy Clyro, 30 Seconds To Mars and Paramore, all young bands, have all had recent arena tours.
“Also, My Chemical Romance, Blink 182 and Iron Maiden already have sold out UK arena shows later in 2011. Rock is huge in this country.”
To complete the picture, one needs to look at rock radio too. I spoke to Jonathan Arendt, managing director at Planet Rock, whose performance supports the fact that rock lives on. 2010 was a record audience year for Planet Rock. Most significantly, the fastest growth came from under 25s (23% of their audience).
Arendt also supplied me with the following chart, courtesy of RAJAR. You don’t have to look at the numbers. That’s five years of sustained growth, all driven by rock.
Martin Talbot, chief executive of the Official Charts Company (another man in the know) said: “Most interesting and challenging rock music comes out of periods of austerity.”
He’s not wrong. The latest issue of Classic Rock (Phil Lynott cover) showcases a strong raft of bands for 2011: St Jude, Rival Sons, Black Spiders, Joe Pug, The Treatment and more. Classic Rock off-shoot mags Prog and AOR, meanwhile, were set up in response to the health of their respective scenes – the sheer volume of great new bands meaning that one mag couldn’t contain them – with acts like North Atlantic Oscillation, Oceansize, Panic Room, Crippled Black Phoenix thrilling prog fans, and Houston, Reckless Love, H.E.A.T., Crashdiet and White Widdow keeping the AOR crowd happy.
The legacy that Elvis, the Beatles, Hendrix and Zeppelin left for us lives on. It manifests itself across record and concert ticket sales, radio listeners and new talent. At the centre of this are the rock fans: the beating heart, the lifeblood of the whole thing. You don’t need to tell them to go and buy this stuff; they’re going to anyway.
As the mighty AC/DC like to say: “For those about to rock, we salute you.” We all should.