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Does Rock and Roll Still Exist?

After the shocking departures of some favourite faces from the music world over the last few weeks, Alan Murphy pays tribute to a genre characterised by the music of the past. Taking a look at style and techniques it’s clear there has been a very definite shift over the years from blues riffs to computer beats so the question emerges as to whether “authentic” rock and roll is still alive and kicking.

It can certainly be argued that commercial rock music has made significant changes in the last twenty to thirty years and many of these changes have abandoned the authentic and creative aspects both musically and lyrically that it once possessed. The diversity amongst rock’s biggest bands like ACDC, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, The Eagles, The Beatles etc all had unique sounds which fused many different genres and musical techniques together to create a very distinct sound. In terms of today’s most popular rock and roll acts, many of them have a very simple and watered down musical stature lacking the drive, raw and creative appeal those bands in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s all had.

One of the key aspects of rock music that has been declining in more recent years for me is the focus on lead guitar. The absence of strong emphasis on guitar solos and pure guitar tones has been eroded and been replaced by the more digital sounding guitars of today’s commercial rock world. The blistering guitar solos that were so popular within commercial rock music from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Slash from Guns and Roses, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Joe Satriani etc appeared to have lost their appeal from rock fans and record producers. Most guitar bands from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” released in the early 70’s up to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” released in the early 90’s have always had a strong emphasis on the electric guitar, Bass and drums, whether it was a heavy yet pure and refreshing riff in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or a catchy delay and reverb orientated Floyd sound in “Time”, there was a strong focus on a raw and authentic sound without the feeling of over production that in my opinion has created a deterioration in new, creative and appealing rock and roll. I’m not saying that these bands have not experimented with common production techniques such as overdubbing and high levels of audio layering but not to the same extent as today’s commercial bands who have an over-reliance on digitalized production that’s causing a decline in natural musical creativity and innovation.

Ex Soundgarden and Audioslave guitarist and vocalist Chris Cornell talks about the curse that technology has had on popular music. Cornell explains that music today is too accessible and as a result is affecting the originality and authentic aspects of artists and bands. Cornell states “They’re making music on iPhones. Everything’s fractured. The reason there’s no modern day Shakespeare is because he didn’t have anything to do except sit in a room with a candle and think.” Cornell’s view would suggest that within music industry there is now an over reliance on technology that contrasts with artists in the 70’s for example whose reliance would be on the instruments they play which now appears to be in decline. In the 70’s and 80’s radio stations consisted heavily on not just rock but instrumented music that was popular amongst the masses but now because of technology and a shift in what big record labels are looking for that is commercially acceptable, this type of music has suffered heavily. If you turn on Red FM or 96 Fm these days for example, every song that seems to be played is an overproduced, unoriginal and technologically driven sound which has no real appreciation of musical instruments and the variation that comes with it. Even the biggest so-called popular rock bands like Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Maroon 5 have very little emphasis on the musicianship of their songs that popular bands such as The Police had in the 1980’s. Instead we hear these bands collaborating with Dj’s and rappers who all seem to have a common digitalized computerized sound that lacks the raw and emotional edge that previous artists and bands once possessed.

In short, rock and roll has changed, and drastically so, so much so that is it even fair that we call it rock and roll anymore?