June 17, 2020

The Last Rock Song

When Shinedown’s “Second Chance” became a Top 10 hit in 2009, an era ended.

That song became the last Rock song to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

No, we don’t mean people no longer love rock. From Queen to Nirvana, Classic Rock remains revered, even by people who are now hearing it from their grandparents.

And no, we also don’t mean the Alternative Rock format. After a slump in the mid-00s and despite recent struggles, It rebounded for much of the 10s thanks to a new batch of core artists that reflect a more pop-oriented style reminiscent of alternative’s pre-Grunge roots.

However, the screaming guitars and aggressive vocals that defined Rock from The Doors to Linkin Park are no longer a core component of contemporary hit music.

In our previous post examining what the past 20 years of music can teach us, we noted two genres that bounced back and the birth of another genre. Rock’s trajectory is different.

From 2000 to 2009, 61 different Rock titles became Top 10 hits, from mainstream artists such as 3 Doors Down, Linkin Park, and (gulp) Nickelback, to Alterative icons including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. Even Aerosmith scored a Top 10 hit in the new century after scoring their first Top 10 in 1975.

After Shinedown’s “Second Chance,” the next three rock-oriented songs to become Top 10 hits were: Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”, “Pumped Up Kicks” from Foster the People and F.U.N.’s “We Are Young”.  While these songs would fuel a resurgence for the Alternative radio format, musically, they broke from the conventions that defined “rock” since the 60s.

Only 22 rock titles would reach the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 from 2010 to 2019, predominantly from pop-oriented artists such as Imagine Dragons, Twenty One Pilots, and Panic! At the Disco, along with huge hits from Gotye and Hozier.

Is it really possible that Neil Young lied to us when he promised, “rock ‘n’ roll will never die?” Can a once dominant genre simply fade away?

Yes—and it’s not unprecedented.

Before the rock era, Jazz was the predominant sound of contemporary music.  From 1910s Dixieland and 1920s Swing, Jazz evolved from its improvisation roots to the highly orchestrated Big Band sound synonymous with the G.I. Generation. Then, popular Jazz-based music further evolved into the more intimate sound driven by small combos and crooner vocalists—notably Frank Sinatra.

Jazz remained the foundation for American popular music until 1955, when Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” hit #1 and ushered in the Rock era. Pre-rock styles would co-exist on the charts alongside rock until the late 60s and early 70s, when Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Perry Como and Andy Williams finally had their last major hits. Sure, Jazz continued and evolved, but it was now a niche sound outside the mainstream.

Youth culture never pivoted on Pat Metheny or Harry Connick Jr.

Rock has followed a similar trajectory. Following pioneers such as Buddy Holly, The Coasters and Elvis Presley, Rock ‘n’ Roll evolved into Rock, defined by The Doors, Led Zeppelin and The Eagles and later AC/DC, Van Halen and Mötley Crüe. Then, Rock further evolved when Nirvana launched Grunge and Alternative Rock became mainstream.

Today, Rock lives on among its core fans. No matter how much Michiganders espouse Greta Van Fleet, however, Rock is no longer a dominant force among youth culture. This shift is so big, it might contribute to the death of Gibson Guitars. Today, Hip Hop and elements of electronic music drive the music most relevant to youth culture.

To explore what trends await us in popular music, check out How The Homelanders Will Soon Change Popular Music, the second part of our series on The Generational Music Cycle.  

 

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