The day the music died

About 60 years ago the world changed. And not because that was when Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was brought to market, almost eradicating the danger of juvenile paralysis or because it was when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up commercial shipping between Montreal and Lake Ontario. It’s because that’s when ‘rock and roll’ was officially born, courtesy of a movie called Blackboard Jungle, which featured a song called “Rock Around the Clock”. Unfortunately, with all due respect to Bill Halley and the Comets (and of course, by that I mean not much respect was due), it was a particularly bad example of the new genre of music that was about to overtake popular culture for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, though, ‘they’ have recently (and apparently belatedly) announced the death of rock and roll dominance in popular culture. Rather, according to the people who know these things, we have been in the post-rock era ever since 1991 when Niggaz4life, by N.W.A., sold nearly a million copies in its first seven days and claimed the number one spot on the Billboard 200 – the first time that a rap group had accomplished this feat in the 45 year history of album rankings.

For those of us who were born on the cusp of one of the most disruptive ages of popular music and who have never known a time when ‘rock and roll’ did not exist (and indeed literally grew up with it), it is hard to fathom waiting with baited breath for a new single from Ke$ha (who I assume is part of the hip hop genre, but admit I’m not ‘hip’ enough to know for sure), not only because it doesn’t qualify as something that might be anticipated, but also because the notion of delayed gratification has completely gone out the window. You can download the latest tunes even before they have officially been released and that’s kind of the way it works these days: Consuming tune by tune rather than album by album.

But that was also true back in the day when we pooled our allowances to buy and trade the latest singles at about $1 each. Come to think of it, I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that iTunes launched at 99 cents per song, tying into the same psychological marketing trick that if something costs so little it is easy to consume in bulk. The difference was that when we spent our hard hoarded money we got two songs for the price of one – the A side and the3 B side. When you bought ‘Kind of a Hush’ you also got ‘No Milk Today’. When you bought ‘Yellow Submarine’ you also got “Eleanor Rigby’. And so on and so on.

And I think reports of the death of rock and roll are somewhat premature. The list of major tours in 2015 include the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, The Who, AC/DC, U2 and Smashing Pumpkins – admittedly an eclectic lineup of ‘classics’ but proof of longevity none-the-less. Only time will tell whether anyone will show up to see Kanye or Shad or Jay-Z the equivalent number of years from now, but my guess is their appeal will be about as faded as their tattoos and as tarnished as thirty year old bling.

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