Is Rock Really Dead? UG Investigates

The death of guitar music has been a hot topic in recent weeks. In this special report, UG looks at whether rock is really over and discovers that we could be on the cusp of a revolution.

Ultimate Guitar

It's the kind of headline that could make you shudder, but at the dawn of 2012 there have already been more articles about the end of rock than any of us would like to see.

First, the Black Keys blamed Nickelback for killing rock, with drummer Patrick Carney saying that people had become okay with the fact that "the biggest rock band in the world is s--t." Britpop legend Noel Gallagher said modern rock was rubbish, and then Lostprophets frontman Ian Watkins joined the chants to say that guitar music is over until his band releases a new album. He was never modest, mind.

It feels as if the pessimism has jumped from nowhere, but 2011 saw similar moaning. In July last year, Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate said rock would die unless artists embraced new ideas. Shortly before that, guitarist Jay Jay French from Twisted Sister described his view of rock's place in the charts:

"In the United States it's dead. There are almost no rock bands anymore on the charts if you look," he said. "Foo Fighters maybe once in a while but the fact is the heavy rock scene is completely dead from a commercial stance as the charts are all dance music."

Perhaps we're short on rock icons - God knows we need a new Slash or Jimi Hendrix - but is he right about rock losing out in the charts?

Let's take a look at the Billboard Top 10. At the time of writing on January 12th, 2012, there are three rock acts in the top 10 - Coldplay, the Black Keys and Florence + The Machine. Sure, they're fairly distant from what we might consider as traditional rock acts, but they're waving the flag.

Let's compare that to the chart five years ago on the same day. On January 12 2007, the top 10 charts just one rock album, and it's a remix compilation: "Love" by the Beatles.

How about 2006? Just Nickelback.

What is more revealing is how other genres like hip hop and country seem to dominate in the older charts, but don't take a spot in today's top 10. If anything, it suggests rock has better chart stickiness than its competing genres of the past. Notice how Jay-Z named his last album "Watch The Throne" in recognition that hip hop wouldn't wear its crown forever. A telling move.

But we can't deny that the scenery has changed. Maybe the comments above by Geoff Tate are right - keep moving and embrace new ideas, or rock really will die.

It's a tactic Korn recognize. Once a staple of nu-metal, the ageing rockers seemed past their sell-by date with declining sales over the past decade. They gambled on a dubstep collaboration with Skrillex to revive their record sales, and its success inspired a full album of electronic partnerships in "The Path To Totality." The result? 55,000 unit sales in its opening week, and a place in the coveted top 10.

At first glance, this looks marvellous. Sadly, a look at their sales history and it seems dubstep was not the saving grace they may have hoped for. Over the same period, their 2010 album "Remember Who You Are" sold 63,000. 2007's self-titled effort made 123,000 sales, and "See You On The Other Side" moved 221,000 units.

Of course, while reading Korn's sales figures, readers need to bear in mind the general decline in record sales over recent years. Some might argue that a regular rock release will have been closer to 30,000 sales if it followed the same trajectory. Further, the electronic influences may have introduced a wealth of new fans to their back catalogue, who might well secure Korn's future in the coming years.

Maybe rock doesn't need a dubstep injection to the heart to keep beating. Maybe it just needs some old-school inspiration to remind fans what great rock is all about.

That's precisely what will happen in 2012. Metal mega-gods Black Sabbath are back in town to record a new album despite guitarist Tony Iommi's newly diagnosed cancer, and even Van Halen have new releases and a world tour coming up. Classic rock is far from dead.

Hell, even post-hardcore legends Refused and At The Drive-In reformed on the same day this week. Both bands represented a breakthrough for the alt-rock scene in the late 90s and early 2000s respectively, and are sure to spark the attention of younger rock fans who have suffered from an abundance of wildly kinetic live music in recent years.

The return of these acts are sure to inspire a new generation to shun synths for guitars and rock out like there's no tomorrow.

One musician who knows that feeling well is Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters frontman knows more than a thing or two about independent music breaking the mainstream in two thanks to his time in Nirvana, and he says the quiet rock climate of today is not unlike it was back in 1991, right before Nirvana hit the big time.

"The late '80s was full of over-produced pop that kids had nothing to grab hold of," he told Billboard. "They had no way of connecting to this hair metal band singing about f--king strippers in a limousine on Sunset Boulevard. Who can relate to that?

"Then you had a bunch of formulaic pop songstress bulls--t, and music was boring. And then a bunch of bands with dirty kids got on MTV and rock'n'roll became huge again. And I feel like that's about to happen. Something's got to give. It can't be song contests on television for the rest of our lives."

If anything, rock is about to see its next big revolution. Better yet, we're all alive to watch it unfold before us. And while pop stars like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha seem to be making moves towards the rock world, their acknowledgment of the genre will only serve to boost the guitar loving audience and help secure its future.

Finally, it's worth noting that the concept of rock dying isn't a new one. We covered similar gloomy predictions back in 2003 and 2005 but the naysayers were proven wrong again and again.

Rock is here to stay - and for all anyone knows, it could soon prove to be better than ever.

By Tom Davenport

258 comments sorted by best / new / date

    The last line says it all. Rock is here to stay. People will get sick and tired of this fake bubble gum pop after a while as they always do. At one time, they said the same thing when Backstreet Boys, N Sync and Britney dominated the airwaves. When it's all said and done, people crave music with talent and this pop garbage has none of it.
    "Guitar bands are on their way out" - Decca records January 1962 dismissing a new band called The Beatles. The record industry are always looking for the next big thing and since guitar bands have had a good run recently, the execs are looking for something new. But rock is always reinventing itself, whether it's Metal, Grunge or Punk the guitar always bounces back and we'll keep bouncing with it.
    I am so sick of this... Rock isn't dead. You just have to look deeper than the mainstream- radio bullshit. For every generic auto-tuned pop singer on the radio, there are at least 5 amazing, creative, completely underrated bands out there. Stop complaining about "rock being dead" and go check out some new music. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Stones are great, but you can't listen to the same bands/albums forever. Broaden your musical horizons, and then you'll see that rock isn't dead, and rock will never be dead.
    T00DEEPBLUE wrote: Who the **** cares if its not in the charts?
    Exactly. "We don't want to belong, we said all along, we just want to be left alone."
    The Man Himself
    Rock music is fun to play, and I think as long as people want to have fun jamming with friends, than rock will be just fine.
    so does anyone else think that its sad that people consider bruno mars rock W.T.F
    Rock is partly dead in the charts but not in our hearts. Lemmy is still rocking the stage...
    scimitar_255 wrote: That whole spiel about Watch the Throne is ENTIRELY wrong.
    Not according to this site: e-west-watch-the-throne-title.jhtml Here's the quote from Jay-Z: "It's just protecting the music and the culture. It's people that's in the forefront of music, it's like Watch the Throne, protect it. You just watch how popular music shifts and how hip-hop has basically replaced rock and roll as the youth music. The same thing could happen to hip-hop, it could be replaced by other forms of music. So it's just making sure that we put that effort into making the best product so we can contend with all this other music, with all the dance music that's dominating the charts right now and indie music that's dominating the festivals and still hold off rock 'n' roll. Just to hold our place and make sure that the hip-hop culture is still the most dominant form of music around the world."
    LazyLatinoRocke wrote: A word to everyone. Rock is not the only good genre of music out there!
    Correct, but I think the general attitude on this website (putting aside the obvious brootal metalz only!!!!!11 trolls) is that it's significantly better than the vast majority of music played on the charts.
    Can we just enjoy music??who cares bout genres??? And plus UG only post articles like this so we can all argue.
    The 6th String wrote: music is cyclical, no genre will die.
    Dear God, if nu-metal comes back in force, please kill me.
    Bear in mind that I am a huge rock fan. I think the reason for this madness is that rock fans are intelligent, maybe not legal binded, but intelligent. I am going to take a stab and say it is because of people downloading music illegally more often. Rock artists are still making great music but people who listen to it tend to only buy the artist or bands cd who may be their favorite and download whatever else they like but don't feel like spending money on over the internet. Just thinking out loud...
    SwirlingSwahili wrote: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Stones are great, but you can't listen to the same bands/albums forever.
    Oh yeah? Watch me...
    Rock is Dead is such a stupid thing to say. Even if, lets say, modern rock dies, will we stop listening to old rock music ? Not at all. It's not a trend. It's a genre. It doesn't work its way out like fabricated stupidities. More people still listen to Elvis and Led Zepplin than they do the Backstreet Boys and Ashanti (yeah, remember her?). Rock will never die. Modern rock, maybe (but highly unlikely), but as a whole it won't.
    Is this all cause kesha said rock was dead??? (Sigh) people these days....
    Thumper! wrote: Its time for all these pussies roaming this world to grow some balls and METAL UP YOUR F*CKIN ASS!
    How not to approach this
    LazyLatinoRocke wrote: A word to everyone. Rock is not the only good genre of music out there!
    How to definitely approach this.
    What everyone seems to forget is that back in the 70s, the heyday, and EVERYTHING when Rock was "the top". It never really was. Was Led Zeppelin always #1 in billboard charts? Was Black Sabbath always on the radio? Hell no, Jesus, why does everyone forget that? Those are legends because they have lasting appeal. What was popular in the 70s compared to todays music? Disco and Country (or soft southern) Whats popular now? Dance music and country. ITS THE SAME GODDAMN THING! ROCK IS ALWAYS ABOUT REBELLION! ONLY THE OUTCASTS BACK IN THAT TIME LISTENED TO THE STUFF! No kid in the early 80s listened to Duran Duran while wearing a tie and a short haircut and said at the end of the day "I need to spin the new Blizzard of Ozz, Randy Rhoads solos are almost as good as mine". And Jay-Z, stfu, Hip Hop has become dance music. Hes one of the last ones that are still hip hop, maybe its having its down time, or maybe it might die, because since its caved in to become dance music, and now theres dubstep, dubstep could be the end of hip hop. Cycles, man, cycles. Talent never dies. This has happened every year since the 60s.
    ProgFripp74 wrote: Rock music died in the 80's. Period. It's not declining because what was orignally defined as rock music does not exist anymore The grunge scene of the 90's killed off proper rock music saadly and it has never recovered properly. The sad thing is that people now feel that if your guitar is slightly distorted, you have you have long hair and you sing about anything other than drive-by's, or your ex girlfrienf you are playing rock music. Also notice how absolutely none of the bands that are continuously mentioned, Green day, Korn, Nickleback, Foo fighters etc, play guitar solo's or play music which is anything other than formulaic mainstream songs. Even some 80's pop was more related to rock music. Metal is ebbing and flowing with some bands tarnishing the genre, but despite this there are always well recognised bands who stick to the genre's core fundamnetals and play Metal. I don't see many if any proper rock bands around any more. Maybe Black Stone Cherry are the only modern band who play rock music. It's rather saddening.
    Beatles rarely had guitar solos and they helped form pop-rock. If your definiton of rock music is ''guitar solos'' then I'm afraid you're very confused. There are plenty of great rock bands out today. Slash? Alter Bridge? Hell, Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters is one hell of an album. A genre of music can never die. Besides, d'you think back in the 70s and 80s Zeppelin, Sabbath and all these so called legends were in the charts? Fuck no, they weren't. Rock was always about sticking it to the man. And I assure you 20 years from now another rock band will have received legendary status. Music is a vicious circle.
    steve987 wrote: It's ok guys, don't worry my band has just reformed, we've got this.
    Haha, this comment made reading the article worth it ^ Rock won't die because I'm going to make my kid listen to all the classics.
    COLDPLAY ARE NOT ROCK!!! Argh i ****ing hate the way they get called a rock band.
    Very well written article. I really like the comment Dave Grohl had about when Nirvana broke into the scene during a time of dance music, makes me hopeful for the upcoming years. I think people like to say Rock is dead because they becoming fearful when things change (which is a very normal feeling). Rock music, in my opinion, has the most loyal following of any genre. "You never hear anyone say I was really big into Slayer that one summer"
    Iommianity wrote: The only reason once vital genres like rock, hip hop, or jazz have been declared dead is because they were adopted by journalists and media, repackaged, and resold. Instead of this important style of music, we now have lifestyles to write about and editorialize. Stuff like classic rock radio, VH1 helped 'kill it'. It's all about nostalgia, or what's trending. Fortunately, if you're a band that doesn't care about any of that shit, chances are you're still writing cool music, regardless of it sounds vintage or fresh.
    10 points mate!
    Hopefully nobody flips on me for this statement. But unless it was mentioned earlier I honestly think there are some bands that are bringing back a good rock show and not a "pop rock" band or whatever. I honestly believe that bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Black Veil Brides (yes I know you all hate them for some reason, but listen to one of their interviews and you'll see they are trying to bring back the rock show) and underrated bands like Destrophy who are trying to bring back that older school metal vibe with a fresh look on riffs. Hell even Alter Bridge and Five Finger Death Punch are bringing something cool to the table.
    LazyLatinoRocke wrote: A word to everyone. Rock is not the only good genre of music out there!
    True, but it's worlds better than what's on the music charts right now. I'd be just as happy to see a jazz revival as I would to see a rock revival.
    This is stupid. Just because rock isn't in the charts anymore doesn't mean it's dead. There a rock bands popping up everywhere daily of all kinds of sub-genres. From Classic Rock to Hardcore Punk, there are bands EVERYWHERE
    The only reason once vital genres like rock, hip hop, or jazz have been declared dead is because they were adopted by journalists and media, repackaged, and resold. Instead of this important style of music, we now have lifestyles to write about and editorialize. Stuff like classic rock radio, VH1 helped 'kill it'. It's all about nostalgia, or what's trending. Fortunately, if you're a band that doesn't care about any of that shit, chances are you're still writing cool music, regardless of it sounds vintage or fresh.
    Rock isn't dead, not by a long shot, bands are more creative now than ever. Rock isn't amazingly popular, but it's by no means dead. Listen to post-rock bands or the newer prog and experimental bands, they are as good and as creative than any classic rock act, if not better or more creative. Rock is evolving and doesn't sound anything like it's original form anymore; It's still there, just in different and improved forms. Just listen to Oceansize for example: The most amazing stuff from the previous decade.
    "there are three rock acts in the top 10 - Coldplay, the Black Keys and Florence + The Machine" AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
    Ughh this article is so wrong. 1) That whole spiel about Watch the Throne is ENTIRELY wrong. 2) Refused did not represent a breakthrough for any alt-rock scene at all. Seeing how their last few shows were usually basement shows, I think it's safe to say that their popularity slowly accumulated after their breakup 3) THIS IS ALL MEDIA HYPING BULLSHIT
    Natrtatr wrote: The Beatles album 1 was the best selling album of the previous decade. Rock isn't dead.
    Um, the Beatles broke up in, like, 1970. The fact that their 1 compilation album was the best selling album from 2000-2009 doesn't prove that current rock isn't dead. It proves that people are nostalgic. If they remastered and re-released Gone With the Wind, and it went on to be the highest-grossing movie of the decade, it wouldn't prove that the film industry is in tip-top shape. It would prove that they're good at repackaging an old product, and, again, it would prove that people are nostalgic. I'm not saying that this means I agree with the whole "Rock is dead" sentiment. I'm just saying that the fact that a compilation of 40-year-old recordings sells well doesn't mean that modern recordings are/will be successful or quality material.
    "Perhaps we're short on rock icons - God knows we need a new Slash" Why would we need a new one if we still have the original?
    Refused was not a breakthrough for anything. They really have never been that popular and the most popular they'd ever been before the recent reformation was after their original breakup. And this is coming from a HUGE Refused fanboy. Now stop whining that music you like isn't popular anymore and just enjoy it no matter what anyone else thinks of it.
    ketangupta96 wrote: The day Green Day will release an album, Rock will come back to life.
    They're barely even Rock any more! If they become even more mainstream, it will be barely worth a listen. And even though I'm a fan, Green Day is no amazing band. They're just a simple band who does what they do well. Let's see Metallica's next album, now that Lou Reed is gone.
    Lol look at all you bastards complaining about how Rock isn't mainstream anymore. Rock was never mainstream to begin with. You know why classic rock gets so many views? It's because it's old, and the classic rock lovers "boohoo music today is crap I miss the 70's" kids eat it up. Mainstream isn't our business. Let them listen to the crap music, let them judge how popular you are by the music you listen to, and let them enjoy the music, so long as they let us enjoy our music. As for myself, I love mainstream stuff along with underground rock and several other genres. It's just music, nothing more. It was never supposed to be a popularity contest or about butthurt individuals complaining about dance music nowadays. Simple enjoy music you listen to.