When did rock stop evolving? 10 years ago?

sir-rocknuts-500If rock stopped rolling, I always wondered when that might have happened…

Where is the new rock? And is the long glorious evolution of rock and roll at an end?

My real thesis has been – for many years now – that rock pretty much stopped evolving at the turn of the millennium. No, not like the dinosaurs that quit evolving and went extinct. Rock is alive and thriving with great new groups and great new music. But are there any chasm-jumping new forms – like, say, pschedelia or glam or punk or grunge were in their times? I say “no”. I say today’s “new rock” forms are much more about style than about substance. They are more about being throwbacks and are simply derivative (even “sampling” or “remixes”, for God’s sake…) than they are breakthrough idioms.

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The “original” new idioms had style, too, of course. Think about just those afore-mentioned forms: pschedelia (Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother) and glam (Bowie) and punk (Clash and Ramones) and grunge (Nirvana and all that followed) and however you categorized Queen back then. Perhaps because relatively few groups make Big Money now off their recorded music but have their shot at that Big Money with live shows, substance has truly diminished.

But I digress…

Rock music is famously elastic and has always set the fashions rather than followed them. Which takes me back to the truly innocent thesis I am espousing here. Has rock evolved at all since 2000? Are new forms of “rock” even rock anymore? Did it go completely off the tracks – evolutionarily speaking – into an awkward de-evolution of, say, house music and dub step and other dancehall drivel? Hey – that stuff can be good and entertaining, but is it really new forms of rock?

As our erstwhile columnist, Rich Karfilis, said in an earlier column trying to define rock: Rock has always been a shape-shifter, constantly absorbing other styles of music. This is another reason why a definition is so elusive. Rock is and has always been about different musics coming together. R&B and rockabilly gave birth to rock & roll, which brought in folk and blues and the British Invasion to create Rock, which then over the years absorbed elements of psychedelia, jazz, country, funk, reggae, punk, new wave, grunge, electronica, hip hop, and so on.”


In my own mania of “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing”, I went back to the late 1940’s and early 1950’s and tried to classify the various loops in rock’s evolution. An Arc-eology or rock-eology, if you will. And just like my previous spastic attempt to create a Top 100 list, I had to force a few definitions and pick out examples that were close enough to support the thesis that rock stopped evolving right after the turn of the century.

I am taking on the thankless task of trying to define the different stages of rock’s evolution, tagging it with approximate years and even throwing in – gratuitously – a couple of bands that were emblematic of those particular stages in rock history. I know, I know. Some say “Define it and it is yours.” Others insist: “Define it and it is lost.” I am not so worried about being the canary in the coal mine once again.

Where do we start? Rock always loves a chart so I created one. And I started at the beginning.

Just like the big bang and the cooling of the vapors into earth, it all had to start somewhere. No, I am not thinking of Robert Johnson or big band music or Frank Sinatra cooing to coeds. I think that the real beginning of rock was when the press started making lists and when albums started out-selling singles. Maybe, the mid-fifties or so. But those early rock tunes had their roots in even earlier music. Some eras were abstractions (so I listed the first seven era-dates here to try to clarify).

And due to my OCD penchant for creating controversy from nothingness (please see Top 100) and my concomitant need to try to simplify abstract imponderables into a neat ordering of variables, there is inevitable overlaps in each stage of evolution. Go for a willful suspension of disbelief at this point and we can try it out together.

Start by checking out the Rock-Eology chart:

Genre Sample Band(s)
Country blues/folk blues Big Bill Broonzyand Sonny Boy Williamson II; 1945-1955
Jump blues Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton; late forties
Urban blues Muddy WatersWillie Dixon; early fifties
Rockabilly Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash; 1955-1956
Rock ‘n Roll Bill Haley, Big Joe Turner**; 1954-1957
Novelty rock and pop Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly; 1956-1959
Skiffle Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard; 1955-1960
Doo wop Frankie Lymon, Little Anthony, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
Post early rock Bobby Rydell, Connie Francis, Gene Pitney, Del Shannon
Jugband music Lovin’ Spoonful, Country Joe, Mungo Jerry
Black and blue-eyed soul Ronettes, Phil Spector, Righteous Brothers
Folk rock Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, The Searchers, Fairport Convention
Protest rock Bob Dylan (II), Joan Baez
The Beatles A category of one
British Rock The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, The Stones
Electric Folk Bob Dylan (III), The Byrds, The Band, Simon and Garfunkel
Blues Rock John Mayal, The Yardbirds
Poetic Rock The Doors, Procol Harum; later: Nick Cave
Urban soul The Four Seasons, The Impressions, Booker T, Aretha
Pop The Turtles, Simon and Garfunkle (II)
Soul pop Motown
Surf rock Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Glen Campbell
Soft rock The Rascals, The Association, Mamas and Papas, Neil Diamond
Psychedelia Jefferson Airplane, The Doors (II), The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix
Hard rock early Fleetwood Mac, Cream, The Stones (II
Bubblegum “rock” The Monkees, The Archies, early Tommy James
Heavy rock Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep
Electric soul Sly Stone, new Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder
Ska/Reggae Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh
Progressive rock ELP, Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, 10 cc, Steely Dan
Glam T. Rex, David Bowie, Sweet
Power pop Alex Chilton; later: Sloan, Weezer, The Posies
Corporate rock Abba, John Denver
Country rock The Band (II), Glen Campbell (II), The Eagles
New soft rock Crosby Stills and Nash, new Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne
Southern Rock Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, Marshall Tucker
Classic Rock Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin
Punk The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned
Hair rock/Glam metal Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Ratt and Bon Jovi
Heavy metal Motorhead, Metallica, Guns ‘n Roses
New wave Police, The Cars, Robert Palmer
Disco The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Chic
Post punk the Fall, Joy Division, U2, The Jam
Electro pop Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode
Early rap-rock Sugarhill Gang, Zapp, Hammer
Super pop Adam Ant, Human League, Culture Club
Classic Rock II REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Meat Loaf
Metal renaissance AC/DC, Def Lepard, Whitesnake
Indie REM, The Smiths, Radiohead
Alternative Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Replacements
Y’allternative Mekons, Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams
Shoegazers (Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo
Techno Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Ultravox
Acid House DJ Pierre, Sleezy D
Grunge Nirvana, Pearl Jam
Britpop Blur, Oasis, Pulp

** From what I can tell, the first mention of “rock and roll” was not Alan Freed – as popularly assumed and how Alan likely wanted us to remember – but a single called “We’re Gonna Rock, We’re Gonna Roll” by Wild Bill Moore all the way back in 1947. This and other infotainment minutiae on the list is liberally lifted and modified from Bob Stanley’s excellent “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! – The Story Of Pop Music”

And after “Brit pop”? I’m a little lost, then…

Even Brit pop only took us to the mid-to-late nineties. Of course we dealt with the variances of pop punk, rap rock, and rap metal, as well as conscious attempts to revisit rock’s history, including the garage rock/post-punk and synthpop revivals at the beginning of the new millennium.

In my research and in my ruminations, one of the things that befuddled me is that “gap” I perceive after about 2000. Again, not that there isn’t great rock music after that time but is there something tectonic, something that is a new sub-genre of rock like punk was or grunge or metal? I asked this earlier and I still don’t think so. It was one of my goals with RockNuts to the best new rock music but also to check out new seismic movements in the field. Or – alternatively – has rock been completely explored and we will hear new songs but in the same styles as their predecessors?

There are new stated forms and I will explore them gingerly in Part Two of this tome. Some of these genres or sub-genres actually got their start in the mid-nineties but more properly flourished after the millennium break. A few that come to mind include:

Genre Sample Band(s)
Trip hop Portishead, Massive Attack, Bjork
Ambient techno/chillout/drone Vondelpark
EDM Skrillex, Diplo, Swedish House Mafia
Drum and bass/jungle Pendulum, Shapeshifter
Dubstep Doctor P, Borgore
Trap Young Chop, Future
Trance Armin van Buuren, Sander van Doorn
Heroin Pop Raveonettes, Sky Ferreira
Witch House Psychic TV, Coil
Seapunk Ultrademon, Azealia Banks
Vaporwave Vektroid, Situationists
Soft Grunge Lana del Ray, Lorde
Health Goth (examples are evolving)

While I admit a psychological hurdle and aversion to any genre being called “original” when it is either solely about fashion or – worse – has a DJ playing someone else’s sounds, I think it is worth exploring this theme for my own Rocknuts sociological mission. I am also bemused by how much the “new music” seems female-centric, which is unusual in rock. But that’s for someone else to explore.

And those sub-theses are for another day. Let’s talk about all that in Part Two next week…


4 comments to “When did rock stop evolving? 10 years ago?”
  1. How about “Crab-Core”? It is so named because the bands who play this type of music stay very low to the ground.

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