Is The "Rock Era" Over? If so, when did it end?

Alas…I recall many weekend mornings listening to Casey Kasem and the old “American Top 40” radio show. Whenever he would describe an amazing fact pertaining to an artist or song, he would refer to the “Rock Era”—the time during which Rock and Roll dominated popular music, and which many believe began with Bill Haley and The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” in 1955.

Is the “Rock Era” over? If so, when did it end? Conversely, since there are rappers (Run DMC for one) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, can it be said that we remain in the “Rock Era”?

My personal guess is that it is over…the run lasting from 1955 to about 1992 or 1993. But that’s my answer…what is yours?

The rock era began a steep decline in 1985 and was all but over by 1995, IMO. There are still rock bands and genres of rock that are thriving, but the glory days of “rock” music blaring from FM stations, permeating the public consciousness and giving rise to bands “living like a rock star” are over.

I think it lasted until the late 2000s, since in that decade you still had a large variety of rock styles getting mass market penetration (emo, indie, garage revival, nu-metal, etc.) but in this decade it’s been mostly confined to specialized sources. I don’t think there’s a way for the masses to find out about and thus really get into a new rock artist, which isn’t the case with pop.

According to this article, rock died in 1991 when “Billboard changed its chart methodology to measure point-of-sales record data and directly monitor radio air play.” It makes a pretty good case (sad to say) that pop and country are what the public really like, and rock was somewhat artificially propped up by music industry middlemen.

I read an interview earlier with the singer of the Killers. He was asked if this was true and he recommended a good rock song on their new album - which was number 1 at the time and sold over 100,000 units that week. I would think The Killers would be labeled a “rock” band, right? As would some other bands that are doing extremely well like Imagine Dragons, for instance. My local alternative station has played several artists that seemed to be niche that later crossed over or blew up on the pop charts, and while the labels may have shifted I would consider all “rock” acts to some extent. I would say whether it’s “pop” or doesn’t rock hard enough or something (and let’s be honest, many rock bands of the 70s of 80s did not exactly “rock”) is subjective and rock music of the '80s was nothing like the '50s either. My Midwest city still puts on a lot of (mostly sold out) concerts in a range of venues, and they are predominately rock acts. There are newer rock bands that do arenas. Even pop and R&B hits on the radio are still covering rock songs. Maybe there are fewer guitars in some things, but not in others. As far as discovering music I would say modern methods are a lot more accessible than the past. Heck, there was a period of time 20 years ago or so that I listened to music that was never on the radio or covered by major media. I wouldn’t know why rock would be any less discoverable now. Maybe you could say country is over, too, since “bro country” or whatever isn’t what was on the radio 60-70 years ago. Not much of a country fan, but I understand they’ve been having that struggle for decades, with the Urban Cowboy invasion and whatever else has happened in the past 40 years. I don’t think the rock era gave way to the country era. It didn’t give way to the “pop era” because pop has always coincided. Despite being unfairly blamed, it’s certainly not the hip-hop era. I don’t think it’s the dance or electronica era. All those things as still niche. I think the “rock era” has always been more of a broad thing encompassing various related styles that always end up going back to pop more than a lot of “rockers” would care to admit. I listened to Top 40 countdowns in the 80s - it was always a lot of dance, pop, some hip-hop, hair metal, ballads, etc. I wasn’t around much in the 70s but I’ve seen all the infomercials hosted by Air Supply. So I know what kind of music was popular. I’m just saying that whatever is going on now, if that ended the rock era, why didn’t it end after/during one of these other disturbances that have happened over the past 60 years - including when what was considered popular “rock” music during certain eras was absolute shit that didn’t rock in the slightest?

That sounds about right to me. Maybe a year or two later, but somewhere from '95-'98. To me, the “alternative” rock of the early 90s was pretty much the last gasp of rock as a mainstream force.

You know, actually, I may push it back and agree with the early-to-mid 90s posts. There’s always going to be a rock subgenre like grunge or nu metal that can push the date later into the 90s and 00s, but the “rock era” came to a close by then, in my opinion.

Yeah, I have no quibble with this line of thinking.

Fascinating article.

I’ve talked about the Replacements a lot here. In my memory there was an attempt by the industry to find stuff from underground to make big, in the tradition of the way rock from all eras bubbled up and had become the default dominant cultural force over the previous 30 years. This is after punk, new wave and the offshoots, and it was definitely the end of a cycle.

Near the mid 80s major label deals were made for REM, the Mats, and Husker Du (Two of them from Minneapolis btw) Later on Sonic Youth would be signed. REM became big, but they were over as a great group IMHO by the time they sold well. The mats and the huskers stories have been told anon. It didn’t work.

Now when Nirvana made it, Westerberg was very aware that he, maybe most of all, out of all the musicians out there, had been passed by. I and a lot of people had a lot of hopes invested in the mats. It was like getting your back broken. I’d be willing to bet that their billboard single success was inched along by mats fans hidden in various parts of the industry.

Now Cobain, for his part, used to name check all the usual suspects in his interviews, and he was very promiscuous about it. REM, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Big Black, Jesus Lizard, Dinosaur, The Pistols, the Raincoats…but he never mentioned the Replacements once. He was too cool.

My question after reading the article is if the rock beast was broken then, just before grunge, then what was the grunge explosion? Were they like Trump voters, realizing way down that it’s demographically over, but saying “Fuck You” anyway?

If rock was dead why was there a big splash then? Or did I just answer my own question.

Grunge was reactive, not proactive. Grunge was a reaction to the excesses of '80s hair metal, which had taken over a good chunk of “rock” music. Think of grunge as similar to punk in the mid-70s, IMO. It’s not a perfect match by any means, but there are a lot of similarities.

The thing is, grunge was immediately co-opted by the establishment, where punk rock wasn’t. And punk was reacting to much more than just the music scene, grunge wasn’t. The lure of money meant lots of grunge-y bands for a couple of years, but then they were mostly tamed with ballads and acoustic sets and “their most personal, introspective album to date”, etc.

By the time you water down music made by people who are trying to make money as opposed to trying to make music, you have the pablum that passes for much of indie rock, which is the bulk of the rock scene these days.

Note: metal is a kind of rock music, but it is not rock music. Metal is different enough that it has a fan base and culture unlike the indie rock scene or the radio rock scene and I’m happy to say that it is thriving. There is more new music than I can shake a stick at every week now, and the technical abilities and songwriting skills, not mention the quality of the performances in metal is astounding right now.

Oddly enough, some rock bands in Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin America), like Café Tacuba, managed to keep what I would call real, good rock music going for a few more years, even as late (IMHO) as 2003.

Oh, there was that in the US, too, with that whole indie rock surge in the late 90s/early 00s, bands like The White Stripes, the Strokes, Wolfmother (Australia), the Hives (Sweden), Kings of Leon, etc. were popular here among a certain listenership, and even into the mainstream. I mean, I still go to rock shows, and there’s still good rock music being made out there. It’s just that as an era, it’s not really the dominant music force here anymore. It may still well be in Mexico for the time period you mention, but I don’t think anyone is saying no good rock music is still being made.

There’s still great jazz being performed and recorded even today, but the era of jazz as a dominant and popular mainstream creative force ended decades ago. I suspect the rock era is near it’s end as well.

I’d have written almost this exact same post but you beat me to it, pulykamell. Well said.

Rock died when KMET went “Easy Listening” and KLOS went corporate.

+1. Nothing to add.

You’re gonna hafta cut this down to 3:05.

I agree with my esteemed colleagues.

I think punk got co-opted pretty effectively. In fact much more effectively than grunge which just seemed like a fashion show. There are no leftover grunge people out there, let alone ones who think they are changing the world, but there are a lot of punks who do. That is what co-optation looks like.
“By the time you water down music made by people who are trying to make money as opposed to trying to make music, you have the pablum that passes for much of indie rock, which is the bulk of the rock scene these days.”

Isn’t this is a statement which is true for mainstream rock? That was the model for “money vs music and pablum produced” for a long time. People here like that mainstream rock though. If you say something about petty or prince you may get pushback. But those people were part of the machine too. Chasing dollars in the music field isn’t new. And pablum we have always had.

But you are saying that the commercial machine produces pablum, in the indie field? Cashing in on all that indie money floating around? What is the proper stance for an indie artist? You may be right, but is it possible that you are not listening to the right indie artists?

The era of Rock (in its many forms) being the dominant mode of popular music ended sometime in the late 90s. In terms of sales and radio airplay, hip-hop took over with the boy bands/pop-tarts (i.e., music almost exclusively aimed at girls between the ages of 11 and 15) not far behind. Rock music had become too fragmented and balkanized among its many sub-genres for it to have the cultural impact it had years before.

Also, and I emphasize this is just my unsubstantiated theory, the rise of the internet and Napster played a big role. People who owned computers and had access to the internet were more likely to be rock fans. Thus, they were the ones who were more likely to download their music for free rather than buy it at a brick-and-mortar record store like fans of hip-hop, teen pop, country, and other genres did. Because nobody kept track of free MP3 downloads at the time, record sales seemed to indicate the audience for rock music was in decline. The big record companies, radio stations, and MTV then acted accordingly by signing fewer rock acts and reducing rock music airplay.