So right now I'm (obviously) listening to a song called "Dedication," by Thin Lizzy, available only on Thin Lizzy's Dedication - The Very Best of Thin Lizzy album, which is available on iTunes for the low, low price of $5.99! No, I don't make any money off of this, but if you dig Thin Lizzy, it's eighteen tracks of the band's best work, for just under six bucks. Totally worth it, I think.
Now, the song "Dedication" was apparently completed by the rest of the band after bassist-singer Phil Lynott died in 1986, but it's not one of those "Free as a Bird" or anything released by Biggie or Tupac in the last decade kind of things where it's pieced together from a couple of verses and then resampled over a Bob Marley loop. No, this is a full-on, 80's style Thin Lizzy song, and it fucking rocks, albeit in an 80's kind of way. Not that it's like Poison or Motley Crue or anything, because it's played by guys who are actually good musicians (apologies to C.C. DeVille, who actually is a good guitarist and Tommy Lee who actually is a good drummer; they are merely surrounded by dunces).
Anyway, this can only be influenced by that Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal book that I've very nearly finished. I just got to the section where Nirvana is beginning to get airplay on MTV, which marked the beginning of the end for two things: Rock videos on MTV, and videos in general on MTV. So I've been going back through my old CD's and such to listen to them and figure out where and when the music might have gone bad. Personally, I draw the line where Warrant got famous, and any hair band after that just needed to go bye-bye.
A lot of people say that it's all the fucking ballads that killed rock and roll; that it was songs like "Don't Cry" and "November Rain" and "Estranged" that really put people off from ever buying another Guns 'N' Roses CD ever again (although the only one that ever came out after the Use Your Illusion albums was a cover-album named The Spaghetti Incident?). I don't think that's really true, because those videos were more popular than any of the bands' other work. Why? Chicks, and –in the case of Guns 'N' Roses– epic videos. The videos for the ballads were at least an order of magnitude better than the videos for the rock songs, and they appealed to a wider audience. Joe Elliott of Def Leppard once explained it on VH1's "Storytellers" by saying that ballads basically sell albums, and that the band wouldn't be able to put out a good rock song if there wasn't a ballad on the album, because no one would buy it.
So you've got the hair bands going the Firehouse or Mr. Big route, with everyone doing some kind of ballad, and by 1991, the metalheads have either jumped ship and cut their hair, or they're looking for something else. I mean, clearly these groups singing love songs for love, of all things, rather than Poison's not wanting nothin' but a good time, totally alienated their core audience, and the metalheads are like, "So what the fuck do we do now?" And then comes this screaming from Seattle, and over the next year, the whole musical landscape has changed. Five years after that, Kurt Cobain is dead, ska is king, and the guitar solo is totally extinct.
So what killed rock and roll? It got stale. That's all. When you have all of these bands that sound exactly alike (and Henry Rollins covered this very fact in the 2001 show I referenced in a previous post), people are just going to throw up their arms and go, "What the fuck?!" So, by that rationale, the record industry killed rock and roll by milking it for all that it was worth, and then some. Every record company had to have a hair band or two, and the record companies wanted all of them to sound like Poison and have the swagger of Motley Crue. The formulaic nature of verse-chorus-verse devolved even further by overproduction on the albums, to the point where everything sounded perfect.
Now, good production is a good thing, but at some point, the albums started sounding artificially good. These days, we just take it for granted that an album is going to be put together and tweaked in a program like Pro Tools, and that nobody gets an entire song down in one take anymore. Hell, you can't even trust the live albums anymore.
And, I think the last part, the thing that really killed rock and roll is the fact that everyone had become so pretty. I don't mean that in the Bowie-inspired, New York Dolls-throwback, makeup-wearing, gallon of Aqua Net look of Poison or some of the other groups. I mean that in the sense that it had gotten to the point where you had to look good to get on MTV, which totally influenced radio airplay. Why did guys fucking hate Kip Winger? He was too good-looking to be a rock star, and that influenced what we thought of his music. Rock stars are supposed to look like the rest of us, and that's what the years of 1991 to 1995 gave us: Flannel-wearing, scruffy-looking, everymen. And then that wore out, and so did the last gasps of rock and roll.
Let's be honest: John Mellencamp wouldn't exist in this day and age. Neither would Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, KISS, Black Sabbath, or Bob Dylan. For some of them, the music is too literate for the masses of today. For some of them, their first couple of albums didn't sell that many copies, and a label will fucking dump you if your album doesn't live up to expectations. But the common factor amongst all of them is, these guys aren't pretty; none of them. With the kind of influence that MTV (somehow, given that they don't play videos anymore) wields to this day, we wouldn't have some of the best music that history has ever given us.
So, despite my being against peer-to-peer file-sharing, I'm going to say something, and I don't think I'm being hypocritical in the least for saying it: Trade your music with friends.
Okay, see, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead got some people fairly irate because, about a month ago, they asked archive.org to pull their Grateful Dead bootlegs, which they'd always said was free to trade. Now, the issue was over recordings that were actually recorded out of the Dead's soundboards, and was officially released by the band, and the audience-made bootlegs have reportedly been returned to the site with the band's blessing. Point being, though, that peer-to-peer file-sharing is nothing like tape-trading back in the day of the Dead, or how it worked in the early-Eighties, when you'd make tapes for your friends and say, "Dude, listen to this!" and then they'd make a copy for one or five of their friends, and little-known music would eventually work its way across oceans. One of the members of the Dead said (and I agree) that the difference is back then it was community-driven, people who actually knew each other; today you don't know the color of their eyes.
So, if you've got good music that needs to be heard, ask your friends if you can send it to them through Instant Messenger or something. Don't hop on Kazaa or Limewire, or whatever the en vogue peer-to-peer program is. Burn a CD and give it to someone at work. If the band has a website with downloadable songs, point people to it. At the very least, hop on your blog and talk about it. Sing its praises, because the only way good musicians are going to survive in this day and age is by having a community behind them, seeing their shows, buying their music, and just supporting them. Especially for those musicians without record deals, there's an additional point on the most basic level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; the level that includes food, shelter, et cetera:
Artists need validation.
Well, this is teetering right on about 1,400 words, so I'm going to stop now. Think about what I've said, though. Artists need promotion, and –given the rule of six degrees of separation– we can recommend better music to our friends than MTV can recommend to us. We are the DJ's of this new century, so look at your buddy-list; that is your audience. Get broadcasting.
My personal recommendations of the day: Nadafinga (maneuver to the downloads page; I recommend the song "Barker Style" as a starter), and Ass Plow, which is my friend Louie's project out in California. I also like Small Shiny Things, which is an eclectic group that I don't get out to see nearly often enough, and their recordings are totally homemade, but it's good music, and that's what counts.
So, start double-clicking screennames and make people aware of what you like, now.