Rock in Stages

Years ago it came to my attention that, starting with the outbreak of Beatlemania in Britain in 1963, just about every 14 years brings a major wave of innovation in rock music.

We go in cycles, from innovation to elaboration, to saturation, to stagnation. Sometimes rapidly.

1963 – The Beatles became a phenomenon seemingly over night with their second single “Please Please Me”. While most people think of their later work when they think of the Beatles’ important innovations, “Please Please Me” and some of their earlier work was in fact very innovative at the time. Tame as it sounds to 21st century ears, it sparked the British Invasion of rock music.

The innovations of the Beatles’ later years launched another whole big thing, which, with some tweaks, would evolve into prog rock in the 70’s. This and the overblown virtuosity of stadium rock would become stale, at which point the only natural thing to happen was the punk rock movement.

The punk movement reached its peak about 1977. It stripped everything down to its most essential elements, with the genre’s most notable early bands – the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash – borrowing more from the 1950’s than they did from their own contemporaries.

But the punk movement too was soon watered down by sub-genres, eventually giving way to post-punk into the early ’80s, similar but more radio-friendly, a few shades less gritty, and with significantly less snarl. Diluted even more, we got new wave.

New wave and hair metal are both descendants of glam, each sprinkled with their own particular flavor of punk rock. But, naturally, in time, these too became sterile movements.

Enter Nirvana, with the landmark “Nevermind” in 1991.

Kurt Cobain actually was known to say that he got sick of hearing Michael Jackson and Madonna on the radio all the time and had to do something about it. But really, the music of Nirvana is the sound of a staunch rebuke of the likes of Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Def Leppard.

I had already developed this fourteen-year theory by the time 2005 rolled around, and I was anxiously awaiting The Next Big Thing. At the time I did not see it, and after a few years I was disheartened because I don’t think it took too long to figure out that the Beatles, the punk movement, and Nirvana were the watersheds of their generations.

Looking back I think that the Arctic Monkeys, the White Stripes, the Strokes – all part of a movement broadly referred to as post-punk revival – were the Next Big Thing of that generation. The movement originated well before 2005, but that year is often cited as the year the first wave of the movement ended, the second wave kicking off with the Arctic Monkeys being discovered online, which in itself would prove to be a dramatic shift in the way rock bands come to widespread attention.

I would say that is a seismic shift.

And so here we are in 2019. I am anxiously awaiting whatever is next. I am not deeply enough immersed in the current rock scene to be able to say that I know what that it will be. But I dearly wish to see it happen soon.

Who knows? Maybe it’s this:

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