Are We Entering A New Cycle For Rock?

Fans of the genre, as well as bullish label execs and optimistic radio programmers, will point to emerging stars like Frankenmuth, Michigan’s own, Greta Van Fleet. Other acts – like Dorothy – are bubbling under, giving PDs hope that a new wave of great rock may be just around the corner. Dorothy Martin fronts her own L.A.-based band beginning to make some noise on the charts. And she clearly has style.

If you’ve been a card carrying rocker for any length of time – from the British Invasion through the rich years of the ’70s, and well into the ’80s and ’90s, successes in rock have had certain attributes in common. They broke the rules, they pushed back, and many had a rebellious streak that propelled their careers and grew their fan bases.

That thought was reinforced last month by none other than Jack White, clearly one of the most unique and influential rockers of the past couple decades. From the White Stripes to the Raconteurs to starting his own vinyl-powered label – Third Man Records – White has blazed his own trail. And he has earned cred with old school rockers, having been featured alongside icons, Jimmy Page and The Edge in the documentary film, “It Might Get Loud” released in 2008.

“Rock n’ roll needs an injection of some new blood to really just knock everybody dead right now.”

And White is seeing signs of optimism about the state of the genre, especially respecting the cycles that seem to occur every decade or so. His record label is an incubator for helping determine what’s next, and he says there’s are some good signs on the horizon:

“We see it at Third Man all the time, a lot of young rock n’ roll acts, and I can tell in the couple years, it’s definitely different than it was five years ago. I think it’s about to explode again.”

Pros who work in both radio and records – along with millions of rock fans – hope he’s right. Last month’s virtual shutout of rock at the Grammy Awards was another sign of rock’s growing irrelevance in today’s fast-moving entertainment culture.

An interesting point in the interview occurred when White referred to “the cycle of rock.”

“Since rock and roll’s inception, every 10, 12 years, there’s a breath of fresh air and a new injection of some sort of what you could I guess call punk attitude or something like that. A wildness. Things get crazy and then they get crazy for a couple years, and then they kind of get subtle, and then you’ve gotta wait for the next wave to come through and get people really excited and screaming about it again.”

Interestingly, that same cycle was the subject of a recent analysis by Canadian music maven, Alan Cross. In a Global News commentary – “The theory of the 13-year rock vs. pop cycle” – Cross walks us back through rock n’ roll history, noting the points on the curve where an influential period in rock was followed by a musical cornucopia of pop.

How to explain these cycles that both White and Cross say take place every dozen years or so? What are the forces that spawn these important periods in music – the culture, the times, politics, luck – or something else?

Among other things, Alan attributes the rise of rock to Republican era presidents, nothing the music heated up during the Eisenhower (the ’50s), Nixon (late ’60s/early ’70s), Reagan (the ’80s), and so on through the George W. Bush years where the theory gets a little shaky.

For Jack White, he sees evidence of an upsurge in rock by listening to young rockers that comes through his record label. For Cross, it’s more a matter of watching the political waves.

And Donald Trump’s presidency would seem to portend a strong new cycle where rock rules once again. But we know that’s not the case – at least yet.

Why the delay in a rock comeback since Trump emerged on the scene? Cross lists two main impediments to this rock cycle emerging:

  1. Hip-hop has emerged as a major force that has upended the rock/pop relationship.

  2. Technology has changed the way we discover and access music. The myriad channels and platforms have spawned no real consensus about what gets exposed, or what defines quality and mass appeal.

But the factor that could overshadow these “speed bumps” is the turblent, unpredicctable, and shocking political and social times in which we live.

A stronger sense of protest – fueled in recent weeks by the Parkland shootings – bears some of the same watermarks of the Vietnam Era – which had a distinctly rock soundtrack. Yet, you’d never know it by the lion’s share of the rock being released. Bands seem more focused on the technical aspects of crafting hits, rather than holding up a mirror to the millions of disaffected, angry, or unsettled citizens in our country and our world.

It’s as if rock has a bad case of laryngitis – unable or unwilling to add its music commentary to the conversation. At least, for now.

We are living in an increasingly stressful, anxious world. And history shows us, that’s often when rock finds its voice.

Perhaps 2018 will be the time for rock bands to start filling up those shot glasses again with music that does more than hit the right notes.

If that day comes, the first round’s on me.

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