The kids want to rock. Well, at least lots of them do. Forget Beyonce and Christina and Nickelback and The Fray and OutKast.
Forget alterna-this and alterna-that, the various permutations that hip-hop has taken, or the endless stylistic detours heavy metal has gone down.
It’s all about the rock for a steady audience of millions of kids whose tastes stretch back decades to include old-school bands like Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, the Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd.
“They actually could play their instruments well and had definite talent and put it together and made great music that you could still listen to 20 or 30 years later,” said Jimmy Shanks, a 16-year-old Southview High School student, iexplaining the music’s appeal to him and his buddies.
Rob Kimple, owner of the independent Toledo record store RamaLama Records, sees it all the time. Kids come in and browse around, snatching a classic rock disc or two in addition to whatever new band they’re llistening to.
A teen recently came into his Central Avenue shop and asked for a disc from an obscure punk band whose name you could never print in a mainstream newspaper. But then the same kid wanted the first Boston album, which is the epitome of mainstream ’70s rock.
“Cream has been huge, Tom Petty is always big. And it’s weird, too, because it’s not necessarily the biggest of the big,” Kimple said. “It’s not the Stones or Springsteen, but like T.Rex is really big right now, and The Faces. A lot of kids are going back to find out about it.”
There’s no hard evidence that maps demographics in terms of record buying, but according to a recent Rolling Stone story, it’s obvious kids are increasingly tuning into classic rock:
Reasons for the steady appeal of classic rock varies depending on who you ask, but in some ways it’s a no-brainer from a marketing perspective. As Aaron Roberts, program director at Toledo rock radio station WIOT-FM, puts it:
At the same time, new bands that play old-school hard rock don’t seem to get any traction to churn out albums year after year in the same manner as some of the older acts. Audioslave is a notable exception, but they’re on disc No. 3 right now, making them relatively new.
Wolfmother, which sounds a bit like vintage Black Sabbath, is another pure hard-rock act that’s sold well, but for the most part the airwaves aren’t dominated by the kind of blistering guitar work and primordial thud that made bands like Zeppelin so universally appealing, Kimple said.
“As far as plain old rock and roll, there’s not ebony porn
much of it right now,” Kimple said. “And the kids want to rock.”
It’s safe to say that rock fans in the ’70s didn’t listen to groups from the ’50s unless they were musicians trying to figure out how Jimi Hendrix copped his style from Albert King. It would have been exceedingly unhip for a beer-guzzling AC/DC fan circa 1977 to go back and listen to Chuck Berry, even though the root of every riff Angus Young ever played is based on Berry’s revolutionary guitar work 20 years earlier.
That hunger for musical knowledge fuels interest in classic rock and at the same time makes other decades-old genres appealing to young music fans.
Zach Weinberg, an 18-year-old Toledoan who’s in the band the Uncertain Five, delves deep into punk rock and the relatively obscure ’70s-era No Wave movement both for enjoyment and inspiration.
“I appreciate these earlier bands because they had no one to take these ideas from,” he said. “They were making it up on their own.”
He cites bands like the Contortions and Gang of Four and Television, groups that are the classic rock of the punk movement and whose music still provides a strong influence on modern rock even if it’s not always acknowledged.
“There’s a lot of bands now that do similar stuff to these earlier groups and they don’t realize that it’s all been done before,” he said.
Pat O’Connor, the owner of Toledo indie record store Culture Clash, said teens come in his store all the time looking for influential rock from previous decades.
“It’s really cool because this is the first time I can think of in a long time where the younger set is actually interested in how music is developed,” he said. “For a long time it was just ‘my beats’ and throw away everything else. But if you really get interested in Wolfmother, then you’ve got to go back to Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep.”
Which gets to the unspoken question inherent in this issue: could it be that the music is still so popular because it’s somehow better?
Every generation, of course, thinks their music, their art, their literature is somehow superior to their predecessors’. That helps explain why kids in the ’60s and ’70s weren’t so keen on going back and listening to the Beatles or the Who’s influences. English skiffle bands or Gene Vincent just couldn’t stand up to the aural assault that their musical progeny produced.
But the ’60s and ’70s represented a true benchmark for rock and roll, when bands were experimenting with styles that ranged from the organic three-guitar Southern rock of groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd to the industrial full-metal sludge effect of prime Black Sabbath.
Kimple thinks the appeal of the older music is that the bands then were focused on songs rather than style or attitude and that approach creates music that transcends time.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a matter that it was [better]”, he said. “But I think now a lot of people are concerned with trying be different, which is pretty much impossible.”
He sees nothing wrong with the increased popularity of the older music.
“I think it’s great, because that’s a lot of the stuff I favor and when kids come in and buy Neil Young and [Frank] Zappa that’s awesome because they’re not just buying what’s hot,” he said.
Roberts of WIOT said the new bands also lack the personalities that made so many of the older bands so intriguing and which translates into longevity.
“When Keith Richards gets drunk and falls out of a tree, everyone cares. When a kid from some alterna-pop band falls off his scooter, no one cares,” he said.
Dan Lear, a 15-year-old Whitmer High School student, said the most appealing aspect of the older rock like Pink Floyd, AC/DC, or Metallica is the message.
“A lot of modern day stuff is nice, but back then it was very rebellious and I like it,” he said. “They all speak their minds through what they love to do and they don’t care that they’re speaking their minds or what other people think.”
Ask Jimmy Shanks for one of his favorite concert moments and he immediately starts talking about Iron Maiden — a band that had been around 14 years by the time Jimmy was born — at Ozzfest last year.
“They put on a great, great live show, with a bunch of sets,” he said, enthusiasm coming through the phone. “They went through five or six backdrops. They had a 20-foot Eddie [the band’s mascot] come out on stage, which was pretty sweet.”
Roberts said that kind of appeal — loud, powerful music, an energetic stage show — never goes out of fashion.
“It’s the best music out there, so I think there’s always going to be a resurgence of that,” he said. “You never get sick of the good stuff.”
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