August 31, 2013

When did white people stop listening to rock music?

What I mean is, when did black music overtake white music among white audiences themselves? The purpose here is to clarify the shape that white music tastes took after Baby Boomers and even some Gen X-ers stopped paying attention to popular culture. I've read or heard things to the effect of white people these days having their own music, and blacks their own music.

The most recent was the comments at this post at Steve Sailer's about the Ramones, punk, who removed black influences from white music, and what's happened since. The end result being whites with really white-sounding rock music (indie), and blacks with really black-sounding rap music (gangsta / braggadocio).

It's easy to understand why the folks in these discussions tuned out of pop music during the '90s, early 2000s, late 2000s, and this decade -- it's all been downhill since the peak in the '80s. They probably tuned back in for a little bit during the mid-2000s, when there was a brief revival of styles from the late '70s and '80s. But that would leave a mistaken impression that those songs were the dominant ones of the time, or that they'd been around for awhile before and have stuck around since.

That post-punk / new wave revival only left one hit among the top 20 on the Billboard Year-End singles charts -- "Mr. Brightside" by the Killers in 2005. The rest of the mid-2000s is Rihanna, Beyonce, Usher, Nickelback, Evanescence, and other boring 21st-century-sounding junk. That sound wasn't there at all in the '90s, and had already burned out by 2008.

So then -- when did white people switch over to mostly black music? The year-end charts for 1992 show rock music still doing well. In the top 20, we find two power ballads -- the stereotypical '80s sound -- in "To Be with You" and "November Rain". Heartland rock, made famous by John Cougar Mellancamp also in the '80s, is hanging on with "Life Is a Highway". Michael Jackson's representing pop rock with "Black or White". And alternative rock scores its highest hit ever, very early, with "Under the Bridge".

All of a sudden in 1993, rock disappears completely from the top 20. Everything is now R&B, rap, reggae, and new jack swing (a kind of mix between R&B and rap). The sole exception is a pop ballad from the Aladdin soundtrack, "A Whole New World". Things hardly let up in 1994, where "Wild Night" is the only rock song to crack the top 20. In '95, there's one pure rock song ("Always"), with another Latin rock song ("Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"), and the biggest blues rock hit since rock 'n' roll began -- "Run-Around" by Blues Traveler. The Gin Blossoms barely broke into the top 20 in '96 with the watered-down "Till I Hear It From You".

It's not until 1997 that whiny-dorky rock comes into its own, with "MMMBop" by Hanson and "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind both entering the top 20. That's about where it's stayed ever since -- a couple of dull rock songs at best, and mostly R&B, rap, and pop. And it's not uncommon for the rock songs to have a heavy rap, reggae, or other black influence -- especially in the late '90s and early 2000s with that whole rap-rock fusion phenomenon. Just outside the top 20 in 1999, Everlast scored another blues rock hit with "What It's Like". (To underscore the black influence on the white man's music, the album's title is Whitey Ford Sings the Blues.)

In hindsight, the mid-'90s hegemony of R&B, rap, and new jack swing seems like an overshoot of the "ditch the white music" impulse that whites themselves began to feel. That time in general was a great big divorce period from the New Wave Age and the Eighties in particular. When you're going through a divorce, you exaggerate how much you hate the other side, just to ensure a permanent break with no hesitation. Once you've been separated for awhile, the hostilities die down somewhat, and you can at last occasionally speak to each other, though with the upper-hand party never forgetting to remind the lower-hand party that they're never going to accept them back. Such was the fate of rock music over the past 20 years.

If this painfully awkward trip down memory lane serves to correct the Boomer perception of white kids listening to uber-white music these days (aside from a handful of SWPL indie nerds), it should also correct the misperception that Millennials and perhaps even some Gen Y folks have about this always being the state of affairs. You guys have no idea how culturally assertive and cohesive white America was back in the '80s. And it lasted right up through '92, even if that year represents a grinding-to-a-halt more than a final victory lap.

Let's end with a reminder of how healthy, bouncy, and CATCHY rock music still was in '92:



24 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:31 AM

    And then this happened:

    Future Sound of London -- "Papua New Guinea":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCoCTkC0oL0

    And then this happened:

    808 State -- "Pacific State":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLxDRePUwEY

    (or if you prefer)

    808 State -- "Lift":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjXbirYdnGA

    And then this happened:

    Orbital -- "Halcyon + On + On":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6VkD81-YVw

    All of these are from the early to mid 1990s.

    Americans did have access to FSOL's "Papua New Guinea" -- you can find it on the soundtrack of "Cool World". Orbital's "Halcyon + On + On" you can find on the "Hackers" soundtrack. I don't believe 808 State got much American FM airplay, but their stuff could be found in shops.

    FSOL started entire new groups -- Hybrid Soundsystem got its kick-off when one of the original duo heard "Papua New Guinea". It's not just some random song.

    Someone who liked rock could go from "Rawk Guitar Gods" to "New Wave" to ... what? Raver culture and music solved the problem -- it wasn't purely rock, purely pop, purely electronic. Other genres solved the problem as well, as you describe. There was something new to latch onto, even if it didn't seem like it was going to have a future either.

    For what it's worth, pop didn't turn entirely into risible muzak full of sugary teen angst, so you could say in a sense part of it survived intact.

    Thievery Corporation -- "Tower Seven":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVZ66NuEAy4

    But I wouldn't know. All of the acts I've
    listed aren't American except for the last one, and outside of some clubs and concert venues where their music is appreciated, they aren't as well known on "Adult Contemporary" FM.

    Actually, "Pacific State" on steel pans is fairly bangin' ...

    Maybe it's more likely that the reason that American rock topped out in 1992 is because it didn't have anywhere to go? I remember William Gibson saying something about how he was fond of the demise of the "guitar gods", that maybe he could find some decent pop.

    Steely Dan's still around -- they're more jazz-pop with a rock sensibility. Then again, with their songs, it was always about making the scene come alive with imagery and sound ...

    Not everyone could make the transition or stick with the programme -- you remember that awful Steve Miller album, "Italian X Rays"?

    Remember Canadian progressive rock?

    Saga -- "The Flyer":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KqTmv8_kb4

    And yet this isn't where the future of
    rock music went in Canada either ...

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  2. Dahlia11:07 AM

    I recognize this now that you've laid it out like that. I've wondered off and on since I began having kids in 1999, why are so many shows, commercial jingles, etc. so black? Also, twenty-somethings I know listen a lot to black music, even those who listen to country, but I thought it was just them...

    The last two good songs I recall hearing in the last half dozen years are the Indie ones: Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People and 1,2,3,4 by Feist.

    Thinking more of Millenials I know, they really like early 90s music like the Cranberries and Blind Melon's "No Rain", but New Wave, 80s in general, and definitely anything earlier is just too white I guess.

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  3. Rave music, LOL. Not catchy or community-binding. Not that it didn't draw a crowd, but then anything au courant will manage that. You've never seen individuals off in their own little worlds, while still packed in like sardines, as at a techno club. It looks like a well-behaved hive rather than a spirited crowd.

    If you want to point to Britain's extra couple of years of interesting music after America's, you're looking for Britpop. That showed that rock still had some novelty, good cheer, and catchy motifs left in it.

    "Alright" by Supergrass, "Common People" by Pulp, "Boys and Girls" by Blur, "Wonderwall" by Oasis, maybe "Stutter" by Elastica. Those can get stuck in a person's head and make them want to hum, whistle, or sing it back.

    The reason that rock gradually died off after '92 in America and '95 in Britain is the fall in the crime rate. America's rate peaked in '92, and I believe Britain's peaked a little later, '94 or '95. So that rising-crime zeitgeist hung on for a bit longer over there.

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  4. "Thinking more of Millenials I know, they really like early 90s music like the Cranberries and Blind Melon's "No Rain","

    I have heard a bunch of early '90s stuff in Urban Outfitters over the past year. And I remember a Millennial chick who was living in our house playing "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows.

    They feel some distant connection to rock music, but it has to contain a certain level of awkwardness to make them feel comfortable.

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  5. "Someone who liked rock could go from "Rawk Guitar Gods" to "New Wave" to ... what?"

    Dude, don't be such a spazz. There were a million strains of rock music in the '80s. ZZ Top brought blues rock into the synth/dance age. Heartland rock was huge (at least over here) with Springsteen, Bryan Adams ("Summer of '69"), and John Cougar Mellencamp. None of those guys are rawk guitar gods, or new wave-y at all.

    Hard rock was still distinct from metal. Aerosmith wasn't over-the-top or solo-heavy; they were more about getting listeners to have a rollicking good time out with each other. Even metal had developed distinct darker and lighter strains -- Priest, Maiden, etc. and the glam/hair bands respectively.

    Then there was the "jangle" rock or "power pop" of Tom Petty, the Bangles, and from the early '90s Mazzy Star and Gin Blossoms. It was taking the free-spirited sound of the Byrds and other acts from the '60s and injecting a greater level of energy or aggression, and more varied phrase structure, that made it fit in more in the '80s.

    Not to mention the early forms of independent, alternative, "college radio" styles. R.E.M., the Replacements, the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Church, Simple Minds, just to name a few.

    Simplifying the most diverse period of rock music into just "rawk guitar gods" and "new wave" shows that you're more interested in distorting the historical record (as preserved by, say, the Billboard singles charts, easily viewable on Wikipedia and even linked to in this post). Or that you are simply unfamiliar with the history, and are merely regurgitating a narrative that you've swallowed from some cultural authority figure (who ought to know better).

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  6. I had never heard of any of the songs linked in the first comment here. Guess I was out of it at that time. I've heard of Thievery Corporation though (and I briefly misread one acronym as T.S.O.L). The Canadian prog acts I'm familiar with are Rush and Voivod.

    Cranberries & Blind Lemon are alright, but not as good as grunge in my opinion. I also like Ramones style punk as well as British prog, both of which have been described as rock with the black influence removed, but I really don't care for any new wave (I've heard The Human Value described as new wave revival, and I dig one of their songs though). Might be a 70s vs 80s thing. But on the other hand, I don't care for Fripp's collaborations outside Crimson even if they're from the 70s, or Public Image Limited. Not rawk enough.

    Tyler Cowen linked to an Indian international student's collection of the most surprising things about America, which seems like good grist for agnostic's mill.

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  7. "Cranberries & Blind Lemon are alright, but not as good as grunge in my opinion."

    I've come to re-evaluate grunge as closer to '80s than '90s music. The only thing '90s about it is the emo / angsty emotional delivery, and the occasional (but not obligatory) self-awareness. Musically, though, it doesn't sound very different from '80s hard rock or metal.

    The telltale sign being a solo, along with a heavy focus on riffs (especially more intricate ones, like the one repeated throughout "Lithium"). The phrase structure is pretty varied, too, unlike the directions that '90s rock went off toward. It's not uncommon to hear a bridge in a grunge song, one that stands out from the verse or chorus ("Lithium" again).

    After grunge, solos were out, most riffs were stripped off in favor of unornamented chord progressions, bridges were gone, and even the verse and the chorus didn't have to sound too distinct. Like "Big Me" by Foo Fighters or "Good" by Better Than Ezra -- very little contrast between the sound of the verse and chorus, almost back to the streamlined verse-refrain structure of early rock.

    And the emotional intensity got dialed way down after grunge. Ditto contrast in intensity levels. A Nirvana song has a subdued verse and an intense chorus. After that, rock songs had a more homogenous or stable level of intensity.

    So you may be into more of an '80s sound than you recognize. Grunge at its core is basically hard rock / darker metal from the '80s, with an angsty coating to make it palatable to increasingly withdrawn and disaffected listeners of the '90s.

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  8. Fascinating post -- especially for someone like me who grew up in the 80s listening to all that great rock and pop (both mainstream and alternative) and yet still enjoys a lot of rock and pop that got made in the 90s and over the past decade.

    For example, in the new millennium, although they are a bit more alternative these bands definitely know how to rock: The White Stripes, The Jets, The Hives, The Black Keys, Green Day (it is hard to imagine that they have been putting out records for over 20 years!), Foo Fighters, Linkin Park (more of a rap/metal fusion, but a very effective one IMO), Spoon, Vampire Weekend, Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie (the last two don't really rock, but they make good music). And U2 and The Chili Peppers were still making good music over the past 10-15 years and I would classify both as old-fashioned rock bands.

    So there is quite a bit of good rock still around, it just isn't being played on pop music stations.

    However, one genre that you sort of ignore that has become very popular (or has always been popular) with us white folks is the singer/songwriter. I should know as I just dropped around $500 to take my daughter to see Taylor Swift at Soldier Field here in Chicago. It was a great concert and to the extent she listens and loves Taylor rather than Miley (or Lady Gaga) I'm going to keep shelling out big bucks to encourage her as a superfan. Other female singer/songerwriters who have had big hits like Carly Rae Jepsen, Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, and Lana Del Rey (Lana is really just for Dad -- damn, she's sexy!) are all wholesome and fun and seem to be able to write decent songs.

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  9. Anonymous9:39 PM

    It appears white Americans have given up on music much like they've given up on sports. Perhaps under a mistaken belief that blacks are more gifted at music and sports.


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  10. Anonymous9:52 AM

    so, when do you plan to run for president?

    -Curtis

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  11. Ritser6:46 PM

    I've got a question, more generally related to falling crime periods:

    Do you think that rising levels of violence helps maintain or generate asabiya, while falling crime periods eat away at it?

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  12. Anonymous10:48 AM

    "It appears white Americans have given up on music much like they've given up on sports. Perhaps under a mistaken belief that blacks are more gifted at music and sports."

    It is not that blacks are better at sports per say, it is that feral blacks must be given deference at all times. Change the rules of football or basketball to put a premium on endurance and the qualities needed for success will change. Surely there are other rules too. Not that I care anymore; I feel dead.

    As for white kids and black music. The smart ones outgrow it by their 20s. The ones of more marginal IQs keep it. My daughter is fairly intelligent. She once had a ton of friends of all races. Now at 15, she is not friends with most of the darker hues from her past. None of her female friends listen to hip-hop beyond the odd pop-style song; most listen to grunge, jack johnson, or old rock. She has also told me of the sadness that permeates OREO girls as they are so caught in the middle of the tremendous bifurcation that has emerged. Basically, all the honors class kids mock and are openly judgmental against anything ghetto. Within this mix are many OREOS, who agree in spirit but cannot find companionship.

    We live in area that is 1/3 black, 1/3 hispanic and 2/5 white. What a shitty social situation. The racism and slut-shaming of the honors kids is really something to see. We are talking the best kids in the area who will do very well in life, are openly hostile to anything rednecky, slutty, or ghetto. Not sure if it has always been this way as I am not much for joining groups.

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  13. "We live in area that is 1/3 black, 1/3 hispanic and 2/5 white. What a shitty social situation. The racism and slut-shaming of the honors kids is really something to see. We are talking the best kids in the area who will do very well in life, are openly hostile to anything rednecky, slutty, or ghetto. Not sure if it has always been this way as I am not much for joining groups"

    Talking from a different continent with probably a very different social situation, my impression is that, in the past, was not rare the good students to shun the group more closer to them (the upper/middle class middle students) and try to identify with the "proles"; these phenomenon had various manifestations; one example was some musical styles, like heavy metal and punk, who were listen by the working-class high school dropouts... and by the nerds; other example could be the whole "left-wing intelectual" thing, where was common the bright teenagers (15-20 y.o. range) to joint the "party of the working class" (the Communists).

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  14. You can't make direct comparisons across eras because Napster, piracy, itunes etc changed music buying from a pricey $22 cd to either free or 99 cents.

    Technology fractured the market, the tv viewing changed from 1984, three networks, to 1998, six nets and hundreds of cable channels. Hence atomization. Add in internet radio, satellite, and Youtube plus shift in artist moneymaking from recording to performing and comparisons across time fail.

    Sorry for typos on tablet.

    Cheers!

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  15. Anonymous1:00 PM

    First, let me preface this by saying that I despise hip hop and all that it stands for. But having said that, I think there are several reasons white kids stopped listening to rock and went with hip hop/rap.

    First, rock music became incredibly soft. Not the sound, but the lyrics. Whiny and depressing. "The world sucks. Nobody loves me. I want to kill myself." All moody and angst ridden. That works for the disaffected kids who are outcasts, but the ones who want to be popular and cool want music that makes them feel like bad asses. They want rebellion. It used to be "Sex, drugs, and rock and roll". Now it's "Sex, drugs, and hip hop". Rap music isn't politically correct. It doesn't give a f**k what you think. Rockers look like the pale, scrawny emo kid who gets picked on in high school. The rap artists are ripped, tattooed, strut around like they KNOW they're the sh*t, and surround themselves with hot, scantily clad women. Who, as a young teenage boy, are you going to emulate and aspire to be like?
    That's the male side of the equation. On the female side, girls want to dance. They LOVE to dance. And beat heavy hip hop is made for dancing. Modern rock music isn't. It's made for sitting in your room and contemplating suicide. It's not feel good music. And young girls want to feel good.

    On top of all that, you have the media. They've been pushing the "black culture = hip and edgy/ white culture = lame/nerdy" meme for years. White culture is laughed at. It's the butt of jokes. On the other hand, black culture is sacred. The media won't touch it for fear of being labeled racist. It's criticism proof. The critics and taste makers have to either praise it, or keep quiet.

    In order for white music to make a comeback, it's going to have to get it's balls back. It needs artists who look like what the white kids want to be. Not like the nerdy kid who gets bullied and picked on. It needs cockiness and attitude. It needs to be about banging hot chicks, not crying about how some girl broke your heart and you don't know if you want to go on living without her.

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  16. I love rock music passionately and will love it for my whole life, but if rock fades away as a form of music that is practiced and enjoyed by future generations, that isn't one of the serious problems of the world. There are much more important issues to worry about.

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  17. Anonymous4:11 PM

    I listen to a lot of newer music that sounds similar Iron Maiden and Queensryche, but original enough to be distinct -- basically progressive melodic metal with clean vocals. There are a lot of great and original bands that produce this style, but they don't command a sufficiently large audience to allow them to play in sports arenas as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest did. (Well, they might in Brazil, but not in North America.) You will not find it without seeking it out.

    It's true that there is no longer a "popular rock" genre akin to that which once consisted of bands like Led Zeppelin, Journey, Van Halen, Def Leppard, etc. It's forked into about twenty subgenres each of metal and punk, indy rock, post-rock, stoner rock, surf rock, jam band rock, etc. There's still original and worthwhile music being produced, but it will probably never enjoy the mainstream recognition of Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child O Mine." The majority of people I talk to have never heard of my favorite band.

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  18. James III7:56 AM

    Yeah I've noticed myself that rock music largely dropped off the radar by the mid 90's. Although there were a few good new acts to hit the mainstream thereafter. A couple late 90s American rock bands that come to mind are Linkin Park and System Of A Down.

    I've thought similar to Anonymous in regards to young people moving away from rock to rap/hip-hop because the rock music got too whiny, mopey, devoid of energy, and undanceable at that.

    Although their music has been largely stagnate since the mid 2000's, I have seen a couple recent songs from Usher and Rhianna (albeit far from rock) that were a refreshing shift from the norm. Reading this site, that these videos have uncharacteristically violent themes likely ties in with the novelty/risk taking factor of the music. Plenty of youtube views though neither of these songs got much in the way of radio airplay compared to their other hits, still a shift in the right direction though.

    Usher -> Climax http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNTyfVh3nmU

    Rhianna -> Man Down
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEhy-RXkNo0

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  19. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Very interesting timing for your argument. My anecdotal experience of this:

    I was in the army and stationed in Germany 1990-1992. I really noticed a cultural shift during the time I was gone (and essentially didn't watch tv or experience American culture during that time). At about that time, I distinctly remember when Tone Loc came out with two songs (Funky Cold Medina and Wild Thing), and remember thinking that it was very 'black, urban' music to be mainstream. (I wasn't much of a pop culture guy even growing up, so I may have been mistaken that they were the 'first'. I also may be mixing up the dates slightly). I also really noticed the whole cultural shift that you were referring to, between my leaving American culture in 1990 and returning to it in 1992.

    In retrospect, of course, Funky Cold Medina and Wild Thing are pretty benign songs: but they really stood out (at least to me) compared to previous pop culture, at the time.

    Just one little story suggesting that your timing seems right on.

    anon

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  20. James III1:35 AM

    Had a nice surprise hearing a fun American pop rock tune on a mainstream radio station that all the millennial teens/young adults listen to. ----->>

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlEsbdJt4is

    I think I'm crushing on their singer Hayley Williams more than I did Gwen Stefani back in the mid 90's. Score one for the millennials!

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  21. James III12:27 PM

    Just checked out what's suppose to be Paramore's next single "Ain't It Fun?". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCL2Py7lZkY Super catchy tune and the lyrics are relevant to cultural shift promoted in this blog. Small lyrics excerpt (it runs much deeper than this):

    "
    Dont go crying to your mama
    Cause youre on your own in the real world
    Dont go crying to your mama
    Cause youre on your own in the real world

    Aint it fun? Aint it fun? Baby, now youre one of us
    Aint it fun? Aint it fun? Aint it fun?
    "

    Some of the dorky reviewers, while appreciating that it's a good tune, seem to over look that the lyrics aren't PURELY sarcastic or ironic but actually saying it's good to go out on your own, without your parent's coddling and grow up and mature... Yeah it'll be tough with some rough spots, but you'll be one of US then. More fun in taking the hard-knocks required to mature than live forever in a bubble with your mama babying you (e.g. cocooned state many young adult millennials are in). That's what I get from it anyways.

    Seeing as their last single "still into you" (my last post here) is FINALLY getting a bit of mainstream American radio play albeit sooo late after it's release back in the spring.... I just have to pimp their next single while the iron is hot. This song needs to be a hit in America! I really don't wanna have no choice but to travel to Europe in the future to see a good American pop rock band on tour, haahha :D

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  22. Anonymous1:10 AM

    There is no muscian talent in the "pop" sphere. Well it least it's actually music. Hip-hop & Rap are really just African Chant.

    The last refuge of musical talent is: Bluegrass music

    Want a de-facto White Nation? Go to any Bluegrass Concert

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  23. I am a big fan of Adult Contemporary music and the only radio station that plays a wide range of this music is 97.9 WRMF. I am also kept updated on the station’s latest promotions and community events. Visit their website for live streaming at www.wrmf.com .

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  24. Folk rock followers around the world are celebrating the arrival of their favorite musical genius from the 70's into the digital arena. Shep Cooke has just released the digital versions of his first two solo music albums. www.ShepCooke.com The two albums, entitled 'Shep Cooke' and 'Concert Tour of Mars', are now available at Amazon.com, iTunes, and all other popular online music shops. The CDs of these two albums can also be purchased from Shep Cooke's official website www.ShepCooke.com . This website has recently been revamped with the addition of several music videos, photographs, and information covering the four decade long musical career of Shep Cooke.

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