Nick Hasted: It may only be rock'n'roll, but we still carry on liking it


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The Independent Online

Rock's death has been predicted almost from the moment it was born in the 1950s. In the early 1980s, for instance, it was widely assumed that frowning synth-pop duos would soon throw guitars on history's scrap heap. REM were among the young bands who gave vigorous and mysterious new strengths to guitar-led music back then, and it has always leapt up from its sickbed.

Rock's showing in last year's singles charts has less to do with musical trends than with the radically changed nature of that chart, since new eligibility rules in 2006 led to the dominance of cheap digital downloads. This has made the singles chart an almost teen-only zone, an age group where R&B, pop and dance have ruled for at least the past 20 years.

Guitar music and older listeners have not been integrated into that world since Britpop's peak in the mid-1990s.

The rude health of grime and dubstep in 2010, and rock's lack of any forward cultural motion or new mainstream figureheads as attractive as Dizzee Rascal, has certainly skewed things further. In the US, though, hip-hop remains in a long-term slump.

The commercial health of guitar music in the album charts, and with concert juggernauts such as U2, suggests a shift away from teenage tastes, at least in the medium term.

Many who grew up raving to The Who are now pensioners, and after almost 60 years, rock has some of classical music's immovable cultural solidity; though that's not necessarily a good thing.

It should be asked how useful any efforts to carve music into commercial niches really are. The charts were at their healthiest in periods such as the mid-1960s, when Bob Dylan, the Kinks and Motown all competed in, and catalysed, a diverse and fast-arriving musical future. It is all pop music in the end.