The golden age of rock n roll – is music dead now?Last week i was sat on a train and i met an old friend from back in the day.


Of course talk turned quickly to rock n roll and swiftly it tuned out that we had two very different takes on the quicksilver magic of the form.


For him rock n roll as an art form was over. The golden days of rock n roll had been and gone. They had started with the Beatles Revolver and ended with Nirvana. These were the times when rock n roll mattered, when rock n roll was moving forward and that it was now over. The creative times were over and bands nowadays were lurking in the mere shadows of the golden era picking on the carrion and the bones of the glorious history.


He argued that the templates had been laid by the likes of the Beatles, Velvet Underground, the Pistols etc and the youth of today were at the best copies of these classic bands and at the worst just not very good. It was like the golden age of jazz or the great age of Russian literature- every art form has its golden period and then slumps back into the shadows, unable to compete.


Personally I disagreed, of course bands don’t dominate popular culture like the Beatles did but then all culture is now pop or popular culture. From the iphone to elections to modern war everything is sold as pop- what chance does a mere band have to compete with this in boundary crossing pop culture terms but whether this had affected the music or not is an entirely different question.


For me there is as innovative music happening right now as there ever was- from the fringes of black metal to the brilliant new rhythms in some top ten pop records to the never ending permutations of metal and rock and hip hop and underground dance- the inventiveness never stopped.


My friend dismissed this argument as rock didn’t count- he laughed when I suggested that Black Sabbath were more influential than the Velvet Undergound…a statement that I admit does sound preposterous if you are talking music in media terms but not in terms of who invented a whole entire huge genre of music that dominates over the much of the world today- and that wasn’t the Velvet Underground.


I explained that when I travel the world which is often music is very much alive with a myriad forms of noise pouring out of every continent and it sounds far from dead. Every permutation is getting explored- ancient forms cranked through new technology. If the anglo american axis is slightly less important it hasn’t stopped the creativity.


So where do you, dear reader, stand on this? Is the war over? Has music become yesterdays papers, a breaking yard of the old riffs? have we seen the golden age of rock n roll or are we now getting old and turning into our parents and moaning about music nowadays and how the only great stuff happened in our own personal golden era before we started staying in and watching the telly? Are we assuming our intensity about popular culture was only for our generation and that the current youth know and feel nothing…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. i agree with you, i dont think theres been a better time for music than right now and ive been going to gigs since 1979

  2. I think you are both right. I think it has had its golden age but its certainly not dead. I think music to todays 18/19 year olds can matter as much to them as it did to 18/19 year olds in any era.

  3. There is still loads of quality music. You just have to know where to look. However your friend is right about there being a lack of cultural significance in modern music. The web has diversified all media to the extent that its only possible to break bands if they play the corporate game. Gone are the days when everyone would witness a band like Nirvana on national television simply because there were only 4 channels to watch. Rock n Roll has always been stuck in the past with its eyes on the future… Elvis – a white blues man , The Beatles – covers of American rock n soul, The stones – more white blues, Led Zep… Well you get the picture. The Pistols mined a rich 50’s rockabilly seam…

  4. People have been saying rock is dead since 1960, and perhaps before. Rock did not appear ex-nihilo or drop out of the sky, it was a new synthesis of existing forms. From this (and others) sprang the diversity that we know now, providing raw material for an infinite number of new forms. The percieved problem now is that one has to look (listen?) harder, due to both the sheer amount of music being played and the continuing demise of credible, mainstream media to spoonfeed the masses. One has to get out there to find the good stuff and, actually, it’s infinitely more rewarding when you’ve worked a little for it.

  5. Yes the golden age is over and every note is played. But it does not mean that music is dead. A lot of good new bands come out of the shadow. And if they do it with enthusiasm they can also conquer my heart. Like Jazz is not dead. Nowadays musicians have a higher technical level as their innovative idols as for example Till Brönner. And: if you want to life in the past you will only hear old music. That’s therreason we let grrow our hair like Zappa – just to take a rebel stand against our parents. This comment sounds like them exactly…. in former times everything was better. Bla bla bla

  6. Did not start with the Beatles. They came along when R & R had already had a hold on teenagers. The door was wide open for them. Need to back it up about 10 plus years….

  7. Firstly, I think you’re right about Black Sabbath vs. Velvet Underground. We should confuse musical talent for the end results: Sabbath is dead-simple to play, but you’re just going to plain run into more Sabbath fans than Velvet Underground fans. At the end of the day, both then and now, they had a bigger direct influence. If the VU had a bigger overall influence, it was through other bands influenced by them: but not the VU themselves. I personally don’t include derivative music: either the band did it themselves or they didn’t. Sabbath did, for better or worse, so I think you’re right there.

    But I think your friend wins the overall argument. If you have to start saying ‘of course bands don’t dominate popular culture like the Beatles’, then you’re already conceding half that argument. And the other half is that back in the day, bands collectively dominated the popular culture: the Beatles were merely the most dominant of those dominant bands (admittedly, probably to the tune of almost 50%). But once they were gone, rock didn’t let go.

    You’re right that there’s still innovative things going on, but it’s not enough to spill over into the mainstream in the same way. And there was plenty of pop culture back then too. Plenty of technology. Star Wars happened in ’77, after all: 14 years before Nirvana started up mainstream, and what… 17 years before they ended? And grunge coughed out another year or two after Cobain died. And it’s not like there were other movies. And video games started up that same time — both the Atari and Nintendo coming out well before grunge ended.

    Today there are few bands making it in the same model as before. The only major bands that have multiple hits bubbling to the surface are… what? Probably ‘Queens of the Stone Age’, ‘Arcade Fire’, ‘The Black Keys’… maybe even ‘Florence and the Machine’, but most of the rest are in fighting in obscurity (great bands as they are) or part of the great onset of one-hit wonders, a lot of whom sound the same. And even those bands I named? So many people might disagree with that assessment (I don’t even really like ‘Arcade Fire’ very much).

    And the sad thing is even the bands above are a better selection than we even had 5 years ago. There’s been a good 10-year absence of good, popular rock that ‘dominates pop culture’ and what we have now is barely of fragment of a shadow of what Rock Music was.

  8. Hi!
    Interresting question. Beeing an archaologist / cultural historician I think first of all giving your friend right. The golden age of rock’n roll is over. That does not mean that people don’t create and play rock’n roll any more. This form of music just don’t have that dominating status any more. These generations who consummated not only the music but also the whole sprit of rock’n roll culture are getting old. Many aren’t there anymore. Another cruical point is that we don’t seem to have that mass culture anymore either. People have a broader spectrum of choices to make today. With internet and everything. I doubt that we will be that united again in our cultural consumation as in earlier times as people can make their own choices in another way. Before you had to relay on certain radio programs, the discshop and so… People were much more limited. I also think that rock’n roll as lifestyle is deeply connected with modernity or even postmodernism and massproducing industrialism which now are bygone elements in our society.

  9. I agree with your friend that its dead-Rock is youthful music and the youth of today prefer the repetitive, background filling sludge of brain drying hip hop. I agree with you though that Black Sabbath were a greater influence than The Velvet Underground. Im a fan of both but in my teenage guitar picking days I always turned to Sabbath, as did most everybody else.


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