By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Rock and roll exists today only because so many have decided they're going to be rock stars or they're going to make a living as accessories to rock stars. They don't realize the era of the rock star is over.
We've seen all the clothes and poses and we've heard all the riffs. Built on ego and pretense and the dollars they require for validation, rock has become corporate and boring, with bands counting on getting signed on the way to their first rehearsal. The vogue "modern rock" format is the new Top 40, with its own share of one-hit wonders: Just as Luke Perry is no James Dean, despite the lost gaze, the likes of Bush, Sponge, and Hootie are not making important music, even if they do have stupid names.
How did rock become rote? Why did fun become meaning's sidekick? When did art outgrow the galleries and start infiltrating the genre where "Tutti Frutti" said it all? Why is everyone holding a guitar so goddamned depressed these days? Is it because they've spent so much time reading poetry they haven't had the time to learn how to play well? Hell, Chuck Berry is the greatest rock lyricist ever, and he probably thinks Rimbaud is a character Sly Stallone played in the movies.
The following albums had a lot to do with why so much of today's music is more about the hole than the donut. Welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Mausoleum. Here are the 18 albums that killed rock and roll:
1. Rubber Soul, The Beatles (1965). The pristine pop machine decided perfection wasn't enough; the Beatles also wanted to say something with their songs, and so they slowed them down and brought in acoustic guitars so you could hear such lyrics as "Michelle/My belle." Earlier in '65, the Beatles were rocking hard on amazing versions of "Bad Boy" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," as well as goosebump-inducing originals like "Eight Days a Week" and "Help!" Yet, by year's end, they were playing sitars and writing such future Vegas standards as "Norwegian Wood" and "Run For Your Life." My guess is that somewhere around the middle of '65, the Beatles found a good drug connection.
2. The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967). Decadence was a key part of early rock, from Little Richard to the girl groups, but the social twists were submerged in the exuberance of the music. When the Velvets just came out and sang about heroin, sadomasochism, and cross-dressing, they often played in gentle waves, with the words floating out like the self-image of someone on drugs. Rock gets real, perhaps a bit too real.
3. Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968). Jimi couldn't sing, which right away made him a great role model for up-and-coming musicians, but he played the guitar better than anyone before or since. Many have imitated Hendrix, but none of them can match his feeling or his fingers, so you wonder why they even bother. Nobody ever looked as cool as Hendrix playing the guitar, and when he died, all that was left was the footage and an army of axe-toting sycophants. Hendrix has almost as many imitators as Elvis, but like those pudgy black-haired guys in the white jumpsuits, Jimi's throng rarely gets close enough to capture the essence of the big man.
4. Live/Dead, Grateful Dead (1970). Even as the Dead had entered their most concise songwriting period, recording such FM radio staples as "Casey Jones," "Uncle John's Band," "Ripple," "Truckin'," and "Box of Rain" during 1970, this live LP was full of the wandering psychedelic jams that have influenced a million teens to dance with their hands. "Dark Star" has inspired more masturbation than the godfathers of porn the Dark Bros., only in "Dark Star" they use both hands.
5. Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell (1975). Stacking wisps of sound over rolling rhythms and using her voice where the soprano sax solo should go, Joni seemingly released this jazz-pop experiment so every future female pop singer would have something to listen to while they were coming of age. Although there are moments of magic, this LP is generally as boring as the mowing of summer lawns.
6. One Nation Under a Groove, Parlia-ment/Funkadelic (1978). "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" I do. Oh, sure, the black Kiss could play anything, and mastermind George Clinton found some cool jams in his update of James Brown for a drugged-out dance crowd, but songwriting was drowned in a sea of puerile sci-fi inventions. "A mental musical bowel movement," Clinton sings on "Promentalshitbackwash-psychosis" and one can only assume that he's referring to his own work. P-Funk inspired two of the scariest things on the planet: black metal bands and white funk bands.
7. Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star (1978). Introducing the warped Southern pop song, where dreariness tussles with melody and melody wins. Modern popsters have spent almost 20 years trying to love the limbs right off the Beatles, and it all started in Memphis with Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.
8. Off the Wall, Michael Jackson (1979). Thriller may be the best-selling album ever, but the blueprint for the current crop of pseudo-soulful R&B outfits can be found in its predecessor. Michael was dressed in a tuxedo on the cover to signal his metamorphosis from boy II man, and producer Quincy Jones tarted up such pillow-humpers as "Rock with You" and "She's Out of My Life" as if he were decorating Diana Ross' bedroom.
9. Meat Puppets II, Meat Puppets (1983). Anytime you see a roots band that's playing badly for art's sake, you can give a tip of the cap to Arizona's Puppets, who made this sun-stroked country-rock at a time when punk music was all about faster, faster, kill, kill. The Velvets can probably claim "lo-fi" along with all their other credits, but the Meat Puppets were the modern pioneers. In its way, this record was as influential to a new breed of country boy as were the Flying Burrito Brothers in their day.
10. Confusion is Sex, Sonic Youth (1983). Too smart to rock and roll, these East Village People have been erroneously labeled "post-punk," when they're really "post-rock." Deconstructionists of the first order, S.Y. succeeded in butchering and maiming the pop canon with weird tunings, abrasive feedback and really shitty vocals. Yeah, I know, S.Y. copped a lot from Glenn Branca and Euro-wank bands like Can and Neu, but none of those people headlined Lollapalooza.
11. Power, Corruption and Lies, New Order (1983). The point at the center of this album's incredibly wide sphere of influence is the programmed drumbeat on "Blue Monday," which was widely sampled by Frankie Knuckles and Silk Hurley during the inception of house music. A speeded-up portion of the drums on "Blue Monday" could also be the foundation for Ministry's aural assault. Boy, imagine a world without either house music or industrial.
12. Ride the Lightning, Metallica (1984). Where this band's 1983 debut LP pioneered thrash-metal, this follow-up introduced a lot of gloomy material like the suicidal "Fade To Black" and the electric-chair ode of the title track. Do we need all this self-pitying angst? I liked it better when heavy metal songs were about screwing girls with big butts.
13. Psychocandy, Jesus and Mary Chain (1985). With backing tracks that sounded like lightning hitting a sheet metal plant, this Scottish band set out to make pop music ugly and succeeded brilliantly. Brought back feedback, phase shifters, and fog machines.
14. Three Feet High and Rising, De La Soul (1989). Hippie-hop is born! Called innovative for finding things to rhyme about other than sex and violence, this album took the edge off hip-hop and showed that "trippy" is in the mind of the beholder.
Evil spawned: P.M. Dawn, Digable Planets, Jazzmatazz, Tribe Called Quest.
15. Nevermind, Nirvana (1991). The best way to destroy a band is to make them real popular real fast. It broke up the Beatles and splattered the Sex Pistols, and the oppressive adoration and the boundary-erasing mega-success of this album and the single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" proved to be more than Kurt Cobain could handle. Be careful what you wish for.