Thirty years ago, rock music was shaken to its core and with that upheaval came a new era and different attitude in American music and demeanor.
This change sparked a radical shift for rock as a genre, rendering the shiny, over the top acts of sub-genres like Hair Metal and Glam Rock virtually obsolete along with groups such as Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe, to name a few.
For a stretch of time between the early to mid 1990s, rock had captured the world’s attention with the help of the Seattle Grunge scene manned by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.
Then bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins rose to prominence around the same time to establish a dominant music culture that prevailed over another rising anti-establishment movement in Hip-Hop.
The history of rock n’ roll is one filled with triumphs as well as with steep declines .
In the late 1970s Rock’s resurgence was delayed by Disco and New Wave. And as the decade came to a close, the groups of the “Classic Rock” era of the 1960’s and 70’s would either go by the wayside much like The Beatles in ’69, Pink Floyd and The Eagles in 1980 or suffer unfortunate deaths of bandmates such as John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Duane Allman of The Allman Brother and Jim Morrison of The Doors.
These tragedies left what used to be household bands at a loss and created a rough patch for Rock and lead its ultimate collapse around 1977-78.
The recapturing of the zeitgeist halted the momentum of many artists outside of the genre primarily those in hip-hop.
Jay-Z told Spin Magazine in 2021: “It was weird because hip-hop was becoming this force then grunge music stopped it for one second…”
Ironically the newest entity in music known for its rebellious attitude and raw delivery would have the torch taken from them from the very genre it was seeking to conquer.
The declining interest in consumerism and glamour of the 1980’s was the perfect time to strike for Alternative bands who took advantage of a generation of adolescents and young adults disillusioned with the America that they were brought up on.
A big reason why the 1990s is looked back at as a musical decade are the many notable albums such as “Nevermind” by Nirvana, The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails, “Dookie” by Green Day and “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, that make up the rich period.
Some artists brought back the sound of the acoustic guitar. Some brought back the sharp and introspective song writing of decades past from artists who deeply influenced this new generation and the excitement of eccentric personalities culminating into a goldrush of material that was released for all to hear.
So what went wrong?
The beginning of the end was the unfortunate death of Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain who committed suicide at the age of 27.
His death sent shockwaves worldwide and took the momentum out of the grunge scene. Sales for the sub-genre would dip after the release of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special which would be certified 8x platinum and Vitalogy by Pearl Jam which would go on to sell 5 million copies in the U.S. alone in 1994.
Then Hip-Hop’s flourishing talents combined with the marketability of their records pushed Rock over the edge.
The promotion of Black culture is of great interest for most American households. This remains true as polling firm Nielsen confirmed the success of Rap as the most consumed genre of music. A major reason why Rock has gone obsolete is due to the influence that rap and R&B.
Unfortunately for rock n’ roll, artists currently producing albums are relegated to the underground. Most fans of rock go for specific sub-genres such as indie rock and heavy metal. While it is natural that genres have cult hits, it is concerning whenever the majority of critically acclaimed artists are small hitters in the music industry.
The 2000s saw an increase in popularity but as the decade came to a close, rock’s mainstream success went out the window.
As such much of the animosity and tension between rap and rock came from the tables turning in the hands of hip-hop.
Thirty years ago, marked a milestone in music history. One that captured the sign of the times only to slowly die.
Without sounding like a pessimist perhaps that might be last time the public experienced an era where rock played a major role in its references and culture.
One can only hope that the times ahead give a new opportunity for rock to give the world of music an exciting and innovative wave of artists, which I think is highly unlikely.