Rock Never Dies

Rock Never Dies

Sixties rock finds new fans among today's students

By Brendan Sullivan '06 | Photos by Fred Field

Other classics are recognized from the start. In the wake of The Beatles' breakup, two Echo reviewers wrote in 1970, "England need[s] a new king—enter Led Zepplin.— Judging from the reviewers' regal language, music was huge in the lives of that generation. "Musicians were leaders, parts of social movements, not just entertainers,— Williams said.

Sixties rock on their iPods, Ryan Scott ‰07, left, and Mark Biggar ‰07 in their dorm room in West Quad, decorated with 1960s memorabilia, including concert posters for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.
Photo by Fred Field
But does the rebellious nature of rock icons like Zeppelin, Dylan, or Hendrix really have the same effect on today's youngsters as it did on listeners during the Vietnam era? No, says McDougal. "Led Zeppelin has become a safe band today,— he said. "They offer 'safe rebellion,' and the record companies figure, 'Why make new rock if the old stuff still sells?'— he said.

In fact, the record industry's "if it ain't broke, don't fix it— attitude has scored The Beatles and Led Zeppelin number-one albums in the 21st Century—decades after the bands broke up and with some members deceased. And while it is not bad for disbanded rock legends to have a healthy legacy, the repetitive marketing of the same music has had harmful effects, according to some. "A lot got said in the Sixties and Seventies, and then corporate America latched onto it,— Williams said. "Everything original got branded and its spirit got squashed.—

Yet industry experts say record labels cannot be scapegoated for giving their audiences what they want. "The average Joe isn't the guy looking to discover new music at the record store; it's the guy who flips on the radio in the car. He's the guy the record labels want to appeal to,— said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine. Record labels do give people plenty of options—they release about 30,000 new albums and reissues per year, Mayfield estimated—but the public's interest in full-length albums seems to be waning. "The marketing departments for record labels are really scratching their heads on how to connect with youth through rock music, because young people are responding more to classic rock sound bytes from ads and movies than they do to listening to albums,— Mayfield said.

"I think our parents' generation was one that rejected the morals and ideas of their parents' generation, whereas we are much more accepting our parents' values and, specifically, musical taste.—
Jack Sisson '06
The sound bytes are hard to miss. Led Zeppelin has been featured in Cadillac television commercials. The Rolling Stones sell tunes to Microsoft, and even Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vida— became the soundtrack for a Fidelity Investments commercial. Web sites have popped up that list the songs from ads so that people can find out who they are by and where to get them.

"There is a longing for authenticity, for something exciting, for that period that turned history into a musical movement,— said Daniel Contreras, assistant professor of English and expert in popular culture. "But this nostalgia for it can be a very conservative impulse, turning us deaf and blind to artistic innovation in our own time.—

Canonizing '60s and '70s rock as classic rock does put immense pressure on all future rock bands to sound like their predecessors and can cause deviants from that classic sound to be scorned by rock purists.

imageAnother push to a more canonical rock sound was the popularizing of the critical term "the return to rock,— describing a recent influx of bands reaching for a vintage sound. Coming largely as a response to the prepackaged pop music of '90s "boy-bands— and more recently American Idol, rock fans and critics welcomed bands that dressed like Mick Jagger or sounded like The Velvet Underground. Critics raved about The White Stripes and The Strokes, saying that rock is back, Souza said, "but you can't resurrect a passed art form. Rock isn't coming back any more than Romanticism is.—

But perhaps it doesn't have to. Listeners over generations have realized there was something happening musically in those few years that can't be duplicated. As Dylan recently told CBS's 60 Minutes about his own work, "I don't know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written. . . . But I can't do that [anymore].—
blog comments powered by Disqus


  • On September 7, 2006, Erin Ryan wrote:
    I have a fourteen year old son who we just took to see his first rock concert, John Fogerty! My son knows more about classic rock and roll than my husband and I ever did. He is in his first year of high school and is starting his own band. It is great to see him listening to this music. He has also learned so much about the time period we middle agers grew up in! Great rock and roll never dies!

  • On September 7, 2006, Chris Crandall wrote:
    I loved the idea of this article and was interviewed by Brendan as a part of the 60s Colby band, Love Equation. My 16-year old son has always enjoyed the music of the 60s, but he is equally involved in current music. He hands me his Ipod earphones whenever he has a song he thinks I'll like, and he's usually right. I'll hear something on the Seattle alternative radio station (KEXP) and download it for him. That cross-generational music sharing has been, for us, an important way to stay in touch. And at 57, it's fun to know more current music than 90% of friends my age. I remember my dad buying me one of the first Moody Blues albums before I had heard of them (he was and still is at 86 very music-cool), so I have tried to keep up that tradition. Current alternative music is different than ours, of course, and frequently innovative (take the Magnetic Fields or Radiohead). On a separate note, the Love Equation performed at a couple of reunions recently and were lucky to have two generations of performers -- Vic Pinansky, who started the band in the 60s and son Marc, who recently graduated from Colby. Music sharing at its best.

  • On September 13, 2006, A. Vaughn Tolle wrote:
    As one who is familiar with 60s rock, as I was there, I commend the photographer for finding and arranging the album covers illustrating the story. Looking at them brought back memories of listening to Janis Joplin, with Big Brother and the Holding Company, tear into "Ball and Chain" while visiting a campus hot spot my Freshman year in college; and the Moody Blues doing "Timothy Leary's Dead" in my scholarship hall room. Great memories of great rock and roll. The magazine cover captures the album covers of the era; like the artist, I was there!