The Lefsetz Letter: Rock’s Resurgence



Well, that’s classic rock.

There’s so much info in the pipeline today that anything important oftentimes goes unheeded, or flows down the river with the overwhelming detritus of what is called internet news and most people remain unaware of it.

I wake up every morning and read the news on my phone and am agitated and inspired, wanting to point out stories/information I fear will go unnoticed. But then as the day goes on I slink back into my life and the information recedes and then, the next day, the whole process repeats. We live in what I’ve endlessly referred to as a Tower of Babel society, where we all listen to different music, watch different TV show, are exposed to different social media and big time media keeps telling us it’s the same as it ever was. According to big time media “Succession” is a hit on the level of “M.A.S.H.,” everybody saw the finale and it’s all the country can talk about. And Taylor Swift is as dominant as the Beatles or the Stones were in their era, never mind Culture Club and Duran Duran during the eighties and Nirvana in the nineties, when this is a complete falsehood. No act has that kind of penetration today, NONE! Which is another reason to ignore the manipulated charts published in media, tools of the labels, too often skewed by the sale of vinyl. The Republicans have nothing on record labels when it comes to disinformation.

Speaking of which, Elon Musk cried yesterday that Twitter had a 50% drop in advertising revenue and that this advertising deficit and heavy debt prevented the company from being cash flow positive. Now wait just a minute, isn’t this the same guy who told us all the advertisers were back and that Twitter was about to turn the corner? That’s Musk’s idea of freedom, the right to post outright lies on Twitter. What a great service!

And then there’s that story in today’s “New York Times,” talk about horrifying…

“Trump and Allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2025 – The former president and his backers aim to strengthen the power of the White House and limit the independence of federal agencies.”: https://tinyurl.com/mzznjpa9

Read some of this. That’s a free link. Scared yet? Most of the country not enough. Meanwhile, if Manchin runs under the No Labels banner it’s toast for Biden. I was at a family lunch last week and I asked the assembled Democrats who wanted Biden to run, and not a single person raised their hand. How can the DNC be so out of touch?

And then I segued to Emily Nussbaum’s article about Nashville in this week’s “New Yorker”:

“Country Music’s Culture Wars and the Remaking of Nashville – Tennessee’s government has turned hard red, but a new set of outlaw songwriters is challenging Music City’s conservative ways—and ruling bro-country sound.”: https://tinyurl.com/67sxvsxu

This demands a read too. As an antidote to the claim that Nashville is the new Los Angeles, but more harmonious with more opportunities when it comes to music. And for the politics.

And classic rock rules.

Well, not exactly, but it’s experiencing a renaissance, rock’s streaming percentage is going UP!

“Why Is Rock So Big

“Overall, rock has grown most of any genre year over year in consumption units, with 11.2 million more units in 2023 over 2022. That growth, however, is almost entirely from catalog — 10.3 million of it, compared to 900,000 units of growth from current releases.”

That’s from the “Billboard,” behind a paywall. Once again, you’ve got to pay for news in 2023. The twenty five year old conception that everything is free online was and still is completely wrong.

R&B/Hip-Hop is still the number one genre, but rock is #2, and R&B/Hip-Hop’s numbers are going down, and rock’s are going up.

And as you can see in the above quote, the rock consumption is not being driven by new music, but old.

Wait just a second, wasn’t this old fart music in the rearview mirror with its creators in the grave or close to it, on their farewell tours?

Needless to say, you won’t get the idea that classic rock is so prevalent from the news media, populated by young writers who hate the past, make fun of the classic rockers and want to promote new music. But could it be that the new music is not as good, not as appealing as the old music?

Despite all the blather about Frank Sinatra today, he was the enemy until the late eighties and then the nineties. Sure, he had a couple of hits in the sixties, which we knew as a result of the all-dominant AM radio, but boomers gave him no respect and didn’t listen to him.

Bette Midler covered the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1972, but almost no boomer could sing another song from 1941.

The past was anathema, truly history.

But today…

The funny little thing is that the classic rockers bitching about streaming payouts are the same ones who are benefiting from streaming, it’s keeping their music alive! This didn’t happen in the past, records went out of production, they were not stocked by retailers, they faded away. But not today!

Today’s customers can sample/listen to anything, all they need is a hankering.

And, once again, rock’s resurgence is not based on new music:

“Consider the rankings in terms of current share: rock (10.32%) slides to third place, behind pop (10.69%) and barely ahead of country (10.16%), with Latin coming in fifth at 7.84%. And its current unit growth year over year of 900,000 is significantly behind country (4.5 million), world music (3.3 million) and Latin (2.5 million), although at least it’s still growing, while R&B/hip-hop and pop are not. ”

“Billboard”

Wow, new country music is nearly as big as new rock music! Because, as Tom Petty said in concert, today’s country music is the rock music of the seventies. Tom was decrying the marginalization of the classic country sound, but ultimately the melodies and changes and memorable choruses of today’s country, lifted straight from old rock, are what so many in the public cotton to.

This is not pop with one chord and literally no changes.

And it’s certainly not today’s rock. Hard-edged and marginal, cult music for the brain dead and those living in an alternative universe where the 21st century never happened.

Now I’m all for evolution, that’s what made rock so great. But if you were starting today, I’d begin with three chords and the truth. Melodies, bridges, singable choruses…all sung by someone with a palatable voice. It’s just like in politics, rock has gotten so far from the center that the whole world is distorted.

And you wonder why music gets no respect.

It’s a backwater of people creating brands. Afraid of their customers. Not willing to go on record about anything unless it’s the essence of their image.

But you won’t hear any of this in boardrooms.

At the labels, they scour social media to look for those who’ve already got a base who they can make stars, whereas in the heyday of classic rock the labels led, found new and different talent and promoted it. Steve Jobs said the public doesn’t know what it wants and it’s Apple’s obligation to deliver it. The labels have abdicated that power.

Quick, who runs the record company?

You don’t know and you don’t need to know. Sure, you’ve got Lucian Grainge and his triple-digit million payout and the successful Monte, but after that? There is no Jimmy Iovine, never mind Mo and Joe.

So…

Everything I’ve said here goes unreported in big media and the public has a skewed view of the music landscape.

Furthermore, rock is seen as dead. And it’s true, new rock is dead, because it skewed too far from the garden.
But if you get back there…

Is it any wonder Joni Mitchell is singing and triumphing again?

We’re not going back to Woodstock, then again, a lot of those values built the modern music business, pay heed.

P.S. You can get a lot of this “Billboard” information as part of your Apple News+ subscription. Don’t be cheap, lay down the $9.99 a month.

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