Sunday 26 December 1999

Pop goes the millennium: Is rock dead (again)?

Boy bands, jailbait divas and more boy bands.

The rock millennium will end not with a bang, but with Britney Spears whimpering that she wasn't allowed to show more cleavage.

Have the last 45 years of rock 'n' roll been a total bust? Whither the next 1,000?

Is rock dead? Again?

Where's the next Elvis? The next Beatles? The next Dylan? The next Nirvana?

Where's the next musical revolution?

It's already here - and no, it's not Coco Lee.

The revolution is not in the music itself, but in the way music is distributed. Yes, it's that ol' Internet again.

Fans can order their own custom-made Beastie Boys greatest hits CD by selecting favourite tracks from the Beastie Boys website.

With MP3, more people are downloading music onto their computers than ever before.
How will this change the music itself? Don't know, but change, it most certainly will.

Here's a look at rock and its many lives, as we review popular music at the turn of the decades:


Rock 'n' roll was born in the '50s. For many music historians, Bill Haley and His Comets' Rock Around The Clock was ground zero.

Chuck Berry introduced the electric guitar as the rock prop.

Pre-dating Rick Astley by 30 years, Elvis Aaron Presley, a white kid who could sing like a black man, changed the world.

But by 1959, there was an anti-rock backlash. Non-threatening pop teen idols like Frankie Avalon and Pat Boone came off the pop factory conveyor belt.

Elvis was doing his NS and Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash.

Understandably, rock was declared dead or, to quote Don McLean: "It was the day the music died."


The '60s only really began with The Beatles, and the band ended along with the decade. And so, according to some reports, the music died again.

Motown made black music safe for everyone, unfortunately also allowing Diana Ross to inflict her career on us for the past 35 years.

By 1969, the album had become a legitimate artistic medium, not just a collection of hits and fillers. Bob Dylan showed that rock music can be a social force, not just something you can dance to.

Performers were now also expected to write their own material.

Up-and-coming bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple would lead the charge of guitar-based rock that would dominate the new decade.

But just so the '70s wouldn't be all loud, The Carpenters, Bread and James Taylor hit the Top 20 for the first time in 1970.


Early '70s glam rockers Marc Bolan and David Bowie made the world safe for future cross-dressing stars like Boy George and Marilyn Manson.

In the '60s, rock became art. In the '70s, rock became art rock, as "progressive" bands like Yes, Genesis and Emerson, Lake and Palmer bored us with their 20-minute "suites".

The decade was also wimping out with the likes of The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Chicago.

Then came punk. Anarchy in the UK and elsewhere.

And suddenly, the rule was no rules. Rock began diversifying to incorporate reggae, synthesisers and, of course, disco.

The Bee Gees became the biggest thing since The Beatles. But then, so did Abba.

In Singapore, Boney M, the Milli Vanilli of its day, was even bigger than The Beatles.

Many claimed that disco killed rock. But by 1979, disco itself was declared dead.

And when John Lennon was killed in 1980, the '60s was finally really, really over - just in time for '60s nostalgia in the new decade.


Just as the '60s didn't really begin until The Beatles came along, the '80s really didn't begin until Madonna came along.

And disco wasn't dead after all - it's just called "dance" now. The 12-inch "extended remix" became the norm.

MTV determined who became pop stars. If you're ugly, forget it. The music video helped turn Michael Jackson's Thriller into the biggest-selling album of the millennium.

Just about everything was synthesised (again, cries that the synthesiser was killing rock), such that when a band came along that used only guitars, like, say, REM, it was considered "alternative".

By 1989, "alternative" was becoming anything but. Rock was getting dangerous again. Hip hop was no longer considered mere novelty music. Dance was permutating into house, techno and beyond. Vinyl's reign was ended by the compact disc.


Nirvana's Nevermind dragged punk/post-punk/alternative rock kicking and whining into the early '90s mainstream, although now it was called "grunge". And then the lead singer went and shot himself in 1994, and grunge was declared dead.

Although hip hop had its share of casualties, namely 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G., the beat goes on.

Hey, if hip hop can survive MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, it can survive anything.

Post-NKTOB and post-grunge, Take That paved the way for a new generation of boy bands from East 17 and Boyzone to N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys.

Distaff offshoots the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, et al, made this the decade in which the 14-year-old female CD buyer dictated music trends.

The last 10 years of the millennium have also been the Recycled Decade.

Rappers recycle old beats and call it sampling. Performers cover old songs and call it a tribute. Record companies re-release old albums on CD and call them re-issues.

As the year and millennium come to a close, hip hop is hotter than ever, non-threatening pop teen idols like Ricky Martin and Westlife are coming off the factory conveyor belt, and rock once again is in critical condition, Limp Bizkit notwithstanding.

Will it survive? Don't buy that Savage Garden CD and, maybe, it just will.

- Published in The New Paper, 26 December 1999