The bassline: The roots and revival of rock and roll

A stylized hand drawn in navy blue holds up the "rock on" sign, with the two middle fingers folded down and the other three fingers stretched up. The hand is patterned with lavender question marks and the word "modern?" Feathered wings extend out behind the hand, and a music note and an electric guitar float behind the hand as well.
Graphic by Elaine Yang

Who killed rock and roll? 

As of this week, the Billboard Hot 100 has top five tracks by artists like Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Post Malone. Looking at the chart, hip-hop, R&B and pop music have become the music of the decade. 

But is the genre that characterized the 60s and 70s truly gone? Are new up-and-coming artists still making music in line with the genre of rock? Is indie and alternative rock the closest we have to reviving the classic sounds of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix? 

Rock and roll once represented defiance against conformity, segregation and the rigid conventions of the 1950s; it was a culture of rebellion spearheaded by youth. 

I can’t help but wonder if our generation will pass down the cherished records of Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and U2 to our kids too or if they’ll get lost in the basement with dusty third grade report cards and kindergarten finger-paintings. I can only hope the bass line in “Hotel California” and the solo from “Wish You Were Here” live on forever. 

Lana Del Rey’s newest album “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” has been compared to Carole King’s and Joni Mitchell’s previous albums because of her poetic, personal lyricism and melancholic melodies. 

On her 2019 tour, she paid tribute to some of her favorite artists by performing covers from the folk and rock scene of the 70s. In Seattle, Del Rey covered Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” and Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” In Berkeley, she played Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” with his son Adam Cohen. 

Del Rey continues to be one modern artist who recognizes her heroes and inspirations from the Woodstock era. Their melodies and poetry are infused and alluded to in her records today.

In her song “The Greatest,” Del Rey references a range of musicians from David Bowie to The Beach Boys to contemporary artists: “L.A. is in flames‚ it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone / ‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song.” 

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She’s honest and open about her penetrating fears of our culture destroying the environment’s natural course. She comes to the unsettling conclusion that the media is disillusioned. 

It isn’t an alternate reality we can seek refuge in, and a livestream cannot replace a life’s dream. So she returns to the days of her parents, to the history that she’s inherited, full of fairy tales and lullabies that sooth sleepless nights. 

Del Rey’s lyrics on “The Greatest” also reminisce about the good old days of New York in the early 2000s, when she and her friends were at the zenith of their lives. It channels memories of being on fire every night and submerged in the rock and roll records of another age. 

At the same time, the indie rock scene was becoming more mainstream with bands like The Strokes, Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and The National growing in popularity. These bands pioneered an alternative genre during an era blasted with Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. 

They represent the next generation’s version of rock, imbuing more digital production in their sound, but still retaining the sense of leather jackets, electric guitar riffs and raw rebellion. 

It’s widely understood that rock and roll was born from the roots of jazz and blues, as a blend of African American and white traditional music styles. If the genre that we have mostly defined as groups or solo acts of white men is declining — just take another look at the Hot 100 — has our generation actually revived rock and roll’s original foundation? With a diversity of voices in today’s hip hop and R&B, arguably it’s more reflective of the music’s true ancestors.

Kyla Walker PO ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. She loves playing guitar, reading any and all fiction and probably belongs in the 1960s.

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