“What was the day the music died? The day that I started hating new music,” proclaims Dave Thompson part way through his passionate and gleefully arrogant collection of essays praising the golden age of classic rock. Thompson, a self-described “British ex-pat writer,” characterizes his book as “a road map of where music has been, and where it all went so horribly wrong.”
If you believe Thompson, rock music was at its best from the late 1960s through the mid- to late-’70s, when legends like Led Zeppelin and The Who reigned supreme, alongside largely forgotten bands like Wishbone Ash, the Groundhogs, and Bloodrock. It was an age when music was “a medium for ideas and art,” a time when FM radio was revolutionary, “underground” was truly independent, and record store clerks actually gave a damn about guiding patrons to the best music available.
According to Thompson, the “ever-narrowing death spiral” began in 1976-77, when Frampton Comes Alive, Boston, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours became so commercially successful that they collectively led to a sea change in the music industry. And by the time Toto, The Cars, and Foreigner’s Double Vision were released in 1978, rock and roll was well on its way to being subsumed by greed. Finally, during the “generally dismal decade” of the ’80s, more nails were pounded into the proverbial coffin, with power ballads, benefit concerts, synthesizers, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among the prime offenders.
Fast forward to the late 20th and early 21st century and artists are merely recycling classic rock, argues Thompson: You look at the Cult, but you see the Doors. You look at [the] Black Crowes, but you see the Faces. A song like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is merely derivative of ‘More Than a Feeling.’ Worse yet, he characterizes new music as being calculated, contrived, and most unforgivably, safe. Even punk is dismissed as “essentially a retrogression.”
Naturally, Thompson is also critical of today’s technology. Modern recording equipment, he claims, retards the creative process by making recording too easy, with “the gap between first gig and first album reduced to the time it takes to reload the bong.” The intangibility of modern playback media is no better: “MP3s? Great! I’ll happily pay ninety-nine cents for nothing whatsoever,” he bristles. Not surprisingly, Thompson champions older media. In one particularly fascinating chapter he extols the wonders of the 8-track tape, which he predicts will one day “return to the forefront of modern musical technology.”
In the midst of all the ranting, Thompson sprinkles in lists such as “White Dopes on Funk: Ten Great Rock Disco Songs” and “Ten Songs with ‘Rock and Roll’ in the Title That Don’t Suck,” thereby supporting his claim that “Assholes like opinions. Especially their own.” Whether or not you concur with Thompson’s arguments is beside the point: Just go along for the ride and catch a few laughs while your favorite classic rock artist is vindicated … and your favorite modern band insulted.