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"...because the Age of Rock & Soul is dead." by Dave Marsh

Excerpted from the preface to the 1998 edition of The Heart of Rock & Soul, first published in 1989. © Dave Marsh 1998 – used by permission of the author. The full text of the preface may be found at mother of the bride dresses.

There are other, perhaps better, certainly more material reasons why it would be difficult to update this book. Mainly because the Age of Rock morsiusjuhlamekot & Soul is dead. I don't mean that some of the records made today fail to fit into the story told by the records discussed here, or even that they necessarily exist outside the musical structures those records represent. In fact, most of them fit those schematics very well. But most of the best new records come, in one way or another, from punk and rap, styles that unquestionably descend from rock & soul, but in ways that are meant to rupture our sense of continuity with what spawned them. This shouldn't be surprising: it's the same kind of rupture that occurred when rock's synthesis of gospel, blues, country, and whatever else it cared to cram in exploded earlier pop music paradigms. Because these records-from roots reggae to speed metal, from Detroit techno to neofolk- rock-are a product of the Western hemisphere, they are inevitably linked to that culture's musical lodestone: the blues. But today's records express that sensibility in a variety of new ways. In some senses, that music is closer to the original rural blues; in many others, it is an attempt to negate the blues tradition.

The persistence of punk, as attitude if not sound, and the rise and rise of rap--the reductio ad absurdurn of rock 'n' roll and the most transformative new black pop style since the fifties-did exactly what they promised to do: they revolutionized the entire musical landscape. [*"Streets of Philadelphia," for instance, made by arguably the most conservative rock superstar to emerge since punk, wouldn't have made my list, and it surely would not have been a hit record, without its hiphop instrumental opening. Its virtually static melody and almost (but not quite) monotonic vocal delivery could not conceivably have captured so much attention-even given its putative subject, AIDS, and its true topic, death untimely come-without punk, which, in a much louder fashion, adapted our ears to the kind of music that ends where it begins.]

What punk and rap also have in common, of course, is an extreme stress on rhythm-and even that's a considerable understatement. Rhythm is a central aspect of all previous blues-derived music, of course, and the centrality of beats-the idea that rhythmic rather than harmonic development is the purpose of music-making-is probably what most clearly distinguishes Western hemisphere music from European music. (What distinguishes it from African music is . . . a separate book.) Yet even in that context, the degree to which rhythm has become the point of music-making today is extraordinary; in techno, almost nothing else exists, and the "purists" of punk are really talking about beat more than they're talking about ideology (even if most of them don't know it).

The beats preferred by punk and hip-hop are undeniably very, very different: the former is all-but-monotonous in its frenzy, the latter so multifocal that its apparent definition of harmony is as an extension of polyrhythm. The most important element they share, nevertheless, is the extreme and virtually complete emphasis on rhythm. The rock & soul records discussed here are, with some notable exceptions, a great deal more focused on melody and vocal harmony. Another common characteristic of punk and rap is that they are inherently belligerent, and yet both surprise themselves with their ability to express softer emotions and even, sometimes, quieter ideas. (I'm thinking especially of Social Distortion's "I Was Wrong" and Tupac's "Dear Mama" and "I Ain't Mad At Cha.")

So the connections are there, but you have to be some kind of cross between a ferret and a mule to keep hold of them. The Heart of Rock & Soul is an argument that mulish ferreting can pay huge dividends, but you can only take it so far. In the end, I'd rather live in the new world and see what happens than continually harbor old ideas in new packages. That's one important thing the blues sensibility at the core of The Heart of Rock & Soul teaches us to do.

Ten years ago, I wrote in the original introduction to this book that "there is barely a sense of dialogue within genres, let alone among them." Today, all dialogue is internal: hip-hop is rife with internal dialogue to the point where actual feuds among performers and, presumably, segments of the audience have become part of its everyday subject matter. The alternative rockers of the nineties have become quite as clubby and self-referential as the California rockers of the seventies. But across musical frontiers, there remains an absence of dialogue: Sting performs with Puff Daddy not as a collaborator but as an amused onlooker. This isn't all bad. I wasn't really looking forward to the Missy Elliott-Ani Di Franco-Liz Phair-Mary J. Blige supergroup anyhow. But The Heart of Rock & Soul is organized in a way that suggests a dialogue among the records included-placing "Kick Out the Jams" next to "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "1999" was, in my own mind, the masterstroke-and to do that with the new singles would be an entirely artificial enterprise. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder may care intensely what Dr. Dre is up to, and Warren G may be the biggest Metallica fan in America. But it doesn't show up on their records, or anybody else's, so far as I can hear.

The final discontinuity that makes updating The Heart of Rock & Soul irrelevant is what has become of the single itself. This book proceeds from the proposition that there is some common standard among all the kinds of music within it. For forty years, despite the best efforts of record marketers, censorious nitwits, and the most fanatical musicians and fans, that remained true. But in the 1990s it is true no longer. Updating the context in which we hear singles today is extremely relevant to understanding what this book, when first published, was trying to do.

The problem is that there's no longer a standard way to determine which singles are having the greatest impact. For all its flaws-as several reviewers noted, the most frequently iterated sentence in this book is "did not make pop charts - the Billboard Hot 100 served that purpose for about 35 years. The Hot 100 measured a combination of sales and airplay by a standard either proprietary or incomprehensible, I've never quite figured out which (maybe it's both). From the beginning to about the time the first edition of this book appeared, there was a lot of guesswork (some would say manipulation) involved. Since November 1991, though, the Hot 100 has been compiled using figures taken directly from actual radio plays measured by a system called BDS, and from the larger chains and even some independent record stores by a computer-based company called Soundscan. The catch is that to be eligible for the Hot 100, a record needs to be issued as a commercial single. In 1989, as I remarked, the single-in its cassette and CD forms-had become a dinosaur. Today, the single is on life support, issued only in certain genres or for certain artists. There are separate charts for airplay and for sales, in Billboard as well as other magazines (Radio & Records' airplay chart is most often cited as the new standard). But it's the Hot 100 that creates the sense of continuity essential to the argument in the book, and a single has no chance of making the Hot 100 unless it has a commercial release. So, many "singles" (that is, readily identifiable recordings of individual songs, the stuff that we all recognize as hits) that are extraordinarily popular don't register on the Hot 100 at all. There are still hits, but keeping track of them relative to one another has grown into a bewildering task, frustrating if you're trying to get a complete picture rather than just the fragment you need for niche marketing. Or niche listening, I imagine. (In November 1998, a few weeks after this introduction was written, Billboard announced that it would henceforth list singles not commercially released in the Hot 100. Such non-single singles will still be penalized, though, because singles sales remains an element of chart ranking.)

This isn't Billboard's problem, since it is a trade paper whose job is to report the relative success of marketable properties. Singles are no longer marketable properties, but auxiliaries to them. The albums from which those popular-but-unissued "singles" are taken have the trajectories of their commercial (thus, probably, popular) lifespans measured quite accurately by the Billboard 200 album chart. But there's no longer even a solitary standard for great but marginalized singles to miss: "did not appear on pop chart" could apply to Celine Dion's biggest-selling sack of saccharine. You could say that this is the perfect symbol of the destruction of the conceptual universe around which The Heart of Rock & Soul is based.