Whatever became of rockin’?
Are you ready to rock? If the answer is no, chances are it’s not your fault. Look around. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the rock song about rockin’. While we were distracted by our day-to-day crap and going about the business of life, the rock song about rockin’ simply vanished into the fog-machine mists of time. It’s a tragedy. Without it, how is anyone supposed to rock and roll all nite, let alone party every day?
The phrase rock ’n’ roll dates back to around 1951, but you can hear the genre in the gutbucket party jazz of ’40s R & B, before white folks threw in some hillbilly twang and gave it a new name. Guys like Bill Haley were right on top of it, penning song after song about rockin’. Besides having titles like “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie”, “R-O-C-K”, and “Rock Around the Clock”, many of his songs sounded the call to simply “rock, rock, rock”. And the world listened, listened, listened.
What other style of music had the balls to reference itself so vigorously and persistently? Through rock’s myriad offshoots and mutations, through the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and David Bowie, the rockin’ song survived. Not only that, but it flourished; by the mid ’70s, in some kind of cosmic power chord of fate, it had reached a transcendent state of total kick-ass.
Everywhere, pimply basement doofuses with feathered mullets hoisted their first warm beers and magic jay bones to these unassuming anthems, the soundtrack for a generation that grew up with Farrah Fawcett’s nipples on their walls. This was the double-platinum age of the sawed-off Mack jacket and the jean jacket plastered with lightning bolts and band logos. And of songs about rockin’, music so scientifically engineered for the teenage male it was practically doofus-proof. You knew it rocked because it said so right in the title.
A short list of these stoner-dude standards would include the Who’s “Long Live Rock”, April Wine’s “I Like to Rock”, AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll)”—extra points for the brackets—and Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. But the real Citizen Kane of the song about rockin’, the real cherry-red Firebird Trans Am with fuzzy dice, is KISS’s 1975 magnum opus, “Rock and Roll All Nite”.
Keep it simple, stupid—coincidence? Probably. But it doesn’t get much simpler or stupider. And if it sounds like it was dashed off in about five minutes, who cares? That’s rock ’n’ roll, man. You wanna party every day or you wanna listen to Leo Sayer?
From the KISS classic, it was all downhill. It couldn’t have been otherwise. The blight of disco and the advent of punk saw ’70s burnouts fast become a dying breed. Partied out, they probably just wanted to rock a paycheque. The Ramones tried valiantly to carry the torch into the new era, but traces of irony were starting to show around the edges. By the time ’80s hair farmers like Quiet Riot and Def Leppard sang about rockin’, the whole thing had become a sad parody, a Spinal Tap joke waiting to happen.
What do today’s basement boobs rock out to? Or do they? Maybe they sit around sighing to Coldplay. Many have turned to hip-hop—where, as white, middle-class, suburban pimple-poppers, they are clearly out of their depth. It’s just not the same. I can’t picture 50 Cent crankin’ out “For Those About to Rap (We Salute You)”.