Back to Back in Black

Previously published in The Daily Star of Hammond, LA.

Two months ago, I spent 17.7 plays through AC/DC’s album “Back in Black” in a tiny closet looking through every issue of “The Daily Star” of 2017 to count all the photos we used. That’s 12 hours, 26 minutes and 40 seconds long for those of you wondering just how long that is.

This coincided with the death of AC/DC rhythm guitarist, backup singer and songwriter Malcolm Young, so, as a guitar player that once had dreams of rocking (and growing out a thick, flowing mane), I decided to spend the weekend working and listening to the second-best-selling album of all-time.

Listening to an album released in 1980 in its entirety was important for three reasons. For one, it was the first time I listened to an album all the way through multiple times in a row since I was in high school. That was when I thought no one could ever understand what I was thinking or feeling (especially not my parents) so I would retreat to my room and listen to the entirety of Green Day’s album, “American Idiot” (and probably reading “The Catcher in the Rye” or doing other angsty, pseudointellectual, teenaged things).

Second, it was one of the first times in a long time that I listened to an album and legitimately liked every song (I understand the lyrics are misogynistic, but, after the fourth listen, the words melt away, and all that’s left is the actual music which, in this case, was still electrifying). Bands seem to be trending away from albums as streaming music has become one of the most popular mediums used to listen to music. Nielsen’s Music 360 Music Report showed that as streaming on services like Spotify or Apple Music has become more widespread, the amount of time an average American spends listening to music per week increased from 23.5 hours to 32.1 hours a week since they can listen to music as long as they have their phone with them.

Streaming usually means listening to music on playlists either self-curated or created by Spotify or friends that lets people listen to different kind of songs from various artists and albums. It’s easier to pick and choose what someone likes than it was in 1980. That means an entire album isn’t necessary to catapult a band or art into the upper echelon of popularity. One of my favorite artists is Hozier because of his bluesy rock sound, but most people have only heard his hit “Take Me to Church,” which I would argue isn’t nearly as good as at least five other songs on the album.

Some of my favorite bands or artists now release EPs (Extended Play — something between a single and a full album) and singles instead of full albums due to the fractured listening patterns of the audience. In high school, I had the time to sit around and listen to records a bunch and dissect what made them good, bad, important or why I liked something even if I knew it wasn’t good (like Creed’s album, “Weathered,” which I know is horrible, but that doesn’t stop me from belting every chorus with my best impersonation of Scott Stapp and his underbite). In college that fanaticism for music started fading. I began only listening to full albums when I was with friends of mine on Friday or Saturdays nights with nothing to do but play NBA 2K on mute so we could play our soundtrack.

Third, it was the first time since high school I listened to a rock album. The last three full albums I listened to are Hozier (who is bluesy and folksy, but not a rocker), Kendrick Lamar (a great rapper) and Migos (an interesting and current rap group that I listen to so my little brother and I can talk about music).

But it speaks to something proliferating throughout the music industry and causing older music critics to get queasy — rock music appears to be dying. If you turn a radio to a station playing the top hits you’d find yourself listening to a blend of rap, R&B, pop and The Chainsmokers. Rock has already receded from popular culture and is becoming the music of “old people.” A great guitar solo isn’t as cool as a great bass riff backing  Drake or Kendrick Lamar.

This is the trend of most genres of music though. Marching band, disco and classical music were once the most popular kinds of music, but they all receded from pop culture, maybe it was just a matter of time until rock did the same.

It’s funny because at the end of my time in a small closest and my hands were covered in  black newspaper ink, I reached the final song on the record, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” which then was AC/DC’s way of reasserting that “Rock and Roll” was still important. Now the lyrics, “Rock and Roll ain’t noise pollution, Rock and Roll ain’t gonna die,” sound ironic and almost a parody of the rock genre. But hey, “rock and roll is just rock and roll.”

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