Rock isn’t dead, it’s just wheezing on life support. For proof, check the trends on Billboard’s Top 200. The highest-charting hard guitar band lands all the way down at No. 24 (the Foo Fighters’ “The Colour And The Shape”). For more loud guitars you have to scroll down to 28 (Aerosmith), then plunge to 42 (the still-struggling U2).
Other genres can’t be crying over this. For makers of pop, country and rap, things couldn’t look sunnier. The current Top Ten features two hip-hop records - “Wu Tang Clan Forever” at No. 1 and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Life After Death” at 7. To boot, Wu’s new one just wracked up the second-biggest opening tally of the year - 612,068 copies (which also ranks as the 10th-largest opening since SoundScan began making accurate count of these things).
The largest opening of ‘97 still goes to the B.I.G. record, which sold 689,535 copies in its first burst. These numbers look even more impressive when you consider that both of these top rap records are double CDs, with hefty price tags.
On the country front, the Top Ten includes a No. 2 opening for Tim McGraw’s “Everywhere” (with 224,000 copies moved) and George Strait at No. 10.
As for pop fluff, you’ve got the slam-bang success of The Spice Girls (No. 3) and Hanson (at 5). Combine that with the gospel record from God’s Property (No. 6) and Christian pop’s Bob Carlisle (at No. 4), and we’ve got the most conservative chart since the mid-‘70s, when white-bread acts like Chicago, America and Peter Frampton ruled. The only hard records doing business these days come from the world of hip-hop, which has replaced rock for the outrage quotient.
So is all lost for rock? Not entirely. As in the past, when harder rock forms falter, a compromise in the form of folk-rock takes over.
Small wonder, then, that the sole guitar-based album in the Top Ten belongs to The Wallflowers, with their Dylanesque “Bringing Down The Horse.” And the fastest-breaking albums come from Matchbox 20, which mimics the Flowers’ folk rock on “Yourself Or Someone Like You” (No. 32 with a bullet), and Meredith Brooks (No. 20), who recalls the singer-songwriters of the early ‘70s.