The Null Device

The Peak Rock Theory

Correlation of the day: Rock music quality and US crude oil production, by year; more precisely, "rock music quality" consists of number of songs in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of greatest songs of all times:
There's more on the theory here.
Notice that after the birth of rock & roll in the 1950’s, the production of “great songs” peaked in the 60’s, remained strong in the 70’s, but drastically fell in the subsequent decades. It would seem that, like oil, the supply of great musical ideas is finite. By the end of the 70’s, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Motown greats, and other genre innovators quickly extracted the best their respective genres** had to offer, leaving little supply for future musicians.
The graphs don't line up precisely, of course, though follow a similar arc.

The correlation may initially seem spooky, and invites outré speculation about the relationship between Rockism and Hubbert's Peak Oil theory and whether, as the Rockists would have us believe, we passed Peak Rock in the mid-1960s and have been in decline ever since. However, there is a more prosaic explanation; one which, in retrospect, seems obvious and somewhat boring.

The cultural phenomenon of rock'n'roll (at least in the classic sense that is venerated by the likes of Rolling Stone) was a product of the economic factors of its time, such the rise of the modern teenager, with disposable income and the freedom from harsh adult responsibility to identify along generational and subcultural lines, which were a result, in part, of an abundance of cheap oil. When one looks at it from this angle, one finds other correlations: the rise of plastics (made from oil), suburban sprawl, car culture (it's little surprise that the teenagers of the baby-boom era were about cars, from big ol' Cadillacs to hippie VWs, the way today's teens are about iPhones and social networks; witness the references to cars, and to making out in the backs of them in drive-in cinemas and such, in classic rock songs). Rock'n'roll in its classic sense was very much a product of the economic factors of cheap oil.

There are 3 comments on "The Peak Rock Theory":

Posted by: bowie Thu Nov 12 02:22:09 2009

You might also argue that the older a song is, the more likely it is to end up in a "best songs ever" list. Particularly if those picking the list are 30+.

When choosing between recent song X and 30 years old song Y that influenced song X, Rolling Stone will pick song X, not song Y, even if song Y is better.

I also think genre snobery might have a hand in the 70s lean. Rock suffered greatly from the end of the 60s onwards thanks to other genres: disco, electro, metalo. "Great songs" might be left of the list because someone decided they were not rock enough.

Posted by: Sen. the Hon. Penny Wong Thu Nov 12 04:15:59 2009

In Australia, *Countdown* reached the apex of its influence during Peak Midnight Oil, around 1985. Coincidence?

Posted by: Greg Thu Nov 12 12:05:45 2009

The classic rock peak *precedes*, and therefore must have caused, the decline in oil production. Perhaps everyone was so disillusioned by the Beatles breakup and Altamont that they just couldn't be bothered drilling any more.

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