One of the best rock albums released recently is 46 years old. Though Neil Young’s ‘latest’ album, Homegrown, came out in June of 2020, it was actually recorded in the early 1970s. Young wrote the album after his breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress and held off on releasing it for close to a half a century to spare himself the pain. That same emotional struggle is apparent in the album and makes an intense emotional listen.
Beyond being a fantastic record, Homegrown is a time capsule from a different musical era. In late August of 1973, around the time the album was created, the number one song on the Cash Box Top 100 was “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. The number one song on the BillBoard Top 100 today is “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Essentially nothing on the current charts is anything that would be considered rock music. Instead, the songs in today’s top charts are from the R&B, hip hop, rap, and/or pop genres. Seeing the stylistic differences between past and present music, it can seem that there is a large musical gap between then and now. Nonetheless, saying rock music is dead would be false. Rock shares a very similar history and ancestry to rap, hip hop, and R&B. Rather than die out, the rock & roll of the past has evolved into the pop, hip hop, and R&B of today.
Rock, as a genre, has never meant just one thing and has never been easy to define; perhaps it is indefinable. However, all rock shares a derivation from African American jazz, rhythm, blues, and country music from the 1950s. It usually involves the use of drums, one or more guitars (often electric), a bass, a keyboard or piano, and some sort of vocals. Though it is typically played in a 4/4 time signature, there are forms of blues rock in 12/8. It also shares a similar verse/chorus structure to its sister genre, pop music. These vague guidelines with innumerable twists and variations are what defines rock music, a style which dominated popular music from sometime in the ’60s through the ’80s and into the ’90s, when rap and hip hop took over by storm.
Hip hop and rock have more musical similarities than it may seem at first. They are both typically built on backbeats in 4/4 and are largely centered around the human voice. Both can be traced back to the rhythm and blues and are both, in a sense, subgenres of this style. The two styles are sometimes bridged with artists like the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C, and Rage Against the Machine, who walk the line between rock and hip hop. Artists like them show how closely connected hip hop and rock are. Today, bands like Death Grips continue to exist somewhere between the worlds of rock and hip hop, demonstrating that these genres are intertwined by nature.
Seeing as these two major genres — in addition to funk, soul, and R&B — all have their roots in the same place, it can be inferred that rock did not start falling out of the Top 100 charts because its popularity was diminishing, rather, the genre shifted and changed into something new, as music has always done.
Though the success of Homegrown may seem like it came out of left field, it actually serves as an indicator to how related the music of today really is to that of the past. Hearing this album shouldn’t be a sad reminder of something dead and gone, rather an insight into the constantly changing and evolving multi-laned world of music. In essence, Young’s album from 1970 is a wonderful reminder of musical traditions.