Rock and Roll Can Never Die. (Or Can It?)

“My my, hey hey. Rock and roll is here to stay. It's better to burn out than to fade away. My my, hey hey. Out of the blue and into the black. They give you this, but you pay for that. And once you're gone, you can never come back. When you're out of the blue, and into the black. Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.”

That, of course, is the opinion of Mr. Neil Young, Rock God. Hold your lighter high in the air, because rock and roll is here to stay. Or is it? Looking at some pictures might raise some doubts about rock and roll’s immortality.

Statistical graphics are my thing. For example, I regularly spend an hour or two pouring over Charles Joseph Minard’s historic flow map of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. It ingeniously illustrates six variables in a single two-dimensional graphic.The lines dramatically show the toll of distance and temperature on Bonaparte’s Grande Armee in a way that mere numbers never could. The tan line shows the army advancing toward Moscow, and the black line shows its retreat. Edward Tufte has said it "may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

But now, and perhaps not surprisingly, Google has devised a statistic graphic that has me utterly captivated. The Music TimeLine shows the “big picture” of music over the past 60 years. It is based on Google Play Music data that shows the popularity of genres/albums/artists over the time. In particular, “popularity” is based on which artists and albums Google Play Music users have in their music libraries, as well as other data (such as album release dates).

Hovering on any category shows you album covers and their places on the timeline. Click on any category and you can drill down into sub genres for even more information. Clicking on sub genres drills even deeper. A musicologists dream come true. Sadly, for reasons explained in the “About this visualization” link, classical music is omitted.

The graphic is an eye-opener and reveals how music popularity has changed over the years, sometimes very swiftly. For example, Jazz ruled the 50s, and then was decimated (much like Bonaparte’s troops) by Pop and Rock. Now, take a closer look at the Rock category. Rock dominated the 60s and 70s, but has waned since then as musical tastes have splintered into many smaller categories.

So, is it possible? Can Google’s statistical graphic really show the demise of rock? Good questions. Before we should decide, let’s consider the opinions of two experts. “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (Mark Twain). “Hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die. There's more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey hey, my my.” (Neil Young).

austinbirdman's picture

A lot of people have attended that Edward Tufte class also, or read his book, in which he made Minard's map of Napoleon's retreat famous. You might oughta credit the man.

Ken C. Pohlmann's picture
You can buy the Minard poster from Tufte:
hbomb7's picture

The reason rock and roll will never die is because you can take heavy metal and alternative music and put them both under rock and roll. In other words, a lot of music genres are rock and roll played at a different pace, therefore when people try to give certain music styles a new name that is ridiculous. It's all rock and roll.