Did Rock Music Peak Right Before Oil Did?


Photo via Rolling Stones Lyrics

What's the correlation between good, quality rock music and worldwide oil supplies? They both peaked around the same time, according to Overthinking It, and they both illustrate what occurs when you're using something up from a limited pool--crude oil stores in one case, and musical ideas in the other. Have we run out of both?

In order to make this amusing case, OI created the graph below by plugging in US domestic oil production by barrel and the songs from Rolling Stone magazine's Greatest 500 Songs of All Time feature onto the same timeline. The results show that most of the greatest rock songs were written back in the late '60s, and the concentration in quality has declined ever since. US oil production, meanwhile, was greatest in the mid '70s, and has also subsequently declined.


Image via Overthinking It
Overthinking It explains:

The decline in U.S. oil production* is explained by the Hubbert Peak Theory, which states that "the amount of oil under the ground in any region is finite, therefore the rate of discovery which initially increases quickly must reach a maximum and decline." Makes sense, right? The same theory can apply to anything of a finite quantity that is discovered and quickly exploited with maximum effort.
This of course is not news to peak oil watchers, but applying the same principle to music makes for an interesting exercise. It's then extrapolated that rock music has been rapidly explored, and has declined ever since.

The rationale behind the editorial, while definitely entertaining, is based on a faulty premise. The author writes:

I don't think I'm being pessimistic about the outlook on pop/rock music or snobbish about my retro music tastes. I think the same idea applies to other creative fields that follow a similar arc of rapid exploration followed by derivative works. Assuming some constraints on the definition of the form, the amount of innovation that can be done within that form is finite. Most of it will come early and fast, then decline after the peak. Impressionist paintings. Star Wars movies. I could go on.
But there are problems--oil is commodity, while musical ideas are not. And while there is certainly some ambiguity around whether or not innovation within an artistic field is finite or not (I might argue it's infinite: there are infinite combinations of musical notes and space, for instance), the supply of oil is indisputably finite. Also, using the tastes of a single magazine (and one that many would say is well past its prime)--which the author notes as a problem--as a barometer for the health of all of rock music is woefully inadequate. It's an arbitrary enterprise.

For instance, I could argue that bands like Radiohead, Animal Collective, and the Flaming Lips have brought more innovation to rock music than the Bee Gees or the Carpenters (which make Rolling Stone's cut) and probably get plenty of people to agree with me. Just because the more modern acts are less popular, doesn't mean they aren't successfully innovating, and creating good, quality rock music.

And this article, which went viral, probably introduced a whole lot of new music fans (many who likely have more passionate opinions about whether or not rock is dead than whether or not we've already passed peak oil) to Hubbert's theory, and perhaps even the peak oil problem itself.

More on Peak Oil
If Peak Oil is Now or in 2030, We're Still Woefully Unprepared
Sexy Dancing vs. Peak Oil : Oily Cassandra
Five Hundred Oil -Industry Geologists Vote on Peak Oil

Tags: Consumerism | Music | Oil

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