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For the Record: How The Strokes Revived Rock For A New Millennium With 'Is This It'

The Strokes in 2005

Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

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For the Record: How The Strokes Revived Rock For A New Millennium With 'Is This It'

Released 20 years ago, the Strokes' 'Is This It' became an instant classic by oozing effortless cool and providing a much-needed jumpstart to the rock world

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2021 - 02:48 am

If rock bands earned royalties every time someone declared "rock is dead," there would be no need to gripe about Spotify's payment structure. The claim is made. A lot.

At the dawn of the 21st century, popular music experienced yet another predictable "rock is dead" moment, the latest in a long line of allegations made by artists and the media almost since the dawn of rock and roll. That said, it was the last gasp of post-grunge, the era of Nickelback, Creed, and Three Doors Down battling nu-metal newcomers Linkin Park, P.O.D., and Crazy Town for airtime on radio and MTV. Not to mention, hip-hop was already well on its way to becoming the sound of American youth on the strength of titans such as OutKast and Jay-Z, while Beyoncé (not yet Mrs. Carter) was scoring major hits with Destiny's Child. To some, it seemed that "real" rock was finally circling the drain. 

But then, in the summer of 2001, a quintet of pedigreed New York City college kids dressed in faded denim jackets, T-shirts, and Chucks, arrived like clockwork and reminded us once again why rock and roll mattered. The Strokes worshipped all the right hipster-rock bands—the Velvet Underground, Television, the Stooges—and even cribbed a riff or two from the classics (Tom Petty admitted he didn't mind them ripping off "American Girl" for "Last Nite"). They partied with Slash and Guided By Voices. They couldn't sell out because they went straight from Manhattan's Mercury Lounge to a major-label bidding war.

And just like Nirvana and the Sub Pop bands, the buzz around the Strokes mostly started overseas. The band landed the cover of UK magazine NME solely on the strength of a three-song EP, The Modern Age [Rough Trade], months before the release of their debut album, Is This It [RCA], which was released in the U.S. 20 years ago.

The first glimpse most people outside of New York and the UK saw of the Strokes was the video for "Last Nite." Shot on a faux-'70s television sound stage lit with day-bright bulbs, the band members look like they just woke up and picked up right where the party left off. Singer Julian Casablancas' thousand-yard stare and deadpan Stephen Malkmus-meets-Lou Reed delivery sound like a hangover in the best way, while the band bounces along on a jittery nicotine rush.

The Strokes' brand of rock wasn't much like the popular rock music of the era. Their guitars weren't tuned down to Z-flat, and they didn't seem angry about anything. They didn't need massive amplifiers or a DJ. Instead, they brought the lo-fi aesthetics of '90s indie rock to the mainstream. Paired with producer Gordon Raphael after early sessions with Gil Norton [Pixies, Foo Fighters] turned out too sterile, the crew laid down tracks in a DIY studio in New York. Casablancas sang through a small, overdriven Peavey practice amp to give his vocals a gritty texture.

Is This It was first released on July 30, 2001, in Australia, followed by Japan on August 22, and the UK on August 27, with cover artwork of a leather-sheathed hand resting on a woman's posterior that proved too controversial for US release. While the cover was being retooled for America, the 9/11 terrorist attacks compelled the band to remove the song "New York City Cops," as lyrics like "New York City cops … they ain't too smart" became controversial as the country rallied around its police, fire, and other emergency first responders. For the official US release, "When It Started" appeared in its place, and the album cover was replaced with a photograph of the tracks left by subatomic particles in a bubble chamber, striking neon-blue curlicues streaking across a bright-orange palette.

After lead single "Hard to Explain" started capturing alternative airplay attention in the States, "Last Nite" became the first hit of the great garage rock revival of the '00s, reaching top-five on alternative rock radio and earning platinum certification from the RIAA. And while follow-up single "Someday" rose up the charts and earned its own platinum plaque, the White Stripes, the Libertines, the Hives, and others soon emerged to share the spotlight—not to mention Kings of Leon, whose first two albums closely followed the Strokes' lo-fi blueprint.

Although Is This It is often considered the band's masterpiece, it peaked at No. 33 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart, while their five other albums have all since reached the top 10. Is This It was certified Gold in February 2002 and platinum in February 2011. Their follow-up, Room on Fire [2003], also went platinum, and their third set, First Impressions of Earth [2006], went Gold.

So, did Is This It live up to the hype? Well, the rock and roll revival it spawned was bigger than any rock movement to hit the mainstream in the intervening two decades. And while it may not fit everyone's idea of rock music, it's one of the rawest records to become a bona fide hit. Is This It not only rocks, it rawks.

Is This It At 20: How The Strokes Redefined Rock

N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2018 - 11:05 pm

A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.

Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.

Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.

Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

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Japan's Fuji Rock Festival 2020 Announces Tame Impala And The Strokes As Headliners

Julian Casablancas of The Strokes 

Photo: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage via Getty Images 

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Japan's Fuji Rock Festival 2020 Announces Tame Impala And The Strokes As Headliners

The historic fest will take place Aug. 21–23 at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2020 - 12:20 am

In the midst of a wave of live concert cancellations and postponements around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, some good news arrived earlier this week on the festival front. The Strokes and Tame Impala will headline Fuji Rock Festival 2020, the Japanese fest announced.

The fest will take place Aug. 21–23 at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa, Niigata Prefecture. Disclosure, FKA twigs, Rufus Wainwright,  Major Lazer, Black Pumas, and Blackbear are among other performers. More artists are still yet to be announced, as the Fuji Rock usually features more than 200 acts across five main stages and several secondary stages.

The historic Japanese rock festival, now in its 24th year, first launched in 1997 with an original lineup that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters

For ticket information on the 2020 edition, visit the festival website

WATCH LIST: Live Streaming Concerts From SOFI TUKKER To Neil Young

Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Alanis Morissette

Photo: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2018 - 03:10 am

For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.

Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.

The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."

As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).

Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.

Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.

"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."

Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night

GRAMMYs/Feb 9, 2018 - 03:16 am

Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.

There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true.  Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.

"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."

Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").

Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.

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