Graph compares rock music quality with US oil production 1949-2007


From GOOD: "The remarkable similarity between the arcs of U.S. oil production and songs in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" by year is staggering." (Graph created by


  1. Rolling Stone has often been criticized for generational bias. In reality, there is far more good rock music being produced today than in 1967-69, if only because there are about 10,000 times as many rock bands today.

    1. Meh. RS idolizes music from a particular period in US history. Some how it doesn’t surprise me. I bet you’d see a similar coorelation if you overlayed any data points from something that emerged during the boomer generation’s heyday in the 60s and tapered off.

  2. What? Except for 50-52, 59, 63, 74, 76, 78, 81, 85-91 those graphs look almost similar if you squint juuuust right!

  3. …and most of those albums RS has subjectively ranked were produced on vinyl, a petroleum product. Coincidence?

    Interesting that RS did not exist pre-1967, and Rock Music(tm) did not yet exist in 1949, to inform your arbitrary-o-meter.

  4. Yeah, because any list by Rolling Stone is TOTALLY worth its salt. Like their best albums of 08 list, for example:

    Here’s an excerpt from it, for those who don’t want to bother clicking.

    2. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
    7. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
    9. Metallica – Death Magnetic
    12. Guns N Roses – Chinese Democracy
    17. BB King – One Kind Favor
    39. Taylor Swift – Fearless
    40. Jonas Bros. – A Little Longer
    41. AC/DC – Black Ice

    Let’s hear it for the old guard of rock journalism!

    1. Although I have been decrying Rolling Stone’s outdated Boomer bias for years & years, I think it’s selectively unfair to point at their choice of Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Metallica, Taylor Swift, Jonas Bros., and other “uncool” artists as proof they’ve lost the plot. That RS list of 2008’s best albums also includes:

      – TV on the Radio
      – Santogold
      – My Morning Jacket
      – Vampire Weekend
      – Fleet Foxes
      – Blitzen Trapper
      – Conor Oberst
      – Girl Talk
      – The Magnetic Fields
      – Bon Iver
      – MGMT
      – Ra Ra Riot
      – Of Montreal
      – Hot Chip
      – No Age
      – etc.

      In other words, a pile of acclaimed young artists who get glowing praise from Pitchfork and other hipster-approved media outlets whose readers like to think they’re better than RS and similar “old” media outlets.

      It doesn’t matter whether or not I think Jann Wenner is eternally stuck in a 1960s nostalgia loop. Let’s at least be fair enough to NOT cherry-pick evidence of Rolling Stone’s supposed futility while ignoring evidence of its possible continuing relevance – at least as far as currently trendy hipster/indie rock goes. If you want to debate the quality of modern hipster/indie rock, of course, that’s a whole other can of worms.

  5. Anyone who uses Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” for measuring the quality of rock music is engaged in the worst kind of pseudo-science.

    — MrJM

  6. The site this originally came from,, is a great Pop-Culture analysis blog. Check out their piece comparing Pixar’s Up and Paradise Lost.

  7. If it weren’t for the British Invasion, those two curves would be completely different. The Fabs and ilk fixed what was broken. So we’re faced with the difficult question: how did peak US oil production stimulate the UK to produce Fabian-superior rock?

    At first and second glance: the oil glut made America flush with the fat of the land. Them being in dire straits, the Brits took our (denigrated) music, added value, and sold it back to us – *for the profit*. (For which service the Fabs got OBE’s.)

    Capitalism and empire aside, popular music back then was absolutely and measurably more dope than music today. I’m not talking about vinyl, I’m talking about quality – of lyric, of meaning, of melody and progression, of animal sex and of funky living breathing soul and madness and freshness and groove. That music was about a burst of freedom, not oil.

    Today we’ve lost that freedom and the music is wimpy and docile and monotonic and febrile and cookie-cutter repetitive and docile and subservient and lazy-ass bland. We’ve learned to breakfast on our own souls.

    1. “Capitalism and empire aside, popular music back then was absolutely and measurably more dope than music today.”

      I think the key here is “popular” music. In general I think better music is being made today although most contemporary pop is dreadful. I don’t agree with you though. I think music during that time is missing diversity in some way for me. There’s some great stuff, but there’s great stuff almost everywhere I look when I listen to music from any time.

      I don’t see where I fit in it’s world, for instance. Well, that’s because I don’t I guess. So I think if you are a part of that some how then that will express everything for you, but it’s silly to assume that it would be that way with everyone.

  8. We’ve learned to breakfast on our own souls.

    And why won’t those kids stay off our lawn and let us enjoy it?

    ..anyone notice the odd/even alternation? Maybe odd numbers seem more “edgy” to the list-makers.

  9. OK I grew up in Philadelphia. Except for the Stones, those of us who were not “Jive” listened to good ol American (mostly African American) rock n roll like the following in the RS “peak period” of the mid 60s (these songs came out several years prior, pushing the top of the curve to the left). And, R&R never produced better, IMAO

    JERRY BLAVAT PRESENTS “For Dancers Only”
    SIDE A
    1.Sheeba—Johnny and The Hurricanes
    2.Please Forgive Me—Du-Ettes
    3.Let’s Stomp—Bobby Comstock
    4.Little Queenie—Chuck Berry
    5.Nervous Boogie—Paul Gayten
    6.Shake a Tail Feather—Five Du-Tones
    7.Ain’t Got No Home—Clarence “Frogman” Henry
    8.New Orleans—U. S. Bonds
    9.My Babe—Ron Holden
    10.Flat Foot Sam—Oscar Wills
    SIDE B
    1.Whip It On Me—Jessie Hill
    2.Amazons and Coyottes—Dreamlovers
    3.Troubles, Troubles—Clarence “Frogman” Henry
    4.Almost Grown—Chuck Berry
    5.The ABC’s of Love—Frankie Lymon
    7.Trickle, Trickle—Videos
    8.Gettin’ In A Groove—U. S. Bonds
    9.Discophonic Walk—Jerry Blavat
    10.Sheeba—Johnny and The Hurricanes

  10. There’s no great mystery there; both rock’n’roll (in the classic sense venerated by Rolling Stone and such) and the age of cheap oil were correlated with the time of the Baby Boomers, from the aftermath of World War 2 to the present day. Looking at it, one finds other correlations: the rise of plastics (made from oil), suburban sprawl, car culture (the teens who rebelled to rock’n’roll were about cars, from big ol’ Cadillacs to hippie VWs, the way today’s kids are about iPhones; they made out in the backs of cars in drive-in cinemas, for example). Rock’n’roll in its classic sense was very much a product of the economic factors of cheap oil.

  11. I think the Y-axis is incorrectly labeled. It should be, rather than the # of songs, the quantitative relevance of Rolling Stone, as measured on a scale from 0 to 0.03. With the relabeling, the chart makes perfect sense.

  12. This isn’t even really all that well correlated. The RS list peaks about five years before oil production. I know this graph was made in jest, but calling this correlation “staggering” strains even joke science.

    1. It wouldn’t be the internet if I couldn’t be pedantic… but the two terms (crude and songs) are extremely well correlated. I don’t have the original numbers used to create it, but an eye-balled approximation of the value of each point gives us a pearson’s correlation of r = 0.75, p < 0.9×10^-12.

      As for a 5 year delay, the cross-correlation function peaks at a lag of 3 years, but it’s still r > 0.7 from 0 to 5 years

      I, for one, would say it’s definitely “staggering”… at least as a coincidence.

  13. I perceive that large peaks in “Rock Quality” in fact, PROCEED peaks in US Oil Production by 6 to 7 years, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is rock, not natural resources, that drives oil production at near-future timescales.

    The solution to peak oil is, I propose, to bolster petroleum production by increasing the development of quality, face melting rock.

  14. Shouldn’t the number of songs in “Rolling Stone 500 greatest songs of all time” be…500 all the time?

  15. This graph excludes Alaska. Oil production should hold close to that peak until about 1985. Factor this in, and scale oil and RS-500 were both scaled to percentage of total on the y-axis, and things could change.

    Still, could be compelling with a scatterplot and a Pearson-R.

    Word to Tufte.

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