Friday, February 3, 2012

a people’s history of rock & roll; part one, The Sixties (Bonus Video Friday)

From the ages of 0 to 12 years old all I cared about was World War II. No, wait, I cared about comic books too. (In fact, I taught myself to read with them at age four, probably beginning with Sgt. Rock in Our Army At War because they were about World War II and then extending out from there. And yeah, for those of you scoring at home, I was just as OCD about comic books as I was later about rock & roll.) Then in 1964, when I was 12, The Beatles hit America and that was all she wrote. From their very first Ed Sullivan show appearance in February 1964, let’s just say this; I was one hooked little West Side boy

Then, really soon after that I saw The Dave Clark 5 on Ed Sullivan. Truthfully, I kinda liked them better than The Beatles. For one thing, The Dave Clark 5 had better suits than The Beatles. (More on suits below.) The DC5 were just so cool; the drummer was way out front, Mike Smith was a KILLER lead singer, and they had a saxophone player. (My Uncle Joe on my mother’s side of the family played saxophone in an Army Veteran’s band and to that point he was the only live musician I had ever seen, or known personally.) (True story: One Thanksgiving or Christmas, probably 1965, The Dave Clark 5 were on a holiday special and Denny Payton took a wicked sax solo on a song that escapes my memory. Somebody in my family said, "Can you play like that, Joe?" And before he could open his mouth to reply my dad said, "If Joe played like that his saxophone would melt." It got a huge laugh from the family. You’ve gotta understand, adults in my family did NOT make jokes at the expense of other adults. Uncle Joe did not laugh. He was not a happy camper. But I digress….)

I also saw The Animals and The Rolling Stones on Ed Sullivan but really didn’t like them that much. First off, they didn’t wear matching suits. Matching suits were very important to me in those early rock & roll days, probably because of superhero comic books in which The Fantastic Four and The X Men, both of whom I loved, had matching outfits and all my World War II heroes wore uniforms. (That attitude has lasted to this very day. It’s one of the reasons I loved The White Stripes when they first came on the scene. Even The Strokes kinda had your basic black leather jackets and black jeans almost-matching outfits down.)

Anyway, the thing about The Sixties that always floors me in retrospect is HOW FAST the music advanced. The Beatles hit America in early 1964. By 1965 The British Invasion was in full swing (all the aforementioned bands plus The Kinks, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Who, The Zombies, etc., literally too many to mention) PLUS American garage bands had already begun to spring up. The very first live rock & roll band I ever saw was a group of rich Upper Arlington kids that played in the ballroom of the Scioto Country Club. My mom was a waitress (and later a hostess) there and called my sister to drive me up there to see them. I had to watch from the kitchen (God forbid, kids of the help would mingle with the members) but man, it was just so great to see a rock & roll band up close and in person. I have no idea what band it was but they had a killer version of "Gloria," years before Patti Smith or Willie Phoenix ever got ahold of it.

By 1966 Bob Dylan had burst out of folk music to bring an entirely new lyrical consciousness into rock & roll and folk-rock bands like The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield arrived. (In many ways, 1960’s folk-rock remains to this day my very favorite form of music. Give me The Leaves, give me The Beau Brummels, give me Tim Buckley’s first album and I am in 12-string guitar heaven, pal. Folk-rock music always sounds like autumn to me and my brain thinks like autumn feels, so you do the math.) By 1967 Haight-Ashbury began to take over, Flower Power bloomed and suddenly all the garage-rockin’ guys & girls were donning kaftans & beads and grooving to English psychedelic bands like Pink Floyd when Syd Barrett could still function. The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and suddenly everybody got lofty and pretentious as a way of rock & roll life. The Beatles even got The Rolling Stones to play their game and the result was Their Satanic Majesties Request, a severe musical misstep if there ever was one. No more fun 45’s, overnight everyone started recording weighty, ponderous, cosmic concept albums.

In 1968 acid-rock reared its ugly head as San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead made 20-minute jams the norm and I sadly waved goodbye to my beloved 3-minute rock & roll song. Goodbye Standells, farewell Paul Revere & The Raiders (again, great outfits!), adieu Turtles. (At one show in this time period my best rock & roll friend Dave Blackburn sidled over to me in the middle of yet ANOTHER 20 minute jam by some lame local band, put a coin in my hand and said, "I’ll bet you a quarter this song ends someday.") The Doors from L.A. and The Jimi Hendrix Experience from N.Y.C. by way of England were some help, some relief, some succor, but hardly made up for the loss of all the great one-hit wonder combos from Anywhere, U.S.A. (R.I.P. Count Five, Syndicate Of Sound, Chocolate Watchband.)

By early 1969 country rock tipped its laid-back cowboy hat as the first records by The Flying Burrito Bothers and Poco were released. All of a sudden every wannabe-hippie had to "get back to the country." (At that juncture Dave Blackburn asked very cogently, "If we all get back to the country and there’s no electricity, where are we supposed to plug in our amplifiers?") Thankfully, for us in the Midwest, The MC5 and The Stooges soon roared outta Detroit to save us from that cocaine cowboy fate. Confessional singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills & Nash eased into our hearts & minds, trying to heal some of those end-of-the-60’s blues. (Whenever my peers or, more problematically,whenever younger kids that I run into at gigs get all dewy-eyed about the peace & love 60’s I feel compelled to remind them: John F. Kennedy, assassinated; Bobby Kennedy, assassinated; Martin Luther King, assassinated; Malcolm X, assassinated; all the men & women, black & white alike, killed during the civil-rights movement; 50,000 dead soldiers in Vietnam.) Heavy metal music stormed in from England with bands like Black Sabbath providing the dirge soundtrack to all that mayhem. Woodstock wafted into our conciousness in August 1969 and by December 1969 all of us became witnesses at Altamont. You could go from light to dark just that fast in the 60’s.

All of that rock & roll history took place from 1964 to 1969. The Beatles evolved from A Hard Day’s Night to Sgt. Pepper’s in THREE YEAR’S TIME. (Plus they recorded and released their two best records ever; Rubber Soul and Revolver, as well as some stand-alone singles, in between.) By three years after Sgt. Peppers they had put out Magical Mystery Tour, the double-record set White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be. Nowadays everybody from major pop and rap stars down to your average piddly little jagoff "alternative" band routinely takes three years between albums.
It was the 1960’s. You shoulda been there.

© 2012 Ricki C.

The Move on English T.V. in 1967. The Move were kind of a junior-league Who in 1967. (They smashed up televisions and sometimes cars onstage instead of their gear.) They were one of those English bands that just never quite crossed over to America. (But you know Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick had to have loved them.) When bass player Trevor Burton succumbed to LSD mania (how come those limey lads like him and Syd Barrett couldn’t handle their acid?) he was replaced by Jeff Lynne. Lynne later booted founder, lead guitarist & main songwriter Roy Wood out of his own band and went on to front the terminally lame Electric Light Orchestra, who enjoyed enormous success in 1970’s America with their disco-besotted pop-crossover drivel. (He atoned for some of that with The Traveling Wilburys, though.)

ps. I fully realize it's kinda blonde on blonde for me to hype a blog hyping my blog, but Colin Gawel of Watershed and The Lonely Bones has a great piece plugging Growing Old With Rock & Roll on his website, It's great, you should check it out.

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