The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll

David Hepworth’s new book Never A Dull Moment claims that 1971 was the greatest year for popular music as it saw the release of more “monumental” albums than any year before or since. It’s an interesting claim and one that I will contest here. I also think it’s a really odd book title considering it’s the same as Rod Stewart’s superb 1972 album; why not give the book a namesake title from a “monumental” 1971 album? Granted 1971 saw an unprecedented number of album releases, but does that single metric make it the greatest album release year? Anyone who knows me will confirm that I love a good argument and so here it goes. Dave Hepworth is a fantastic music journalist but he got it completely wrong. His book should have been about the era from 1969 to 1981; the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.

Taste is a very slippery concept as Immanuel Kant proposed in his 1790 Critique Of Judgement. Kant calls aesthetic judgments “judgments of taste” and remarks that, though they are based in an individual’s subjective feelings, they also claim universal validity. It could be claimed that Hepworth’s book is an attempt to canvass some form of universal acceptance; or he might just be trying to sell more books. The viewing of an art form is anything but a passive activity. Art should rouse us to an intellectual involvement with the world in which it was created. Good art results in a discourse and the better the art the more tumultuous that discourse should be.

Only last year (2015) I published my own book, Album Rescue Series, in which I tried to show some love to mistreated, misunderstood and underrated albums. On page 129 of this book, I rescue Jim Ford’s excellent 1969 Southern funky rumpus album Harlan County. During this album rescue, I argue that this album was largely overlooked because of the year of its release: 1969. Harlan County was probably the strangest but most compelling release of 1969, but what a year for popular music. 1969 was the launching pad for an era of unparalleled creativity in popular music the likes of which we’ll never see again. Hepworth’s identification of 1971 should not be viewed as an isolated year but as part of the twelve-year continuum of popular music’s most prolific era, which ran from 1969 to its sad demise in 1981.

Harlan County1

During the 12 months of 1969 we see releases from Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline), The Beatles (Abbey Road), Tim Buckley (Blue Afternoon), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II), King Crimson (In The Court of King Crimson), The Who (Tommy), Captain Beefheart (Trout Mask Replica), Nick Drake (Pink Moon), Sly and the Family Stone (Stand), The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed), The Band (The Band), The Stooges (The Stooges) and a host of other amazing albums. How on earth could Jim Ford, an unheard of artist from the back hills of Kentucky, with his unique blend of country, funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll ever get noticed in the company of these esteemed artists? If you’ve never heard Harlan County then go out and buy this album and give it a spin; if you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back. I was seven years old for the majority of 1969, and didn’t turn eight until mid December, but all of these albums I distinctly remember. What I do remember is zeitgeist of 1969, the break up of The Beatles, the violent end of the peace and love generation presided over by Rolling Stones at Altamount and the white heat of new technology manifested by Neil Armstong standing on the moon. No wonder 1969 was such an epistemic year for popular music.

1969

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Hepworth when he cites some exquisite, delightful and ground-breaking albums of 1971. You cannot dispute Carole King (Tapestry), Badfinger (Straight Up), Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story), Emerson Lake & Palmer (Pictures At An Exhibition), Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers), John Lennon (Imagine), Paul McCartney (Ram) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass); all of which I play on a regular basis. Back in 1971 record sales were growing too fast for the record companies to exert any kind of meaningful creative control. They threw an awful lot of shit at the wall and hoped some of it would stick; not the type of approach prescribed in the business manuals that would follow in the 1980s. Amongst all this shit though were the shining diamonds of perfection as listed above. Back in 1971 the record business was in an unprecedented boom period, profits were good and re-investment in product development (A&R) at an all time high.

Carole_King

For the next decade the music would be good until it died at the end of 1981. Even as a musically precious nine/ten year old I remember 1971 very distinctly mainly because of the music which I was already showing signs of being obsessed with. During this era it was de-rigour for acts to be signed to two albums a year recording contracts, which meant they were all extra productive at their most creative age. Everybody played live all the time. Neil Young wrote and recorded Harvest while on the road during 1971 in locations as far apart as Barking, East London and Nashville. The classic T. Rex singles were recorded at stops on their 1971 American tour. Pink Floyd spent weekdays recording Meddle and weekends playing colleges. Nobody took months off. Nobody dared. During this era, popular music was getting serious and corporate. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, was their first album under the distinctive tongue ‘corporate’ logo and released on their own ‘independent’ label. I would argue (I like arguing) that this Stones album was almost as notable for its cover as its content. 1971 was the year Brown Sugar, the last truly great Rolling Stones single (but that’s another article for another day), went to number one.

While discussing this article at work last week with my boss (Gareth) he made the point, and a good point it is too, that 1981 was probably the last truly great year for popular music. In terms of this article/blog I am prepared to state that 1981 is the end of rock ‘n’ rolls’ most creative and productive era. 1981 is an interesting time as Modernism is all but dead and post modernism has well and truly taken hold. Consider the albums that were released during 1981: The Rolling Stones (Tattoo You), Stevie Nicks (Bella Donna), Motorhead (No Sleep Till Hammersmith), U2 (October), Human League (Dare), Miles Davis (Directions), New Order (Movement), The Cure (Faith), Simple Minds (Fascination/Sister Feeling Call), The Psychedelic Furs (Talk Talk Talk) and The Police (Ghost In The Machine). In many ways these albums signal then end of rock ’n’ rolls creative and profitable golden years and signal the start of a new era; a new way of conducting business.

Behind the scenes the creative, maverick, iconoclastic and entrepreneurial music managers were been driven out by the faceless beige suited office drones, obsessed by spread sheets and quadrant charts. By 1981, Thatcherism was starting to make its presence felt in the UK; the good times for a whole host of traditional industries was well and truly over. In the same year, Ronald Regan came to power in the USA. Between Regan and Thatcher, the traditional Anglo American power base of popular music was well and truly under attack from monetarism. How can any creative endeavour survive when it’s exposed to monetarism’s money growth rule? 1981 was the end of making lots of great records and the start of making a small number of profitable records. In a head on fight between creativity and commerciality, the one with the muscles is always going to win.

I hate to end this piece with such a downbeat message so here is some good news. Head down to your independent local record store as every album listed above will be for sale. Have a listen to these albums and test my argument. Record Store Day happens on Saturday 16th April this year, so why not head out on this special day and treat yourself to a classic piece of music. Not only will your purchase make you smile for many years to come but you will also have supported a local independent business and that’s a good thing. In the words of Mott The Hoople’s 1974 hit The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll

The golden age of rock ‘n’ roll will never die
As long as children feel the need to laugh and cry
Dont wanna smash, want a smash sensation
Dont wanna wreck, just recreation
Dont wanna fight, but if you turn us down
Were gonna turn you around, gonna mess with the sound

Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its good for body, its good for your soul
Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll

Golden_age

 

Jazz Summers – A Big Life: A Tribute

I know everyone has to die, but it still comes as a shock when one of the great names in rock ‘n’ roll passes away. Jazz Summers was one of the greats, born in 1944 and passing away only a few days ago at the age of 71 from lung cancer. I first met Jazz in the mid 1980s when he was managing up and coming Northern soul singer Lisa Stansfield, who I tour managed all too briefly. Our paths crossed again when his record company, Big Life Records, was the UK record company for De La Soul who I tour managed on their Three Feet High and Rising tour. In 2003, Jazz published his enthralling autobiography Big Life. I love any book that contributes to the myth and legend of rock ‘n’ roll. Big Life tracks his transportation from the monsoon drains of sixties Boogie Street to the smoke-filled folk clubs of seventies New York. He became a soldier and formed a band. Smoked lots of dope in Malacca and attended meetings in the coke-sprinkled boardrooms of eighties Los Angeles. Managed the band Wham! Drank expensive wine. Wore ridiculous primary coloured baggy suits. Ate at uptight banquets in pre-Tiananmen Square Beijing. Heard Punk’s first screech. Drunk heavily. Wore make-up. In the year of Acid House, he managed Yazz and her Plastic Population. Married Yazz. Met Roy Orbison. Outstared Puff Daddy. Lobbied the Rolling Stones for ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. Managed: Snow Patrol, The Verve, La Roux. X-Rayed an Egyptian princess. Witnessed Jazz Summers reflect, with shocking and inspirational candour, on his search for music and balance. Big Life is a hysterical and heartbreaking account of one man’s struggle with the Universe, his riotous dance to the music of time. Boy this book would make a great screenplay.

Jazz Summers was a soldier, who became a musician, who became a radiographer, who became a musician (again) and who became one of the music industry’s most successful artist managers. Jazz managed Wham!, Lisa Stansfield, Yazz, Soul ll Soul, the Verve, Badly Drawn Boy, Snow Patrol, Klaxons, La Roux, Scissor Sisters and London Grammar, among many others. His artists have sold over sixty million albums and seventy-two million singles around the world, including over one hundred Top 40 hits in the past thirty years. In 2003, Jazz was awarded the prestigious Peter Grant Award and, in 2007, the Strat Award at the Music Week Awards, UK. Summers’ was an active campaigner for artists’ rights. As chairman of the Music Managers’ Forum (MMF) he was vocal on many issues affecting artists, including the extension of copyright, secondary ticketing, and VPL. He was also prominent in setting up the Featured Artists’ Coalition and Julie’s Bicycle, a not-for-profit organisation working on sustainability in the creative industries. Jazz was one of the most important names in music management and its sad to see him depart this world.

Album Rescue Series: Johnny Thunders ‘So Alone’

One of the beauties of music is that it’s impossible to hear it all; no matter how long you live. Despite being a life long addict to perfect pop tunes, I still come across pieces of music that stop me dead in my tracks. Earlier this week my niece Amber posted the Johnny Thunders’ song You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory on her Facebook page; this was one of those stop dead in your tracks moment. Hearing this track again after so many years made me realize that if ever an album needed a rescue its Johnny Thunders and his 1978 release So Alone. It’s about the only thing I can do for Johnny and boy does he need it. The title of the album says it all – So Alone.

Johnny died 24 years ago on April 23rd April 1991. Gone but never forgotten. The cause of death was recorded as “drug related causes”. Rather ironically huge amounts of LSD where found in his system despite rumors that he’d quit the smack. But this does not explain the many rumors surrounding Thunders’ death at St. Peter’s Guest House in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Fellow kindred spirit and troubled troubadour Willy DeVille lived in the hotel room next door to the one Johnny died in and described it thus in Dee Dee Ramone’s 2009 book ‘Lobotomy: Surviving The Ramones’, “I don’t know how the word got out that I lived next door, but all of a sudden the phone started ringing and ringing. Rolling Stone was calling, the Village Voice called, his family called, and then his guitar player called. I felt bad for all of them. It was a tragic end, and I mean, he went out in a blaze of glory, ha ha ha, so I thought I might as well make it look real good, you know, out of respect, so I just told everybody that when Johnny died he was laying down on the floor with his guitar in his hands. I made that up. When he came out of the St. Peter’s Guest House, rigor mortis had set in to such an extent that his body was in a U shape. When you’re laying on the floor in a fetal position, doubled over – well, when the body bag came out, it was in a U. It was pretty fucking awful”. Apparently his place was ransacked, what few belongings he had all gone including his passport, makeup and clothes. There was also talk of him having acute leukemia. Whatever the true story there’s no denying it was a very sad and lonely end.

The really simple and lazy way to tell this story is to deliver the archetypal rock star drugs story. You know the troubled misunderstood genius, blah blah blah. Such lives tend to be littered with self-destruction and the concept of rock ‘n’ roll may indeed be defined by variable degrees of self-destruction. This is already well-trodden territory, and by far more qualified people then I. Take a look at Nick Kent’s 1995 book The Dark Stuff where he does an excellent job of de-glamourizing the drug cult heroes of rock ‘n’ roll. Kent provides a sobering insight into the tortured lives, dysfunction and general unpleasantness of many key figures of popular music. Anyone with a voyeuristic interest in the self-destructive lives of rock ‘n’ rollers will love this book. There is no denying that Johnny’s story is a heroin related one. But please don’t judge heroin addicts unless you’ve lived it yourself, have an open mind. If you haven’t lived it yourself then good job, you definitely made the right decision. Heroin eats up your soul, destroys creativity and spits you out; things are never quite the same again after you’ve lived your life with heroin. Heroin is a solitary friend and when it’s gone your life is empty and worthless, you’re so alone. Its pure conjecture but its highly unlikely that Thunders ever conquered his drug addiction. What is up for discussion is that he did leave us with some incredible music and that will last forever.

In 1790 the German founding father of modern philosophy, Immanuel Kant, wrote Critique of Judgement, where he investigates the possibility and logical status of “judgments of taste”. In the chapter Analytic of the Beautiful Kant states that beauty is not a property of an artwork or natural phenomenon, but is instead a consciousness of the pleasure that attends the ‘free play’ of the imagination and the understanding. So is So Alone an artifact of beauty, worthy of critical reappraisal? Even though it appears that we are using reason to decide what is beautiful, that judgment is not a cognitive judgment, and is consequently not logical, but is aesthetical? I would argue that our objective judgment is impaired or swayed here. This album is heavily tarnished because of who made it and not because of what it is, which is a thing of beauty and passion. I believe that anything made out of passion or love must be inherently good.

The wreckage that peers out of the front cover of So Alone suggests Thunders is a man on the edge, both mischievous and vulnerable. The music contained therein seems to confirm this. An incendiary cover of The Chantays’ instrumental, Pipeline, mixes with the grind of Daddy Rollin’ Stone, the Pistol-punk of London Boys and the nonsense of the Spector girl-group, Great Big Kiss. The standout track is the fragile You Can’t Put Your Arms Round A Memory. The title was taken from a line in the Better Living Through TV episode of the sitcom The Honeymooners, and was written for his close friend Fabienne Shine. Considered by many to be his signature song, the ballad is said to be about Thunders’ heroin addiction. However, according to Nina Antonia’s 2000 biography, Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood, the song was written before he was even a member of the New York Dolls, and years before he became addicted to the dark stuff.

But back to Kant and how can we objectively measure if this song is any good or not? How about some scientific comparative analysis here, an item-by-item comparison of two or more comparable alternatives? Compare the original to versions by the Manic Street Preachers, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Giant Sand, Blondie or the sublime version by Ronnie Spector on her 2006 album The Last of the Rock Stars, now that’s definitely a good tune. I’ve never met Sopranos TV series producer Todd A. Kessler but he must have a similar music taste to me. He uses You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory to great effect on the closing scene and titles of episode 11 (House Of Arrest). This is not the first song from one of my album rescues series that Kessler has used. As a point of reference check out how Martin Scorsese also uses this song on his 1999 film Bringing Out The Dead; it’s superb.

Thunders wanders from one style to another, sometimes shambolic, very often with a Jaggeresque vocal. Sometimes energetic and often melodic, Thunders’ music is always a little wayward but it could never be described as dull. It isn’t perfect; his duet with the Only Ones’ (definitely a future album rescue) lead singer Peter Perrett, for instance, is an absolute shambles. Throughout this album rescue series I continually use the metric of who plays on this record to measure if its any good or not e.g. lots of great players equals a great album. So Alone is not so different as there are some superb players on this record. Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) on bass, Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) on drums, Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) on guitar, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Steve Marriott (Small Face & Humble Pie) on guitar and vocal, Walter Lure and Billy Ruth of the Heartbreakers and all pulled together by super-star producer Steve Lillywhite. This is an album that should appeal to anyone with a penchant for the basics of rock ‘n’ roll. This album is one of the loosest, coolest, sounding rock n’ roll records I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

The last time I saw Johnny Thunders play live was at The Marquee Club in Soho, London. I turned up with the rest of the voyeuristic ghouls mainly to see if Johnny could make it through the show without dying on stage. Painfully thin, even by my standards, with a ridiculous amount of eyeliner, Thunders chain-smoked throughout the gig. He was truly fucking awesome; I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. This boy looked at Johnny and was truly mesmerized. If I remember correctly he closed the set with a raucous version of the classic Heartbreakers’ song Born To Lose. Thunders was a unique songwriter who drew upon real life experience and sang from personal experience. Granted this was material of the darkest type but it made for a great album. If you haven’t heard So Alone, you need to because it’s a great post-punk masterpiece.

Record Store Day Australia 2015

Dalton Koss HQ is excited to announce that Tim Dalton, (#DKHQ’s Partner), is Record Store Day Australia 2015 Blogger and Outreach Communicator. Record Store Day Australia will take place on the 18th April 2015.

With over 35 years international rock n’ roll industry and academic experience, Tim will be revising records, exciting us with his rock n’ roll stories and above all, telling us why it is so important to support the record and music industry.

For more information about Record Store Day Australia 2015, please click here:

http://www.recordstoreday.com.au/tim-dalton-is-back-on-the-team/

Tim Dalton, Record Store Day Australia 2015 Blogger and Outreach Communicator
Tim Dalton, Record Store Day Australia 2015 Blogger and Outreach Communicator