The Beatles didn’t singlehandedly convince ‘the establishment’ that rock and roll was worthy of the same respect as ‘proper’ music, but they certainly contributed more than a fair shakes towards earning that respect. It’s generally agreed that Sgt. Pepper was a catalyst in establishing rock music as a real art form, and She’s Leaving Home is generally pointed out as proof that rock musicians are capable of producing works of great sensitivity and nuance. The youths of the time needed no convincing on this point, but the squares were reluctant to give those long-haired upstarts their due as songwriters and composers. All they needed was Paul McCartney in his most dewy-eyed mode, thoughtfully acknowledging the sad and inevitable gap between between generations and their inability to relate to one another, backed with a plush string arrangement. Now, of course, the artistic validity of rock as a genre is beyond any shadow of a doubt; if anything, it has become overly entrenched as the dominant cultural standard. It strikes us as outlandish and unthinkable that anyone would have ever questioned it.
Things I need to learn more about, number four hundred thousand: obscure Motown singles. Otis Redding, of course, is not obscure. He’s one of the giants of soul music. But I’ve never heard of The Shooters, and I can’t find very much information about this song except that it’s one of the very first songs Redding ever wrote. This single – which sounds more like a demo – was released a year before Redding’s own solo debut. And that’s the extent of my information, because apparently the deep soul fandom skews old and apathetic towards technology and therefore isn’t flooding Wikipedia with new edits. Suffice it to say that even the long-forgotten artifacts of Motown’s heyday are gems worth discovering, and at the risk of sounding like a fogey, they really don’t make ’em like that anymore.
If you’ve never heard the Beatles before, and you started with this song, you may frankly have a hard time understanding the mania. It’s an interesting glimpse, though, at what they might have ended up sounding like if they’d stayed the straightforward rock band they’d been before they got all gussied up in cute little suits. Although they conquered the world on a tsunami of teenage hysteria, it was an ill-kept secret that they’d have been more comfortable playing dingy music halls and causing havoc of a different kind. Well, if they’d listened to more blues and less Elvis they could’ve been the bad boys of rock and left it to middle-class economics student Mick Jagger to glad-hand the establishment.
The Rolling Stones may have been slightly out of their element playing phosphorescent psychedelic pop music about love and rainbows, but they’ve rarely written anything prettier. No one was immune to the dizzy highs of the Summer of Love, not even a group whose key members actually spent the summer in and out of jail. Anyway, the Stones’ fabled sympathy towards the dark side was mostly savvy marketing (although, one trail of corpses later, it does seem to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Mick Jagger could just as easily sold himself to the public as a nice young man who went to a very good school, but the pop market already had enough nice young men and the public wanted a bete noire. With this kind of songwriting and less carnage, the Stones could have become pillars of the British Empire a lot sooner.
There’s no nostalgia industry for The Animals, but they used to be one of the most important British Invasion groups and the most serious of the British blues bands. History can be cruel that way. The best-remembered bands of the era were the best-branded ones. The Rolling Stones looked into the future and saw that the future lay in logos. The Rolling Stones are now a very successful corporation. Although the Animals were not above pumping their name for punny album titles, they didn’t take it to its full potential with a clever logo. You can’t keep yourself marketable over decades without a clever logo. Another things that undermines the Animals’ legacy is that they were more of a ‘singles’ band. They weren’t about putting together albums as a self-contained artistic statement. They never even straightened out the confusing disparity between UK and American releases. Those were managerial mistakes that undercut a strong body of work and that’s why we don’t remember them alongside their more PR-literate peers.
Yes, this makes sense and I understand the sentiment. If Marc Bolan sounds like someone trying to sing in English despite not knowing the language, well, he was English and therefore spoke the language and that’s just the way he sang. It took him a few years to develop his elocution. Maybe he was embarrassed because his lyrics were about unicorns a lot? But honestly, having seen the actual lyrics (see below) everything kind of makes sense, at least in a poetic way. The images are great, so great I want to see them illustrated, I want them expanded and detailed and written out into a book.
She was born to be my Unicorn
Robed head of ferns
Cat child tutored by the learned.
Darkly ghostish host
Haggard vizier of the moats
Seeks the sandled shores of Gods
Baby of the moors.
The night-mare`s mauve mashed mind
Sights the visions of the blinds
Shoreside stream of steam
Cooking kings in cream of scream.
Jackdaw winter head
Cleans his chalcedony bed
A silken word of kind
Was returned from Nijinsky Hind.
Giant of Inca hill
Loosed his boar to gorely kill
The dancing one horned waife
In doublet of puffin-bill.
The beast in feast of sound
Kittened lamb on God`s ground
Ridden by the born of horn
Jigged like a muse on life`s lawn.
Most of what you’ve read about Syd Barrett probably isn’t true. For example, LSD didn’t turn him into a schizophrenic. He didn’t die at 27 but lived to the age of 60. The isolation of his later years wasn’t caused by mental illnesses but by physical ones. One thing is true, however: Barrett was one of rock music’s tragic losses. His songwriting was both unique and thoroughly perfect for the psychedelic era, with its sense of whimsy and gentle humor. It certainly sweetened the Pink Floyd sound, leavening Roger Waters’ dooomy tendenies and making their ambitious virtuosity feel more approachable. His solo records are charming and weird, sounding like the work of a child at play in his bedroom, rather than the attempt of a rock star to make a statement. That kind of unstudied playfulness is pretty rare. Barrett could’ve become one of the great singer-songwriters and it is, obviously, a great shame that he never got to follow that road. For that you can blame the so-called ‘friends’ who kept dosing him with LSD without his consent even after he’d begun spiral into a full-blown nervous breakdown. That aside, though, he was probably one of those people who were constitutionally unsuited to being a public figure, let alone a full-time rock star. By all accounts, once he got the drugs out of his system, he was happy enough living alone, tending his garden, hanging out with his sister and visiting art museums. Not everybody wants or needs to be up on a podium, and not every gifted person has the drive to see their gifts rewarded. That’s very hard to understand, because we, as an audience, view it as a loss, but it’s not a loss for the artist if he decides he’d rather stop making the art that was causing him distress and go live a nice normal life with a nice garden.