Tuesday, 19 June 2012

News, Views and Music 149 (Top Eight): A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

We hope that reading this site has given you something of an over-view for what governed certain trends in certain albums over the nine year period when the 1960s really got going. For this week’s issue though we’re going to look into each year with a bit more depth than normal, look at what the ‘quintessential’ releases of a particular year were, what bands were starting up and why and what was happening outside music to influence events. Of course writing something like this is subjective – I like to think that there are exceptions to every trend (I’ve missed out on the last 30 years’ worth for instance) and doubtless that’s true for the 1960s too. But equally I think there’s some force at work here that led pretty much all the AAA bands who were around at the time to lean in a certain direction more or less at once and I’m fascinated to know what lead to that force being made. Lazy journalists always tell you The Beatles started every trend and whilst that’s not true (they often went in a direction The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Hollies or even The Rolling Stones had already started heading for) it is true to say that a part of their appeal was in picking absolutely the right song for a particular era (‘She Loves You’ is the perfect song for summing up 1963 just as ‘Day Tripper’ is for 1966, ‘All You Need Is Love’ is for 1967 and ‘Let It Be’ and ‘The Long And Winding Road’ are both for 1969). So we’ve decided to limit our Beatles references in the list a bit to bring you a broader spectrum of what’s going on (if you want to know more about this idea – and The Beatles’ relation to it all – then please see the chronology in Ian McDonald’s excellent fab four book ‘Revolution In The Head’, which will fill in all the gaps here).


Typical song of the year: The Beatles “Love Me Do” Typical album of the year: The Beasch Boys “Surfin’ Safari” (see news and views no 28) AAA Bands releasing their first records this year: The Beatles; The Beach Boys (technically December 1961!)  Overall trend: Pop, with a touch of R and B and surf Lyric of the year: “Surfin’ is the only life for me, come on baby come surf with me!” Until 1962 the 1960s were arguably just a continuation of the 1950s: monochrome, austere and with rock and roll very much on the fringes of society and all but dead as a genre (with Elvis in the army, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis in jail, Little Richard back working for the church and Buddy Holly dead all fans had left were The Everly Brothers, Cliff and Tommy Steele). Britain’s teenagers and wannabe musicians had never forgotten their R and B influences, though, and there was a thriving musical scene in pockets dotted across the country (Graham Nash and Ray Davies both often mentions in interviews how amazed he was to find other bands in other towns doing exactly the same they were, after thinking they were alone). Communication on this grand new scheme of things sounds twee and innocent to modern years and yet for the day it’s pretty daring: The Beatles’ breakthrough single that October ‘Love Me Do’ was admired not for its simplicity but for its strangeness, its ability to mix the common with the unknown (a few of the small amount of people to take notice of this first single assumed the band to be black, so strong was the R and B influence). The Beach Boys, however, got their first, even if their debut ‘Surfin’ in late 1961, is less auspicious and more of a teenage fad – by their first album in October 1962, though, its clear that there’s more to Brian Wilson’s vision than making poor surf music pastiches. The revolution starts here, being just dangerous enough to keep youngsters (in the days before teenagers existed) happy and innocent enough to keep their parents buying the records for them. The road to the multi-coloured year of 1967 still seems a long way away but it is there. 


Typical song of the year: The Searchers “Sweets For My Sweet” Typical album of the year: The Beatles “With The Beatles” (AAA review no 1) AAA bands releasing their first records this year: The Searchers, The Hollies Overall trend: ‘Merseybeat’ ie R and B/rock and roll sung as a pop-rock hybrid curious only to 1963 and 1964 Lyric of the year: “Sugar and Spice and all things nicer, kisses sweeter than wine, you know that little girl is mine!” In 1963 things are starting to come together, with bands from Liverpool dominating the air-waves as fans fell in love with The Beatles and then took a whole load of other Liverpudlian groups to their hearts like The Searchers and Swinging Blue Jeans plus other northern groups like The Hollies and The Animals who date back every bit as far as the fab four. The music charts have gone from the old crowd under the odd attack of fire by teenage spirit and energy and is now under wholesale attack. The ‘boom’ year of 1963 meant teenagers had more money to spend and the growth of radio stations (many of them illegal pirate ones) is enabling more youngsters than ever before to get access to this new trend. Despite the clear influences of blues, soul and Motown on the music, however, things are very light in tone (for now), with energy, excitement and escapism the bywords of the day. The Searchers are so closely tied to this era that arguably the link does them harm in the long run, despite the fact that their music is varied and pioneering enough to head the pack; fellow AAA newbies The Hollies start their career in March that year but don’t really get their own style till 1964 (their line-up is still in flux for their first three singles as a band). The Beatles, though, are already too big to touch, with an impressive three number ones that year (if you read the Record Retailer anyway – the NME reckon ‘Please Please Me’ peaked at #2) and a run of inspired managerial decisions that see the band connect with fans at teenage events and TV shows whilst breaking through the barrier of parental acceptance on such shows as the Royal Variety. This new sound is exciting, enticing and reverberates long after the needle has come away from the record. 


Typical song of the year: The Kinks “You Really Got Me” Typical album of the year: “The Rolling Stones” (see news and views no 100) AAA bands releasing their first records this year: The Rolling Stones; The Kinks Overall trend: A much heavier, more raucous sound with twinges of R and B and realism Quote of the year: “Baby’s good to me, you know, she’s happy as can be, you know, she said so – I’m in love with her and I feel fine” There are four big influences on this year which – between them – prevented this UK revival of rock and roll from being must another ‘fad’. First and most importantly, The Beatles broke big in America, re-energising the musical movement and helping all sorts of other British bands become successful in their wake. Again their timing is impeccable some three months after the outpouring of grief over JFK, a young(ish) and energetic(ish) president who, had he been turned his hand to pop, would have sounded much like the clean-cut Beatles circa 1964. The Beach Boys – the only American AAA band going in this early stage – feel threatened. Secondly there’s a new realism in the air, again created by The Beatles who are already tiring of the rollercoaster ride of fame and for their first film have the bravery and the sheer luck of getting sympathetic director Dick Lester, creating ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (the point where most parents arrive on board, forced by their offspring to watch but then intoxicated by the cleverly constructed characters). Thirdly the sounds of music are getting stronger, noisier and more urgent, with The Kinks’ two #1 singles (‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day And All Of The Night’) setting the tone for a more raucous and slightly unhinged sound (Ray Davies won’t keep this style for long, though, finding his pastoral English feet in 1965). The Rolling Stones start their crusade unexpectedly later into proceedings here too, offering the public a choice between the ‘nice’ Beatles and ‘nasty’ Stones. Finally its now the ‘in’ thing to write your own songs and all AAA bands have at least tried to write their own material by the end of the year, even if their records are still mainly old rock cover versions, meaning we move ever further away from Rock and roll clearly has ‘legs’ by the end of this year and is now a global brand again rather than just a bunch of scattered musicians keeping the faith.


Typical song of the year The Byrds “Mr Tambourine Man” and The Who “My Generation” Typical album of the year Simon and Garfunkel “Sounds Of Silence” AAA bands releasing their first records this year: The Byrds; The Who; The Small Faces; The Moody Blues (in their R and B days) Overall trend: The genre splits in two; an even louder, more in-yer-face rebellious pose where newness is key and a softer sound that’s effectively the birth of ‘folk rock’ where tradition is key Lyric of the year: Simon and Garfunkel “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again” The Who “Why don’t you all f-f-f-f-fade away!”1965 is a year in turmoil, with bands splitting their sound into two and, in some cases, splitting altogether (eg The Animals and The Searchers), just as in wider society music fans are split into three camps; the mods, the rockers and those who couldn’t care less either way. Those who do survive go down two different routes: the voice of the disenfranchised youth, tired of his ration-filled war-torn childhood and frustrated over all the things he has to say and those who are looking to the past for answers, seeing rock as simply the new updated part of an ongoing story the human race tells each other in song every generation or so. What’s weird about this movement is that most fans will quite happily buy both, with religious epoch-spanning songs (eg Turn! Turn! Turn!) nestling comfortably on record racks with songs about impending doom and teenage strutting (‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’). Bands like The Beatles somehow manage to combine both (the album ‘Help!’ is basically folkier, but with the proto heavy metal ‘Ticket To Ride’ in the middle of the record), while others like The Kinks are writing folk sounding songs with rock-sarcasm filled lyrics (‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ might only have been as B side but everybody knew it because it summed the times up so well). Simon and Garfunkel are another interesting case by the way: technically they started ‘properly’ in 1964 (after several years making rockabilly records as ‘Tom and Jerry’) and they even released their best known song ‘The Sound Of Silence’ that year. That song was completely wrong for the harsher sound of 1964 – but it’s spot-on for 1965, with Bob Johnstone capturing the mood of the day with a few folk rock overdubs and creating a whole new philosophical college student genre along the way. This is also Dylan’s year, the one where the lyrics arguably become as important as the music and people start writing ‘messages’ into their songs (‘Help!’ being the most obvious example). The Beach Boys, meanwhile, have found another sound altogether, introducing orchestras into the mix for the first time. Meanwhile both The Kinks and George Harrison are getting into sitars, using them on record for the first time on ‘See My Friends’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ respectively – things are clearly heading into new territory...


Typical song of the year: The Hollies “That’s When The Heartaches Begin” Typical album of the year: The Rolling Stones “Between The Buttons” (see review no 9)  AAA Bands releasing their first records this year: The Monkees, Cat Stevens, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Big Brother and the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin Overall trend: A more sophisticated, reigned in version of the R and B influences that came before, with twinges of psychedelia Lyric of the year: The Rolling Stones “Something happened to me, something all so groovy, something happened to me yesterday” 1966 often gets overlooked by musical historians who want to talk about it’s more famous cousin 1967 but its my favourite year. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place, now, with a louder, slightly more manic sound and yet one that’s recorded with more clarity. For the purposes of this article I’ve been cheeky and roped the first month of 1967 into my list – a record amount of bands missed the Xmas deadline that year and did after all record these songs in Autumn 1966. Basically the sound of the year is junior psychedelia and as ever The Beatles are the best example I can give: think of ‘Day Tripper’; its clearly a pop song, with a catchy chorus and the chiming guitar sound of 1965 but there’s something slightly fuzzier around the edges, with the band going for splashes of colour and slightly suggestive lyrics. The Hollies example above is a good example too: the opening track of their ‘Evolution’ album is all manic noisy criss-crossing guitars, chirping basses, booming drums and intense harmonies and yet, as psychedelic as this sounds, there’s no ‘new’ instruments in the mix as yet and its clearly not full blown psychedelia (that’s on their next album ‘Butterfly’). Some musicologists call this ‘freak beat’ – and The Hollies were the best practitioners of the genre ever (they’re sdtill playing this louder R and B with flowers sound in late 1968 when nash leaves the band). Meanwhile ‘newer’ groups starting up this year like the Dead and the Airplane are showing the way forward, with so many new ideas (the Dead don’t play songs; they jam them and sound different every night; the Airplane and Big Brother both have a female lead singer and a much looser improvisatory sound). Not all bands are going in that direction although in retrospect I’m amazed so many are; the other trend of the year is harmless pop, back round again for the younger siblings of the older music fans (The Monkees TV series starts this year and was designed to fill just that gap in the market). Cat Stevens’ first incarnation, as a hip 17 year old writing cute catchy songs, is perfect for the time too. A year of so many possibilities, when the world seemed at everyone’s feet, this is a special year for music collectors and I would say its one with an even higher strike rate than 1967.


Typical song of the year: Pink Floyd “See Emily Play” Typical album of the year: “The Small Faces” AAA Bands releasing their debut albums this year: Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues (in their psychedelic phase) Overall trend: New, new, new: bright album colours, exotic Eastern sounds, bizarre album and song titles and weird ideas – welcome to what Atlantis would have sounded like had it existed, where everything is everywhere and you’re home in time for tea Lyric of the year: Jefferson Airplane: “It’s a wild thyme, I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet!” What a year 1967 was. Or rather, what a years it was. There’s an absolute line that runs between July 1967 (the month ‘Sgt Pepper’ came out) and the six months before that. The first half of the year is pioneering, filled with all the new and exciting sounds and colours you’d expect (and I curse the fact that American TV didn’t start broadcasting in colour till the following year – 1967 just is technicolour in every way) but with a focus: songs are still tightnit three-minute pop songs (The Monkees’ third and fourth albums and the Small faces first Immediate album are good examples). Later in the year songs are longer, looser and battier than before, with bands losing that focus (simply compare ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ the EP set and the 1967 songs that made it to ‘Yellow Submarine’ with ‘Sgt Peppers’). Drugs are clearly the key influence on this year for both musicians and fans, becoming harder and edgier as the year progresses (in an awfully loose generalisation ‘fun’ soft drugs are ‘in’ for 18 months from early 1966 and heavier drugs from the middle of 1967. Through their image, their improvisatory playing and their drug intake Pink Floyd are the archetypal band of the year – alas their early flowering is over as soon as Syd Barrett flies off in the ‘steel breeze’ in the Autumn of that year; like the music started this year the band are never the same again and yet somehow manage to survive in other forms. Another key influence is the Monterey Pop Festival, the first time music fans had gathered together in one place en masse – and the sheer size and spectacle of the event (plus the nice vibes it created) led to so many people thinking they were part of a ‘new’ awakening of human potential and realisation. Everything is new, everything is exciting and peace and flowers are clearly the way forward – and yet, by late 1967 bad drugs, a lack of direction and parental anguish is already killing off the new movement, culminating in the ‘road trip’ of Magical Mystery Tour’ blasted by TV critics when shown on boxing day that year. Un-noticed by most critics, who’ve dismissed the band as anachronisms after the non-appearance of Smile, The Beach Boys are the ones setting the pace with the roots album ‘Wild Honey’ released in December 1967. The future, which seemed so perfect and achievable at the start of 1967, is looking rockier by the end of that year.


Typical song of the year: Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil” Typical album of the year: The Beatles “The White Album” (see review no 25) AAA Bands releasing their debut album this year: None Overall trend: Fragmentation, danger, revolution! Lyric of the year: The Rolling Stones “Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet boy! The summer’s here and the time is right for marching in the street boy!” There are oodles of good examples from 1968 about the mix of influences that year. John Lennon met Yoko Ono and his drug-addled sleepy self got into writing avbant garde material and singing about ‘revolution’ while The White Album offers more genre-hopping per square inch of vinyl than any albvum before or since, with the fragmented side four dissolving under our very ears; The Stones release their rock return ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ as an A side with their most psychedelic song ‘Child Of The Moon’ as the B side before writing the dangerous creepy ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ and rabble rousing ‘Street Fighting Man’; The Kinks are upholding traditions under threat from annihilation (‘Village Green Preservation Society’); The Beach Boys alternate between cuteness and threat (the schizophrenic Friends and 20/20 albums); The Small Faces spoof the whole psychedelia scene that seemed so earnest the year before (‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’), The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane haemorrhage money on poor-selling albums that take months to make after ground-breaking successes in 1967; The Who are drifting with no top 20 singles and no albums that year and The Hollies release nothing, with Graham Nash out the band. You say you want a revolution? Well, that’s what everyone else seemed to think, with a growing fear of hippies now meaning that innocuous jokes about long hair are now becoming wholesale attacks on people seen as a ‘threat’ to the Western way of life and the escalation of troops in Vietnam (which so many young American are drafted into fighting) mean that the optimism of just the year before is now dead in the water. The assassinations of Bobby Kennedy (JFK’s equally groundbreaking younger brother) and Martin Luther King (the greatest spokesperson the anti-segregation movement could have had) just reinforce the idea that the young are ‘under attack’ from their elders. John Lennon’s plea of ‘Nothing’s gonna change my world’ that sounded so real just months before has become the charge of a ‘street fighting man’.


Typical song of the year: Crosby, Stills and Nash “Long Time Gone” Typical album of the year: The Who “Tommy” AAA bands releasing their debut albums this year: Crosby, Stills and Nash; Pentangle Overall trend: ‘Roots’ music, with a more laidback, almost countryish feel to it, with harmonies back in fashion but politics still very much at the forefront of things Lyric of the year: The Beatles “Get back to where you once belonged!” After a difficult 1968 the hippies rally round and give peace one last try, with one the one hand a simpler, more striped back sound relating to ‘roots’ music that related to the feeling of past ‘traditions’ left hanging in the air in 1965 and on the other a much more epic sound, with prog rock and concept albums the theme of the day. In any other year The Who’s epic ‘Tommy’ would have sounded OTT and out of place but in the climate of 1969, with people looking for answers on a big scale its success was immense. The Kinks’ similarly huge-scale ‘Arthur’ should have fitted in perfectly too. Equally The Beatles’ last singles have a mournful elegiac air, from the faux-‘concept’ of the Abbey Road medley to three of the last quartet of singles ‘Let It Be’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and ‘Get Back’. Pentangle are clearly part of this ‘back to your roots’ movement, setting songs that are centuries old against new compositions and keeping that feel of the 1960s being part of an ongoing musical conversation that’s lasted as long as the human race. The year, though, belongs to two things: the birth of Crosby, Stills and Nash as the super group par excellence, with three very different musical visions matched together and unafraid to tackle huge serious concepts and politics with their songs and Woodstock, the festival they ‘own’ after their well received set, where more youngsters come together to bid the sixties goodbye than had ever met in one place before. The vibes aren’t all good, but there’s a feeling that things are coming together after a turbulent 1968 and thanks to a combination of looking to the past and to the future 1969 is another special year for record collectors.   


Typical song of the year: Lindisfarne “Lady Eleanor” Typical album of the year: The Hollies “Confessions Of The Mind” AAA bands releasing their debut albums this year: Lindisfarne Overall trend: More rootsy harmony singing, but with music more splintered than ever before Key lyric: The Beach Boys “Music when you’re alone is like a companion for your lonely soul” 1970 is a curious year; not quite ‘out with the old in with the new’, although many new trends such as glam rock are starting and prog rock is increasing in fanbase. More there’s a fear in the air as so many bands split (The Beatles; CSNY; The Monkees; Simon and Garfunkel) and everything from the 1960s risks being passed by. There’s a pride in the air, too, a feeling that so many things have changed for the better compared to 1960 that there’s a sad feeling that the decade is over too. Music is championed this year like never before, with The Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and The Kinks writing songs/albums about the music business and analysing just exactly why they keep doing what they’re doing now that a whole ‘new’ generation are waiting in the wings ready to take over. Lindisfarne, the one new AAA band of the year, are a good example: resembling a traditional sound, with the tudor setting of ‘Lady Eleanor’ their hot of the year and Pentangle releasing their biggest hits the album ‘Basket Of Light’ and their biggest single ‘Light Flight’. What does the future hold from here? Well, most AAA bands are gone by 1972 and those that aren’t are in the doldrums thereafter (it’s a funny fact that just as the 1960s didn’t really start till 1962 so they don’t really end until 1972). From here-on in though, the battles of equality, justice, youth and peace have got as far as they can go – as far as anybody had ever got them in the history of civilisation – and it’s the next generation’s turn, rebelling against their parents by worshipping money, war and noisier shallower music in response (in an extremely general sense). The lessons of the 1960s never died out, though, with more of the later generations adapting ‘this’ music as their own than anyone had ever adopted music of previous generations. This decade’s music is truly timeless, whatever we’ve made out here, and the lessons that were learnt in the most fast-changing decade in anyone’s living memory will never be forgotten.  

Meanwhile, back in 2012, we look forward to making you company again next issue! Bye for now!

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