Soul and Tamla Motown

The Supremes and the Tamla Motown

Soul music was so prevalent by the end of the ’60s that the word itself took on a world of meaning for black America. “Black people identified themselves as soul brothers and soul sisters,” says Nelson George, who has been writing about African-American music and culture for more than 30 years.

As the fervent optimism and vocal intensity of gospel joined with the secular energy of rhythm & blues, a powerful idiom emerged in which individual expression and the social activity of dance combined. The triumph of Soul music meant a lot, signifying a major shift in popular musical taste in America. Songs like Otis Redding’s Respect -especially as performed by Aretha Franklin- or James Brown’s Say It Loud took the music into a more political area.

Commercial confidence was vital, too, and no-one showed this better than Berry Gordy, Jr. His Motown company, formed in 1960 and based in Detroit, not only pioneered black ownership in the music business, but operated a system of in-house production which ensured that all stages of a record’s life remained within the company’s control.

The Tamla Motown “sound”, epitomized by the Supremes and the Four Tops, was patronizingly described as “pop-soul”; Motown was too inventive, however, to be constrained as a mere hybrid of black music and white commerce. Soul music has grown and changed and kept up with the times. Today, it seems to be enjoying a revival.

Next Page: Rock Festivals: Woodstock, Live Aid

Rocking Round the World

The Rolling Stones - Rocking Round the World

The Rolling Stones are arguably the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world so to secure a performance from them is amazing. The Stones, who first formed in 1961, August 31, and played their first ever gig outside England in 1963 at the Royal Lido Ballroom in Prestatyn. And although the four remaining members – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood – are now all around 60, they say they are still enjoying performing live.

‘We do enjoy ourselves doing it. Everyone has been saying how can they enjoy themselves, they should be bored to death doing this,’ Jagger said, in an interview from Dallas, Texas. ‘If we were bored to death, we would not be doing it.’

By early 1967, with no small contribution from the news media, the San Francisco area was being celebrated as the center of the new lifestyle. “Flower-power”, that intoxicating antithesis to all that was conventional, attracted would-be hippies from all over, and also had a sweet smell of dollars to a record industry not averse to striking an anti-Establishment stance.

There was a price to pay on both sides. Never before had record companies granted their performers such latitude; never had they laid their own principles open to mockery. Yet for the performer there was no escaping the fact that, try as the companies might to seem streetwise and create the illusion of shining revolutionary ideals, to sing up with a record company was fundamentally to join the “system”.

It was nevertheless intriguing that the major companies went as far as they did. The counter culture was essentially a movement of and for the middle-class male. Its ideas of liberation, especially when crudely understood as “from work, for sex”, struck resonant chords across a broad spectrum of American male society, whose members sought to take advantage of the freedoms being won by the countre-culture.

In the process of cofounding (with a host of other Jamaican musicians) and popularizing reggae, Marley became more than just the Third World’s first musical superstar—a feat that was of course noteworthy in and of itself. In the second half of the 1970s he became widely recognized as one of the region’s preeminent and most highly regarded spokesperson. firiting on Marley as a postcolonial figure, with a particular focus on Africa and a hint of hyperbole, Eusi Kwayama puts this aspect of the reggae star’s status in perspective: “Bob Marley’s music has done more to popularise the real issues in the African liberation movement than several decades of backbreaking work by Pan-Africanists and international revolutionaries.” It is appropriate that in a career filled with stirring shows, from his native Kingston to New York to London, the signal performance of Marley’s life should have occurred in the Third World.

The middle-class nature of the movement is also evident in the development of two closely related ideas and practices: rock music as art, and rock criticism. As musicians’ solos grew more ambitious, and their Iyrics more involved, it became obvious that there was a role for the interpreter, outside the existing trade and fan magazines.

Rock criticism grew out of the “underground pressing most clearly the ideals of the youth movement. As practised in the newly founded journals such as Rolling Stone and Creem, it operated at least partly on a circular argument: rock’s growing seriousness made criticism necessary, and criticism’s existence proved rock’s seriousness. The step from “serious” to “art”was a small one, especially when aided by the wellknown parallel between the esthetics of modern bohemianism and those of the 19th-century Romantics, whose revolutionary achievements in art, politics and life criticism had been enshrined sky-high.

Jimi Hendrix, who came to Britain in 1966 at the behest of Animal Chas Chandler and formed a trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, fusing blues, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and the pyschedelic lyrics, drugs, and instrumental effects with which many British groups, among them Pink Floyd and the Beatles, had been experimenting. Hendrix also jammed with Cream and was an important influence on Clapton.

The academic study of popular music, while often bedeviled by the contradictions implied in much sixties’ rock criticism, owes it many debts. Not least is that of having articulated the links between culture and politics. On the public level, this connection was made most clearly by the responses of the counter-culture to the Vietnam War (and especially to police intimidation of demonstrators) and to the continuing racial unrest. Short lived though these responses were, they pointed to a breakdown of the barrier that had traditionally separated politics from life. “The personal had become political”, and this was a profound achievement for the counter-culture of the 1960s.

Next Page: Soul and Tamla Motown

California Dreamin’

California Dreamin'

It was to California that the focus of musical attention shifted in the middle of the decade. The state had a laid-back image, at a time when ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary was extolling the virtues of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out with the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, but this was only partly responsible. The tradition of racially integrated audiences on the West Coast had produced a rich ndercurrent of musical culture, out of which emerged the only “indigenous” music that could rival British beat in its ability to inject nw life into popular music.

The relaxed, celebratory nature of “surf music”, as purveyed by bands such as the Beach Boys, seemed deplorably hedonistic beside the tense concern of the “folkies” in New York’s Greenwich Village, but surf music, like British beat, demonstrated the vitality of the country’s musical traditions, and the rich possibilities still within them for the development of distinctive styles. One important feature of the West Coast scene was the role of the record producer. The work of Phil Spector in particular gave the producer unprecendented significance, and created a core of session musicians with a wealth of hard-earned experience. These factors, and the West Coast’s film and entertainment industry (and its dollars) all encouraged the westward migration of American musicians.

The emergence and fate of the counter-culture in California’s two major cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and its spread across much of the nation, has been much discussed. Music as consistently to the forefront of this complex of esthetic, political and social aspirations, where mysticism rubbed shoulders with revolution, where a sharply focused anti-materialism was allied with a much fuzzier, drug-induced belief in the ease of “self-discovery”. And although the counter culture asserted its dislike of commerce, the involvement of music, musicians and record companies soon compromised this stance.

Los Angeles provided the first venue for the familiar encounter between music and business in its new guise. Through a little slow to begin, the city’s record companies soon recognized the market potential of “folk rock”, following the success in 1965 of the Byrds’ distinctive studio-sound version of Dylan’s Tambourine Man. In late 1965 Variety magazine coined a celebrated headline, “Folk+Rock+Protest = Dollars”. The trend was epitomized by the contrived “protest” of the chart-topping single Eve of Destruction by Barry MacGuire in 1965.

Record companies eagerly followed such successes and musicians could begin to look for what they had admired in the Beatles, that combination of creative independence and financial reward. But Los Angeles moguls had other strings to their bows; before long they marketed the Monkees- a family version of the Beatles for television consumption. Concurrent with rock’s growing sense of maturity and independence, the Monkees’ fame was a reminder of the continuing importance of the teenage pop market.

Farther up the coast, meanwhile, San Francisco maintained a certain disdain for the material culture that so exercised Los Angeles. The absence of record-company involvement in the music scene there permitted San Francisco’s music to develop along its own, less market-conscious lines. Crucially, in the words of critic Dave Laing: “The San Francisco musicians worked from a sense that they were part of something more significant than an entertainment industry.”In dances and, especially, in multi-media light shows, music’s sense of community was joined to psychedelia, the visual and aural experiences paralleling those obtained from the newly popular (and still legal, until 1967) drug, LSD.

Next Page: Rocking Round the World

British Beat Conquers the World

British Beat Conquers the World

The Beatles-led British invasion of American airwaves and record stores in the 1960s influenced all aspects of the American popular music scene. In Britain and the United States, few towns were without their amateur groups, almost all of whom attempted to write some of their own material. Self-penned songs were unusual for the mainstream of popular music, but held no fears for folk revivalists; what struck them most forcibly was the immense, unsuspected capacity of this new form of rock’n’ roll for personal expression.

The greatest impact of British music may not have been on “creative artists”, however, but on the music industry. The industry had grown bored with the popular – music scene in the early 1960s. The Beatles in particular reawakened its interest. The reinvigoration of popular music recording brought with it a search for new ways of marketing, and a scramble for new performers to meet the demand.

The Beatles pioneered the idea that the long-playing record (LP) should be more than a discrete collection of unrelated songs. This encouraged the industry to move much of its popular music production into that area – a shift made permanent a little later in the decade by the arrival of the “concept album” (usually attributed to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967). And the simple but effective notion of reducing the traditional number of tracks (and hence the royalties) meant that LP’s could be sold at the same price but bring in more revenue for the music industry.

To an audience that took its music with a growing seriousness, the LP was confirmation of the status of that music. It also proved particularly attractive to the ever-increasing number of FM (frequency modulation) radio stations in the United States. This system of broadcasting, conceived in 1933, was based on a fuller range of frequency than AM (amplitude modulation), and was characterized by its ability to filter out intruding noises.

Finally taking hold in the 1960s, FM statitons steadily grew in number, helped by several related factors such as the introduction of stereo sound in about 11960 (stereo systems soon came complete with FM); the consequent improvement in LP quality; and the adoption of the LP for rock records. Beginning in San Francisco, FM stations became closely associated with “progressive” rock.

Next Page: California Dreamin’

Here Comes Beatlemania!

Here Comes Beatlemania!

The Beatles were the most influential, groundbreaking and successful popular music group of the rock era. No artists of any sort, with the arguable exception of Elvis Presley, have achieved the Beatles’ combination of popular success, critical acclaim and broad cultural influence.

One further reason for rock’n’roll’s fading into entertainment had been that British listeners had no means of recognizing, let alone comprehending, the context within American culture from which it sprang, and therefore heard it in a vacuum.

By the early sixties, however, skiffle had led many to an interest in black rhythm& blues, often via records brought over by sailors and American servicemen. From this they began to form a sense of the depth, significance and vitality of Afro-American musical culture, and of the unexplored potential within rock `n’ roll.

Inspired by the “skiffle boom”, a student at Quarry Bank School in Liverpool named John Lennon decided to form a group in 1957 which laid the foundation to what was to become the most famous rock band of all time. John’s original name was “The Blackjacks”. However, this name only lasted a week and John used the school name as inspiration for the later name “The Quarry Men” in March 1957. John sang and played guitar, Colin Hanton played drums, Eric Griffiths on guitar, Pete Shotton on washboard, Rod Davis on banjo and Bill Smith on tea-chest bass. Bill was soon replaced by Ivan Vaughan.

The surge of British “beat” music which followed the meteoric rise of the Beatles (from number 19 in the charts in December 1962 to unchallenged supremacy by the late summer of 1963) was greeted with much national wonderment on all sides; the grassroots activity which lay behind it had passed unobserved. This outbreak of energy and creativity from overlooked people in ignored regions – notably Liverpool and Newcastle – suggested that the country might still be alive after all.

The new music overwhelmed the British teenagers. As well as transforming the British Top 20, it engendered a spate of hysterical enthusiasm from the public – musicians such as the Beatles were greeted by screaming teenage girls every time they were seen in public. “Beatlemania” may, in part, have been generated by the popular press. But its chief importance lies in the fact that for the first time girls took a leading role in the formation of popular culture.

British girls had not enjoyed the same opportunities as their American counterparts to participate in creating and enjoying the stardom of their heroes. For them, “the sounds of pop were deeply associated with a largely `bedroom culture’ of pin-ups and a Dansette record-player”. Beatlemania not only permitted this adulation to come into the open, it aslo provided girls with the chance to impose themselves in some way upon events around them.

Their first single “Love Me Do” was issued on October 5, 1962, and was a modest hit. 1963 and 1964 proved to be the most important years in their careers. In 1963 the “Beatlemania” craze had started in Britain and The Beatles were no longer support acts at concerts. Now they were starring in the Royal Variety Show and the highest rating TV show “Sunday Night At The London Palladium”.

Their biggest year was 1964 when they conquered the biggest record market in the world – America. The group became symbols. America was mourning the death of President John F. Kennedy and The Beatles appeared on the scene to bring them fun and excitement and end their mourning. They also brought back rock ‘n’ roll to America.
In the wake of the Beatles, pop music held center stage in fashionable culture for the first time. But as it did so other groups were emerging from deeper explorations of rhythm&blues with a more profoundly unsettling music. The Rolling Stones, the Animals and others appealed to a wide section of the youth audience who felt that society’s cuddly adoption of the Beatles and “beat” had undermined the element of opposition which was fundamental to the music.

On the other side, sentinels ever on watch for moral degeneration began to clear their throats at the Stones’ way of mixing middle-class bohemianism with a troubling and arrogant display of very un-British eroticism. In the end, The Beatles became true legends. Their music touched all our lives. The Beatles wanted more than just to “Be Beatles”, they wanted happiness.

A happiness that they once had back when they first became successful. John found happiness with his one true love Yoko, his Plastic Ono Band, and son Sean; Paul found happiness with Linda, his children, and Wings; George found happiness with his solo career, Olivia, and his son Dhani; and Ringo found happiness with his solo career, acting career, Barbara, and his sons. They will always be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in history.

Next Page: British Beat Conquers the World