Greatest Week in Rock History
December 20, 2003 6:31 AM   Subscribe

The Greatest Week in Rock History (Salon link) - 34 years ago today, Billboard Charts had a outstanding album lineup - perhaps not the best albums ever, but for a single point in time, arguably unmatched for quality, originality, and longevity. Take a look back at the roster: the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Tom Jones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Stones, Santana, the Temptations, Blood Sweat & Tears, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Easy Rider.
posted by madamjujujive (53 comments total)

 
Excellent article. I just wish that Salon would see the light and actually make it easier for people to get to their articles.
posted by insulglass at 7:19 AM on December 20, 2003


It's very easy to read the articles if you pay the small yearly fee. Peoples gots ta eat. /derail
posted by jpoulos at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2003


While I wasn't born then and I don't really like much of the music mentioned, I can't deny that the creativity and talent involved was leaps and bounds above the pure and utter fucking bullshit on the charts nowadays. *tips hat*
posted by angry modem at 7:55 AM on December 20, 2003


Interestingly, being alive at that time, and in my prime rock buying years, I and my friends had a totally different take on that week in music history. Here's a brief rundown:

Abby Road: Better than the grotesque "White Album" and the nightmarish "Let it Be," but distinctly over-ripe, with one of Paul McCartney's most tedious non-White Album songs ever ("Oh Darling") and two of John Lennon's most airless and depressingly Yoko-demonized songs ever, "Come Together" and "She's So Heavy."

Tom Jones: Good for a laugh (though I dig him now). Unpleasant rumors about his sexual proclivities.

Led Zeppelin: Total, disastrous comedown from the Yardbirds. Shrieking girlish vocals and plodding blues progressions. The death of Yardbirds-style, swinging London creativity and cool (we had to wait until the Flamin' Groovies "Shake Some Action" for its return). "Squeeze my lemon until the juice runs down my leg." What wit! What subtlety, what genius!

Creedence Clearwater Revival: The real thing (although phony, like all great American art). Deathless songs you could hear over and over. Authentic genius at work.

The Stones (Let it Bleed): Scary, brilliant. Very creative, except for the draggy blues number. Ready to forgive them for "Their Satanic Majesty's Request."

Santana: Snooze-rockers tainted by association with crappy Woodstock film. Lead guitarist relied too heavily on octaves. One, maybe two good songs. Like all latin-based music, gives big charge right away, palls fast.

Temptations: Crazy, opportunistic Negroes. Formerly great group loses pride, throws self into Sly and the Family Stone imitation business.

Blood, Sweat and Tears: After wonderfully rich and creative the Al Kooper version of this band ("Child is Father to the Man," marred only by Koopers weak vocals), no self-respecting hipster would dream of having anything to do with this overwrought, growly voiced, marching band. Grating in every respect.

Crosby, Stills and Nash: Not even a tenth as good as the Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, or Byrds. These guys should have stayed in their original bands. Only good songs are Graham Nash compositions that would have been much better done by the Hollies. "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" -- hookless complexity for its own sake. Slick careerists.

Easy Rider: Least hip movie ever made. Anything with Doris Day was infinately cooler to watch while high. People were getting off on two things: Jack Nicholson's character, and the parade of great (although already by that time overexposed) rock songs. Compared to pop music, movies are an inferior form of art, and so thoroughly compromised by the fact that it takes several million dollars (and membership in the establishment) to make one, that the words "hip" (or in today's parlance, "alternative") should never be applied to the word "movie." Even a cheesy-but-great song like "Born to be Wild" is greater than any movie it has ever appeared on the soundtrack of.

Mind you, this is what we thought at the time. Many of my opinions have been softened since -- but not by much. The greatest week in rock history happened years earlier, probably in 1965. Everything was way over by Woodstock.
posted by Faze at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2003 [1 favorite]


Yes, some of those albums were/are great, but this reads like yet another self-congratulatory article written by a baby boomer for the edification of other baby boomers.

It seemed pretty fresh and original in 1969, but in a couple of years, it represented the kind of smug, bloated musical excess that gave birth to punk.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:08 AM on December 20, 2003


Maybe someday someone will look at this chart and say the same thing.

...hopefully I'll be dead.
posted by victors at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2003


Faze nailed it. Regardless of era, if it's on the charts, the cool people are going to rag on it. My favorite example is "Dream On". We slagged the shit out of those no-talent Stones/Yardbirds wannabes.
posted by mischief at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2003


Trash Led Zeppelin if you want to, Faze, but 'The Lemon Song' was basically written by Howlin' Wolf (thus the Burnett credit for the song). The lyric 'squeeze my lemon (etc)' had been around long before Led Zeppelin used it.

So 'blame' some bluesmen for that bit of wit, subtlety, and genius.
posted by attackthetaxi at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2003


Faze nailed it. Regardless of era, if it's on the charts, the cool people are going to rag on it.

Paul was not cool. George and John were cool.
Mick could do whatever he wants, Keith and especially Brian were cool.
The 15 minute cover of "Grapevine" by CCW was cool.
"Proud Mary" was never cool.

imho this thread doesn't have to be about being 'cool.'

Creativity is bursty. No matter how much the boomers deserve to be ragged (and god knows we do) that moment in time, for music, was very bursty indeed.

Seven years later, the same happened with movies. Twenty years earlier the same happened with painting. 200 years earlier the same happened in politics.
posted by victors at 9:15 AM on December 20, 2003


About Crosby, Stills, and Nash, while it has become de rigeur among a certain sort of hipster to say things like, "Not even a tenth as good as the Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, or Byrds. These guys should have stayed in their original bands," those statements rely on an exaggeratedly high memory of the earlier bands, and an artificially low opinion of CSN, tainted by their much later "product" and infamous ego-battles.

That first album is astonishing, unless you're determined to prove that such musical attributes as three-part harmony, fingerpicking, acoustic music in general, or multi-instrumental ability are of no interest. (FYI: As a veteran of many early Clash and Dead Kennedys shows, I am hardly a boomer-folkie purist.) "Guinnevere" is the song that Crosby was aiming towards in the Byrds from the early "Airport Song" through "Everybody's Been Burned," and if Buffalo Springfield was obviously so much better than CSN, why do their live performances (granted, tapes are hard to come by) sound like noodling shit?

I'd agree that Nash's Hollies-era "King Midas in Reverse" is the best song he ever wrote (Elvis Costello loves it, btw), that Stills never recorded a song more astonishingly fresh than "Bluebird," and that Young's solo output way outshone most of his input into CSNY -- but still. Stills' super subtle, muted lead lines alchemize Crosby's "Deja Vu" and "Wooden Ships" into something worthy of frissons, the harmonies in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" are bone-thrilling after all these years, and Nash's "Pre-Road Downs" is early punk folk. Alas, after, say, 1974, CSN's output seems more motivated by money than love, but those first two albums kick ass.
posted by digaman at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2003


Way to be, digaman - I have to say I dug Deja Vu more than CSN's first effort, Neil gave them an edge they lacked and I thought his "Country Girl" opus was, frankly, one of the best things he ever did. But in retrospect (I was 2 at the time of release), I can see why the debut was so highly regarded then; if it seems to pale now, it can only be because of the '70s singer-songwriter thing that, unfortunately, is helped prompt.
posted by kgasmart at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2003


Uh, nice tunes, but where was the rhythm? There must have been a lot of just standing around back in the day.
posted by dydecker at 10:30 AM on December 20, 2003


Indeed. And that first album suffers in memory from having been overplayed on boomer-controlled radio for a couple of decades; hell, even Dylan's and the Beatles' songs get tiresome after awhile.
posted by digaman at 10:30 AM on December 20, 2003


dydecker slipped in. "Where was the rhythm?" You'd have to be more specific than that to register a rebuke, unless you're comparing, say, the liquid rhythms of folk music to the pounding assaults of punk. Crosby's "Deja Vu" has rhythm aplenty -- you just have to learn to tap your toe to extended time-signatures that more resemble those of classical Indian music than Chuck Berry or Donna Summer.
posted by digaman at 10:34 AM on December 20, 2003


Uh, nice tunes, but where was the rhythm?

As opposed to what passes for pop music today; nice rhythm - where's the song?
posted by kgasmart at 11:40 AM on December 20, 2003


If you're feeling nostalgic for December 20, 1969 and your city has a Clear Channel "Classic Rock" station, tune it in. It won't be fifteen minutes before you hear a cut off at least one of the albums on that list, and more likely you'll hear two or three of them back-to-back.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:50 AM on December 20, 2003


There must have been a lot of just standing around back in the day.

we danced plenty, you know, in our heads. ...with a little bit of this, a little bit of that, who the fuck needs dancing proper?
posted by victors at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2003


As opposed to what passes for pop music today; nice rhythm - where's the song?

Exactly. But you say it like it's a bad thing!

From the perspective of 2003, there seems to be a great emphasis on melody and little emphasis on rhythm in this music. To me, talking about tapping toes to CS&N time signatures to me kind of epitomizes this mentality. I'll go out on a limb and say boomers can't dance and have never been able to. Watch Woodstock or The Yardbirds in Blow Up and be amazed to see how no one is moving.

The values of pop music have changed so much. Could you imagine Our House or King Midas in Reverse being a hit nowadays? The expression in these songs is so written through the melody that to young ears they sound more like sitcom themes than 21st century pop songs. Practitioners of this kind of thing these days either work on the margins (Robert Pollard) or written off as graverobbers (Noel Gallagher). Meanwhile mainstream pop songs are built on rhythm hooks and the timber of instruments.

It's surprising to me how what is seen as valuable in sixties music hasn't survived in the pop music of today.
posted by dydecker at 12:35 PM on December 20, 2003


*voice of the future*

Rest assured, children of the past; your post could look like this:

The Greatest Week in Rock History (Salon link) - 34 years ago today, Billboard Charts had a outstanding album lineup - perhaps not the best albums ever, but for a single point in time, arguably unmatched for quality, originality, and longevity. Take a look back at the roster: Ruben Studdard, Alicia Keys, Toby Keith, OutKast, Hilary Duff, Sheryl Crow, Britney Spears, Clay Aiken, No Doubt, and Musiq.....
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:58 PM on December 20, 2003


Take a look back at the roster: Ruben Studdard, Alicia Keys, Toby Keith, OutKast, Hilary Duff, Sheryl Crow, Britney Spears, Clay Aiken, No Doubt, and Musiq.....

Well, one (maybe two) out of ten ain't bad. Right? Right?

The point of the Salon article isn't that this was the best music ever made, merely that it was the week where popular and critical opinion most closely collided.

That's all... I don't think I'm qualified to debate what's cool and what isn't.
posted by nath at 1:11 PM on December 20, 2003


I'll go out on a limb and say boomers can't dance and have never been able to. Watch Woodstock or The Yardbirds in Blow Up and be amazed to see how no one is moving.

I don't know, I disagree with this. Remember the nightclub scene in A Hard Day's Night where the crowd is dancing to "Don't Bother Me?" Now that's an undanceable number, but still they're moving to it... methinks that wayyy back then, the vast majority didn't need a beat that clobbered them over the head in order to dance. Whether that dancing was as... whatever as dancing is today is another matter entirely.

Meanwhile mainstream pop songs are built on rhythm hooks and the timber of instruments.

And see, that's why to me, pop music as it's defined today is largely void of any artistic integrity whatsoever. Pop music has given up all pretenses of being an art form and embraced the cold reality that it is a commodity; toothpaste, if you will, that every now and then gets a shiny new package or some brand spanking new ingredient that makes your teeth whiter and brighter without actually achieving anything.

I mean, that's another aspect of Salon's list, isn't it - those artists - the Beatles, Stones, CCR, Temptations, etc. - had something to say. Even those who have something to say today rarely say anything beyond, "Look how cool I am?"
posted by kgasmart at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2003


Even those who have something to say today rarely say anything beyond, "Look how cool I am?"

Or, at best, "one love -- let's get togethaaah..."

This issue is complicated by the fact that "having something to say" itself became a kind of boomer cliche, so having nothing important to say itself became, well, something like radical.

But hopefully, with so many outrages ongoing in the current world picture, it might be possible to start saying things again; still, note how thousands of '60s peace/love/antiwar anthems now seem dated, while the outright nothing-to-say surrealist doggerel of Dylan's basement-tapes-era tunes now seems subversive and smart.

Allen Ginsberg once said something to me that took me years to understand, but he was right: "Anything that comes to mind is the best weapon against the police state."
posted by digaman at 1:59 PM on December 20, 2003


(By the way, I think Ginsberg would have been very very happy to see the proliferation of uncensored dialogue and information-gathering happening on places like Mefi. I was the first person to show Ginsberg the Web, back when I was working at HotWired.)
posted by digaman at 2:04 PM on December 20, 2003


But hopefully, with so many outrages ongoing in the current world picture, it might be possible to start saying things again

I'd like to think so. I mean, rebellion has itself become a commodity sold to kids these days, and for the most part, what are these kids rebelling against - the boredom of suburban life, the few sexual mores our society has left, etc. I mean, now seems like the time when rock and roll or hip hop could begin to make overt political statements if the artists wanted to, but the themes rarely seem to stray beyond angst or hedonosm.

I don't know, I suppose I just look at the sort of rock being made in 1969 and realize that those making it considered it a means to an end. It still could be that way today - perhaps we, the audience, just don't want it to.
posted by kgasmart at 2:06 PM on December 20, 2003


To go back a few posts in the thread and address the "no dancing in the 60s" idea -- There was, in fact, a lot of dancing. Most of it to soul music. Most of it by kids you knew who weren't very smart or very hip. Don't forget, hipsters at the time associated dancing with early 60s phenomena like Twist, and Killer Joe Piro, and sleazeballs in sharkskin pants dancing at the Peppermint Lounge (the first one) and all sorts of just-shy-of-middle-age kind of square moldiness. Why dance to music by the Beatles and all whom they inspired, that was so fulfilling, just to listen to? Not dancing was revolutionary, in its way. Not dancing remained hip, until a new generation of working class white sleazeballs from Brooklyn, etc., picked up the gay and African-American dance habits that evolved into disco, and gave us the Hustle, and a whole new generation of dull, repetitive dance rhythms -- which evolved into something called "dance rock" and everything we have today. Rock, having choked on its own vomit in approximately 1969, had nothing to counter it.
posted by Faze at 2:56 PM on December 20, 2003


Listing today's pop songs and comparing them to 34 years ago seems silly to me. The implication there is that you (or whoever's doing the listing) has the proper perspective. You don't think that that were this article written 34 years ago that the author would be poo-pooing that list and pointing nostaligically to the music of their own youth? It's the "When I was a kid we had real music" syndrome. Every generation can say the same thing. Do I understand the popularity of the shit they play on the radio today? No. But my grandparents didn't understand why my parents listened to what they listened to, either.

Overall, I never really understand why people complain about the music of "today". If you don't like it (and I don't), turn it off. There is just as much *great* music being made today as there ever was, regardless of what genre your tastes lie in--in fact, I'd argue that there is more good music being made today than in any other generation. If people spent as much time researching music as they did bitching about it, they'd have no reason to bitch.
posted by dobbs at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2003


There is just as much *great* music being made today as there ever was, regardless of what genre your tastes lie in--in fact, I'd argue that there is more good music being made today than in any other generation.

I agree with that, but it's a matter of perspective - the longview. Look at that Salon list, and note how much of that music is still a part of the entertainment landscape today - most of it, really.

Look at this week's top 10. How many of those albums will anyone be listening to five years from now, let alone three decades from now?

Even the best of the indie small-time label music, any genre you want, is disposable at best. I work with this woman who burns me disc after disc of stuff she sees on Pitchfork, much of it very good, but I get the feeling she never listens to a disc twice.

So that's fine for some people, but the idea of music this disposable bugs me, in that I do tend to think of music as an art form. It's like we used to paint Cezannes, but today we're fine with velvet Elvises.
posted by kgasmart at 3:22 PM on December 20, 2003


kgasmart: hold on... the vast majority of the music from that era is being "kept alive" by marketers targeting boomers. If klezmer would sell Cadillacs then we wouldn't be hearing Led Zeppelin on tv ads.

on the other hand -- assuming that the current is always the best and anything else is nostalgia is cutting yourself off from important artistic movements.

one more time: that Billboard list is impressive, but it DOES NOT mean 'my generation is better than yours' -- it means my generation was luckier. bigfuggindeal on that count.
posted by victors at 3:46 PM on December 20, 2003


the vast majority of the music from that era is being "kept alive" by marketers targeting boomers.

To a certain extent, sure, but here's another barometer: "Pushed" on them or not, subsequent generations of kids have latched on to this sort of "classic rock" - and I have been among them.

Three decades from now, does an 18-year-old go to see a Limp Bizkit concert?

"Better" is a loaded term in this instance. I think a better term of "commodification"; the biggest change between then and now is the concept of music as a commodity; it's always been that, of course, but never has the marketing/sales machine run as efficiently and effectively as it does right now.

That, and the idea that back then, labels would stick with the artist over the course of more than an album or two; today there is far more pressure to hit big and hit now. Then, you could follow your favorite band over the course of a career, over a span of albums and marvel at the genesis, the maturation process. Beyond U2 and REM, what other contemporary band can this be said of? Is there really any artistic progression on the likes of Britney Spears?
posted by kgasmart at 3:59 PM on December 20, 2003


I can vouch that, as a teenager, I once danced to "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" and both I and my dancing partner survived nearly unscathed. (It was basically a dare: "It's a pretty long song"; "I can dance 'til the end if you can"; "Make sure you got your asthma inhaler"... my high school years were so romantic...)
posted by wendell at 4:08 PM on December 20, 2003


You can't compare charts today to this list--This is what you compare from 1969 to today's hits (top 100 songs of the year: at the top is Sugar, Sugar by the Archies). These are the songs I and all the other little kids and teens were listening to in endless rotation on top 40 radio (on AM). These were the 45s we bought, and it really wasn't an album era, at least for the mainstream--it was singles, much like today, IMO.
posted by amberglow at 4:10 PM on December 20, 2003


I agree with that, but it's a matter of perspective - the longview. Look at that Salon list, and note how much of that music is still a part of the entertainment landscape today - most of it, really.

I suppose. But is that your criteria for what's good music to you? How is that any better than Sally buying Britney because Terry did?

How much of the music on that chart do *I* listen to, that's what's important to me. And from that list, very little. Not because I don't think it's good music, but because I don't need to hear another Led Zep or Beatles song ever again. Does anyone? (Okay, excuse the hyperbole, but really...)

At the same time, I listen to those artists much more than I listen to anything that's on the charts today. But I listen to what I like, being made today, more than both of those combined. Does it matter to me if such and such likes Smog, GBV, Stars of the Lid, or Songs: Ohia, or whoever else I hold dear? Not in the slightest.

Though I think it's a travesty that radio has "sold out" and that quality has nothing to do with what's popular, I think that's a different issue than "Is there any good music, today." I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't think you can blame the artists for what's popular today; blame the listener who settles for that nonsense.

Look at this week's top 10. How many of those albums will anyone be listening to five years from now, let alone three decades from now?

I don't know. I just know that three decades from now I'll be listening to as much of it as I do today, which is pretty much zero. At least by choice. Thirty years from now will I still listen to what I like today? I think so. Perhaps for the same reason the local rock station has to "get the Led out" every day at 4 or whatever. Nostaligia. But I like to think that I'll be grooving to whatever quality tunes are being made in 2034 as I'll be pretty damned tired of Thalia Zedek's "Been Here and Gone" and Chokebore's "Taste for Bitters" by then (same as I am of anything Beatles today).

Even the best of the indie small-time label music, any genre you want, is disposable at best.

I don't agree with this at all. In addition, how indie the label is shouldn't be a criteria.

What I find interesting is that in the mid 80s, when I was in my teens, the popular music was just as shit as it is today. On the outskirts, musically, people were listening to Husker Du and Black Flag and other "unpopular" bands. Are Husker Du and Black Flag less relevant 15-20 years later. Nope. Can you say the same thing about Nick Kershaw, The Thompson Twins, or Culture Club? No. But they were the people with the hits. Why should I expect it to be any different with the people with hits today?

I work with this woman who burns me disc after disc of stuff she sees on Pitchfork, much of it very good, but I get the feeling she never listens to a disc twice.

I know lots of people like this as well. But again, why should it matter to me?

So that's fine for some people, but the idea of music this disposable bugs me, in that I do tend to think of music as an art form. It's like we used to paint Cezannes, but today we're fine with velvet Elvises.

I suppose where we differ is that you're thinking about it as "we" and I'm thinking about it as "I".

Though the article linked was a fine read, I would much rather read an indepth piece about why what's popular today is so--an article about how radio works or how people decide what to buy. Statements like "there will never be another top 10 like this ever" (yeah, I'm paraphrasing) seem woefully ignorant to me. 2003 has been a great year for music with stellar releases from The Constantines, M Ward, The Books, Lightning Bolt, Sufjan Stevens, My Morning Jacket, Cat Power, The Rapture, and multiple releases from Songs: Ohia, Guided by Voices, The Decemberists, and Bobby Birdman. Will some of these albums fade, only enjoying a short "I love it" life? Definitely. But many of them will be just as vital sounding in 30 years as they are today.

"But Britney Spears won't be!"? Who cares?
posted by dobbs at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2003


I heard "Everybody's Been Burned" for the first time for ages last week, and was again astonished at its plaintive beauty. David Crosby's vocal is one of the sweetest and saddest I've heard, and the melody, to me, is very reminiscent of Miles Davis. Give it a listen.

OT, what's the difference between then and now? In a word, heart.
posted by emf at 4:44 PM on December 20, 2003


Yeah, but dobbs, you're defining this in the personal where I'm looking at it from a more collective standpoint. In that pop music used to be something of a cultural unifier.

I suppose it's the same thing as television, in that in 1969 you had three major networks and little else to choose from, whereas today there's this whole smorgasbord of programming, anything you want. It's the same with music, in that absolutely anything you want is out there. I'm a big power pop fan and there are labels putting out nothing but this specific genre of music. Which is great for me - it really is.

But in another sense, this balkanization of the pop landscape dilutes the cultural impact of the music. You listed some great albums, dobbs - My Morning Jacket is one of my favorites from this past year - but most of it is notable for its obscurity. Whereas with the '69 list, the music everyone agreed kicked ass actually sold hundreds of thousands of copies apiece; as nath said, critical opinion and popular tastes intersected and you've got songs that leave a lasting impression as much for their ambition as their tunefulness.
posted by kgasmart at 4:58 PM on December 20, 2003


I heard "Everybody's Been Burned" for the first time for ages last week, and was again astonished at its plaintive beauty. David Crosby's vocal is one of the sweetest and saddest I've heard, and the melody, to me, is very reminiscent of Miles Davis. Give it a listen.

Nicely put, emf. I personally believe that while Crosby is more or less mostly famous at this point for being a fat drug addict, lesbian inseminator, or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, future generations will recognize that his best music ("Everybody's Been Burned," "Guinnevere," "Song with No Words," "Tamapais High," "Kids and Dogs," "Rusty and Blue," etc.) was a fascinating hybrid of Miles' modal excursions and the haunting, mysterioso quality of old British ballads.
posted by digaman at 5:50 PM on December 20, 2003


Interesting discussion, and close to my corporate-hater, ex-punk heart. I need to think about this some more.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:55 PM on December 20, 2003


I agree with what you're saying, kgasmart, and I am aware of the different angles we're approaching this from. But what always seems present--though is usually unspoken--in these types of discussions is a judgement on the people buying today's popular music: that these people are stupid. I simply don't agree that its that simple. Looked at from another angle, '69s shopping public did the same thing that today's shopping public does: they buy what the radio tells them to buy. Why is the radio telling them to buy this gawdawful music? Money, of course. Therein lies the tragedy. Not in 15 year old Susan who likes Britney Spears.

I'm willing to bet that the majority of people who buy this music are oblivious to the options available to them whereas I find most people discussing this seem to think that these people have heard most of what's available and made a conscious choice to buy the shit.

My roommate thinks I'm crazy, but I honestly think that if the people who buy this crap were given some albums by quality artists, they would "switch" to the good side, so to speak. Why do I believe this? Because this is exactly what happened to me. At 18 I listened to Phil Collins-era Genesis, Bryan Adams, etc. I then started hanging around people who listened to Tom Waits, Husker Du, and the Dead Kennedys, all music that I wasn't even aware existed. Maybe I was naive, but I wasn't stupid (I don't think). The fact that "someone" was keeping me from even hearing this music infuriated me and I turned off my radio and have never turned it back on.

The big deception is that people are lead to believe that what's popular is not only what's good, but that it is their only option.

as nath said, critical opinion and popular tastes intersected and you've got songs that leave a lasting impression as much for their ambition as their tunefulness.

This statement, though accurate, ignores the fact that in those days, for the most part, the critic and the DJ were the same person. This is not the case today. Listeners are still listening to the DJ's "advice"--they're just not aware that the DJ is an automaton. :)
posted by dobbs at 5:56 PM on December 20, 2003


At 18 I listened to Phil Collins-era Genesis, Bryan Adams, etc. I then started hanging around people who listened to Tom Waits, Husker Du, and the Dead Kennedys, all music that I wasn't even aware existed.

Precisely my story, except I still listen to the crap-pop stuff too sometimes, for nostalgia's sake if nothing else.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:21 PM on December 20, 2003


I'm willing to bet that the majority of people who buy this music are oblivious to the options available to them whereas I find most people discussing this seem to think that these people have heard most of what's available and made a conscious choice to buy the shit.

I think you've got two kinds of people: People for whom music is background noise and little more, and people who are into music. And people who are into music will eventually come to a point where they are able to differentiate between genres they like and genres they do not like. And if they realize that what they're being force-fed via pop radio consists almost entirely of what they don't like, then they might go looking for someone else.

Either that or, like you (and me) they'll meet people they deem cool who listen to different things and broaden their horizons.

I guess I just wonder if half the people buying CCR and the Stones in '69 were just sort of making the clueless lemming-like purchase or whether they were investing more in their pop music, emotionally, than is invested today. And if so, why they did that. Any boomers out there to enlighten me?
posted by kgasmart at 6:24 PM on December 20, 2003


Any boomers out there to enlighten me?

Well, you're going to get different answers depending on who you ask, and the mythology that's grown up surrounding the era is probably going to obfuscate things even more. But yes, there were a lot of people who really thought the the Stones and the Beatles were going to change the world. And yes, there were an equal number of people who bought their albums because all their friends had them. Same as it ever was, same at it ever was, same...as...it...ever...was.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:01 PM on December 20, 2003


This is a very interesting topic. From Amberglow's link, I looked and found the Top 20 songs from the year I graduated high school. How many of those would I listen to now? Maybe three, at the most.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:08 PM on December 20, 2003


I think you've got two kinds of people: People for whom music is background noise and little more, and people who are into music.

I used to think this. I no longer do. I try to share music (legally) as much as I can with people. More often than not these people become excited by the music they're hearing, regardless of whether they thought of themselves as "music people" or not. Most of the people I meet who tell me they're "not into music" are not into music because they hate the shit on the radio but don't have a clue as to their options. Once they're turned onto something that thrills them, they become "music people". That's my experience, anyway.

For instance, last year I made 60 double cds for people at work. (I worked at a travel company.) People ranged in age from early 20s to late 50s. It went over smashingly and for the 8 months that I remained there I was asked almost daily for what new music to buy and what gigs to go to. These people were most definitely not "music people" prior. I don't think I heard a single music conversation in the first 5 months I was there.

During the 2003 blogathon, I gave away 28 mp3s by my favorite musicians--most of them tracks never heard by anyone before (unreleased, just recorded, out of print, demos, etc.)--participating artists here (self link). Tons of people emailed thanks to say they'd never heard such and such and were now going to buy an album or two. Sure, no doubt some of them were music freaks already, but I doubt all of them were.

I honestly think that in order to get people to stop listening to Britney and artists of her ilk you only have to let them hear good music. Don't preach to them or tell them their music sucks. Just lend them a CD.
posted by dobbs at 12:31 AM on December 21, 2003


Great discussion!

The point about this list, I think, is that it was an exceptionally fruitful period and that, in retrospect, it is noteworthy that much of the music proved seminal and has withstood the test of time. Whether it is indeed *the best week* will always be subjective. Granted, much of the list suffers from decades of oversaturation ad nauseum. But at the time, except for those ahead of the curve (I'm looking at you Faze), much of the music on that list was fresh (or "bursty" as victors puts it) and emerged from the ground up, not the industry down. And the message of the music was, for many, a unifying generational force...very anti-war, anti-establishment, peace, pro-youth, pro-pot and open sexuality - at that time, this did indeed feel "revolutionary." There was a sense that barriers were being broken, and that the music industry had a tiger by the tail rather than the reverse. Remember, the industry wasn't quite the ubiquitous monolith it is today - no Clear Channel. "Packaging" of the artists hadn't evolved to the formulaic the way it has today. Even the venues for concerts were different. You could see Santana, Led Zepplin, CCN, CCR, and the Byrds in small venues which wouldn't happen with anyone on the top 10 list today. I went to concerts for many of the giants of the era, all in venues of 1,500 or less on small campuses and in small clubs. Oh, and we danced.

Whatever the nature of the hits of the day, there is always lesser known music that is deserving and better that never quite gains critical mass. Was it right that these musicians became so famous when much of the "race music" that they ripped off was so much more raw and pure? Sam Phillips of Sun Studios claims that he saw white rock bands as a way to get the black music that he loved out to a wider audience. And indeed, many of the top rock artists of the day dragged blues legends from obscurity and menial jobs to give them a measure of public exposure and acclaim that they had never enjoyed on their own, sad to say.

Having access to more esoteric music or musical subcultures was much more difficult. There was no internet, no cd burning, affordable tape recorders were gangly, awkward things with poor sound quality. Today's technology happily allows musical sub-cultures and specialty genres to thrive in a way that wasn't possible then. Finding out about blues events and blues performers used to be hard work for me, and accessing the music a chore - it's easy now. Having greater access will hopefully help to break the chokehold of a giant industry whose business is about sales not art.

And one point needs making. While it is obvious that critical acclaim doesn't make music inherently good, it also doesn't make it inherently bad. Sometimes music becomes popular because it is indeed good. Unfortunately, popularity has a negative momentum, and the shark jumping phenomena usually ensues.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:59 AM on December 21, 2003


This is a great discussion; I'm glad I dropped in. (I just assumed it would be another "that music sucked!" "no it didn't!" slugfest.) Lots of great comments, with Faze especially kicking ass -- a tad hard on the Beatles and CSN, but made up for by name-checking the Groovies and "Shake Some Action." And I'll second what MrBaliHai said about "a lot of people who really thought the Stones and the Beatles were going to change the world"; I doubt anyone thinks that about any music made today, no matter how good it is. I no longer think anything is going to change the world; that's doubtless a wiser attitude, but I miss the younger, simple-minded me.

On the issue of the album chart, the point is that the good stuff made the charts back then; I love the DKs and the Minutemen and the Replacements and Husker Du and Black Flag, but none of them had a hope of widespread popularity. It was nice to be able to turn on your radio and hear something great by the Stones or Motown or CCR, back in the day.
posted by languagehat at 11:16 AM on December 21, 2003


Dobbs, you said that people would enjoy 'better' quality music if only they could hear it. But I think you're missing one point: the record company execs are (essentially) only interested in making money and if they could make more by pushing/selling GBV or whoever instead of Clay and Ruben, they surely would.

Presumably, if popularity was directly correlated to visibility, then record execs (who, mostly, are music fans themselves and easily capable of coming to judgments similar to your own) would make different choices. But they don't, so I think that your assertions are wrong even though I'd prefer them to be correct.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2003


billsaysthis, yes, I recognize that conundrum (But I think you're missing one point: the record company execs are (essentially) only interested in making money and if they could make more by pushing/selling GBV or whoever instead of Clay and Ruben, they surely would.)...

Presumably, if popularity was directly correlated to visibility

I don't think it's just visibility, per se, but what's visible. It's far easier for record execs to sell image than music. Tattooed ganstas and young hotties busting out of their shirts don't even need to be heard to sell records to today's youth. The physical appeal of these "pop" stars can't be compared to the drunken antics of Bob Pollard, for instance, or the just crawled from the sewage-pipe photos of, say, Elliott Smith.

I suppose part of my point is that these artists are not being compared (and bought) on the one thing they should be: sound. And, to be clear, by no means am I suggesting that every Eminem, Britney, Jay-Z, or Avril fan (I know, to many people those performers aren't comparable) is gonna convert to something more sincere, unique, or genuine sounding on first listen (or any listen), but I think that a lot of the people settling for the radio would be delighted to hear what else is available.

The problem becomes how to get these artists into the hands of people who haven't heard them but would appreciate them and this is a hurdle that no one, in my opinion, has jumped yet, at least not on as consistent a basis as execs have shoveled out the clones we hear on today's radio.

record execs (who, mostly, are music fans themselves

To some extent I agree with you, but do I think record exec == music geek or even music fan? No, because I see very little proof of that in the pudding, so to speak.

Certainly, there are execs who love music. Tom Sarig, for instance, was an exec at MCA and TVT before starting The Short List of Music a few years back. (He first came to my attention in 1999 when he emailed asking for a copy of a double CD he'd heard I'd compiled and was sending out as a christmas card.) There's no doubt that Tom's keen to get great music heard and I think the Short List is great, but it's just a start on a long journey.

When I've had this discussion with people in the past, I always get asked why someone doesn't grab one of these people, clean them up, and shove them in the spotlight. It's an interesting question and one a friend answers, "They did. His name was Kurt Cobain. Look what happened." Though obviously this is a simplification, I don't think the claim is without merit.
posted by dobbs at 12:43 PM on December 21, 2003


So what sells, Dobbs, is overall experience including imagery but what you would like to have count is only music. I hear that but you seem to be fighting one of those "I wish the world was a different way" battles with such an argument.
posted by billsaysthis at 3:25 PM on December 21, 2003


billsaysthis, yes. exactly. :)
posted by dobbs at 4:30 PM on December 21, 2003


It's worth pointing out that the image-based nature of music marketing was around, at least for top 10 acts, back in the '60s too. I mean, the Beatles for fuck's sake--there's a shop near my place that sells nothing but vintage Beatles memorabilia/marketing crud--dolls, lunchboxes, you name it, almost all featuring the four-moptops-in-black-suits image they used in their early US days. The Stones' sleazy vibe was undoubtedly at least partly a calculated move, as was Zep's dabbling in mysticism, Yes' trippy Roger Dean artwork, etc. Of course, you could argue that none of those bands had quite the level of image consciousness of a Britney Spears (who apparently stages each song as a complete set-piece w/costumes and FX to match the video) but you could argue Bowie or (Peter Gabriel-era) Genesis did. Or, for that matter, the Pistols, Damned or Misfits.

And it seems a bit stodgy and elitist to assume that those who only like crappy overground music somehow like it in a less "authentic" mode than whatever the True Hip Underground might be. I've met a lot of people who seem to love every little detail of music I consider banal and commercial, but I've learned to respect that it means something to them. Not always understand, mind you, but respect. Unless it's that dude's kid brother from Ask.Mefi who only listens to Insane Clown Posse. That's just sad.
posted by arto at 11:24 PM on December 21, 2003


We're manipulated all the time - and we love it.

.The Stones' sleazy vibe was undoubtedly at least partly a calculated move...

Someone said in a TV doco the Beatles were working-class pretending to be middle-class, whereas the Stones were the reverse. Rather perceptive, I thought.
posted by emf at 4:22 AM on December 22, 2003


Once again, this is what's great about pop (usually American, but in this case English) culture -- the phoney is just as good, if not better, than the sincere. The upper-middle-class Rolling Stones were little white boys pretending to be American Negroes -- and therefore should have been contemptible. But in fact, the Negro mask allowed them to access wells of creativity that they might never have reached in their genuine personas. But one might say that blues artists like Muddy Waters were themselves fake Negroes, playing up to someone's idea of how crude, simple Mississippi field hands ought to think and sing and play. I mean, look at "Hootchie Kootchie Man." Willie Dixon wrote down to the blues market like any Brill Building or Tin Pan Alley composer, and they all played the act to the hilt. It's ironic that the Beatles, who were more or less true to their middle and lower-middle class selves, are seen by some as less "authentic" and "gritty" than the phonus balonus Stones. There are all sorts of wonderful ironies going on in pop music -- even and especially today's pop music, that make it such a wonderful study...
posted by Faze at 5:37 AM on December 22, 2003


I agree with many of your observations, Faze but for one cavil...there was nothing ersatz about Muddy Waters. He did grow up in a cabin in rural Mississippi, and lived there til he was 28 or so. As a sharecropper, he picked cotton and plowed fields - pretty authentic blues roots, he wasn't faking. Willie Dixon too came from the backwaters. If Waters played less authentically, he might have achieved greater mass acclaim.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:14 AM on December 22, 2003


It's worth pointing out that the image-based nature of music marketing was around, at least for top 10 acts, back in the '60s too.

A friend of mine is fond of saying, "What were the Monkees if not a precursor to New Kids on the Block?"
posted by dobbs at 12:19 PM on December 22, 2003


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