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Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age Of Rock (1969) - Chapters 16; 17; 18; 19
16 R&B England (page 162)
Outside of mainstream pop fans, there is a separate subbreed of English teenager, roughly classifiable as the Art Student, which goes in for violent bouts of musical insanity, one-shot fads that come out of nowhere and explode into huge obsessions and then drop dead quite suddenly, never again to be mentioned.
Along this tradition, there was Skiffle in the mid-fifties and Trad around i960 and R&B in 1964 and, in the summer of 1967, of course, there was Flower Power.
The symptoms haven’t varied much: the subject regards itself as several cuts above teenagers in general, being more intellectual and altogether more soulful, and it gets very scornful about any pop outside of its own cult of the moment. Mostly, it isn’t an art student at all, it’s only a weekend dropout, but it has the mannerisms off, even the uniforms, and you have to be a bit fly to spot the difference.
Over the years, it has usually gone big for beards and nuclear disarmament, hitch-hiking, all-night raves, pop and getting its picture in the News Of The World.
Numerically, of course, it has only been a small minority, a stable hundred thousand or so, but it has always been fanatic, it has punched much more than its fair weight, and I’d be wrong not to give it space.
Anyhow, its most golden age was the early sixties. First, it got itself hooked on Trad, a definitely dire bowdlerization of New Orleans jazz, all banjoes and fancy waistcoats and boozy vocals and there was much assorted high jinking on Alder- maston marches. Everyone wore jeans and baggy sweaters, dirty toenails, and Mr Acker Bilk was king.
In due course, Trad died its death and, after a seemly pause, R&B took its place. The Rolling Stones were the major sponsors of course, and Saturday-night Soho used to be jammed tight with mean boys and moody girls, all longhaired, singing infinite choruses of I’ve Got My Mojo Working and blowing mouth-organs out of tune.
What did R&B add up to ? In English terms, it was most anything from rock to bedrock country blues, from Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley through Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Little Walter, all the way along to the gutbucket stumblings of Sonny Boy Williamson. Stirring times - old bluesmen kept getting dug out of their Delta obscurity and they’d be shipped across in bulk to bang out a few random chords, sing us their forgotten favourites, get drunk out of their heads and finally lose their teeth in the middle of their acts.
Like you’d expect, most of our home-grown bluesmen were lousy. They’d come out of Surbiton, their hair down in their eyes and their Mick Jagger maraccas up by their ears, and they’d sing their blues, dem lawdy-lawdy blues, all about those cottonfields back home: the Dagenham Delta.
The most classic were the Pretty Things, who'd been deliberately designed to make the Rolling Stones look like that proverbial vicarage tea party. Man, they were ugly. I mean, really ugly - Phil May, the singer, had a fat face, entirely hidden by hair, and he’d bang about the stage like some maimed gorilla. The others looked even badder. And their music was all chaos: the big bad blues. Actually it wasn’t either big or the blues. Bad it was, however.
The Animals were something different again.
I spent my early teenage years in Newcastle and the Animals were my local group, only they were still called the Alan Price Combo then, and they used to play Saturday allnights at the Downbeat Club. Later on, they moved to somewhere more elegant, the Club A Go-Go, but I always like the Downbeat best.
It was stuck on top of some kind of disused warehouse, down towards the docks, and the railway bridge ran right outside it, making it shake. It was cramped, wet, ratty, and music made its walk buckle. And it was a fierce atmosphere, it burned, and I used to go dancing there with two shortsighted sisters. I never had quite such good nights again.
The Animals sounded good then. Musically, they were quite limited but they came across angry, they hit so hard. Nothing else mattered much but the drive. Also, Alan Price played very tough organ. Then there was Eric Burdon, who sang, and he was odd.
Burdon was small and round, looked like Just William, and he didn’t sing in tune much but he had a wild passionate yell.
Always, he was fanatical. He’d been to art school and he worshipped Ray Charles. No other word applies - worshipped him. And he fell about on stage like some exploding doughnut, tubby and ecstatic, howling the blues, and he was a good boozy boy then, he had real talents.
In due course, they went south to London and made it: Alan Price did a new arrangement for The House Of The Rising Sun and Burdon sang it quite beautifully and, inevitably, it turned into a worldwide smash. So they had a couple of lush years in there and they made fortunes in America. But somehow they never got around to making another good record, they lost it and, in the end, they came to be just another group.
What went wrong? Nothing very much - they used up their talents, they hung out in too many discotheques and they went flabby. Alan Price left to form his own group and got successful all over again. John Steele, the drummer, went back to Newcastle. Finally, the whole group broke up.
Eric Burdon himself is greatly changed.
He used to be an early morning madman, hard drinker and hard talker, always bursting out of himself, and he collected war relics, guns and helmets and so forth, but now he preaches Love and smiles angelic smiles for everyone. He went through acid and that changed him, that softened him up. Then he toted beads and bells and San Francisco, the whole bit, and he turned prophetic. These days, his records are tracts and his interviews are gospels. He sermonizes endlessly. Kid, he’s pious.
The strange thing is, he’s always been trendy and painfully sincere, a tough combination to handle. Whatever has been fashionable, Ray Charles or Newcastle Brown or acid or love, he’s moved with it but he’s absolutely believed in it. He is the instant sixties saint.
Also, there was the Yardbirds (Most Blueswailing).
There were five of them and they took over from the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club. In the beginning, their big strength was Eric Clapton, who played the best blues guitar in England and, for me, just about disguised the fact that the rest of the group was stone cold. Never mind, they built up a strong following around the clubs and then they went commercial, swallowed the blues and had hits instead.
Eric Clapton cut out - he wanted to play the blues, nothing but, and the Yardbirds played mostly pulp these days.
Again, there was Manfred Mann.
Manfred Mann himself was a South African organist, an earnest jazzman with a beard and horn-rimmed glasses, and he ran a band that played around one third blues, one third jazz, one third straight pop. They were musicians, what’s more. Nothing earth-shattering but they knew their stuff and, over four years, they’ve churned out one automatic hit after another. Offhand, I can’t think of anything I’ve liked much but then I can’t think of anything I’ve disliked much either. They’re professionals, that’s all.
Their singer, Paul Jones, turned into pop’s most resident intellectual. He’s done a year at Oxford, you see, and he wore a nuclear disarmament badge and he read books. He was nicely spoken, he even used long words. By pop standards, he was truly deep.
The thinking man’s pop star: very soon, he was writing articles for the posh Sundays and punditing on TV shows. Later, he went solo and talked some more and finally starred in Privilege, Peter Watkins’s art movie. By this time, he had the solemnity stakes all wrapped up.
He was ideal. He allowed left-wing intellectuals to feel hip without scaring them, without making them sweat at all. He was a varsity man, after all, and quite civilized. So they could go to him, ask him about Vietnam, and they were safe, they risked no unpleasantness of any kind. No clowning, no yobbism, no embarrassment: that nice Paul Jones, he only smiled and answered them well, a clean machine. In this way, he became the Sidney Poitier of pop. It was hardly his fault, but he did. The only trouble was, in the process, he bored his fans to death and they quit buying his records.
Finally, in this batch, there were the Kinks, who started out like they’d be the worst of all but who wound up being easily the best.
They came out in ridiculous red hunting coats and they had long ratty hair like everyone else and, live, they didn’t sound good. Their first records were predictable dogs. But then Ray Davies, the singer, started writing their singles for them and he was good.
Davies has never been fashionable, he has always been greatly scorned by hipsters and hippies everywhere, but almost everything he’s done has been a hit and, myself, I’d rate him very high indeed.
Whatever else, he’s been an original: he has his own areas, his own private progression, and nothing intrudes, nothing deflects him. At all times, he is entirely separate from the rest of pop, he does his walkabouts by himself and, as pop in general has got more complex, so he’s got simpler, always more childlike, until his songs have become as pared as nursery rhymes.
His lyrics are all understatements, small simplistic slogans, with bass lines like trombones, trundling along like so many elephants, and his own voice is flat, and awkward, quavering along like some pop George Formby. The whole thing is lopsided, crablike, one step from chaos, but somehow it balances out, it makes sense.
He writes about nothing much, streets and houses and pubs, days at the seaside, little bits of love, drabness and things that don’t change, stuff like that. Mostly, he writes about small lives, small pleasures, and he’s an open romantic but there’s always a slyness in it, some self-mockery.
With his gappy teeth and his grin all twisted, he looks clownish and he seems always doubtful, unsure of himself, so that you expect him to split his pants or trip over his feet at any time. He even wears white socks. And he’s child-like (not childish): he has the most intense butterfly concentration, he’ll get all wrapped up in something one moment and then he’ll be equally obsessed by something new the next.
He gets horribly brought down by the smallest things, he can’t stand hassle and has to hide. He’s depressive, exhausting. But he’s also funny. Myself, I like him immensely.
Anyhow, he has his own style in backhanded logic going for him. We were talking about politics one time and he said he’d admired Anthony Eden, he’d liked his solidity. ‘ Surely,* I said. ‘Didn’t Harold Macmillan do all that much better ?’ ‘Macmillan?’ he said, all scorn. ‘He turned out to be a right Vince Taylor, didn’t he?’
So that was English R&B, a far cry from the real American article, but it was quite enjoyable, a good and filthy time was had by all. Four years ago, it was, but I walked into a Northern club not long ago and the group was still doing the blues, long hair and maraccas and all. I couldn’t believe them, I could hardly believe myself. Only four years and, already, they 'Were like a walking museum.
17 Bob Dylan (page 168)
First of all, some basics: Bob Dylan was born Bob Zimmerman in Minnesota, 1941.
He came out of a Mid-West Jewish background, quite straight and, through his teens, he ran away seven times from home and highschool and college and, according to the legend, which may well be true, he was on the road at eighteen, a hobo in the romantic Beat tradition, a teenage Sal Paradise. He played guitar, he wrote poems, he travelled. When he changed his name, for instance, he called himself after Dylan Thomas.
He was a folksinger by trade and, when he came East in 1961, he sat by the bedside of the dying Woody Guthrie. Then he went down inside Greenwich Village and joined the circuit.
Folk, at this time, was going through a major revival: there was a whole new generation coming through, young and political and ardent, people like Joan Baez and Tom Rush and Phil Ochs, Judy Collins and Tom Paxton, and they’d already established strong colonics in Boston and the West Village. They were radical, romantic, full of beliefs. Between them, they made up quite a powerful movement and Dylan became part of it, he hung around the bars and coffee houses and, very quickly, he got noticed.
He was strange. Technically, he was nothing at all, he played bad guitar and blew bad mouth-harp, he hardly ever sang in tune and his voice was ugly, it came through his nose and whined. Still, it was oddly mesmeric, it wriggled inside your head. Even when you didn’t like it, it bruised you.
As for his songs, they started out immensely worthy – they were anti-war and anti-establishment and anti-mammon, full of easy answers and, stylistically, they were a mingling of very many things, folk/blues and Beat and Dada, Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson and Allen Ginsberg, Big Joe Williams and Rimbaud. ‘Open your ears,’ said Dylan, ‘and you’re influenced.’
Fifth-form propaganda apart, he was impressive. He had imagination and energy and sweep, a fast way with words, a vivid feel for imagery and, coming out of nowhere, aged twenty, he seemed like something special. And down in the Village, he grew into a cult, he began to dominate and, already, there were people who called him a genius, a primitive prophet.
Himself, he was cute: he had curly hair and smooth flesh, he seemed shy and shuffled his feet and acted gently. Just sometimes, he’d turn around and be vicious instead but, mostly, he was immensely charming and Allen Ginsberg thought he was sweet, Joan Baez thought he had true inner beauty.
In this style, he took New York and made records and then he wrote Blowing In The Wind, which became a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, and he sold a lot of albums and, by late 1963, having torn up that year’s Newport Festival, he’d emerged as the new leader of American folk.
But then, he went beyond being a folksinger, he became more important than Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger or Joan Baez ever were, just because he sold outside the normal folk audience and got through to a mass teen public, to kids who’d probably never even listened to folk before but who’d come to look down on Top Forty pop as pulp and wanted music that was honest, halfway intelligent.
Ten years earlier, they might have been modem jazz fans and they’d have worn shades, they’d have covered their bedroom walls with pictures of Bird, but, by the sixties, jazz had gotten boring or incomprehensible or both. Dylan filled the gap.
He was young and pretty, very cool, and he wasn’t manufactured, he was no part of any system. Instead, he came on like a Dharma Bum, most romantic, and his songs were filled with all the right kinds of dissent. Above all, he used words, his lyrics went way beyond the slogans of rock V roll (Awopbopaloobop). For the first time, he fed kids with songs that actually meant something, that expressed revolt through something more complex than a big cock and, many of them, the kids liked this.
In all of these ways, Dylan was natural hero-food and, by 1964, he’d come to be the mouthpiece of teen discontent all over the world. As teen discontents go, what's more, the 1964 strain was fierce.
In the past, in the times of Sinatra and Johnnie Ray and Elvis, mass pop dissent had mostly been as crude and superficial as a brick thrown through a plate-glass window: my dad’s a square, I hate him, I hate you too, I’ll smash your face in.
In ’64 that kind of revolt still survived, came through in groups like the Stones and the Who, but now it had been joined by something new, something much more radical, which was a basic contempt for the whole Americanese lifestyle, for its greed and smugness and stupidities, its wars and its ghettoes, its heroes and villains.
Agreed, this was expressed in great starry-eyed generalizations, it was all naive, but it mattered just the same, it carried weight, just because it wasn’t only a small intelligentsia that felt this way any more but mainline kids as well, millions of them.
In this way, Dylan at the helm, Blowing In The Wind became the first anti-war song ever to make the charts and truthfully, it was possibly the worst song that he’s written, it was embarrassing in its mimsiness, but that wasn’t the point: it changed things regardless, it changed the whole concept of what could or couldn’t be attempted in a hit song. Suddenly, pop writers could go beyond three-chord love songs, they didn’t have to act mindless any more. Mostly, they could say what they meant.
By any standards, this was a heavy breakthrough and all kinds of people moved in behind it. The Beatles, the Stones, Sonny and Cher, Donovan, P. F. Sloan - everyone had hits with songs that would have been inconceivable before, everyone took to peddling politics and philosophies and social profundities by the pound and, inevitably, most of it was a joke, most of it was total foolishness but, just the same, it moved pop forward into its second phase, it shut down rock and roll, the golden age of pulp.
Right then, pop began to be something more than simple auto-noise, it developed pretensions, it turned into an art form, a religion even and, in all of this, Dylan was the mover.
At the time when the Beatles were still the Mersey Moptop Marvels, when the Rolling Stones were still a Crawdaddy blues band, Dylan was writing verse and getting hits with it. Good verse, bad verse, what did it matter ? The point was that, without even trying, he’d put pop through bigger changes than anyone since Elvis.
As for himself, most of his early hits - Masters Of War, The Times They Are А-Changing - were tracts, very simple- minded but then, as he got more and more successful, he grew out of his innocence fast and his music turned tough.
In place of the Minnesota boy scout, a whole new face emerged, watchful and withdrawn, cold and arrogant and often mean, full of conscious hipnesscs. In particular, he became secret - he stonewalled and played games and pulled faces, let nobody intrude and, when he decided to put someone down, he’d stare at them without expression until they crawled, he’d be merciless. Definitely, this machine could kill.
Still, mixed in with all the enigmatics, he was also subject to spasms of great sudden gentleness, odd tenderness and then, without warning, he’d be so charming it wasn’t possible, he’d get himself forgiven for almost anything.
At any rate, if his changes made him paranoid, they also improved his writing out of all recognition. No more schoolboy sermons and no more good intentions, his songs now were sharper, fiercer, stronger in every way. His melody lines got less hackneyed, his imagery less obvious, his jokes less cute. Instead, he was harsh and self-mocking and hurt, he laughed with his teeth, he packed real punch.
So all right, he was maybe less than the cosmic genius that his supporters claimed and if, like me, you were turned off by the physical sound of him, by the changeless wail of his mouth-harp and by his voice itself, it was still possible not to dig him as a performer. As a writer, though, he was getting formidable.
Mostly, his best songs were also his cruellest, the ones where he let paranoia run wild, where he did nothing but bitch, both at his ladies and at himself. There were, of course, still times when he played his love songs straight - Just Like A Woman, She Belongs To Me - but more often he was malicious, he sounded disgusted and it suited him.
More exactly, he sounded tired. Where his earlier work had been so full of certainties and self-congratulations, his new songs were sunk in distaste, a sense of waste. And he was still only in his early twenties but there were times when he sounded quite defeated.
Inevitably, as his influence on pop grew, he got influenced back and he rode in limousines, surrounded himself with an entourage, ran around with the Beatles, had a fast intense friendship with John Lennon, did the entire superstar thing, in fact, and, finally, he hired a rock V roll backing band.
By this time, having got so full of sass, he’d managed to alienate most of his friends in folk and him getting hooked on pop was the clincher. When he brought his rock group out on stage with him, purists everywhere booed out loud.
It didn’t matter: any ethnic following that he’d lost was swamped by the vast new pop markets he’d opened up and, in any case, his rock group was tough, they did him great good and he came up with his best and most powerful records yet - Subterranean Homesick Blues, Positively 4th Street, Like A Rolling Stone.
By this time, deliberately or not, he’d turned himself very much into the Elvis of the sixties, remote and unreachable, and most everyone you met had some strange story about him, some monstrous saga that at once explained all of his secrets, except that each new story entirely contradicted the one before.
All that anyone could say for sure was that he had image, lots of it and, late in 1966, he was said to have had a motorbike crash and broken his neck and took a whole year to get better again.
173, 174 - MISSING PAGES
18 The Who (page 175)
Quite likely, the Who are the last great fling of Superpop.
I mean, most of the people one calls pop really aren’t pop at all any more: they’ve variously opted out and they hardly make teen music now, they’ve moved on to something altogether more solemn. The Who remain.
They have it both ways. They’re intelligent, musical, they do keep moving forward, but they’re also flash and they come on with all the noise and nonsense of some back-dated rock ’n’ roll group. They make good music and they’re still pop. That’s almost a contradiction in terms, but, somehow, they make it.
In the first place, they came out of Shepherd’s Bush and they were Mods.
Mod came in from the beginning of the sixties and reached its peak in 1964. Very much, it was a reaction against the yobbishness of the Teds in the fifties.
Mods were small strange creatures, very neat and delicate, and they rode scooters, chewed gum, swallowed pills by the hundredweight. Most of all, they were hooked on clothes. Any money they got, it always went on making themselves look beautiful.
It was the Mods who first made Carnaby Street happen, 1962-3, and they used to change their clothes maybe four times each day. It was fierce, dedicated stuff. If you got caught in last night’s sweater, you were finished, you were dead. (By 1964 Carnaby Street was no longer Mod - they’d moved on.)
Anyhow, Mod was a stricdy male world and you’d see them mooching around in big tribes, their girls trailing forgotten behind them, and they’d dance all by themselves, sunk deep in narcissistic dreams. They didn’t smile. And if there was ever a mirror in the club, there’d be a frantic rush to get in front of it and everyone would pose, pout, ponce about, and they’d get high on themselves, they’d go lost.
So Mod was a new peak of decadence but it was hard work, intense, truly obsessive, and that’s the kind of atmosphere that breeds good pop. And Shepherd’s Bush was one of the most major Mod citadels and the Who became the great Mod group.
176, 177, 178 - MISSING PAGES
I’m a substitute for another guy,
I look pretty tall but my heels are high.
The simple things you see are all complicated,
Look pretty young but I’m just backdated,
Often, the songs would carry quite heavy implications but they never got flabby, their surface always gleamed. No sermonizing, no crap - Townshend kept everything tight and firm, very real, and he chronicled teen lives better than anyone since Eddie Cochran.
My Generation was typical: the Mod was trying to justify himself, wanted to lash back at everyone who’d ever put him down, but he’d taken too many pills, he couldn’t concentrate right. He only stammered. He was sick, disgusted, but he couldn’t articulate, he couldn’t say why. The harder he tried, the worse he stammered, the more he got confused:
People try to put us down
Just because we get around,
Things they do look awful cold,
Hope I die before I get old.+
* Words of Substitute by permission of Fabulous Music Ltd, London,
+Words of My Generation by permission of Fabulous Music Ltd, London.
Townshend wasn’t like this Mod hero at all, of course, but Roger Daltrey was. I mean, Daltrey wasn’t stupid but he was no theorizer, he was interested mostly in girls and cars, he wasn’t too articulate and Townshend used him like a mouthpiece. In fact, he used all of the Who like that, he was the Who.
He gave them hit songs, earned them money, made them famous and, in return, they were used by him and were formed to his image. Always, they’ve been like one walking Pete Townshend fantasy.
Himself, he’s been arrogant, generous, jumped-up, cruel, loyal, honest, complicated, always ultra-intelligent. He’s kept his trowel nose but he’s come to accept it. He’s shot clean pinball.
Anyhow, getting back to some narrative, the Who had hits.
They didn’t have number ones but they kept hitting the top ten and, in due course, they became safe. They even stopped punching each other. Like any other group, they got institutionalized and lost excitement. Mod had died and, by 1967, the Who had got to be one of the truly established groups, almost like the Beatles or the Stones, almost as rocklike and ignorable as that. Simply, they’d become solid citizens.
They finally happened in America. Admittedly, it took them three years of scuffling but they did eventually make it and then they spent a lot of time out of England, touring and getting rich.
Whenever you did catch up with them, they were disappointing - they were still going through the same old stunts and they didn’t seem loud any more, they sounded stale. In the end, they tended to be boring.
It didn’t matter: Townshend himself got no worse.
Myself, I think he’s the best writer that British pop has produced, the most perceptive and the most original. Alone of all our major writers, he’s kept close to what pop is really about, he’s jumped on no post-Dylan bandwagons, he’s always worked to and cared about a strictly teen public. Alone, he’s written nothing phoney. And, some time, I’d back him to produce something very impressive indeed.
So far, I’d say he’s never quite lived up to his real potential. In his time, he’s had maybe half a dozen mindbusts (My Generation, Substitute, Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand, Tm A Boy, Tattoo, I Can See For Miles), but always he has been too pressured, too overworked to sustain right through an album.
For instance, the Who had their last album to make, The Who Sell Out, and Townshend thought he’d turn the whole thing into one mammoth advert, a wholesale ad fantasia, stuffed full of jingles and flashes and product-hymns, all done as fast and loud and vulgar as it could possibly be.
Obviously, it could have been great, it could even have been the first pop masterpiece. But then Townshend was touring America, he was gigging in England, he didn’t get enough time to plan it out and it misfired. Half of it was brilliant and half of it was trash. It was a waste.
So I’m making no predictions. I have a few reservations about whether he’ll get things completely together and bring it all back home. But, if he does, he has talent enough to dominate English pop for the next decade.
Footnote: Since I wrote this chapter, the Who have justified a lot of the things I hoped for. They have issued an album of their stage act, Live At Leeds, which is just about the best ‘in person’ record in pop; and Pete Townshend has written a full-length pop opera, a project that he threatened for years. It has been brilliant. In particular, two of the songs in it - Pinball Wizard and Were Not Gonna Take It - are as good as anything he’s written, which means that they’re as good as anything anyone has written since Chuck Berry.
19 England After The Beatles: Mod (page 182)
Through ten years, England had done nothing in pop, only trash, and now it had come across with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, three heavies out of nowhere.
Also, there were the Animals, the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann - every time you turned around there was someone new sneaking up on you. From nothing, London had made itself almost the pop centre of the world.
Why ? What was going on ?
Always, there’s no simple answer to any question like that. These moods just break out regardless and you can’t explain them. But partly it was a product of the fat fifties, those greasy Macmillan years, when everyone was smug and thought they’d never see trouble in their lives again.
During this time, there’d seemed to be space for everything, there’d been no such word as Freeze, and you’d been free to dedicate yourself to nothing but decadence. That’s why kids went into pop. That’s why they became photographers or hair stylists or interior decorators or models or, like myself, gave their lives to pinball.
Of course, between the lot of them, they made only a tiny minority and most of them were huddled tight into London. Still, it never takes much, it just needs a quorum, and there were enough to make a surface sheen, to give an atmosphere of something happening.
Then, also, it was partly a matter of timing - Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Pete Townshend and so forth, they’d all been in the first teen generation to grow up through Rock, they’d had pop pumped into them deep, they’d got it properly assimilated.
So when Jailhouse Rock came out, say, Cliff Richard was sixteen but Pete Townshend was only eleven. It was an important gap - Cliff was already too old to adjust himself and he always sounded like someone speaking in a foreign language, he could only ape Americans. With Townshend, though, that sense of strain didn’t exist - he had pop off by heart, he thought in it instinctively. He didn’t have to copy, he could just relax and he said whatever he liked.
Anyhow, it didn’t matter how it had happened, the pop boom was fact and, especially in London, it made teen life pretty good. All of a sudden, you could dress like a rainbow, grow your hair down your back, make noise, act most any way you felt like, and you didn’t automatically get your face pushed in. Sometimes, you didn’t even get called dirty names in the street.
For the first time, there was some real sense of teenage action, teen speed, teen style, and a lot of it came from the pirate radio stations operating off ships, moored just outside English territorial waters. They really mattered.
The first station to open was Radio Caroline and it was run by a young Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly.
O’Rahilly had been around, he’d been involved in the early Animals, but this was his first big breakout and he was quite messianic about it, he did truly believe.
He had a handsome, foxy face and passionate eyes, and he didn’t stop talking. And he saw Caroline as a crusade, an embryo revolution, a great uprising of the young against the massed tyrannies of authority.
His grandfather had fallen on the barricades of the Easter rising and so his station opened on Easter Sunday 1964. According to O’Rahilly, it was everything he wanted to get across - youth, health, energy, joy in life. In Latin, he said, Caroline meant happiness.
After all that his radio station wasn’t as good as Radio London, which had none of Caroline's idealism but which was most professional, which was almost as good as an American station and American stations are great. All it did was devise good jingles, use good commercials and play good music all the time.
Why was it important ? Only because it was private - you could jam that transistor way up tight against your ear and you’d hear nothing but righteous music all day long. Nobody intruded. Nothing unpop, no crap broke in on you.
Also, Radio London was marvellous for the industry itself, just because it used to play any record that was good, no matter how unknown the group was or how small the record label or how strange the sound. For the first time, you could try something experimental and still get a hit with it.
For a mixture of legal and emotional reasons, the Government hated pirate radio always and, finally, summer 1967, it outlawed the whole thing. Well, it listed reasons, but it did a dirty thing to pop, half killed it off. After three years, everything was right back where it had started - you switched your radio on and you couldn’t hear pop when you wanted it, you were stuck with Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck instead. You were fed by the corporation, Government- sponsored pop, the very thought, and the BBC didn’t understand pop anyhow, never had done, never would.
Typically, though, even after he’d been outlawed, O’Rahilly soldiered on.
Working out of Amsterdam, he kept howling defiance at the nations and he broadcast prophetic visions of the Caroline ship floating up the Thames one day, watched by cheering crowds and honoured by the world.
All right, so he was comic but he believed it, he put his wallet right behind it. Against all the probabilities, he held out alone for almost a year. In the end, inevitably, he had to quit but he’d had a genuine heroic quality. A bit Don Quixote but heroic just the same.
One other breakthrough was Ready, Steady, Go/, which was the only genuinely teen TV show this country ever had.
At first glance, it looked like any other pop programme ever made - a resident compere, a string of groups, a few hundred teenyboppers milling round the studio and looking lost, the whole package as routine and dead as school prayers. What made RSG! different was, one, the quality of its music and, two, Cathy McGowan.
The good music happened because RSGI threw out that stock TV format of hiring anyone who’d made the charts, balladeer or comedian or ventriloquist regardless, and having them mime through their latest hit. Instead, it worked to a hardcore pop public and booked nobody that wasn’t a bit hip, that didn’t stand some chance of catching fire.
Naturally, there was still some dross left but there were also occasional full-scale happenings and, every so often, you’d get someone like the Stones, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, the Who, doing four or five songs straight off and then there’d be some kind of general freak-out.
On such nights, the teenyboppers would stop milling and come alive, they’d fall about, and there’d be an atmosphere built up, speed and sweat, real action, and it would all jump out of its box at you.
Cathy McGowan was central in this. Before she was made compere, she’d been one of the original Mods and she was a long gangling streak with a lot of teeth and long black hair and a fringe down in her eyes.
She was amateur. She kept stumbling on her lines, stammering and blushing, grinning pointlessly. This is a Super record, she’d say, with a Swinging beat by a Smashing artist. Holy trinity: Super, Swinging and Smashing. And when someone truly famous came on her show, John Lennon or Mick Jagger, she’d get tongue-tied and agonized, she’d flutter just like any fan.
That was the point - she was like some fan. She wasn’t some fat middle-aged DJ with a toupee and a plastic smile, she was almost a teenybopper herself, and she was genuinely thrilled because she met pop stars. So young girls could watch her and they’d think, That Cathy McGowan, she’s like me, I’m like her, we both want Elvis Presley’s autograph. And look at her, she’s on TV. That means I could be on TV myself.
In this way, she became one of the great heroines, an embryo Twiggy, and she got rich. Naturally, she wasn’t quite as ingenuous as she looked, she did play her gawkiness up, but she wasn’t phoney either. When she said Super, she meant exactly that.
Even after the pop boom faded and RSG! was taken off, she didn’t starve. She put her name to a lot of fashion products, shoes and so forth, and she sat behind a big desk in a big office. So she was a tycoon but she didn’t change too much. She still giggled and squeaked, she still shook her fringe out of her eyes. In the end, she became twenty-five.
Around 1964, British pop was breaking up fast into two very separate scenes, one fashionable and the other square, one In and the other Out.
In the fifties, no one had bothered with such stuff. Just so long as you had hits and got rich, that was all that counted. You were pop or you weren’t. Period.
Then, after the Beatles, the concept of quality crept in and that changed things entirely. Very fast, the business resolved itself into two distinct schools, one just trying to sell records regardless and the other trying to sell records and make good music both.
Inevitably, nothing stopped there - the quality team soon found out that some among them were more quality than others, altogether more hip, and there was much frantic reshuffling done, at the end of which there emerged a definite £lite, an In crowd.
Most nights, this new aristocracy used to hang out at the Adlib Club, getting stoned on whisky and coke, and they’d wait intently for the Beatles to show. They’d slump around in the half-dark and not move until it got light outside. After a few hours, they’d go into a stupefied dream and they’d sit there blind, not talking much, not looking and not hearing, just steadily boozing and nodding their heads. Through everything, music played incredibly loudly.
In the very end, everyone would decide who was going to bed with whom and they’d go home. Next night, they’d do the same thing again.
After a few months, the Adlib was all used up and they moved to somewhere new, the Scotch of St James. Later on, they turned briefly to Sybilla’s, the Bag O’ Nails, the Speakeasy and the Revolution. All of these places have looked different, all of them look the same.
It got to be quite addictive - groups would even cut down on gigging, flunk out on work, and all because they wanted
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…more hysterically screamed over than anyone outside the Stones.
The only snag was, Engel was almost as unhappy as he looked. He was a bit like a new Johnnie Ray - he surrounded himself with heavies, spoke to hardly anyone, and he lived in a room with all the curtains drawn, huddled tight into himself, playing romantic music very loudly, Wagner or Jacques Brel or Tony Bennett.
He didn’t want to be just a pop singer, he had visions of quality. In the meantime, he toured with the Walkers but he didn’t dig it, he was contemptuous of being screamed at and, also, he had very fraught relations with John Maus.
In the end, the group broke up and he went solo.
Since then, he has removed himself from straight pop, he’s devoted himself entirely to flowerpots. He has a fine voice, delicate and always musical, and he’s a natural for international cabaret, a throwback to the times of Sinatra, Mel Torme and Andy Williams.
Like you might expect, he peddles some very solemn stuff, standards and Brel translations and songs of his own, atmospheric enough but top-heavy and maudlin. Everything is painted black. Never mind, he’s a moody bastard, he still looks beautiful and he’s a lot of image. For such things I can forgive him almost anything.
More to my own taste, though, were the Small Faces.
Originally, the Faces came out of the East End and they were ultimate Mods, small and neat and schnide, very spotty. In the first place, they were a muted echo of the Who, and they were small ravers, loud and brash and really a bit dire. Once they’d settled down, though, they turned out not to be dire at all.
Their singer and lead guitarist, Steve Marriott, had once most suitably played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! Now he looked like a teddy bear and showed a fine shamelessness, screaming himself purple and hurling himself at the mike as if he meant to swallow it whole. He sang well, too, wild and strangled. Bopping up and back, his knees clamped tight and his eyes screwed up, he’d be berserk and he’d be good. He’d have everything it took.
In many ways, the Faces have been the group that sums up all groups: they have that classic group gift for self-delusion. They’ve thought themselves artists when they’ve only been loons, they’ve talked endlessly about getting themselves together and making masterpieces but, somehow, they’ve wound up in discotheques instead. They’ve jumped aboard every arty fad possible but they’ve never quite got the point and, in the end, they’ve always made solid old-fashioned noises after all.
Finally, none of the crap has mattered: they’ve meant fun and they’ve lasted. Little and fierce and pantomime, they’ve come to be one of my most favourite acts.
Among the girl singers, by far the best was Sandie Shaw.
Originally, she came from Dagenham and she was skinny, short-sighted but she was sexy. She sang in her bare feet and she had a curious myopic vulnerability going for her, she made people turn very soft.
Technically, she could hardly sing at all but she had some built-in ache to her voice, a tunelessness that worked exactly right, a beautiful creak. Also, she had a song-writer, Chris Andrews, and he gave her hits every time. Between them, they turned out one of the best streaks any English act ever had: Girl Don't Come, I'll Stop At Nothing, Message Understood, I've Heard About Him.
One time, I saw her do cabaret and realized just how good she really was. Most of the time, she sat on a stool and sang too soft, bare feet dangling, bunions and all, and she was nothing but bones and angles.
Technically, she wasn’t much. When she had a high note to hit, she often missed it and, when she had a low note to hit, she sometimes gave up altogether. Still, she trapped me regardless, I thought she was sexy. No question she had it going and, every mistake she made, the more I was hooked and the more I agonized for her. I got so bruised that, any time I saw a difficult bit coming up, I couldn’t stand to look, I had to hide my face away.
At one point, she introduced a ballad and sang a few notes and, suddenly, she began to shed tears. Just a few, three drips and a sniff, and then she wiped her eyes, sang her song. Maybe it was fake, of course, and then maybe it wasn’t. Whichever, it did me in.
In due course, though, having first cut Yesterday Man and To Whom It Concerns, two mother records by himself, Chris Andrews stopped writing good songs. Probably, he’d simply used himself up. At any rate, he broke his streak and Sandie Shaw was never as good again.
Still, she kept trotting out on bum TV variety shows and singing pulp. She seemed bored and you’d be disillusioned, you’d forget to feel sloppy any more. Only, every so often, you’d catch a fast flash of her bunions, just one glimpse, and you’d been caught all over again.
Through everything, she was steered and mothered by Eve Taylor, who also managed Adain Faith. Miss Taylor, a warmhearted lady, perpetrated Sandie’s name and loved her, spoiled her, suffered for her. In return, Sandie was grateful.
I only ever spoke to her twice. First time out, I asked her questions and she, having just had her first hit, didn’t answer much. ‘Dunno,’ she kept saying.
The second time, some eighteen months later, I asked her more questions and she still didn’t answer much but she had changed, she belonged to new worlds. ‘Ça va,’ she kept saying. ‘Comme ci, comme ça.’
Marianne Faithfull epitomized everything that had changed in pop.
Her mother was a baroness, true class, and herself, she’d been to convent school. When she got out, Andrew Loog Oldham saw her at a party and employed her on the spot.
You could see his point - she was the perfect face. She had long yellow hair falling all around her and she looked incredibly virginal, incredibly sexual and she had the strangest sad smile you ever saw. When she sang, she sighed and she drooped her eyelids in poses of infinite lustful purity.
She didn’t naturally belong in pop, she was high above it. In the fifties, she’d have passed it by without thinking but this was after the Beatles, pop was the most fun thing, and not only scrubbers from Wigan played the game. So she made records and, looking like she did, she got hits.
As it turned out, she was interested in sex, she talked about it most freely and she quickly became something like a resident TV pundit on it. Kid, she was frank and unashamed. And, even after she stopped having hits, she was gladly accepted as an expert and she was used by journalists everywhere as the authoritative voice of trendy, deeply switched-on and sinful female youth.
She got married to a man called John Dunbar, who ran an art gallery, and she had a child. They broke up and, later, she went out with Mick Jagger and they became the most celebrated couple, holidaying in Positano and dining in Alvaro’s and arriving late at Covent Garden.
On her own, she played Chekhov at the Royal Court and made sexy films, dressed up in ballet drag and black leather suits. Beyond that, she was a personage, she was symbolic of the scene. Most of the time, she didn’t do much but she was famous just the same.
Why ? For the same reason as Paul Jones was famous - she was reassuring. She might be shocking but she did it in a nice accent, she wasn’t vulgar with it. She could be coped with. Even in direst disgrace, she was still a lady.
She kept talking sex. For instance, she gave interviews saying that blue films should be legal and that sensitive actors would turn the sex act into something truly inspiring. What films, what actors ? Umm, she said, me and Mick on a high bare rock.
Among the men singers of this time, the ones that meant most were Donovan and Tom Jones.
Donovan began as a carbon Bob Dylan. He was bom in Glasgow and he was another drop-out, he’d spent a long time bumming around the nation with his friend, Gypsy Dave. He wrote songs, poems and, finally, he arrived in London.
When Dylanesque came into vogue, he was launched on R S G!, wearing a cap and singing in an oddly familiar retard’s whine. Inevitably, everyone and me leaped at him, accused him of cynically cashing in. What’s more, everyone and me was wrong.
For a start, he had none of Dylan’s harshness. He was one gentle person, naive and well-meaning, desperately sincere, and he wrote limp little nursery rhymes, all poetical and minstrelsy.
The same things that made him attractive in himself, his innocence and real sweetness, made his music unbearable. Always, he sounded angelic and folksy and fey, almost like an updating of one of those sentimental heroes in Dostoyevsky, Alyosha or Prince Myshkin, the Holy Fools. In no time, he’d become pop’s best answer to Patience Strong.
After he’d first made it, he went through a bad phase, when he wasn’t being promoted right and he wasn’t even making records. Also, he got busted on a drug charge and badly blew his cool by leaping nude aboard a policeman’s back. But then he came into the factory of Mickie Most, who is a walking hit machine, and Most brought him all the way back again.
Most is a record producer and, apart from Donovan, he’s cut hits for the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Lulu, the Yard- birds and Jeff Beck. He is possibly the most successful producer in the world.
In the whole of pop, he’s the only man I can think of who has unnatural powers, who really knows what will hit and what won’t. He hardly misses.
In his time, he’s picked some tough ones, and always he’s rescued them, pulled them back from nowhere. Over the years, inevitably, he’s had failures but they’ve been peripheral, they’ve never come when they’ve mattered. Under pressure, he wins out every time.
The strange thing is, he used to be a singer and, in those days, he had no knack whatever. Once, I saw him open the show on an Everly Brothers/Little Richard/Во Diddley/ Rolling Stones tour and he was bad, he really was. He did that whole hilarious rock routine, leaping about and falling on his knees and grovelling, but he hadn’t the figure for it, he hadn’t the voice cither and he got laughed at.
The next thing I heard, he’d just made The House Of The Rising Sun with the Animals, was collecting Rolls-Royces like stamps and had bought a yacht.
Anyhow, he isn’t earnest, he thinks that making records is just like making soapsuds, he never talks about Art but he’s a minor miracle worker and, at times, he’s even cut some good records. And he rescued Donovan and built him back into a hero and put a rock beat behind him and, between them, they made the best English folk/rock singles - Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow and Hurdy Gurdy Man.
These days, Donovan lives in a cottage and wears robes, looks beatific and preaches a return to the sun and the earth, the basic simplicities. Everyone likes him. A lot of people think he has talent and a few people even think he’s a genius, a true prophet of gentleness. In America, he’s huge, he’s a real influence. Myself, though, I can’t take him seriously at all, I think he’s a writer of commercial melodics and I’m glad he survives but, as a poet, I don’t think he begins.
By direct contrast, Tom Jones was true beefcake.
He was the son of a "Welsh miner and he was six foot, with huge shoulders and a busted nose. By any standards, he was a virile hunk, a throwback, and small Mods detested him but their Mums adored him.
What’s more, he could sing. Technically, in fact, he was infinitely the best singer we’d had and he’d storm through anything you put in front of him, pop or country or standard. Also, he was already into his middle twenties by the time he made it and he was truly professional, he had range and control and command.
As soon as he’d got a couple of hits behind him, he went into film songs, country songs, big ballads, and he was hardly pop any more. Instead, he became conventional showbiz, the Rolls and the champagne and the cigar, the whole bit, and he was incredibly successful all over the world. He was inevitable and, by 1967, he’d become the biggest-earning singer in England, one of the biggest-earning singers anywhere.
He is unfashionable. He’s so butch, so square and, all right, he does make some very tedious records. But I like him, he knows what he’s doing. First and last, he can sing and that, in England, makes him something.
And that’s where I’m going to end this list. No doubt, I’m going to get multiple brickbats for not giving space to the other big names of this time but I really can’t think of anything even marginally interesting to say on them. Dusty Springfield was a competent singer who wore too much makeup; Georgie Fame started out as high level R&B, a cool voice backed by a compact and driving band, but then he grew pretensions as a jazz singer and wound up sounding like a poor man’s Jon Hendricks; the Hollies were a flawless hit machine, they never missed, and they were very boring; Dave Berry was fun - he moved like a spider, all arms and legs, very spooky in black, and he said he was going to be reincarnated as a snake; Lulu and Petula Clark were both quite dreadful. All of them, they had hits and built up big followings and made much money but none of them had any great influence on pop in general.
Above and around all this, there was Mod and Mod got colder, tighter, more obsessive all the time.
Mods had enemies, who were called Rockers, and Rockers were updated Teds, they were in that same tradition, black leather and motorbikes and grease, and Mods dominated most of the southern cities but Rockers held the countryside.
Mods thought that Rockers were yobs, Rockers thought that Mods were ponces. They hated each other deeply. Both of them, they were fanatic sects and their fights became holy wars, each truly believing that right was might, that the gods were on their sides.
Through 1964, every bank holiday, Mods and Rockers would pick one of the southern seaside restorts, Hastings or Margate, or Brighton, and they’d descend on it in their thousands, and they’d stage a three-day running battle. They’d roam along the front in packs, smashing and pillaging at random, and all the people who lived there, they’d hide indoors and peep out from behind their curtains. The police would make a few arrests and they’d change nothing.
Ecstatic weekends - seventy-two hours without sleep and all you did was run around, catcall, swallow pills and put the boot in. For the first time in your life, the only time, you were under no limitations and nobody controlled you and you caught sight of nirvana.
When it was all over, Rockers didn’t change: they were solid and they went on exactly the same way they’d always done, riding their bikes and getting lushed and brawling. But Mods were edgier, more neurotic, and everything that happened now was anticlimax. Going their rounds, just making themselves beautiful and staring, they were bored and they couldn’t sustain. They lost their dedication. Very soon, they began to fall apart.
Always, when you look back, you make things better than they really were. That’s a cliche by now. But, with that in mind, I’d still say that Mod was fun to live through.
At any rate, I have a memory of two fat years, 1964 and 1965, when you did nothing but run loose and waste time, buy new clothes and over-eat and gab, when you thought you’d never have to work in your life again. It was futile, of course, pop has always been futile but it seemed elegant, it was easy living, and English pop was better then than it’s ever been, than it’s ever likely to be again.
No doubt, there’ll be great records made, heftier achievements racked up - it’s just that there won’t be any time when you could open your Melody Maker, scan the clubs, walk down the street and hear so much noise for 7s. 6d.