Some English Bands
The Beatles and Stones in 1964-65 took rock and roll, a child of the blues back to its home and changed everything. Rock and Roll became a teenager and started to grow up.
The states had got a bit out of whack with what rock and roll was supposed to be all about and as with everything in the USA, the fraught politics of race played a major part.
In short Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley’s appreciation of rhythm and blues music along with surprise hits from Little Richard [not a surprise because of his talent, more that he wasn’t lynched] and rock’s first real poet philosopher Chuck Berry had gotten swamped as the record companies got scared about nice white kids dancing to “negro” music. The answer was obvious, steal the songs, smooth the edges and have nice white boys and girls sing them. Despite great songwriting it got very fake very quick. Cue the British invasion.
Of course by 1969 The Beatles had gotten got sick of each other after doing things in rock and roll that no one had done before. Whilst the songs will live forever they were finished when the Rolling Stones were in their finest hour. Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street were released between 1968 and 1972.
It is, as they say quite a body of work. And today still touring, setting records for self-confidence and endurance, the drag themselves ever onward. Their last album was a return to the roots, a blues record and pretty good.
So my 85 year old mum to my 15 year old daughter know the Beatles and the Stones but the 60s was a while ago now and we baby boomers aren’t ever going to let them go. In that case there are a couple of other artists who aren’t living legends that I think need to be remembered.
My favourite and perhaps the more interesting and more influential band across so many of rock’s infant genres in the late 60s was The Kinks. Loud three chord rock like You Really Got Me influenced heavy metal, check out Van Halen’s version.
Their observational and very English hits like Sunny Afternoon and the classic Waterloo Sunset served as master classes in songwriting for David Bowie, Pulp, Blur and our own You Am I.
Shit, they were ahead of the times when they had a hit with Lola in 1972 when I was 10. It was a song that confused the hell out of me at the time, as I wasn’t sure why the singer was saying that Lola was a man.
In a period from 1976 punk stirred in London, New York and Brisbane. It meant different things to different people but a major part of punk’s initial appeal was its reaction to rock’s sprawling indulgences of the early to mid 70s.
From England two bands led the way. The Sex Pistols and The Clash were very different beasts but together no two acts better summed up the punk ethos in terms of visuals and politics. The Sex Pistols filled with dumb menace, anger and savvy gut feel marketing smashed through into the public eye and started a hundred other bands. But in the end they were gone rather quickly, as they began to realise they now had to work for their living.
The Clash on the other hand absorbed other styles, developed chops, saw it far more than an “up yours Mr Brown “lark and kept the things rolling longer and far more interesting than one might have expected.
In England the outpouring of talent and the wide range of styles in the subsequent so-called new wave of artists following punk was truly amazing. The Jam, Elvis Costello, The Cure, Joy Division, The Specials, Ian Dury to name just a few. Most were sadly ignored by the Australian radio that actively played a wide range of music only a few years earlier. Without Double J and community radio like Brisbane’s 4ZZZ and Melbourne’s 3RRR many would have slipped under the radar for good.
The Jam is one prime example. From 1979 to 82 The Jam had eight top 5 singles in the UK. In Australia only one song made the top 30. Maybe they sounded and sang about themes too English although I would say no more than songs like Penny Lane or Waterloo Sunset.Like The Who a decade earlier their sound and look were adopted by the mods, a youth grouping that never has had great strength in Australia. The Mods liking for speed, fashionable menswear, coffee and motor scooters would have been hard to satisfy in Australia till the 90s.
I suspect too that the band likes for American soul and the RnB of the 60s played a part. Appreciation for suppleness and groove in the Aussie rock taste was also still a little way in the future. But as a dynamic three piece with great songs and something to say they were the best around till Australia's You Am I.
Also mostly forgotten now are XTC. A band, like The Beatles, blessed with two great songwriters in Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. They made records well into the Noughties covering an early skittish punk pop sound through to lush English country homages to psychedelic rock. Plagued with record label problems and Andy Partridge’s stage fright they were never going to be big. But they were beautiful and clever writers and in Australia we at least keep playing “Senses Working Overtime” on classic rock radio and have a passing knowledge of Partridge’s scathing “Dear God. “
The grunge movement of the USA Pacific Northwest from the mid 80s to its peak in about 1993 was also met with a British invasion of a similar kind to the 60s as Oasis and Blur brought the focus back to England. Their timing was perfect, the songwriting first rate and particularly for Oasis the USA fell to the invader’s charms again. But again Oasis burnt out, fell out while Blur has continued sporadically on.
Other worthy acts like The Stone Roses, Pulp and Supergrass were all largely ignored by the mainstream in Australia but today continue to provide great source material for ad soundtracks, movies and sports events.
My favourite is Teenage Fanclub from Glasgow. They are still active in the studio and touring and with songwriting and singing duties shared between three members there is plenty of great songs to go around. Perhaps the best heir to the power pop sound of the Raspberries and Big Star, Kurt Cobain allegedly thought Teenage Fanclub were pretty good and Bandwagonesque, their 1991 album was a hit. Unfortunately fame was fleeting but quality survives.
If you like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Cheap Trick, Weezer, Jake Bugg etc. you might want to investigate further.
I would argue that as the 90s rolled past us Rock and Roll got middle aged and was now just another citizen on a very big and diverse musical planet. By this stage the promotion, production and consumption of music was changing greatly.
There is still great music being made and there are still massive stars but thanks to elements like K pop, the rise and rise of dance music, rap and hip hop, the DIY ethos, YouTube, festivals, revivals, farewell tours, reissues and Idol type shows the music world has changed forever.
Now it’s hard to imagine events like the breaking out of punk or grunge happening again. The concept of the Rock God like an Elvis, Madonna or Michael Hutchence seems to be extinct. Maybe Lady GAGA was the last one.
Like a lot of us, Rock and Roll is a baby boomer now, relying on good genes, early glories and just trying to stay relevant by remembering and marketing the past. There is nothing wrong in that. There are some real assets and immense experience that can be utilised.
Besides you can’t be young forever but like the blues and Mick and Keith you can hang around for a long, long time.