On "keeping it real" and the end of an era

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Postby Charlie O. » 30 Jan 2005, 19:07

Leg of lamb wrote:However, when everyone else spectacularly missed the point and jumped on the bandwagon, they did so with a different (and, in my eyes, misplaced) conviction. They just took it on as another cool pose, with none of the sincerity and sense of biblical drama that made John Wesley Harding such a fascinating and unique record.


Hmmmm. I agree with most of what you said, but... Dylan was certainly no stranger to poses. He himself has said that he wrote the kinds of songs he did on JWH because it "was expected of him," and surely Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait were the flipside reaction to those same expectations. That's not to put down Bob or any of those records, but I wouldn't necessarily ascribe too much "sincerity" (as it's commonly understood) to them. Nor would I necessarily assume that all those who followed in his wake were less sincere.

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Postby Leg of lamb » 30 Jan 2005, 23:18

Charlie O. wrote:
Leg of lamb wrote:However, when everyone else spectacularly missed the point and jumped on the bandwagon, they did so with a different (and, in my eyes, misplaced) conviction. They just took it on as another cool pose, with none of the sincerity and sense of biblical drama that made John Wesley Harding such a fascinating and unique record.


Hmmmm. I agree with most of what you said, but... Dylan was certainly no stranger to poses. He himself has said that he wrote the kinds of songs he did on JWH because it "was expected of him," and surely Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait were the flipside reaction to those same expectations. That's not to put down Bob or any of those records, but I wouldn't necessarily ascribe too much "sincerity" (as it's commonly understood) to them. Nor would I necessarily assume that all those who followed in his wake were less sincere.


Right, fair enough, 'sincerity' was probably the wrong word. I'm not denying that the records were affected and contrary but they also have this huge mythical sweep that stemmed directly from Dylan's sincere interest in Old Testament narratives, and that's what made them more interesting than the bands who came afterwards and just went "Great! Let's get down with some acoustics, man", no matter how sincere their back-to-roots, er, experiments were.
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Postby Brother Spoon » 31 Jan 2005, 08:03

Phenomenal Cat wrote:Will anyone really argue that John Wesley Harding or Nashville Skyline can stand toe to toe with Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde?


I don't have time for a detailed analysis of why, but: Yes, I love them just as much.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 31 Jan 2005, 16:25

regarding loveless's question: why pop music became less experimental around 1968 (about the time Music from Big Pink and John Wesley Harding came out) and why pop music started to retreat into the ``back-to-nature/back-to-the-country'' Walden-esque bean patch.

Two comments, the first being a minor quibble, the second being a more substantive attempt to address the question.

First, one assumption of the question (at least the way I've condensed it) is that Music from Big Pink is less experimental. They may well show just how powerful album covers are in determining how we think about an album. I'm talking about the utterly homely pictures showing ``next of kin'', etc. on the obverse. But if you listen to especially the vocal harmonies, you can see that there really is something very experimental and ground-breaking about this album. What do I mean by this? I even hesitate to call these vocals, vocal harmonies because the point isn't, I think, to create a chord, although if that happens, all well and good. The point is to have two or three semi-independent voices calling out when and where they please--counterpoint in other words. It's an old concept, but until Music from Big Pink, I don't think it had been used all that much in pop music. Sure, to a certain extent you have call and response in gospel music, but that's not simultaneous independent voices, and that's not really counterpoint. The idea of treating voices like horns in New Orleans jazz band isn't a new form of counterpoint (just look at King Oliver's band), but doing this within pop music, I think was new, and for the most part, bands have not extended or even explored these kinds of experiments.

**

To address the larger claim--that music (in this case not from Big Pink) became less experimental after 1968, there's one reason that I don't think has been mentioned thus far, which has to do with just how experimental pop music can be and still have a reasonably large audience. This isn't meant to be a semantic argument--that is, that music without a large audience can't be called pop music. It's an economic argument, namely that with very rare exceptions, bands knew that there was a price to be paid for being too experimental and that price was that one would lose much of the audience that one had built up. And with losing that audience, one would lose the record company contract and then the opportunity to get one's music out to a general public.

We might think now of the late sixties as being a very adventurous time and record companies being quite willing to let bands experiment however they wanted to (I do think there was more latitude then than at other times), but it would be good to keep in mind that you also had scenarios such as The Zombies struggling to get their last album mixed down and paying for that with their own money.

My point being that certain types of experimentation by certain groups were permitted. However, a great deal of experimentation, especially if that experimentation happened to eat up a lot of studio time, wasn't something that record companies were all that happy with.

I'm suggesting a slightly different argument here than I originally started with, so let me just work this one out before I get to the main line of thought. It may be that record companies started concluding after a certain point (1968 or so) that the sort of experimentation that they had permitted bands to test out in the studio, while it had had some positive effect on album sales, hadn't had enough of an effect to warrant continuing this line of inquiry. In other words, financial support for this sort of experimentation from the parent company was not nearly as forthcoming. (I frankly admit here that this is total speculation on my part. I somewhat promised cheepniz that I would go with a looser style of writing at times, and this is an example, although, of course, the final responsibility lies with me not c.)

To get back to the main point I was making, though, which was also an economic point, I think that bands may have understood that becoming too experimental would result in losing much of their audience.

Let's take a brief look at similar things that had happened in other fields. Classical music went through a real crisis about 1910-1920. Schoenberg's solution to propose twelve tone serialism has had many consequences. One of these was to make a firm break with the 19th century. Another consequence was to make modern classical music something that the general classical music listener didn't want to listen to. This is a problem that classical music still has to confront and that it still hasn't solved. In fact, I would say that the situation gets more and more dire. I don't think it would be an overstatement to question whether classical music as we know it, as it fits into the tradition of classical music from 1670 to 1910 as a format with a reasonably large, well-informed audience is essentially a dead and will not reappear.

Jazz provides another good point of comparison. After Parker solved the two reigning open problems that had been besetting jazz from let's say, 1920-1943 (namely, how fast can one swing, how much can one extend triadic harmony), jazz really splintered and went into different directions Mingus explored how musicians should try to communicate with each other more directly in their solos. Interestingly Bill Evans explored this also. Davis dispensed with showtune based chords and went modal. Art Blakey integrated other forms of African-American music into bop. Eric Dolphy with Mingus asked how conversational one can make one's playing, literally conversational in the sense that one evokes speech (see Mingus and Dolphy's cover of ``What is this thing called Love?'') . Coltrane initially started by asking how rapidly one can modulate (``Moment's Notice'' and ``Giant Steps'') but then left these technical exercises for a very different form of music that tried to combine modal playing, musicians playing at the same time, and more overtly spiritual and political texts as starting points.

This is where we are with something like ``Ascension''.

God help me on this, but I have never been able to sit through all 42 minutes of this piece (either edition). Some parts of it I can handle, and some parts I find can illuminate the kinds of things Townshend was trying to do in Quadrophenia, but it isn't easy to get through this stuff.

It wasn't easy for people to get through this stuff in the mid 60s either, and the upshot of that was that Coltrane lost a great deal of his audience. But it wasn't just Coltrane. Jazz, or perhaps I should say, jazz that explored new territory, became much more of an underground music after 1964 or so. True, you could always get ahold of jazz that retreaded similar ground to what had been done in from 1945-1960, but jazz that tried to experiment and try something new became a smaller and smaller subset of what jazz was in total--much in the same way that classical music that tried to do something new became a much smaller subset of all classical music produced and recorded in a given year as the 20th century went on.

The point I'm trying to make through these comparisons is that there may be some large-scale general forces at work in which the people who make this music understand that at a certain point they make have to make a decision between having an audience and reducing the amount of experimentation, and losing that audience.

The argument I'm making in other words is that certain forms may have built into them a certain threshold of just how much experimentation they permit and still maintain a large audience. (Of course, I admit this is all speculation on my part. I don't know where, if at all, that threshold is).

Stated in this way, it seems fairly clear why pop music might, after a period of experimentation, decide to step back for a bit. Now, precisely why this happened in 1968 I don't know.



Slight editings to correct spelling errors.
Last edited by take5_d_shorterer on 31 Jan 2005, 20:00, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Quaco » 31 Jan 2005, 19:40

Another thing to keep in mind is that, as experimental as these artists were, all of them had roots in simpler music like R&B, blues, and folk. The 1965-1967 era was a time of fast-moving change, but it was probably inevitable that The Beatles, Traffic, The Beach Boys, etc. would get back to their roots anyway.

Today's musicians who are influenced by that era would be more likely to keep up the extreme experimentation because that experimentalism is in their blood, rather than just an ... er, experiment.
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Postby marios » 31 Jan 2005, 21:48

This thread keeps getting better and better!






It'll never get to 91 pages though (and that's a fact).

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Postby sloopjohnc » 31 Jan 2005, 21:51

Great thread. Almost every one really contributes and offers input to original post. The post on comparisons to jazz and classical offered a lot. Mine's a lot less thought-out and not as well-written but bear with me.

A couple points: I read in some musician interview once that one of the most amazing things about The Beatles was not only the quality, but the quantity. I don't think this has been discussed that much on this thread, but that era of experimentation is also amazing when compared to the productivity when bands nowadays will take 3-5 yrs between albums.

Also--wasn't Sgt Peppers pushed by Pink Floyd making their first album in the next room. Which brings me to. . .

I think that it was an era of competition is correct. In Philip Norman's Beatles book he notes how The Beatles would bring down their acetates or masters and play them at the same club the Stones were at, which fuelled the Stones into creativity.

I disagree with the back-to-roots thesis, if I read it right, as being the end of experimentation. I think the back-to-nature movement had something to do with it as expressed, but don't forget---AT THE TIME---delving into C&W, very good ol' boy-ish and thought of as extremely reactionary---was revolutionary. See Easy Rider if you don't believe me.

Aligning yourself with a music associated with conservative, George Wallace-voting, Ku Klux Klanners was off-the-charts revolutionary. Dylan never delved into psychedelia, per se, but was always based in the traditional and John Wesley Harding was just the next extension. C&W and folk-rock were revolutionary next to Mantovani and Mitch Miller.

Gram Parsons hooking up with Keith Richards had a big part to do with the Stones losing psychedelia. I think that was more Jagger than Richards anyway.

I also think psychedelia had dissolved into planting engine-whooshing sounds or whatever kind of train whistle crap during the bridge on songs about little kids and clouds. Putting flutes and sitars in your songs only goes so far.

Bringing up The VU is good because that's an experimental road they never went down. I'm not a fan per se, but I think Can and other German groups probably were the next jumping-off point for 60's experimentalism and took it the next direction.

It still gets me, however, how all these "experimental" bands can take so long to record albums when The Beatles and other groups churned out 2 per year. And even then, I just hear more of of a variation on a theme from them and nothing really revolutionary.

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Postby Phenomenal Cat » 31 Jan 2005, 22:16

neverknows wrote:
take5_D_shorterer wrote:
We might think now of the late sixties as being a very adventurous time and record companies being quite willing to let bands experiment however they wanted to (I do think there was more latitude then than at other times), but it would be good to keep in mind that you also had scenarios such as The Zombies struggling to get their last album mixed down and paying for that with their own money.


Good point. Even the Beatles had to release the single 'Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane' because, well, it was single time. Also the fact that it didn't go to number one must have put record execs in the state of mind that you suggest.


I might be able to support this line of reasoning, but the forces of commerce didn't suddenly kick in when "Penny Lane" stalled at #2 (I know you didn't actually say this, but bear with me).

What I enjoyed about this time period was that these bands were trying to push increasingly challenging music into the charts, and yes, at times, experimentation didn't translate in lucre (I'm thinking of "Have You Seen Your Mother" or even "Heroes & Villains"), yet it was a fantastic time when a 5 minute+ song such as "Like a Rolling Stone" could chart. The Beatles of course were being tugged in two directions; McCartney began to earn the A Sides because the Beatles, God bless 'em, still played the game (thus ensuring that a masterpiece like "I Am the Walrus" played second fiddle to the decidedly more commercial "Hello Goodbye"). But the full-length album still offered freedom and room for experimentation; no one was ever going to reject a Beatles record, or tell them to move out of Abbey Road for cheaper digs.

Now, did this doom lesser bands (like The Zombies, as mentioned)? The Beach Boys certainly ran into financial trouble, thus necessitating that their offering for 1967, Smiley Smile ended up as a home recording with two elaborate, Capitol-financed productions tagged on. But new bands kept emerging that pushed music further out, like Procol Harum, Cream, Family, and Jimi Hendrix. I would imagine that more people were buying records than ever (pure speculation) now that albums and bands could be taken seriously, and a legitimate music press actually began to report on bands as artists. Why should experimentation stop? The Who seemed terminally broke, yet they did not adopt a back-to-basics approach. Rather, it seems that they missed the memo on Big Pink, and continued to produce what they thought were commercial singles (like "Call Me Lightning", "Little Billy", and "Magic Bus"). Back-to-basics doesn't seem to have been an attractive option for record labels; if anything, they probably wished everyone would get a haircut and shave.

Did record labels openly discourage experimentation? I think you can find plenty of examples of commercial charting acts like The Monkees , The Hollies, and Tommy James releasing psychedelic works after the heyday of 1967. Maybe we could blame them for chasing all the major artists away from more progressive forms of pop. Or maybe it was the drugs.
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Postby Charlie O. » 31 Jan 2005, 22:37

Mr. Cat makes some good points there. It was during this "experimental" heyday that rock album sales really exploded, thus making all concerned more money.

And pardon me if I've simply missed it, but I don't think anyone has dared mention that there was a branch of rock that did continue along the experimental path, and fairly lucratively - namely, yer prog rockers. Like 'em or don't, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Procol Harum, the old Pink Floyd - all had HUGE albums (and most had hit singles) in the '70s, making music that was, for the most part, considerably more challenging to its audience than almost anything the previous decade had coughed up. (Okay, I know that's debatable.)

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Postby Quaco » 31 Jan 2005, 22:44

sloopjohnb wrote:I also think psychedelia had dissolved into planting engine-whooshing sounds or whatever kind of train whistle crap during the bridge on songs about little kids and clouds.

Phenomenal Cat wrote:"I Am the Walrus" played second fiddle

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marios

Postby marios » 31 Jan 2005, 23:35

Psychedelia had certainly reached a point where it suffered from too much "whimsicality", if you will. It had appeared, developed, peaked and eventually disappeared (much like most of the psyche bands of the time) in a few short years, making a return to roots practically inevitable. It must have felt like a saturated scene to many musicians at the time and that's probably why they were more than happy to embrace the rootsier path trailblazed by a figure such as Dylan.

Bands like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Procol Harum were still scoring hits with psychedelic songs like Light My Fire, White Rabbit and Whiter Shade Of Pale in 1967 and psychedelia was still commercially successfull. Jefferson Airplane and Procol Harum never charted highly again (correct me if i'm wrong) and the latter became more album oriented (or is that just a term for bands who can't produce hits anymore?). Was it an inability to write a hit or did psychedelia suddenly become uncool and unpopular? We certainly see similar trends today, don't we (although we don't live in the singles age anymore)? Americana was all the rage up to 3-4 years ago but today it's definitely not as big a force as i remember it to be. And Britpop before that. Could it be that psychedelia was just a passing fad? Could it be that there was no actual synergy of coincidences "conspiring" to return music to its roots? Could it be that it just sort of... happened? :?

I dunno...i'm not sure i quite buy the whole theory about all the right people just following (or copying) Dylan's example thus making this return to roots a one-way road. Could a single man have changed the musical and cultural landscape that much? And without even trying?

One thing i'm really not sure about is the buying public's reaction to the issue of drugs back in 1967-68. Was the innossence lost by this time? Was there like a reaction towards any music that was broadly advertised as hallucinogenically conceived and created? Was the turn towards roots music aided by a certain puritanism on behalf of the audience i wonder?

Obviously, i haven't done much reading on the subject and you can see that the questions far outweigh the answers, in my reply. Feel free to correct, enlighten and educate me. :D

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Postby Guest » 31 Jan 2005, 23:43

James Joyce once said that to find home you first have to leave it. So, if we take "home" as being rootsy & native, well, we all start there--perhaps in 1968 many artist and bands felt they had to go home, ie., back to basics.

Or else, they just got bored with trying to break the mold on every record?

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Postby Phenomenal Cat » 01 Feb 2005, 01:06

Emperor Marios Ketchup wrote:Could it be that psychedelia was just a passing fad? Could it be that there was no actual synergy of coincidences "conspiring" to return music to its roots? Could it be that it just sort of... happened? :?


I'm starting to wonder if maybe the pre-psychedelic era was as good as popular music has ever been, and psychedelia was perhaps a wrong turn. There was the influence of hallucinogens and pot in everything from Highway 61 to Pet Sounds, and yet it seemed that maybe all that ambition and competitiveness hit a dead end when the novelty of drug use wore off, and Sgt. Pepper, for all its innovation and jiggery-pokery, wasn't that much of an improvement over A Hard Day's Night. The Beatles were going to progress as writers and musicians as it was; they surely would write something on par with "A Day in the Life" even if the psychedelic age didn't happen. Bob Dylan abdicated his "spokesman" crown, but surely he didn't cease to be the same Bob Dylan. The idea of the concept album and the rock opera was borne out of the Psych era, so (as was just mentioned), Progressive music would carry on in the hands of a newer breed.

I think when you focus on your main players, like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Dylan, Byrds, etc., they were practically music veterans by 1967. They were established, and probably did see that psychedelic music was being replicated (and with great success) by a whole slew of new bands. The Beatles became pretty dysfunctional by 1968, and yet The Stones hit their stride. The trajectory of a few artists did halt, but did it just happen as Marios has suggested? Well, in the case of The Beatles, Love, The Zombies, Small Faces, Simon & Garfunkel, Clapton, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Rutles, Bob Dylan, The Yardbirds, The Animals, and even Jimi Hendrix, the answer is: Yes. They all limped into the late 60s. Each for their own reasons.


NOTE: I had to actually go back and re-read Loveless' original post. It's very, very good.
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Postby Phenomenal Cat » 01 Feb 2005, 14:56

neverknows wrote:
Phenomenal Cat wrote:
I'm starting to wonder if maybe the pre-psychedelic era was as good as popular music has ever been, and psychedelia was perhaps a wrong turn. There was the influence of hallucinogens and pot in everything from Highway 61 to Pet Sounds, and yet it seemed that maybe all that ambition and competitiveness hit a dead end when the novelty of drug use wore off, and Sgt. Pepper, for all its innovation and jiggery-pokery, wasn't that much of an improvement over A Hard Day's Night. The Beatles were going to progress as writers and musicians as it was; they surely would write something on par with "A Day in the Life" even if the psychedelic age didn't happen. Bob Dylan abdicated his "spokesman" crown, but surely he didn't cease to be the same Bob Dylan. The idea of the concept album and the rock opera was borne out of the Psych era, so (as was just mentioned), Progressive music would carry on in the hands of a newer breed.


Are you trying to make a case out of 1965-1966 vs. 1967? The verdict's been reached years ago, you know. All the best artists were better during the former than during the latter.


Remember, I was at that meeting (and I think there's something about it here in the BCB By-Laws.... *flips through pages*). It is a point worth repeating, though, when considering why 1968 saw such a radical change for these treasured groups. If you believe in 1965-66, 1968 is sure to be a let down. Don't even get me started on 1969....
Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want everybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Rick Santorum
Move in next door and marry my son
You must think I’m crazy!

But somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather.

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Postby take5_d_shorterer » 02 Feb 2005, 17:27

Here, we've been discussing the extremely rapid changes in music that were occuring in the last 60s. On a thread on John Fahey here, I ask a similar question, but about the late 30s to early 40s, especially with respect to birth years.

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Postby Mr Maps » 09 Feb 2005, 21:03

I'll say it again. I think this should be in classic threads.
nathan wrote:I realize there is a time and a place for unsexy music, but I personally have no time for it.


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Postby marios » 09 Feb 2005, 21:05

Hip Priest wrote:I'll say it again. I think this should be in classic threads.


Seconded.

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Postby Quaco » 09 Feb 2005, 22:13

PM Jethro. He's probably not reading this one anymore.
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Postby Mr Maps » 10 Feb 2005, 14:58

Quaco wrote:PM Jethro. He's probably not reading this one anymore.


I did last week, he said he would but he's a pretty busy dude.
nathan wrote:I realize there is a time and a place for unsexy music, but I personally have no time for it.


Django wrote: It's video clips of earnest post-rock I want, and I have little time for anything else.

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Postby JQW » 10 Feb 2005, 15:01

I didn't move it as it was still being posted to. I'll move it now.
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