29 March 2006

Between a Rock and a Roll.

I was a relative latecomer to the music scene, not really being interested in bands and such until I was about in eighth grade. Sure I listened to the radio - AM - such as it was in Central Pennsylvania, where you had two choices in format: country or top 40. You needed cable to get the FM stations from Pittsburgh.

For Christmas in 1982 I received a boom box. This item was the first piece of equipment in the house -- other than radio shack tape recorders -- to have a cassette deck, my parents for years having relied upon their stereo that looked like a piece of furniture. The very first tape I went out and bought was ZZ Top's Eliminator. Although I played it to death, I have never owned another ZZ Top album (although I do like their earlier work).

Later in the new year I purchased The Police's Synchronicity and pretty much my musical world was changed, changed utterly. I became obsessed with this group and purchased all their back catalog on vinyl.

Tonight I was listening to NPR and they had a show on about surveillance and the Bush administration's circumventing of the FISA regulations, and their outro music was "Every Breath You Take," which of course got me to thinking about The Police and their central place in the development of my music sensibility. But also it got me thinking that my engagement with that group began 23 years ago, pretty much around the time they were disintegrating as a band. I realized at that point that people just discovering The Police for themselves in 2006 would essentially be discovering a band whose origins dated back nearly 30 years.

In the mid-1980's, thirty years in popular music represented a paradigm shift: You were in the 1950's, with vocal groups dominating the airwaves. 1950's Rock - Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and others -- was confined to "Oldies Stations," while anything from the British Invasion forward was more or less "modern-era rock and roll" (not to be confused with "Modern Rock," a term used to distinguish New Wave and post-New Wave from 1970's dinosaurs). Sure, the Stray Cats went back and mined that 1950's sound, but it still exists in a world apart, even as many bands from the mid-1980's on continued to update or sometimes simply rehash post-British Invasion sounds (e.g. Velvet Underground and the Byrds as influences on REM and countless others even to this day).

A brilliant band like Belle and Sebastian are able to take sounds from BI and post-BI and synthesize them as something a bit new (see "Roy Walker" for instance).

Here's a thesis to build on, modify, or vehemently dismiss: Rock and Roll - meaning that entire genre that encompasses James Taylor, the Sex Pistols, Sleater-Kinney, and Guided by Voices - hasn't essentially changed since the Beatles.


Momentary Academic said...

But according to Almost Famous, rock and roll died in the 70s.

Or was it just the rock part?

cuff said...

To quote the Who yet again..."Rock and roll is dead...Long live Rock!"

I really need to see Almost Famous. It's one of many movies I've missed in the past 6 years.

Blue Dog Art said...

You keep mentioning Belle and Sebastian. I really have to check them out. (You know when I have some free time. Ha. Ha.) Seriously, I'm going to the link as soon as this is posted.