It would take at least a book, rather than a blog, to do justice to the history of music – the ways it develops into new directions, and the reasons it does it at this time rather than that time – and so, at the risk of being ridiculously simplistic, I thought I’d kick off this blog with an observation about the incredible number of new branches that seemed to sprout from the musical tree trunk in the 1970s.
Once rock had so stormed the public psyche in the 60s, with the Beatles and the Stones blasting through every household and every car radio, and even the more alternative, more subversive musicians, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, becoming commercialised and popularised, clearly music, and especially rock music, had to do something new and different if it was to survive. After all, Charles Darwin showed us, over a hundred years before, that things that don’t change, die.
Of course, music has always changed and grown but, in the 70s, it seemed to branch off into more directions, copulating with more genres, producing more diverse offspring, than even the most liberal-minded, sexually-liberated, drug-dazed, 60s psychic could have imagined.
There was rock’s romantic affair with high art, and the elevated invention of prog rock – listen to the sprawling sounds of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, or the earlier albums of Pink Floyd with tracks that lasted a whole LP side without even one word being sung, for example, to see what an interesting, schizoid child that union produced.
It had its aggressive fling with blues, a liaison so driven by the need of both partners to vent their fury at the world, that its riffs and rhythms were battered and beaten into the distorted shapes of heavy metal, where bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath brought sex and death together in a way that only sadomasochists and Wagnerians would ever have thought possible.
And then there was its sordid one night stand with the disaffected rebels of America’s and Britain’s streets, and the raucous horde of punk rockers that ran amok in the rock household for years to come; or its doomed anti-affair with nihilistic youth in New York’s underground, and the morose, grumpy No Wave child that appeared in the work of people like Lydia Lunch and bands like Suicide as a result – a short and tormented life, but one that left us with ghosts that haunt us still; or its more cerebral encounter with German avant-garde experimenter Karlheinz Stockhausen, and their staggeringly precocious lovechild, Krautrock. Listen, for example, to Autobahn, and remind yourself that it was produced in 1974.
When you remember that all of this music emerged in the 70s, you can’t help but feel pretty amazed at what a fertile time it was. All of it, in one way or another, seemed to involve rock moving out of its own comfort zone into new territory, seeking new lovers and producing the most incredibly diverse and rebellious gang of kids you could imagine. It turned the home of music – which admittedly had never been entirely quiet and still – into a place noisier and crazier than it had probably ever been before.
All of those children, of course, went on to have their own lives, their own affairs, their own offspring. But that’s always a good thing – because to stay in your own boundaries, and to procreate only with yourself, can never really be more than a wank.