Give me that Black music
The 1970’s brought a pivotal point that sent Rock and Roll spinning and then landing on its feet again in several new directions that have forever changed how Rock and Roll is made. In the 1950’s it was mostly kept simple and a few cute genres spun off like surf rock. For the most part, it was still directly influenced by black music like R&B, Soul, and Doo Wop. In the 1960’s white people really started to make Rock and Roll their own, as bands like The Rolling Stones and The Who put their own stamp on Rhythm and Blues by truly understanding its roots and respecting where their music came from when making it their own (at least for a while). Mod and Garage music formed because of the success of Rock and Roll and was the beginning of that sense of, “Hey, we understand this music. We don’t know how to play, but we can add something of value.” These genres were often filled with amateurish musicianship and/or approach but with plenty of heart and soul. However, they were typically “novelty” genres that did not see any lasting day light outside of a few national hits. The Sonics were not known outside of the Northwest, The Standells were one hit wonders, and The Who quickly denied its roots as Peter Townsend starting eating his own shit.
Rock and Roll For All
The remainder of the decade brought the expansion of the genre into many creative avenues by ground breaking artists. Bob Dylan took Folk and made it into Rock and Roll. Miles Davis took Jazz and made it into Rock and Roll. Psychedelic music was born. Soul music was beginning to smell Funky. It was an exciting time. Culturally, the country was filled with optimistic views of utopia, peace, and newly found consciousness. Unfortunately, the day dreams would not last for long.
The Refusal To Wipe Its Own Ass
The 1970’s came as the 60’s ended on a bad note. Nixon, the everlasting war, oil shortages, and the Altamont Speedway quickly soured the party and brought society back to the reality that life still sucked after all those creepy good vibes. Musically, the experimentation turned into a lackluster bloated mess. Jerking your instrument off in the studio for weeks at a time replaced honest experimenting, and corporate giants really started to find the rope around the industry. CBS bought and nearly ruined Fender. The Eagles became popular. Egos were huge and self-indulgence was rampant. The genre evolved into a stale mess and the birth of really generic Rock and Roll was born. I still believe that even today’s really generic Rock music is rooted in the 70’s and a misguided worshiping of corny Classic Rock. There was bad Rock and Roll before then, but it could always be linked to the fickleness of Pop music and the record companies chasing the dollar. Pop music has always been filled with guilty pleasures and ridiculousness, but this was the first time the bones, the core, the soul of Rock and Roll began to rot. Sure there was Can, but that genre practically started and stopped with them. Proto-punk was alive and fantastic but it was so popular that it did not even have a legitimate name until its successor was born. Finally, Glam was a minor saving grace, but its appeal was mostly British and it too began to eat itself like everything else by the mid 70’s.
”Punk Is Coming”
Like most revolutions, enough people grew sick of the bad times and changed the way of doing things. This revolution was unique because it was not a revolution at all. The self-consciousness of the 70’s was changed by a conscious effort to not be self-conscious. Rules were broken under the new rules being formed. The great paradox of “Punk” was born. Musicians were simply going back to the basics. A&R man Danny Fields said it was just a return to the two minute song. There was no great evolution in the sound coming out of their amplifiers as Garage music had already swam these same waters before. The difference was the perspective. This time is was not about shaking your hips, having a good time, and getting laid. But it entirely was. They were angrier, rawer, street wise. This time the sound was stemmed from the kids being tired of being lied to, seeing Rock “Gods” shake their wieners on stage for three hour concerts, and living in the aftermath of a once innocent, turned phony hippie culture. They could not go home to Connecticut if life on the street got hard. They were the streets. They were telling you how it really was. But at the same time it was not about this.
This description may sound confusing, but that is exactly how it was. “Punk” had been around forever. It was in the 1920’s from Jazz cats. It was alive in well in the 1930’s from blues artists. Bo Diddley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and The Tielman Brothers were about as Punk as they come. Avant-garde Classical composers were beyond Punk at the dawn of the 20th Century. Nothing new was happening at all. This time was unique because it struck a larger nerve than ever before. Mainstream music became awful enough that more people took notice and the music became loud enough for the rest of the world to pay attention.
What was also different was the extreme paradox of it all. This is still very prevalent in today’s hipster culture and you either “get it” or you do not. If you have to try to be cool, you are automatically not cool and can easily be spotted by someone who “gets it”. However, the whole idea of this is fucking stupid and ridiculous, yet I preach it all the time. Richard Hell was a pioneer to this idea and the phony genre/culture called Punk music. A lot of the punk aesthetic came from him wearing holey shirts, not washing his hair, and generally not giving a fuck. He was effortless. He was worthless. He was classic. At the same time he was conscious of not giving a fuck. My favorite example of this is his use of using the lost, hopeless, puppy dog rap to get chicks. He was complaining to some friend he was trying to screw and crash with while sitting on a curb outside of some club. He moaned man I just can’t get my life together, I have no money, look even my shirt has holes in it. To which the girl replied Richard you put those holes in your shirt on purpose. This idea works and can be true and pure, but only for a moment. The exaggerated UK version of Punk was a direct rip off of Hell and Johnny Thunders. Mass conception will always ultimately ruin it. It ruined Hippie culture, it ruined Punk culture, and it ruined Indie music. Once it attracts someone who does not understand the roots they will try to mimic it without understanding it, or even caring to understand it. This is where the gross and sticky line between “getting it” or not is born and now happens to every counter-culture movement that gets exposed. I cannot say anymore on this without sound like a complete douche bag.
What About The Music?
Richard Hell was in about every early influential New York Punk band there was, The Neon Boys, Television, and The Heartbreakers. Dee Dee Ramone had a failed attempt of joining one of his bands before The Ramones ever formed. However, he did not actually make an album until he was finally able to lead his own group called Richard Hell & The Voidoids. But what an album it is. Their debut album, Blank Generation, came at the apex of Punk and to me is the defining point of the whole scene. Hell is not a naturally gifted singer, but he is extremely charismatic and sings with a smug sneer that folds his intelligent lyrics into the brashness of Punk music. Although, the music itself is not simply shallow like The Ramones music was. Lead guitarist Robert Quine is the unsung hero of Punk guitarists. He achieved this because like Tom Verlaine, he brought a lot more to his guitar work than banging out two chords and fudging one string solos. They both added a cerebral aspect to their guitar playing. Unlike Verlaine, Quine is more technically adept at his instrument. His playing style is very unique and still stands out today after 35 years of “Punk” music. His solos are extremely angular and frantic, similar to what Nels Cline often does today. However, his playing is much more dangerous than Nels’. He is also unique because of his clever use of playing chords during his solos. When Lou Reed saw them play for the first time he was so impressed with Quine that he cried what are you doing playing with this band? You are so much better than them. Quine later went on to play guitar on several Lou Reed albums.
What stands out the most are the lyrics. Richard Hell is always a writer first, musician second. Betrayal Takes Two contains my favorite Rock and Roll lyrics. His use of street smarts brings acute observations to relationship break ups like,”Betrayal takes two/Who did it to who? / I mean not to be cut/ By your dull point of view.” And “We’re changed now for good/I try to insert/ My face to appear/ When you love when you flirt.” Love Comes In Spurts also has witty perspectives on youth, “Love comes in spurts/ Oh no it hurts!” Here he uses an analogy of sex literally “cuming” in spurts, while revealing the fickleness of short relationships in your 20’s and the painful heartbreak that comes with lusting over crushes. Other notables are Blank Generation, I’m Your Man, and the Sinatra cover, All The Way.
Just listen to it.
Richard Hell & The Voidoids
1977 (320 kbps)