October 27, 2020

1970-05-08 – The Guardian

1970 05 08 The_Guardian_Fri__May_8__1970_

Umpop pop:

I KEEP 0)! meeting people who Split
pop mums mto two categomes. The
first category 15. as they see 1t, mush:
which Is merely popular; and the
assumption is made that all pop musw
that 15 very popular 15 also merely
popular. with the one famous excep-
tlon: the Beatles. The second cate-
gory is. often enough, described to me
as " the music you write about.” When
I say: “What do you mean?" the
answer is, “Oh. you know. the way—
out stuff. Progresswe Underground
music.” And the dssumptuon 15 made
that such musu‘ is not popular. wnh
the one famous exceptlon: the Beatles.

Another may of expressing this dls-
tmctmn is to say, as sexeral people
have salt} to me lately: “Pop musm
lS gomg the way 3322 went. isn’t it"
The mamstroam 15 breakmg up. as It
dld With 132:, and all the best people
are pursumg relatn'ely private ideas."
The sxnger of one of the bands play-

ing at Montreux tast week 531d, after
a rocking number: J‘That’s the com-
merc1al number. Now we‘ll do some-
thlng deeper, muse worthwhile" (and
off the band went mto a rambhng jam).
Someone 1n a London record company
asked recentiy fo; Information about
Rlcky Nelson. sand: “I don't know
about hlm. I just deal with progres-
swe music.” The big record com~
pames now.r have progressive labels (as
if to record 011 Such a label is a mark
of Vlrtuo: “We dare you to buy this
album: or 15 it too far out for you ? ”).

Solf-styEc-d “ progressn'e" albums
are. often enough, 93511:.r recogmsed.
The sleeves featule bands kitted out
to look like grotw vcrsons of Charlton
Heston 1n ' The Ten Commandments,”
squmtlng at some doped-up vision of
the pronused land. And I can't resust
quotmg a sleexe note on the Third
Ear Band album: “The raga 15 for
Peter, Surm, John, Dave, Steve, all the


cats in the Grove and elsewhere oho
gave us the energy and created the
Karma that put it all together."

That 15 to say. songs pop musicians
in Britam are beglnnmg to believe m.
and therefore to help to create. a dwl-
smn between commerce and art in pop
musm, and are bemg encouraged to do
so by record companies. and by the
medla. Pete Townshend said recently
that because ”Tommy,” the Who‘s
double album, was classified as art,
the band was now 1051ng all its old
raver fans. and had to play in Britam.
to universityr audiences all the tune.
He “as outraged.

And Pete Townshend is right to be
outraged. There is no meaningful dis.
:1thth between commerce and art m
pop music. Of course there are many
pop groups who sell well who produce
rubhlsh Popular rubbish is not peculiar
to pop mus1c. But what I see now is
groups being promoted as "art” who

are encouraged, and who encourage
themselves. to be detached from any
of the main streams of_ pop. (Unlike
the Who: “Tommy”; xs marvellously
Inventive, and 1n the main stream at
the same time.) Such groups, to earn
a label as ‘fprogressive” or “under-
ground,“ wrlte their own songs. refuse
to create any structure within the
songs, refuse to learn from other pop
music. and make afiirmatwe statements
about ecology, the state of the world.
and (of course} love.

The usual result is tedlous nonsense.
It’s not necessary to be popular to
produce garbage. Terms hke "pro-

gressive " and "underground" are fake
labels winch could prove sufiicmmly
persuasn'e to suck pop drjr of a lot
of its dynamlsm and excxtement. .
In America this rumous dn-151on
doesn't exist. The best rock music 1n
Amenca. Wlth very few exceptlons.

reaches large audiences. Some of the
most exciting American albums
recently released are. for example:

Crosby Stills Nash and Young's " De ju

Vu"; the Doors‘s "Morrison Hotel";
John B. Sebastian (ex Lown' S can-
ful leader, now 5010) ;_ Cree ance
Cle‘arwater Revwal‘s “ W11? and the
Poor Boys"; J1mi Berg rlx’s live
album, "Band. of Gyps1es”: Joni
Mitchell's "Lathes of the Canyon”:
"Hello, I’m Johnny Cas ”: and
“Delaney and Bonnie on Tour." Just
to name eight And all these albums
are m the top 40 of "Billboard"
magazine's album charts. They're good
because thes're popular. Because the
musicians, m each case. understand
that to be a rock star means to sue.
ceed 1n expressmg what's on every-
body's mmd. It is not the job of
rock bands to talk to themselves. But
that‘s what is happening m Britain.