part ONE 1 Feet Up: The First British Hit Parade 2 Flip, Flop and Fly: Bill Haley and Jump Blues 3 A Mess of Blues: Elvis Presley 4 Put Your Cat Clothes On: Sun Records and Rockabilly 5 Teenage Wildlife: Rock ’n’ Roll 6 Fifteen Miles from Middlesbrough: Skiffle 7 Rock with the Cavemen: British Rock ’n’ Roll 8 Whispering Bells: Doo Wop 9 1960: It Will Stand 10 Walk with Me in Paradise Garden: Phil Spector and Joe Meek 11 The Trouble with Boys: The Brill Building and Girl Groups
part Two 12 Act Naturally: The Beatles 13 Needles and Pins: The Beat Boom 14 Who’s Driving Your Plane? The Rolling Stones 15 This Is My Prayer: The Birth of Soul 16 The Rake’s Progress: Bob Dylan 17 America Strikes Back: The Byrds and Folk Rock 18 Up the Ladder to the Roof: Tamla Motown 19 1966: The London Look 20 Endless Summer: The Beach Boys 21 The Golden Road: San Francisco and Psychedelia 22 Pop Gets Sophisticated: Soft Rock 23 Crying in the Streets: Deep Soul 24 I Can’t Sing, I Ain’t Pretty and My Legs Are Thin: Hard Rock 25 Bubblegum Is the Naked Truth: The Monkees
121 130 144 151 164 174 185 192 215 223 237 251 257 268
part THREE 26 1970: Everything’s Gone Grey 27 An English Pastoral: British Folk Rock 28 Freddie’s Dead: Electrified Soul 29 State of Independence: Jamaica 30 It Came from the Suburbs: Marc Bolan and David Bowie 31 Deluxe and Delightful: Glam
281 294 306 316 325 334
3 28 38 45 53 67 73 83 89
32 The Sound of Philadelphia: Soft Soul 33 Progressive Rock (and Simpler Pleasures) 34 Young Love: Weenyboppers and Boy Bands 35 See That Girl: Abba 36 Beyond the Blue Horizon: Country and Western 37 Before and After the Gold Rush: Laurel Canyon 38 1975: Storm Warning part FOUR 39 Courage, Audacity and Revolt: The Sex Pistols 40 Cranked Up Really High: Punk Rock 41 Pleasantly Antagonistic: New Wave 42 Supernature: Disco 43 Islands in the Stream: The Bee Gees 44 Routine Is the Enemy of Music: Post-punk 45 Back to the Future: Two Tone and Mod 46 A Shark in Jet’s Clothing: America after Punk 47 This Is Tomorrow: Kraftwerk and Electropop 48 Adventures on the Wheels of Steel: Early Rap 49 Here Comes That Feeling: New Pop 50 American Rock (Ooh Yeah) 51 Just a King in Mirrors: Michael Jackson 52 Highs in the Mid-Eighties: Prince and Madonna 53 Some Kind of Monster: Metal 54 Poised over the Pause Button: The Smiths and the Birth of Indie 55 1985: What the Fuck Is Going On? 56 We Were Never Being Boring: Pet Shop Boys and New Order part FIVE 57 Chicago and Detroit: House and Techno 58 Smiley Culture: Acid House and Manchester 59 1991: Time for the Mu Mu 60 All Eyez on Me: Hip Hop 61 Bassline Changed My Life: Dance Music 62 This Is How You Disappear: Bristol, Shoegazing and a New Psychedelia 63 As a Defence, I’m Neutered and Spayed: Grunge 64 Ever Decreasing Circles: Blur, Suede and Britpop 65 A Vision of Love: R&B Epilogue Acknowledgements Sources Selected Bibliography Index
347 359 374 384 391 405 417 431 441 451 460 471 481 492 502 513 520 528 540 549 556 565 577 591 604 613 622 634 651 666 679 689 702 717 731 739 741 743 747
1 Feet Up: The First British Hit Parade
For Britain, the modern pop era began in 1952. Not only was it the year the first seven-inch singles were released, and the nation’s most significant and longest-running music paper – the New Musical Express – was first published, but on November 14th the NME printed the first singles chart.* All three creations would become cornerstones of the pop world until their simultaneous decline in the nineties, as the digital era got into its stride. The singles chart in particular – or the ‘hit parade’ as it was called in the fifties, borrowing American terminology – had a special appeal to the British sensibility. It meant competition, excitement in league-table form, pop music * It was the idea of the NME’s Percy Dickins, who compiled it himself by obtaining sales figures from twenty record shops around the country. Initially, the chart was a Top 12, expanding to a Top 20 in 1955.
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as a sport. It would pit Frankie Laine against Johnnie Ray, Blur against Oasis, Brits against Yanks, Decca against EMI; it was fuel for a nation obsessed with train numbers and cricket statistics. The charts dictated what you heard on the radio, what you saw on TV, how high your heroes’ stock had risen. For over four decades they would be a national fixture in Britain, like the FA Cup, like Christmas. The barely documented years between 1945 and 1954 are pop’s Dark Ages, invisible and obscure. If it’s remembered at all, it’s as a period of stagnation, a stop-gap between the swing era and the rock era, full of identikit balladeers, stars of their day who have all but vanished from collective memory. Tony Brent? Billie Anthony? Would anyone remember Eddie Fisher if he hadn’t married so well and so often? Or Ruby Murray if her name hadn’t become rhyming slang for the national dish? It’s a period I find oddly attractive because of its persistent obscurity. Though the songs are largely forgotten, the first UK chart contained a mix of genres (country, ballads, instrumentals, film themes, exotic novelties, poster-boy pop) which would recur throughout the following decades. For Justin Timberlake, there was Johnnie Ray; for ‘My Heart Will Go On’, the theme from High Noon; for ‘The Ketchup Song’, see ‘Cowpuncher’s Cantata’. All of these singles were released on shellac 78s – only Mario Lanza’s ‘Because You’re Mine’ was available in the shops on a seven-inch in November 1952, as EMI had just issued it as one of their very first 45 rpm singles. It is also notable how US-dominated the chart was, with only Vera Lynn, Max Bygraves and band leader Ray Martin from Britain. Britain’s inferiority complex was tangible, even when it tried to promote itself. The sleevenotes to Tony Brent’s Off Stage album claimed he was ‘above the local, in the international class; he is one of the few British vocalists who come within hailing distance of Sinatra or Cole’. Eddie Calvert, who scored a solitary US Top 10 hit in 1954, had similarly humble words printed on the back cover of The Man with the Golden Trumpet: ‘At one time, not very long ago, the idea of a British musician making a record that would sell hundreds of thousands in the United States, the home of modern popular music, was in the nature of a fantasy.’
The First British Hit Parade
In 1952 Britain had little self-confidence, then, and no reason to believe it could compete with the likes of pert, blonde, virginal Doris Day, square-jawed cowboy Frankie Laine, Italian operatic import Mario Lanza or Bing Crosby, king of the crooners, and now twentyodd years at the top. America was a country of conspicuous wealth and immaculately turned out stars of stage and screen; pockmarked Britain was still awaiting redevelopment seven years after the end of the war. Hollywood in 1952 meant Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Gary Cooper as the ultimate good guy in High Noon; Gene Barry stirred up fears of unimaginable disaster in The Atomic City; Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain was the year’s hit musical. Britain, meanwhile, had Michael Redgrave starring in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest – a great story and a fine movie, but really . . . The only hint of local danger came from bad girl Diana Dors, who starred as a thieving teenage seductress in The Last Page. There was no suggestion whatsoever of an imminent, and remarkable, convergence of British and American pop culture. Two pre-rock American figures suggested pop’s possible futures. Roy Hamilton was a little more subtle than Frankie Laine; he was also one of the few black singers outside of jazz to impact on pre-rock. He never bothered the British charts but, more than any of his contemporaries, his US hits laid some kind of blueprint for the next two decades. Hamilton had studied commercial art, had operatic and classical voice training, then became a heavyweight Golden Gloves boxer, a combination that lent him a sonorous authority, with just a hint of real danger. His material was strong red meat: he hit the R&B Top 10 with ‘Ebb Tide’, ‘Hurt’, ‘If I Loved You’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (all 1954), before reaching number six in the pop chart with ‘Unchained Melody’ (1955). No one else has sung ‘I’ve hungered for your touch’ as affectingly. Roy Hamilton brought gospel into pop, and dug the earliest foundations for soul. Almost uniquely, he could appear on the US pop charts while still playing at the Apollo in Harlem; he’d have become a major star but he caught tuberculosis in ’56 and was forced into semi-retirement. Emotive, rocking hits came intermittently to show what might have
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been (‘Don’t Let Go’, no. 13 ’58; ‘You Can Have Her’, no. 12 ’61), but he never fully recovered. In 1969 he attempted another comeback, recording ‘Dark End of the Street’ in Memphis, while Elvis Presley – cutting ‘Suspicious Minds’ in the adjoining studio – watched on with due respect. Hamilton died of a stroke just a few weeks later. Arguably the most significant modern pop forebear was Johnnie Ray, who was raised in rural Oregon, where an accident at a Boy Scout jamboree had left him deaf in his right ear. Unlike pretty much all his contemporaries, he was inspired by black singers like Roy Hamilton, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter. At the turn of the fifties, in Detroit’s Flame Showbar, Ray mixed up pre-rock and R&B and created a sensation. Several things marked Ray out as something quite new. For a start he cut a less than manly figure, more emaciated even than the forties Sinatra, and looked in urgent need of a nap as well as a square meal. He also looked uncomfortable on stage, clenching his fists and wiping his sweaty palms on his suit trousers, and – and this was a first – women unashamedly wanted to mother him and smother him. Then there was his hearing aid. Using these props he’d wind himself up with windmill arm movements until, climactically, he broke out in tears. ‘I don’t have a voice,’ he explained to the Daily Mirror, ‘I got a style.’ Johnnie Ray was not easy listening, and he wasn’t about to win any ideal husband poll. The perception of Ray was also complicated because he had hits on the R&B chart, which was almost unknown for a white singer in the early fifties. He would mess about with black recordings like the Drifters’ ‘Such a Night’, adding his own oohs, mmms and slow intakes of breath to up the ante. ‘When we kissed . . . I had to fall in love’; if Chuck Jones’s leering wolf was a record, this would be it. ‘Such a Night’ went all the way to number one in the UK (it only made nineteen in the US), between the spectacularly chaste pairing of Doris Day and David Whitfield; that alone goes some way to explaining Ray’s pre-rock impact. As a record of how audiences – Britain’s first teen screamers – reacted to Ray’s stage act, there was the 1954 Live at the London Palladium album. They sighed and gasped as if they were watching a saucy circus act. They screamed for ‘Such a Night’, which he reprised, and reprised
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again. And he did this until you can hear girls shout ‘Johnnie!! ’, at which point modern pop came alive.* A mid-fifties British TV documentary called Fan Fever interviewed Dickie Valentine, Alma Cogan and Dennis Lotis, focusing on the new fad for screaming at stars on stage. Lotis, smoking a pipe, recalled with no small displeasure how one inflamed girl managed to grab and remove one of his shoes. The Johnnie Ray Fan Club of Great Britain were interviewed – all of them were girls. Some were content to collect Ray’s records; others knitted their own jumpers emblazoned with their idol’s name. One had a piece of clothing, a sacred shred ripped from his body. Another particularly tough-looking girl had primitively carved Ray’s name on her arm – you hoped for her sake it wasn’t a real tattoo. A studio panel furrowed its brow and passed judgement. A grizzled American psychiatrist gave his opinion. They agreed unanimously – it was a passing craze.
* America had already encountered teen screams as far back as October 12th 1944, when thirty-five thousand girls, many wearing bobby sox and bow ties, caused a near riot outside the Paramount in New York because they couldn’t get in to see Frank Sinatra. It became known as the Columbus Day Riot. Sinatra was already twenty-nine; to many of his fans he would have seemed like a father figure, even if he did make them feel all churned up inside. But he was a phenomenon, and the bobby soxers who swooned for him also wet themselves and threw their bras at him. Sinatra was a pointer to the future for youth culture, a harbinger, though the Columbus Day Riot was something of an anomaly. While it was commonplace for Hollywood stars to get mauled and screamed at, no pop star would receive remotely similar treatment until Eddie Fisher (much more gently) at the turn of the fifties. Sinatra’s career was in decline by this point; after attempting suicide, he starred in From Here to Eternity in ’53, then worked with Nelson Riddle on ‘Young at Heart’ in ’54, and successfully recast himself as a purely adult artist just as rock ’n’ roll hit the mainstream. His fans grew up with him.
17 America Strikes Back: The Byrds and Folk Rock
The Beatles had been the first modern pop event that almost everyone in America could agree on. This had a lot to do with the fact that they were outsiders. Coming from England they couldn’t aggravate prejudice; they were parachuted into a conflict without evident allegiances in either direction. As well as hooking Ed Sullivan viewers on first sight, they opened the door to a lot of other people – the pre-rock Vegas set, jazzers like Gary McFarland – who would have previously dismissed modern pop out of hand. Most significantly they converted folk singers, including Bob Dylan, and in this way they joined the finest minds and the lithest bodies in the country. Social revolt was imminent. With very few exceptions, the old order had been swept aside in 1964; Bob Dylan gave American pop the strength to regroup, recover and rebuild after the hurricane of the British Invasion. Yet the first recording to reflect Dylan’s popularity in the hit parade originated not in New York, or anywhere else in the States, but in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
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The Animals were a spotty R&B group* who picked up ‘House of the Rising Sun’ from Dylan’s debut and turned it into a manic, organled rave-up. Singer Eric Burdon had a raw roar of a voice which often sounded too pleased with its own ability, but not in this instance. The tale of a New Orleans whorehouse went to number one just about every where in the summer of ’64, and Dylan, plus dozens of other folkniks stateside, woke up to the possibilities of fusing folk with their new guilty pop pleasures, the Beatles and the Stones. Los Angeles was about as far from Newcastle as Vladivostok, but the Animals’ insurrectionary sound reached a bunch of country folksters who soon hitched onto the British beat bandwagon, calling themselves the Jet Set, then the Beefeaters and finally the Byrds. They were led by Jim McGuinn, who was so obsessed with aeroplanes and pilot lore that he later changed his name to Roger. McGuinn was completely taken with ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, and so convinced it would lead to a bright teenage future that he left the trad-folk Chad Mitchell Trio to go solo. At his first show, supporting country singer Hoyt Axton at LA’s Troubadour club in early ’64, he played nothing but Beatles songs. Nobody in the audience was particularly impressed, except for a lanky singer from Kansas, Gene Clark, who resembled a troubled bird of prey and had just left another established folk act, the New Christy Minstrels. He wondered if Jim would like to try songwriting with him. A few weeks later, round-faced cheeky boy David Crosby saw McGuinn and Clark at the Troubadour and leapt on stage to add a high, clear harmony. Crosby had already been attempting rocked-up takes on traditional songs with producer Jim Dickson; they added drummer Michael Clarke (who Crosby had seen playing bongos with proto- hippie Dino Valente) and bassist Chris Hillman (who had just finished making a bluegrass album with the Gosdin Brothers) to complete the group. They demo’d with Dickson, Lenny Bruce’s mum got them their first paying gig (East Los Angeles College – they were paid $50), and Miles Davis heard about the commotion they caused and promptly told * Eric Burdon refused to wear make-up on TV to cover his pimples, figuring that teenage viewers would be empathetic.
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Columbia Records, who signed them in November ’64. Their advance bought a drum kit for Clarke – he’d been playing on cardboard boxes, with a tambourine for a snare – and, crucially, a Rickenbacker twelvestring guitar for McGuinn. Columbia producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, produced their debut 45, a cover of Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Melcher’s thinking was that Dylan couldn’t sing, but he could write; using the Animals’ ‘House of the Rising Sun’ as his guide, he rearranged Dylan’s surreal lyric – cutting all but one verse – and, by placing McGuinn’s twelve-string centre stage, he made the song 3D, a jingle-jangle morning of a record. ‘All my senses have been stripped,’ sang McGuinn, ready to go anywhere. What is striking about the formation of the Byrds is how each member was absorbed by American music, each unique in its own way, and how this bore no relation to the existing pro musician set-up that had carried all modern pop, even rock ’n’ roll, up to this point. They loved music and they wanted to see the rivers of their visions flow into one another. On the sleevenotes of their first album in summer ’65, McGuinn said, ‘Music is life.’ Even Phil Spector and Joe Meek would have been a little more circumspect. In the press, McGuinn wouldn’t shut up about planes: ‘I think the difference is in the mechanical sounds of our time. Like the sound of the airplane in the forties was a rrrrroooooaaaaahhhhhhh sound and Sinatra and other people sang like that with those sort of overtones. Now we’ve got the krrrrriiiiissssshhhhhhhh jet sound, and the kids are singing up in there now.’ Gene Clark, unfortunately, was terrified of flying, and quit after he wrote the Byrds’ single ‘Eight Miles High’ (US no. 14, UK no. 24 ’66), a woozy, hard, jazz-inflected evocation of jet lag in London, the release of which the group deemed important enough to warrant a press conference. Oddly, the public fell out of love with them right away, as soon as they tried to vary their jangle with jazz on the John Coltrane-influenced 5D album (1966), and then with Moogs (The Notorious Byrd Brothers, early ’68), and then with country (Sweetheart of the Rodeo, late ’68). Beyond their stuttering commercial success, they were restless and fought like cats. Crosby, always looking like the cat that got the cream, was booted out in late ’67. McGuinn
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still wore the goggles, but the magic then began to dissipate. No matter. His noonday, church-chiming twelve-string had enabled the Byrds to turn songs about Welsh miners (‘The Bells of Rhymney’), dead presidents (‘He Was a Friend of Mine’) and Hiroshima (‘I Come and Stand at Every Door’) into jet-age hymns. Smudged together with Clarke’s rudimentary drums, Hillman’s melodic, McCartney-esque basslines and their mountaintop harmonies, the Byrds’ sound was a phenomenon, a drone, genuinely hair-raising and totally American. They may have borrowed the twelve-string ring and harmony chops of the Searchers but they took this brand of pop from the boxy, damp cellars of Liverpool into sun-kissed, spiritual, Californian territory. Outside of folk rock there were a few other breakthrough American acts in ’65 and they, too, used an Anglo-beat template. Why was this? Beach Boys companion Van Dyke Parks has suggested it was the only way for musicians to ‘wrest the trophy’ back from the British invaders, as their girlfriends were all Beatle-crazy. Gary Lewis and the Playboys were the lightest of the lightweight. They were discovered by Liberty Records’ producer Snuff Garrett playing the annual Disneyland summer dance in 1964. He put them in his pocket, took them home, worked on a few Brill Building songs with them, and ended up with the biggest-selling American group of 1965. Gary himself looked timid, even more like a mouse than Paul Simon, and was dwarfed by his drum kit – if you closed your eyes you could imagine him skittering across the skins, his tiny claws making a light, rhythmic sound not unlike Herman’s Hermits. Their first hit, a US number one called ‘This Diamond Ring’ part written by Al Kooper, wore a lyric that bared the tortured soul of a cuckold. Billy Fury, flanked by fuzz guitar and wailing waifs, had cut it in late ’64 as something that would run through your mind as you drove your car at speed towards Beachy Head; the Playboys’ cover sounded like it was recorded on Fisher-Price toy instruments, with Lewis’s pubescent rodent voice quadruple-tracked before it was even audible on AM radio. But he was cute, had Jerry Lewis for a dad, and – with ‘Count Me In’ (US no. 2 ’65), ‘Save Your Heart for Me’ (US no. 2 ’65) and ‘She’s Just My Style’ (US no. 3 ’65) – wasn’t off American TV for three years. When things
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got lighter and sunnier in ’67, Gary Lewis seemed positively prescient, and one single, ‘Jill’, was quite beautiful, a teenage love song on which it sounds as if his broken heart has literally claimed his life; by the end of the song, he can barely whisper the title. Possibly the best of all the new post-Beatles American bands, though, were the Turtles. Their first hit was a folk-rock cover of Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ (US no. 8 ’65), but before this they had been a surf group (the Crossfires) and a coffee-house folk group (the Crosswind Singers). You could call them bandwagon jumpers, or you could say they were so enamoured of modern pop that they decided to embrace pretty much all of its many-faced, polydirectional moves from 1963 to 1969. They were a microcosm of the sixties, the archetypal pop group, and they outlived every trend they rode. If they’d had the looks the Turtles would be remembered as one of the best groups of the decade. As it was, they looked like three Pillsbury dough boys, one in a bushy black fright wig, and their one potential pin-up was hidden behind the drum kit. As the Crossfires they had cut one of the densest, most frenetic surf records, ‘Out of Control’, but moved on when the British beat came to town. Singer Howard Kaylan: ‘We used to go to bowling alleys and order tea with plenty of milk and tell them we were Gerry and the Pacemakers.’ Within months they had switched to folk. ‘We were so young and so green – anything Dylan did was God.’ They covered ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ à la Byrds, considered calling themselves the Tyrtles and settled on Turtles. It reached the US Top 10 and they were set. Only they switched, again, this time to euphoric harmony pop on ‘You Baby’ in ’66, then tough garage punk for ‘Outside Chance’, and then doomy jazz raga for ‘Grim Reaper of Love’, one of the outright weirdest 45s of the sixties. Faltering commercially, they pulled out a plum with ‘Happy Together’, a love song so joyous that it’s hard to avoid throwing your arms around the nearest human being every time it comes on the radio. Endless use in adverts cannot diminish its beauty. It reached number one in the summer of ’67, and Tricia Nixon loved it so much she convinced her dad to let them play the White House. Even Elvis himself had to ask nicely before they’d let him in – the Turtles just sniggered their way past
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security. They were probably stoned. What a gas! Some may see more worth in the catalogues of the Doors or the Grateful Dead, but the Turtles encompassed the American sixties – hip, square and freak – and they split, on cue, in 1969 with a baroque ballad called ‘Lady-O’, written by their one-time groupie Judee Sill. In their own grown-up fanboy way, they were as perfect as the Beatles. Their photos just needed a little more touching up.
31 Deluxe and Delightful: Glam
It’s 1974. The scene is a transport cafe on the A5 just outside Towcester, Northants. Lorry drivers in donkey jackets sit by steamed-up windows, drinking dirt-brown tea from smoked-glass cups as wonderful Radio 1 plays the intro to Mud’s latest single, ‘The Cat Crept In’. It’s just a tinny Alba radio, but as the song begins, as if by magic, a pop group appears. It’s Mud. They jump on the tables, cavorting, sticking out their tongues, hamming it up in full panto-glam regalia. There’s singer Les Gray, his back hunched from hod carrying, his Elvis shades getting a little greasy in the grey-green atmosphere, and his lecherous, bumpinching smile familiar to the whole caff; Dave Mount, the doubledrumming drummer who made ‘Tiger Feet’ 1974’s best-selling single, twirls his sticks and batters a kettle as his eyebrows threaten to fly off his head; Rob Davis on guitar, with a perm straight out of Crossroads and Gypsy Rose Lee’s earrings, wears powder-blue, faux-satin bell bottoms that flirt dangerously with plates of black pudding and fried eggs; and there’s Ray Stiles, the bassist, smiling like a Cheshire cat in his blue crêpe brothel creepers. His band are number two in the chart after a decade of slogging around pubs in Carshalton. Hell, they’d barely made it out of
Surrey before Mickie Most signed them to his RAK label a year before, got Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to start writing their A-sides, and their run of hits began with ‘Crazy’, ‘Hypnosis’ and ‘Dynamite’. Outside, the rain beats down. In London’s Square Mile, in Welsh pit villages and in the mill towns of Lancashire, the three-day week is screwing with the economy. In America, the Symbionese Liberation Army has kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and the president has been impeached. In a cafe just outside Towcester, everyone’s having such a raw time that Rob Davis doesn’t even care when he stands on a squeezy bottle of brown sauce and it squirts right up his trouser leg. The scene is not very glamorous, but it’s very glam. David Bowie lived in a spaceship, primed and ready to whisk you off to some blank alien planet where everyone was bisexual and lived on soma (‘Don’t laugh babe, it’ll be alright’). Mud were quite at home in a greasy spoon, with a copy of the Racing Post, winking at the waitress. Both were glam, even though few realised it at the time. The hippie counterculture was politically committed to the present tense and largely mistrusted theatrics. Take the first issue of British underground music monthly Let It Rock in October ’72, which devoted its cover story (‘The Great Pretender?’) to an annihilation of Bowie – ‘Bowie on stage looks fantastic – no more, no less’ – while elsewhere it took three critics to pick over John and Yoko’s right-on but almost unlistenable Some Time in New York City (conclusion: ‘There’s something important here’). Glam – garish, ultra-commercial and colourful as a Dulux paint chart – was its worst nightmare. And while Bowie and Bolan were media-savvy enough to keep most of the counterculture music press on side, the glam acts who followed in their wake were all about jumping on tables, wearing the spangliest outfits and treating the Top of the Pops studio like a home from home. Whether miming their hits astride a motorbike, or descending to the stage on a crescent moon, or throwing custard pies at each other, the likes of Mud, Wizzard, Suzi Quatro, Gary Glitter, Slade and Sweet picked up on certain lines of Bowie and Bolan’s glam manifesto – the Bo Diddley riffs, the glittering artifice, the outrageous make-up, the tremendous sense of fun – and rewrote them with an abundance of exclamation marks.
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Top of the Pops was reborn in the early seventies. Though it had been running since 1964, it was always seen as a bit of a drag, not as exciting as ITV’s Ready Steady Go! or as cool as an art/pop show like Late Night Line-Up. Now it was inadvertently on one side of the fence, with the BBC’s own Old Grey Whistle Test – on the arts-led second channel, BBC2, to indicate something alternative and heavyweight – on the other side, the rock side. Top of the Pops and glam went hand in hand. The Old Grey Whistle Test’s Whispering Bob Harris declared Roxy Music, the first big glam act to emerge after Bolan and Bowie, too ‘computerised’. You could see what he meant. Glam reduced pop to shorthand. It used trigger terms like ‘teenage’ (‘Teenage Dream’, ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Teenage Lament ’74’) and ‘rock ’n’ roll’ (‘Rock ’n’ Roll Winter’, ‘The Golden Age of Rock ’n’ Roll’ and – best of all – ‘I Didn’t Know I Loved You ’Til I Saw You Rock ’n’ Roll’) just like pop had done in the late fifties. In fact, glam was just like rock ’n’ roll. Unlike Beatlemania, T. Rextasy did not lead to a bunch of Bolan clones. Possibly no one felt they were pretty enough to compete. Neither were there many acts doing a Bowie,* though his chameleon changes were mimicked on a more prosaic level by Chicory Tip, who went from denim rockers to full Martian costume overnight, and Mud’s Les Gray, who felt quite at home slipping into a suburban Elvis impression midsong. There was no blueprint for glam. If anyone had to define glam in 1972, they would have described a new pop sound with a retro-futurist feel – a collage of rock ’n’ roll drive, electronics and space-age lyrics which occasionally mentioned jukeboxes and Chuck Berry. In a nutshell, they were describing Roxy Music. Bowie had pushed the door ajar, and Roxy Music took full advantage. They were very much British art-school, but unlike the R&B acts of the sixties or the progressive smart alecks, they majored in British * New Zealand provided Bowie-alike Alastair Riddell’s band Space Waltz, briefly a sensation with their NZ-only number one ‘Out on the Street’; Britain only had Casino (one blinding single called ‘Crazy’), Roderick Falconer (two albums of brave new world paranoia) and Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel, who dumped the glam shtick early on. Their single ‘Sebastian’ – a flop in Britain but number one in the Netherlands – was a preposterous, cake-out-in-the-rain moment. I still can’t work out if it’s actually good.
Pop. While the Who had bluffed their ‘pop art’ sound with reference to obscure auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger, Richard Hamilton and Joe Tilson taught Roxy Music – literally. And while they had an egghead on keyboards called Brian Eno, with a bank of synths straight out of Cape Canaveral, he was counterbalanced by louche front man Bryan Ferry. Old-time glamour was his angle, and Roxy Music – their name redolent of crimson Hollywood, suburban Vitralite and neon – was his band. Ferry wore tuxes, sometimes sequinned, and screwed his eyes right up tight when he sang, as if he was going to hiss very loudly. As the song progressed he’d perspire gently, and his brilliantined hair would fall over his forehead. He looked just like a coke fiend from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novella, which was entirely the idea. Eno’s full name was Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno* and, silver threads aside, his face betrayed a refined, arch and rather haughty man. While an art-school student he had pinned up a handwritten note outside the staff room: ‘Brian Eno will be conducting tutorials in his office today. Any staff member needing advice or guidance please feel free to come and see me.’ Eno, with a head full of ambient whirs and clicks, quit Roxy in ’73 as it became clear that Ferry was running the show. And Roxy just got better: their first two albums revealed a little too much of their art training, and Eno’s departure led to a finer, more unified sound. On ‘All I Want Is You’ (UK no. 12 ’74) the saxophone and guitar wheel-spins sounded like a souped-up Ford Capri, while ‘A Song for Europe’ basked in its continental drift, the finale of Death in Venice as imagined by Warhol and Spector. Roxy Music were glamorous, in a slightly tortured way, and they plastered gorgeous models in unlikely poses – sweaty and wasted – on their album covers to ram home the point. Mud, on the other hand, were merely glam. How they got to be tagged glam in the first place was largely down to the hit-writing machine of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Simply, they saw the adulation, the magazine covers, the cold hard cash that T. Rex generated in ’71 and ’72 and they wanted in. * This, it should be noted, is a name he gave himself, not the one he was given at birth. His dad worked for the Post Office.
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Up to this point, Chinnichap had worked on a Brit Building formula. Sweet were their most successful act with their Latin-soused bubblegum hits ‘Funny Funny’, ‘Poppa Joe’ and ‘Co Co’ (UK no. 2 ’71); beginning with ‘Little Willy’, they threw in recycled twelve-bar blues riffs, turned up their amps ever louder, and for the next three years produced the most taut, diamond-hard run of singles by any seventies band. Sweet’s first single had come out in ’68. By ’72, when glam was reaching its full potential, they were a fearsomely tight live act. After the nudge and wink of ‘Little Willy’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’ (‘Wham bam bam, gonna get you in my tent’), both of which reached number four in 1972, they moved in for the kill with ‘Block Buster’ in January ’73. Klaxons announced an important record; Chinn and Chapman had decided to fuse Sweet’s bubblegum to T. Rex’s glam muscle and Bowie’s theatre. It was camp as Christmas but, manipulated by backroom boys with an eye on the big prize, it was absolutely magical. Frenzied gibberish, the best since Little Richard. Buster was someone who had to be blocked, but the lyric didn’t suggest why, it just implied some kind of apocalypse: ‘you better watch out if you’ve got long black hair’. Who the hell was Buster? Just the first in a line of preposterous glam characters. T. Rex (again) had got the ball rolling with Telegram Sam in ’72, who was soon joined by Mud’s Dynamite (‘Nobody knew her name but she turned up just the same/ There was a knock on the door, a thump on the floor and the party turned insane’) and Kenny’s Fancy Pants (‘She’s a rocker, she’s a shocker . . . when she hears a beat she goes wild’). Following ‘Block Buster’, Sweet got two more cute little demons from Chinn and Chapman: the man at the back who said ‘Everyone attack and it turned into a Ballroom Blitz’, and the terrifying but irresistible sounding ‘Hell Raiser’: ‘Mama you don’t understand, every time I touch her hand it’s like I’m burning in the fires of hell!’ Wrong crushes, one and all. In Britain they were big; in Germany, Sweet were the biggest pop noise ever. They only began to stumble when they wrote their own songs and decided to be a second-rate Led Zep instead of a first-rate Sweet. It all evaporated very quickly. Nothing usurped glam, people just woke up one day in early 1975 and realised it was over. So Sweet went heavier, Mud turned to disco, Gary Glitter became a pantomime villain.
Marc Bolan, its creator, was still cherubic but chubby, a spurned cupid, doomed to endlessly revisit the sound of ’72. It’s too bad that, as its originator, he alone missed the point – glam wasn’t considered, or classy, or built to last. The trip from ‘Ride a White Swan’ to Sweet’s false new dawn ‘Fox on the Run’ (UK no. 2 ’75) took five years, as Bowie had predicted. Glam was constantly aware of its own mortality, and that is what made it so enjoyable.
42 Supernature: Disco
In 1968 Andrea True arrived in New York as a wide-eyed innocent with the age-old American dream of becoming an actress. She’d been a boarder at St Cecilia Academy, an all-girl Catholic school in countrymusic capital Nashville. She was clean and pure as she packed her case and headed for Broadway. Clean, pure Andrea True. Any ideas where this story is going? After a while she got herself a bit part in The Way We Were, but that wasn’t going to pay two years’ rent. For a leggy blonde, though, roles in Illusions of a Lady and Deep Throat 2 certainly were. True started to divide her time between porn and directing low-budget commercials.
At no point did she think about singing until, while filming in Jamaica in 1975, she found herself stranded during the country’s political crisis: no one was allowed to leave the island with any money. Not wanting to lose her hard-earned cash, True asked a friend called Gregg Diamond to fly in and produce a track for her, which she would finance with her $400 acting fee; maybe she could use the track in her next movie. Diamond was no big shot, but he was capable. A journeyman drummer, his career highlights included sessions with Joey Dee and the Starliters and James Brown. But by ’75 he’d decided to give production a try. The sum of all he had come up with when True called was one basic backing track, with himself on piano and brother Godfrey on drums. He arrived in Jamaica, and True breathily cooed some hastily written lyrics over his demo: ‘How do you like your love? How do you like it? More, more, more . . .’ As luck would have it, also staying in Diamond’s hotel was the calypso star Mighty Sparrow, whose horn section added some suitably loose parps, and that just about used up True’s fee. They flew home, Diamond’s lawyer arranged a deal with Buddah Records in New York, and DJ Tom Moulton mixed the track at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound studio. ‘More, More, More’ – with possibly the only transcendental cowbell break in pop history – ended up as a hypnotic, saucy floor-filler across Europe. It went Top 5 in Britain and America in the spring of 1976. Andrea True, by now in her mid-thirties (or ‘twenty-six with a bullet’, as she told the press), never had another major hit and returned to the world of porn in 1980. There are two ways of approaching disco. One is that it was all about surface, for good or bad. To the mid-seventies music press and many soul fans it was rootless, as visceral as cornflakes, an end to the struggle, a precipitous drop into vapidity. Porn actresses could have huge disco hits recorded on a whim. Donna Summer, one of the very few stars to emerge from the genre’s amorphous anonymity, described her performance on her first hit, ‘Love to Love You Baby’, as ‘Marilyn Monroe singing, not me. I’m an actress.’ Disco picked up on Bowie’s cold distance from the art of pop, kept the artifice, removed his furrowed brow and stuck a smiley face on his Kentish forehead; it was all about pleasure, the end rather than the means. It was often gay, European, machine-made,
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female-led (Cerrone’s ‘Supernature’, Voyage’s ‘From East to West’). Disco couldn’t have been further away from serious, male-dominated, dues-paying classic rock (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’) if it had taken a three-year course in contrariness. Another view. Disco boomed when the Vietnam war entered its terminal phase. When the last American boarded a helicopter out of Saigon in April 1975, Elton John topped the American chart with his paean to the home of disco, ‘Philadelphia Freedom’; the record it replaced was Labelle’s ‘Lady Marmalade’, a song about sexual abandon sung by a sixties girl group – Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles – reborn in feathers and garish space bikinis. The message was that the war was over and the freaks had won. From this vantage point, disco is as political as punk. More than John and Yoko, Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs, Elton, Labelle, Donna Summer and Chic knew how to celebrate the end of the Far East conflict that had cleaved American society in two. Democracy had won; outsiders could at last emerge from the underground. America now began a long cocktail party that lasted until the end of the seventies, and disco was its soundtrack. While disco eventually fell harder and faster than any other major pop trend, it permanently altered the way pop was processed; for the first time the pulse of pop became the most important factor in a hit record, and that hasn’t gone away. You can go back to the amplified snare that opens ‘Rock around the Clock’. You can go back to Bo Diddley, who rode his patented chunka-chunk maracas and locomotive rhythm for a lifetime without usually bothering with a topline melody. Most significantly, you can go back to James Brown, whose style was to take a song and strip it of its fineries, pare it back until it was just a husk, nothing but shouts and rhythmic stabs. ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ (US no. 8 July ’65) had dispensed with verse and chorus structure and cut through the air like a knife; it could have been two, three, thirty minutes long – the endless beat, wound up tight and impossible to resist, was all that mattered. But disco brought the pulse into the pop mainstream, and it took over completely. Disco was populist, it knew no shame. So the beat was fundamental to disco, but there was more to it.
Its roots were, once again, in New York. And we can thank the city’s homophobic laws and a chicken plucker from Philadelphia for its creation. Men were forbidden from dancing together in New York until the 1960s; at clubs on Fire Island flashlights were shone at dancers to make sure they weren’t doing anything as subversive as even holding hands. Chubby Checker’s 1960 US number one ‘The Twist’ had been the very first record to encourage dancing solo, and so became a sensation at New York gay club the Peppermint Lounge. Soon the club’s house band, Joey Dee and the Starliters, wrote their own anthem, ‘The Peppermint Twist’, which was another number one in January ’62. The Lounge now became the hottest club in town, attracting – much like Studio 54 nearly two decades later – the A-list likes of Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Noël Coward, Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer and Greta Garbo, and all of them were in thrall to Chubby Checker’s choreography. Discotheques began to spring up around the world. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had cut the first true disco record – Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ ‘The Love I Lost’ – at Philadelphia International in 1973, but their heartbeat, the MFSB orchestra, left for New York after a financial dispute. Reborn as the Salsoul Orchestra they cut definitive disco, string-heavy instrumentals with the occasional female vocal and the ever-present hissing hi-hat of drummer Earl Young which were universally based on Gamble and Huff ’s blueprint. When they weren’t with Bob Blank at his perfectly named Blank Tape studio in New York, the musicians recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound studios; it was almost impossible to tell an MFSB production from a Salsoul one. PIR had been usurped by the older, wiser industry town further up the eastern seaboard. The Philadelphia musicians’ lack of loyalty to their home town shouldn’t surprise us. Disco was essentially rootless; it was the beginning of pop’s internationalisation, something that would grow exponentially with the house revolution. Take one of disco’s greatest practitioners, Giorgio Moroder. He came from Val Gardena in the Dolomites, a culturally mixed area of Italy that has as much of a taste for Wiener schnitzel as pasta and meatballs. Donna Summer was a Bostonian, part of the
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cast of Godspell performing in Munich when she met Moroder. He had a notion of updating Serge Gainsbourg’s softcore hit ‘Je t’aime . . .’ and cut ‘Love to Love You Baby’, a panting, orgasmic three-minute single. The spirit of 1975 was for longer records, something pioneered by DJ Tom Moulton, who used spliced reel-to-reel tapes to give his favourite dance records – South Shore Commission’s ‘We’re on the Right Track’, Patti Jo’s ‘Make Me Believe in You’ – more space to breathe. When the head of Casablanca Records, Neil Bogart,* heard ‘Love to Love You Baby’, he asked Moroder to make it longer – fourteen minutes longer. ‘He liked the song so much’, said Moroder, ‘he wanted to have a long version of it. The official story is that he was playing it at a party and people wanted to hear it over and over. I think he was doing something . . . other than dancing.’† With Summer simulating two dozen orgasms over Moroder’s ebbing, flowing, super-clean extended electro backing, the frankly pornographic ‘Love to Love You Baby’ hit number two in the US as Linda Lovelace for President was playing in the country’s mainstreet cinemas. An eighteen-minute song was never going to become a radio-airplay hit – disco was the first genre that created hit records through club spins. Disco’s first UK number one, in 1974, was George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’, a Miami production from the same stable as KC and the Sunshine Band’s ecstatic hit with a telltale title, ‘Queen of Clubs’ (UK no. 7 ’74); neither received Radio 1 support until they were already in the Top 10. Bobby ‘DJ’ Guttadaro of New York club Le Jardin was largely responsible for Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes’ ‘Get Dancin’’ (US no. 10, UK no. 8) and the Love Unlimited Orchestra’s ‘Love’s Theme’ (US no. 1, UK no. 10) becoming hits in 1974 – and he received gold discs from the record companies to acknowledge the fact. The same companies were slower to pick up on Tom Moulton’s * Bogart had also been head of Cameo Parkway when it went down in 1967, four years after Chubby Checker’s last Top 20 hit. † Orgasmic girl vocals became common currency after the success of ‘Love to Love You Baby’. Two of the best came from Salsoul and Prelude producer Patrick Adams: Musique’s ‘In the Bush’ (UK no. 16 ’78) was as rapid-fire and singleentendre as Donna McGhee’s ‘Do as I Do’ was silky and seductive, based on the groove of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Miss You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 3 ’78).
reel-to-reel innovations. ‘Love to Love You Baby’ was a hit in its threeminute form – you had to buy Donna Summer’s album to get the full session. In 1974 Moulton was selling tapes of seamless hour-long mixes of soul and early disco for $50 a go; crafted with vari-speed record decks and careful tape splicing, these were fraught constructions and Moulton’s first attempt took him eighty hours to get right. The first label to cotton on to his underground success was Scepter, home in the sixties to the Shirelles and Chuck Jackson. They let Moulton loose on Don Downing’s ‘Dream World’ and BT Express’s ‘Do It ’Til You’re Satisfied’, which he stripped back and rebuilt starting with the drum track and bassline, creating space, drop-downs, euphoric peaks – the alchemy of dance music. As if inventing the remix wasn’t enough, the wizard Moulton then discovered the new physical format for his concoctions. In early ’75 he mastered his mix of Al Downing’s ‘I’ll Be Holding On’. The studio had run out of seveninch acetates, though, so Moulton made do with one of the twelve-inch ones that until now had been exclusively used for albums. The dynamics, bass and clarity of the mix were light years ahead of the groove-crammed seven-inch singles – soon, Moulton cut all of his mixes on twelve-inch, and the industry followed suit. Moulton, like most disco pioneers, is hardly a household name. Nor is Bob Casey, a soundman at Infinity (a former envelope factory at 653 Broadway) who solved the problem of records jumping when the dancefloor heaved. Inspired by the suspension on his 1947 Packard, he suspended the turntables with elastic bands, something which became the norm until laptops and iPods signalled the vinyl endgame for DJs. Donna Summer, though, did become a star. The Goddess of Love, no less, was her soubriquet. ‘Love to Love You Baby’ had been a symptom of the need for longer records in discotheques and bedrooms. If Summer and Moroder had never made another record, their hit would still be wheeled out as often as ‘More, More, More’, accompanying footage of Britain’s pre-punk decadence: mirror balls, polyester, men in macs, wifeswapping, a squeaky-bum soundtrack for a country still struggling with its sexual identity. But then came ‘I Feel Love’, which was something else entirely, the sound of now and tomorrow, still tomorrow; it was highly
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mechanised and deeply sensual, with the most unlikely chord changes, and minimal lyrics to rival the Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby’ – ‘Ooooh, you and me, you and me, you and me . . . ooooh, I feel love, I feel love, I feeeeel love.’ Here was the future, and it seems to me that we still haven’t caught up with ‘I Feel Love’, still don’t fully understand it.*
* This makes ‘I Feel Love’ one of a very select group of pop records – maybe a group entirely made up of ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Good Vibrations’.
57 Chicago and Detroit: House and Techno
I lost control, I saw my soul. Adonis, ‘No Way Back’
In January 1987 a record by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley made number one on the UK singles chart. There was no video, there wasn’t even a biog on Hurley for DJs to claim, brow furrowed, as their own research. Heck, there was only one black-and-white photo of him, which Channel 4’s Chart Show held on screen for a full two and a half minutes to accompany the dark, relentless clatter of ‘Jack Your Body’. People were appalled, they genuinely didn’t know what the hell to make of this record. ‘Jack Your Body’ was monotonous, little more than a bassline and a dustbin-lid rhythm, with Hurley’s odd, disembodied, processed voice repeating the title. It was also intensely physical, unnerving, robotic, a future shock. Within days, Radio 1’s Peter Powell took the brave step of retiring,
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explaining that if ‘Jack Your Body’ could get to number one, he just didn’t understand modern pop music any more. A fortnight later George Michael and Aretha Franklin stemmed the tide and soothed conservatives by knocking ‘Jack Your Body’ from its perch with the clean, airless soul of ‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me’,* but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, and 1987 joined the shortlist of years credited with a sea change in pop. When the House Sound of Chicago albums appeared in the UK,† the monochrome pictures of Marshall Jefferson and Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley were reminiscent of Delta blues singers, or the deep-soul singers simultaneously anthologised on the Charly label: grainy, lost, a parallel and exciting America, nothing to do with Flashdance or Baywatch or ALF. Where did they come from? How could this have been going on while Steve Wright in the afternoon was playing Johnny Hates Jazz? They were unknowable. Such mystique. It turned out that Marshall Jefferson had been a postman and a Led Zeppelin fan, firmly in the ‘disco sucks’ camp. But there was a cute girl who sat next to him at the post office, and she went to the Music Box. He tagged along one night, just to see her body in action, and had the closest thing he’d ever experienced to a religious visitation. Two days later he spent $9,000 (post-office workers in the US got easy credit as they were virtually unsackable) on keyboards and studio equipment; within a few weeks he made the terrifying ‘I’ve Lost Control’ (credited to his sleazy cohort, Sleezy D); within a year he had cut the ultimate house anthem, ‘Move Your Body’. * ‘Rock around the Clock’ had been dislodged by Dickie Valentine’s ‘Christmas Alphabet’; the Rolling Stones’ ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ by the Seekers’ ‘The Carnival Is Over’; the Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ by Tom Jones’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’; Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ by Brotherhood of Man’s ‘Angelo’. George and Aretha, meet your new neighbours. † These essential primers were released on the London label, which – as an offshoot of Decca – had done so much to get American rock ’n’ roll to the grey streets of fifties Britain. Now part of the Polygram group which had swallowed up Decca in the early eighties, it became, along with its FFRR offshoot run by Kiss FM DJ Pete Tong, a reliable sign of quality US and UK dance music from 1987 to 1991.
House and Techno
Growing in tandem, across the Great Lakes, the underground nature of Detroit’s techno scene made house seem like a Smash Hits Christmas party. Photos were pretty much unheard of. In a way it was the exact opposite of house; techno was developed in bedrooms by loners, whereas house was inspired directly by reactions on the dancefloor. Techno was more austere, more glacial and totally tonal – it sounded exactly like a science experiment that had escaped from the lab. People talk about electronic music as ‘cold’, but certain Detroit techno records do seem to cause a perceptible drop in the room temperature. The three shy boys who birthed this new sound – Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson – were wealthy black kids from the Detroit suburb of Belleville, and they only ventured out of their homes to DJ at debutante parties. Atkins and May got acquainted by playing chess; May’s masterpiece, ‘Strings of Life’, was written and recorded after he spent a year hibernating in his room, living on breakfast cereal, barely bothering to dress. Neither was exactly cut from Marvin Gaye’s cloth. ‘The thing is,’ said Atkins, ‘being in Belleville the next person I could play with was ten miles away. It was hard for me to get together with other musicians.’ Young Juan would walk around the house with a bass guitar round his neck at all times, until one day in 1980, when he was fifteen, his gran took him into a local music shop to buy spare parts for her Hammond B3 home organ. Sat in a room at the back of the shop was a Minimoog and a Korg MS10, the future sounds of pop. Juan begged and pleaded until the MS10 was his, and in no time he was making home demos. At college a few weeks later, Atkins played his home recordings in a show and tell, and freaked out a classmate and Vietnam vet called Rik Davis – the two soon formed a duo called Cybotron. Davis was an out-there fan of Jimi Hendrix and sci-fi, and had changed his name to 3070 by the time the duo released ‘Alleys of Your Mind’ and ‘Cosmic Cars’ on Atkins’s own Deep Space label. They were local hits, pummelled by local radio jock Electrifying Mojo,* the John * Like Rik Davis, Electrifying Mojo was also a Vietnam vet and a DJ out there during the war; back home in eighties Detroit his radio show went against the grain of hits-of-the-day black radio and got huge ratings. A typical show started with the Close Encounters theme followed by plenty of Prince, James Brown and
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Peel of Detroit, but – as with early hip hop in New York – this music meant nothing outside the city limits. Chicago DJs began to pick up on them, and by ’83 Cybotron’s third single, ‘Clear’, which sounded like Darth Vader guesting with Kraftwerk, placed on Billboard’s black-music chart. They followed it with their best record, the hugely atmospheric ‘Techno City’, which would soon lend its name to a whole genre. By 2010 Cybotron were featured on Grand Theft Auto – that’s a long trickle down, but then they had been ridiculously ahead of their time.* Cybotron split in 1985, when Atkins decided to drop the few rock references they had and pursue something purely electronic. He reconnected with his old school pals. Juan Atkins was a spiritual benefactor, techno’s Curtis Mayfield. He was very shy, but he gave May and Saunderson confidence: if he was techno’s originator, then Derrick May became the innovator and Kevin Saunderson the elevator. There had been playground scraps – Kevin beat Derrick up after he reneged on a bet on the Superbowl, aged fourteen – but they were pretty tight. They would drive together through the streets of Detroit; they didn’t see ruins in its abandoned industrial zone, they saw pyramids. Robots had taken over in the automotive industry; for the Belleville Three, it was a natural transition for music in the city to do the same. After weeks, months, in his room May emerged with one cassette, a piece of music which would come to be called ‘Strings of Life’.† ‘I didn’t know what I had done,’ he said later. ‘It scared me.’ It was quite beautiful, with near-atonal chords brushing up against jazz-piano runs that May rendered stunted and mechanical. Saunderson, not to be outdone, created the soulful ‘Big Fun’ (UK no. 8 ’88) and ‘Good Life’ (UK no. 4 ’88) and, under the name Inner City, took techno‡ to the masses. Jimi Hendrix, with the occasional unlikely head-turner, like America’s ‘Horse with No Name’. * The name Cybotron came from Atkins, a blend of ‘cyborg’ and ‘cyclotron’. A true bedroom kid, he loved to invent his own futuristic language, and followed through with his Metroplex and Transmat labels. † Apparently Frankie Knuckles came up with the title ‘Strings of Life’ after Juan Atkins took it to him. ‡ When Atkins and May heard that the NME ’s Stuart Cosgrove was set to fly over and write a feature on the new Detroit sound, they realised they only had
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‘Jack Your Body’ had nudged the door ajar, but the biggest breakthrough for house and techno didn’t come from a track that anyone had sweated blood over. It came from an accident, a piece of malfunctioning, defunct technology. DJ Pierre was a clarinet player from the Chicago suburbs. He was involved in local DJ battles, too shy to make many inroads into the Music Box crowd until his friend Spanky bought a cheap piece of gear called a Roland TB-303. It had been designed in 1982 to play basslines for buskers, but was fiddly, had failed commercially and had been pulled from the market in 1984. Spanky and Pierre discovered that no matter how much they turned the knobs and tweaked the controls, it sounded less like a bassline than an approximation of a melting brain. The batteries died, they put new ones in, but the brain-melting sound was still there – it just wouldn’t die. So they recorded it, over a beat that was already in the 303, called it ‘In Your Mind’, and gave a cassette of it to Ron Hardy. The first time he played it, ‘In Your Mind’ cleared the floor. A few spins later, at four in the morning, it caused a riot. People were screaming, on their backs kicking their legs in the air, slam-dancing into each other. Someone taped the mayhem and it got passed around Chicago on a bootleg cassette labelled Ron Hardy’s Acid Tracks. House had been minimal, two steps away from conventional song structure, but acid house sounded like nothing on earth – atonal, dis orientating, genuinely frightening. Spanky and Pierre released the freshly rechristened Acid Tracks under the name Phuture and invented a whole new subgenre which was as far removed from Trans-Europe Express as it was from James Brown. Just as Britain was deluged with first-generation house, Chicago started creating opportunistic skirmishes, all utilising the Roland 303, this weird contraption, a piece of junk neither Shep Pettibone nor Trevor Horn would give the time of day to. Phuture released the even heavier ‘Slam’; Bam Bam’s ‘Give It to Me’ repeated the title, deadpan, over a woman’s cry. All shared the random squelched melody generated by the 303. Charismatic and modern, these records a few days to think of a name for the sounds they were creating. May wanted to call it hi-tech soul. Luckily Atkins won the fight.
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were exported to the UK, snapped up by DJs eager to be seen with a new square foot of Chicago real estate, and it was chaos. Partly because so much of it was instrumental, free of boundarydrawing linguistics, house and techno were the first truly international sounds of modern pop; they could be easily mimicked, exploited, expanded by musicians in any country. They transcended language and culture. Within ten years of making his first recording, fuelled by cornflakes, Derrick May had DJ’d in Bosnia, Jerusalem and at the foot of the Andes. Frankie Knuckles, interviewed on the BBC’s Dancing in the Streets documentary in the mid-nineties, remembered that Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ – a worldwide number one in 1990 – was, for him, the moment when house music was validated, when it became the people’s music that had been trumpeted on Mr Fingers’ 1986 single ‘Can You Feel It’: ‘I am the creator, and this is my house! And, in my house there is only house music. But, I am not so selfish because once you enter my house it then becomes our house and our house music! And, you see, no one can own house because house music is a universal language, spoken and understood by all. You may be black, you may be white; you may be Jew or Gentile. It don’t make a difference in our house.’
The complete story of the modern pop era: the era of vinyl, the Top 40, the NME, Smash Hits and Top of the Pops when pop music defined pop culture.
Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley is the first book to look back at the entire Modern Pop era: what we gained, what we lost, and the foundations we laid for future generations. It covers the birth of rock, soul, punk, disco, hip hop, indie, house and techno - from 'Rock Around the Clock' to 'Crazy in Love' - not to mention the rise and fall of the home stereo, Top of the Pops, Smash Hits and 'this week's highest new entry'. Yeah Yeah Yeah will remind you why you fell in love with pop music in the first place.
WIN Tickets to the St Etienne Christmas Party at the Islington Assembly Hall this December, with unique DJ sets from the beloved British trio themselves. For the chance to win, simply email email@example.com with the pop song that defined your teenhood by 01 December 2013. TOUR Bob Stanley will be touring the UK with a panel of pop-makers and scenesters from each city including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Glasgow. FOLLOW @rocking_bob | yeahyeahyeahbook.tumblr.com @fabersocial | www.fabersocial.co.uk For review copies and interview requests contact Becky Fincham firstname.lastname@example.org | 020 7927 3908 October 2013 | Trade Paperback | ÂŁ17.99 | 9780571281978 October 2013 | Ebook | ÂŁ17.99 | 9780571281985 This is an uncorrected extract and is not for sale or quotation.