Quote of the Day: Melody Maker explains why rock ‘n’ roll will never work…

Once upon a time, there were four weekly music papers in the UK. These were Sounds, Record Mirror (both of which folded in the early 1990s), the New Musical Express (still published and better known as the NME) and the grandaddy of them all,  Melody Maker, which originally dated back to the mid 1920s and finally gave up the ghost in 2000. Affectionately known as ‘inkies’ because they were once published on the kind of newsprint that covered your fingers in black ink as you turned the pages, these publications were a hugely important part of the lives of generations of British music fans and introduced many a music-mad teenager to the latest, greatest hot new thing. But they didn’t always get it right…

Melody Maker, in particular, began life as a paper aimed squarely at jazz and dance band musicians, and as such they stubbornly and snobbishly ignored the growth of a new kind of popular music that began to emerge in the 1950s – the ‘cheap and nasty’ threat of rock ‘n’ roll. If they did mention it, it was to dismiss it as a pointless and distasteful fad that they desperately hoped would never catch on, as reviewer and broadcaster Steve Race wrote in May 1956:

Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for Rock-and-Roll material is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. […] Musically speaking, of course, the whole thing is laughable. […] The Rock-and-Roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years – in other words, good taste and musical integrity. […] It is a monstrous threat, both to the moral acceptance and artistic emancipation of jazz. Let us oppose it to the end.

The irony in this, of course, is that these are exactly the kind of negative things that were said about jazz in its early days too (and worse – a great deal of the criticism aimed at the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s had a distinctly and often openly racist tone to it). Even more ironically, a direct line can be drawn from the British ‘Trad’ jazz scene of the 1950s to the rhythm and blues-based rock scene of the early- to mid-1960s that gave us the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds via the ‘Skiffle’ craze of the late 50s (which was where the Beatles started out….).

In hindsight, it is easy to see that Race and Melody Maker were quite obviously wrong about rock ‘n’ roll, and the paper belatedly gave in and did start to cover and promote this popular and powerful form of music in a more positive fashion – indeed, its famous classified ads section brought together countless rock bands who would go on to worldwide fame (or who just played down the local pub!). It’s also aguable that, by the early 1990s, they had eventually gone some way to make up for their earlier musical snobbery with their coverage of the nascent Seattle grunge scene and the growth of British electronic dance music, both of which they approached earlier and in a more in-depth way to the other music papers of the time.

With the NME now the only one of the ‘inkies’ left (and as a mere shadow of its previous self), I would argue that the weekly music paper is all but dead in this country. These days, the market is instead saturated with expensive monthly music magazines that appear to be very firmly aimed at the 40-something male record collector and, interesting though these are, they are not the same. The kind of opinionated writing you see above, the kind of writing that could turn you onto (or off) a new band or artist without even hearing them, the kind of writing that once enlivened your Wednesday coffee break still just about survives on music blogs and websites, and it’s there that I now look for coverage of interesting new music…


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