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….).
I love this.
Rock ‘n’ roll has always been rebel music. Or at least that’s how it started out anyway. And nowhere was it more rebellious to be into western rock music than the Soviet bloc of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a place where authoritarian leaders frowned upon western pop cultural icons like rock bands and blue jeans.
In the USSR, the government saw itself as all-powerful, and what it said went. This was reiterated by the two major media organs of the state: Pravda (or ‘Truth’), the official voice of the Russian Communist Party, and Izvestia (or ‘The News’), the official media outlet of the Soviet government.
These were powerful papers, but many Russians naturally took their on-message pronouncements with a rather large pinch of salt – hence the old Soviet joke that there was no news in the Truth and no truth in the News! It seems in some ways almost inevitable, then, that western music – the Beatles in particular – would have such an impact on Russian youth culture.
Keith Richards is shooting heroin into his eyeballs and still touring… I’m getting mixed signals. I picture nuclear war and two things surviving: Keith and cockroaches. “Where did everybody go-o? I saw a bright light and thought we were on …” – Bill Hicks.
As with many things in life, I’m with Bill Hicks on this one: Keith Richards is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll survivor. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and brushes with the law: he’s done it all and to flamboyantly spectacular excess over the years. Richards is, as described in a Guardian article earlier this year, quite simply
… a human shrine to bad behaviour; a living reminder there’s more to life than being healthy.
And now the man who probably would come through a nuclear holocaust alive, guitar and bottle of Jim Beam still in hand (of course), has finally written his autobiography, to be entitled simply Life. By any reckoning, that’s guaranteed to be some read, particularly if the typically outspoken quotes picked up on by some of today’s papers are representative of the published book as a whole.