The Soundtrack: Cheap thrills & The Critic

The Soundtrack: Cheap thrills & The Critic

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by James Fleming

The most obvious example is The Beatles.

In 1967, The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Widely hailed as the greatest album of its, or any, era. But subsequently panned by many critics of later generations, Sgt Pepper’s…, no matter what your opinion, was revolutionary.

It elevated rock n’ roll and pop into an art form. Much to the chagrin of the likes of Lester Bangs who said in 1981: “In the sixties rock and roll began to think of itself as an ‘art form’. Rock and roll is not an ‘art form’; rock and roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts.”

Sgt Pepper’s… was almost universally hailed by critics as a landmark record. Kenneth Tynan of The Times went so far as to call it; “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation”.

But, back in 1964…

The Beatles were not only hated, they were reviled by critics of the day. “Unmusical,” is the word that rears its out-of-touch head oh so often: “They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music,” William F. Buckley Jr wrote in the September 13 issue of the Boston Globe, 1964.

And that sentiment echoed wildly across the newspapers of the day. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and even Newsweek all heralded The Beatles as a fad.

So, what was once dismissed as a cheap thrill ascended into an “art form,” merely three years later.

Critics had an even more extreme reaction to Elvis, rock n’ roll’s first real superstar. “Elvis can’t sing, can’t play the guitar, and can’t dance. Yet two thousand idiots per show yelp every time he opens his mouth, plucks a guitar string, or shakes his pelvis like any striptease babe in town.” So said Herb Rau in the Miami Daily News’ August 4, 1956 issue. And if you thought that was bad…

“We’re no prude, but we might suggest a gift for these fourteen thousand Miami girls who, as if it were a fetish, are vocally and mentally genuflecting to Elvis Presley. A SOLID SLAP ACROSS THE MOUTH.”

Rau and countless other critics and journalists across the USA all recommended physical violence as an acceptable reaction to this newfangled rock n’ roll music.

Yet, by 1967, it was an “art form.”

There’s a phenomenon in popular music where someone grows up with a genre or a style of music that’s detested by critics and the previous generation, in the case of John, Paul, George and Ringo; rock n’ roll, and they take this style, still in its infancy, or maybe even in an embryonic stage, and they turn it into an art.

Love or loathe Sgt Pepper’s…, it reshaped popular culture. It was at that moment that people realised this very new music could actually be something. Rock n’ roll was already a cultural force, but, it was in 1967 that the wider world woke up and realised that fact.

Rock journalism as we know it today was also birthed around 1966/67. So since then, we’ve had critics who were less out of touch, though by no means always correct.

With the advent of magazines such as Rolling stone, Creem and Crawdaddy! the world finally had publications who recognised the importance of rock and pop and were better equipped to critique and document its many changes. And that’s what it has done since.

So, what happens now?

Our planet is awash with indie-lite bands, moronic pop ditties and manufactured pop tarts with a lifespan shorter than their aforementioned ditties. The charts are jam-packed with utter shite, maligned by critics and people of taste everywhere.

However…

Many of these critics and “people of taste,” are people who remember and experienced previous generations’ musical achievements. Others are younger fans who discovered the music of past decades through their parents or or the internet or some such.

And the rest? Well, the rest are FANS.

Somewhere in the millions -if not billions- of fans of this banal mediocrity are people who are going to try and make this music. And, somewhere in those thousands of people, there is one genuinely creative soul. A person who will be able to take this shit and polish it, into something that will take the world by storm.

There’s one issue with this line of thinking.

When The Beatles formed back in 1960, they had no idea they would spark the infamous Beatlemania plague among their millions of adoring fans. They just set out to play their rock n’ roll music. That is not the case today.

The likes of One Direction, who of course got their start on the X Factor, were formed with the intention that their records would go double platinum, that they would rule the world’s airwaves and that teenage girls the world over would lose their shit over them.

That, dear reader, is the difference.

While The Beatles really set out to make music, today’s pop stars did not. The question becomes; has the creativity been diluted? Or will something good spring forth from the evil?

We live in hope.