Nostalgia and Pastiche in Music: Being Derivative Isn’t Always Bad

manufactured

“Now everyone has to be derived from somebody or something. Nothing new is born without parents. Poets stand on the shoulders of earlier poets and musicians, from the long-hair classicists to the long-hair popists, are also links in a chain of influence”

This is one of the best responses I’ve read about the concept of “manufactured” music being inferior to “real music” (what is real music and who decides, I wonder).

A lot of bands are criticized for being manufactured now, but the Monkees got much of the same critique when they came out. I’ve never understood who it was that decided that in order for music to be good and valued it had to completely break from the norms of what went before, so it’s nice to see a music critic in that era say the same thing.

I believe that nostalgia is just as powerful as something totally new. The Monkees obviously borrowed a lot from the Beatles and other successful British Invasion bands, but they also had an undefinable something that made them seem new and fresh, and stand out. That X-Factor, if you will.

A lot of great bands used nostalgia and derivative imagery and sounds in the development of their music and did it with 100% full intent and purpose.

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Why New Wave Isn’t Considered Classic Rock

New Wave Band Duran Duran“Classic rock” and classic rock radio is an extension of what was known as AOR radio formatting in the late 70s/early 80s [AOR= album oriented rock].

AOR program directors back then were almost always white men who thought their listeners wanted a radio rotation with a similar demographic, and generally played music by mostly white male artists in the rock n roll vein. They would also seemingly play “Stairway to Heaven” on the hour for no real reason. And were obsessed with the band Boston.

MTV was founded by people who previously worked at top AOR radio stations which is why it was a rock oriented TV station AT FIRST, though once they realized that hardly any classic rock bands had music videos, they were forced to play videos by unknown British art bands who wore makeup and weird outfits to fill the 24 hours in a day.

Which is why new wave/new romantic/synthpop took over in the 80s and things got interesting again.

By 1983 MTV was basically forced into playing music by black artists, mainly because of Michael Jackson and CBS Records. Until then they didn’t play any black music unless it was jazz or rock oriented.

Classic rock radio has gotten slightly better, I occasionally will hear new wave stuff like Blondie, The Pretenders, and Elvis Costello, sometimes the Clash. Never anything with synthesizers unless it’s in the prog-rock vein or maybe “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Current classic rock radio stations mirror these narrow-minded attitudes of only grouping certain bands in the classic rock genre, leaving out all bands who are synth based, glam rock, funk based, or dance oriented, and that’s fine and dandy.

I think a lot of why these bands [the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Slade, Sweet, Adam Ant, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Japan, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, and T Rex] aren’t allowed in the classic rock radio world is because the male program directions were not comfortable with the makeup and the femme qualities of many of these musicians, but maybe that’s just me.

[BOWIE DIGRESSION]

We have to remember that even someone like Bowie didn’t become a mega-star in the US until his 1983 album Let’s Dance [his only real ‘hit’ in America in the 70s was “Fame”, which was a disco track basically]. His 70s output was still considered fairly fringe in America. Now obviously, classic rock radio plays Bowie a lot, but I think at a certain point in the 80s, he became so big they kind of had to. But Bowie was not considered classic rock in the 70s in America AT ALL.

Disco

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Disco broadened the contours of blackness, femininity, and male homosexuality. African-American musicians and producers experimented with lavish, sophisticated arrangements that didn’t always sound recognizably “black.” Their lush new sounds became the foundation of disco. With this sonic turn, black masculinity moved away from the “sex machine” model of James Brown towards the “love man” style of Barry White. As for gay men, as they became newly visible, largely through the dissemination of disco culture, their self-presentation shifted as effeminacy gave way to a macho style recognizable to anyone who has ever glimpsed the Village People. Feminism’s critique of three-minute sex found its voice in disco, and black female performers broke with representational strategies rooted in respectability. There’s no way to make sense of how we got from Diana Ross to Lil’ Kim without exploring disco.

Alice Echols, author of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

Classic Rockers and Hip Hoppers: A love/hate relationship?

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Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Chris Stein, and an unidentified woman. 1981 NYC

I saw two things online today that reminded me of the old tired question: Can you appreciate both classic rock and hip hop?

Of course, we all know by now that you can be a fan of both genres of music. But a stereotype still persists amongst young people especially that you are either in one camp or another. Or that classic rockers and hip hop players feel the same way.

The big news today is that Lou Reed, the moody L’enfant terrible of the Velvet Underground wrote a fawning review of Kanye West’s new album Yeezus, describing it as “Majestic and inspiring” and “nothing short of spectacular.” A lot of people were surprised because well, Lou Reed typically doesn’t like anything. And a lot of performers from the classic rock era are unfairly critical of anything in hip hop. At least once a week I see someone reblog that quote from the late George Harrison saying “all rap is crap.”

On the flip side, yesterday Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Doggfather, Calvin Broadaus) was asked his favorite heavy metal/rock bands in a reddit AMA and answered, “beatles rolling stones ramones tha list goes on.”

The fact that Snoop Lion openly admits to liking rock n roll based music is no real surprise, as anyone that knows about the formation and history of hip hop and rapping knows that MCs have long-since shown their appreciation of rock music by sampling bands like Led Zeppelin, Mountain, and the Turtles.

The misconception that rappers don’t show appreciation for rock music is getting really tired. If anything, it’s been the old timers who clearly didn’t understand rap or hip hop culture when it first arrived, and never bothered to dig deeper to learn what it’s all about.

I should add that some people in the rock genre were accepting and appreciative of hip hop in the early days, most notably the new wave and punk musicians in NYC in the late 70s (the first rap song to top the charts was Blondie’s Rapture in 1981), like the Talking Heads and Blondie. In the UK, Malcolm McLaren (always one to cash in on the new hot thing) made some classic electro-hip hop songs in the early 80s. Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Rap” hit in the top 5 on the UK charts in the fall of 1981.

But while a few of these musicians embraced hip hop, most did not. Hip hop culture was founded on the inclusion of all types of music; funk, soul, jazz, Afro, Latin, disco, rock n roll, etc. Hip hop’s ability to be inspired by the best of all musical cultures and constantly change to include these elements in their art is perhaps why hip hop has been the dominant music on the pop charts since the early 1990s, whereas rock has remained fairly stagnant for years.

The basic gist? Hip hop has always had love for rock n roll.

DJ Kool Herc, the pioneer for hip hop in the US in the mid 1970s played songs by James Brown and funk artists, but also dropped lost rock gems like “The Mexican” by Babe Ruth; songs that never even charted in America. The band Mountain has been sampled nearly 200 times in hip hop. You can hear the drum break of “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin on songs by the Beastie Boys, Ice-T, Eminem, and nearly 80 other tracks. Hip hop producers and rappers were also fond of “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust’, “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Van Halen, and Aerosmith.

Recently hip hop has shown genius ways of incorporating rock. MIA’s anthem “Paper Planes” brought freshness to “Straight to Hell” by the Clash for a new generation (The Clash were another rock oriented band that was early to hype hip hop). Kanye West always samples obscure rock tracks, including King Crimson’s “21st Century Schzoid Man”
on his song “Power.”

Adam Ant tells a story about visiting NYC in 1981 and seeing breakdancers doing routines to songs by synth pioneer Gary Numan. Afrika Bambaataa, the famous DJ and creator of many of hip hop’s enduring traditions, was a huge fan of Numan, as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra and would spin these white new wave artists at his DJ and breakdancing battles. He didn’t care that they were “rock” based acts. Those records sounded flawless. The kids didn’t care either, whether music was black or white, r&b based or rock based, or made by an awkward German band of robots named Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk, incidentally, became a huge influence on hip hop culture because of Afrika Bambaata, who sampled them on his first big hit “Planet Rock.”

The most famous instance of rock inspiring rap was when Run D.M.C, were freestyling verses over the song “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith, not knowing who Aerosmith was, but knowing it was a dope song. They ended up remaking the song with Aerosmith, which had an enormous impact on how rap was viewed in the pop realm and also brought Aerosmith back into favor ability after many years out of the spotlight.

Hip hop has always embraced and been inspired by rock music. And yes, a fair amount of rock acts have shown appreciation for hip hop. It’s OK to only like classic rock. It’s OK to only like hip hop. But to act like these two genres can’t coexist peacefully in your life or my life is an extremely outdated and wrong assumption, and I’m really tired of hearing it.

A Tribute to Brian Eno

Brian EnoBasically a list of reasons why Brian Eno is cooler than most people.

  • His full name is Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI. Only a rad dude would have a name like that.
  • He dressed like a glittery alien from outer space and wore makeup and probably got more chicks than the typical classic rock bros.
  • He played synths + tapes with one of the best bands ever, Roxy Music.
  • He enjoys taking a lot of photos with cats.
  • He is the pioneer of ambient music, even coining that term.
  • His Music for Airports album was played in the background at La Guardia Airport in the 80s.
  • He composed the startup sound for Windows 95.
  • He once gave an extensive interview to Chrissie Hynde about his pornography collection.
  • CHOICE QUOTE: “Eno forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.”-some guy who writes for Allmusic.com
  • MGMT wrote a song about him.
  • He created the Oblique Strategies card deck in the 1970s as a way for artists and musicians to get out of their writers/creative block and get inspired. It’s like the I-Ching but with messages to help you think out of the box.
  • He most recent project is to create music and light installations for hospitals with the intent of the music aiding the healing process and providing overall good vibes to patients.
  • I mean just look at him.

IN ADDITION TO NOT HAVING ANY PROPER MUSICAL TRAINING, BRIAN ENO PRODUCED THESE CLASSIC ALBUMS WHICH I’M SURE YOU ALL HAVE HEARD A MILLION TIMES:

  • More Songs about Buildings & Food / Fear of Music / Remain in Light, Talking Heads
  • Ultravox’s self-titled album
  • Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo / Devo
  • The Joshua Tree / Achtung Baby / U2
  • Laid by James
  • The last two Coldplay albums.

Not to mention he was David Bowie’s main collaborator on the albums in his “Berlin Trilogy” (Low, Heroes, Lodger)

BRIAN ENO IS AN AMAZING HUMAN. THE END.

Brian Eno

Japan- Quiet Life (1979)

I’m making my way through the entire Japan catalog, and this album is blowing me away! Quiet Life is their third album and shows the band moving away from their earlier glam and rock elements to a smoother and more electronic sound.

This album was described by some as the first ever new romantic album, and the influence that this album had on bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet is obvious. Overall this album has mellow grooves and a heavy synth vibe that would end up dominating much of the sound of British pop music of the 1980s.

Track Listing:

01 – Quiet Life
02 – Fall In Love With Me
03 – Despair
04 – In Vogue
05 – Halloween
06 – All Tomorrow’s Parties
07 – Alien
08 – The Other Side Of Life

Random Thoughts About Music While Listening to Adam Ant

Adam Ant the Ants- Kings of the Wild Frontier (Top of the Pops 1981)

A lot of people who I follow on Tumblr are teenagers who are beholden to the music of the 1960s and 1970s, and I get that. It was an amazing time in music. And I’m sure that it might seem odd to people that I post about the Monkees and then a band like Oasis or Adam Ant or Tame Impala. But to me, all of these bands are very connected and important in their own way.

Music is so interconnected that to me, liking something outside of that small parameter of time isn’t that weird. Adam obviously named the Ants as an homage to the Beatles, and his influences are clearly T. Rex, Roxy Music, Motown records, and the same music of the 50s that influenced people like the Beatles.

This particular song uses two drummers playing the Burundi style of drumming made popular by Bo Diddley in the 50s, and the guitar riffs not just on this song, but on their first album are a direct nod to “Rumble” by Link Wray, which is also, as we all know, a favorite track of Jimmy Page.

Adam’s fashion sense is also a mix of the sort of freak clothes that the GTOs and the dandies in the UK in the 60s wore, but obviously with more of a punk/ugly aesthetic.

I don’t really know my point except to say that there is good, fun, well-crafted music from every decade. The 60s gets a lot of press for being an amazing decade, but every decade has valid cultural movements that make society change for the better.

Like Syd Barrett wearing eyeliner in the 60s and then David Bowie and the glam kids following his lead, and then Adam Ant and the punks doing the same but twisting it so it was “ugly/pretty”, and then Adam Ant influencing people like Boy George to feel comfortable enough with himself to wear makeup, etc. It’s all important. If the 60s was a renaissance for the women’s movement and civil rights, I’d like to think that these male popstars being so open about their sexuality and wearing makeup and still being considered sexy and desirable and that it was OK to be a little femme was helpful in the major movement in the 80s, the gay rights movement.

And then Adam influenced the next generation of British musicians like Suede and Blur who definitely took a similar approach to gender roles in the 90s.

But like all of our 60s heroes, these are still catchy three and a half minute pop songs. This is still a person who has the same influences and background as many people from the 60s. All he was doing was just modernizing it for the times and twisting it around a bit.

I know it’s easy to get stuck in one frame of mind in terms of music, but when you really think about it, whether it’s Jimmy Page in the 70s or Adam Ant in the 80s or Blur in the 90s or Jack White, all of these dudes are all musical peers who are worthy of attention, in my opinion.

Choice Quotation

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“Once inside, everybody’s a star. The social rules are simple but rigid: All you want to hear is how fabulous you look, so you tell them how fabulous they look. You talk about how bored you are, coming here night after night, but that there’s no place else to go. If you’re not jaded there’s something wrong. It’s good to come in very messed up on some kind of pills every once in a while, and weekend nights usually see at least one elaborate, tearful fight or breakdown. If you’re 18 you’re over the hill.”

-about Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, 1973