Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Beatles

Jerry Lee Lewis did not so much break the rule, supposing he read it in the first place, he wrote it in his own fashion. He was, still is, one of the most outrageous rebel rousers ever seen or heard. His nickname 'The Killer' is well deserved. He has courted controversy throughout his life even once marrying his cousin, twice removed, who was only a teenager at the time (the couple went on to have children before divorcing). His legend as one of the godfather's of Rock and Roll remains engraved on anyone who claims to like contemporary music. He is up there with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Whatever his faults, and goodness knows he has a house full of 'em, he is one of the pioneers of modern music. More than that he is the embodiment of that era's, and subsequent generations, youth culture - he, like the music he played, was dangerous.
When people speak of great 'live' albums there are a host to write of. None though stand shoulder to shoulder with Jerry Lee Lewis'  'Live At The Star Club Hamburg.' No one, not the Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones,   The Who, The Stooges, Thin Lizzy or gods bless them, Queen, get even near this pit-bull performance. It is everything Rock and Roll is meant to be. Raw, wild and sitting gingerly on the wrong side of explosive. The Rolling Stones are undoubtedly great as were The Who. Both Sex Pistols and The Stooges came very close with their often visceral concerts and then of course there is Queen, THE band at Live Aid where Freddie 'owned' the crowd having them eat out of the palm of his entertainers hand - exceptional. Queen were never Rock and Roll though, always good but never ever dangerous.  Jerry Lee was and that album is both the heartbeat and the soul of how that music should be played, should be performed. It is the flame burning awfully close to the gasoline.
Jerry Lee's credentials need no justification. He is of the pantheon that created the music we still listen to today. When Rock and Roll began to lose favour in the very early sixties he didn't much like the sanitised music that replaced it. That music was lame and stage managed. It wasn't until The Beatles arrived, according to the man who should know, Jerry Lee himself, that an act had come like messiahs to re-establish Rock and Rolls credentials. Jerry Lee Lewis has said countless times that if not for those lads from Liverpool the music created by black Americans would have died.
He is not alone.
Generally recognised as being, if not the best songwriter of the twentieth century then among the top two, Bob Dylan has often poured praise upon The Beatles. He once said he thought every major city, every capital, should have statues of the famed four. What higher praise could there be? He even wrote a song with one of them, took drugs with another and went so far as to introduce them all to marijuana.
Trying to find musicians, and there are some, who dislike the worlds most successful band is difficult. From The Rolling Stones (they once admitted on live radio that Lennon and McCartney helped them on one of their albums but they never did return the favour suggesting The Beatles didn't need anyone's help) are both friends and fans of their biggest rivals as are Queen who on live TV heaped such love and admiration for the band it was almost mawkish. Bowie, Bush, Elton John, Queen, 10cc, Oasis (oh dear), Blur, The Arctic Monkeys and on and on. For every band or artist you find that dislike them you find ten who admire them and who derived inspiration from them.
Disliking a band or musician is fair enough. No one says you have to like Mozart or Wagner. It is after all a matter of taste. However, there are those who dislike The Beatles for all the wrong reasons and attempt to dismiss them as either lucky or being at the right place at the right time. That last bit is true, they were but nonetheless they did it. It is not dissimilar to fans of said Mozart decrying the fact Beethoven straddled two epochs - the Classical and Romantic periods. 'Mozart could have done that!' they suggest. Perhaps, but he didn't, Beethoven did. It is the conservative types, those who arrived after the event, those who seek now to restrain the spirit of the music, shackle it to the past by forever wanting it  trapped in some seventies amber that miss the point.
Yes, Jerry Lee Lewis was raw, wild, rough and ready. So were the Fab Four. Listen to their early albums. Try 'Hard Days Night' or 'Beatles For Sale.' Lennon's ragged, nasally vocals, Ringo beating the crap out of his cymbals, George's guitar sometimes out of tune (thanks Cliff, who are you again?) and Paul's melodious voice counterpointing Lennon's brash, throaty vocals. They were the punk movement of their day. Uncultured, unsophisticated and ebullient. However, for those who think that it was all about the music they played, that those paying them extravagant applause speak only of that and that alone, then you are mistaken. It was far more.
When they appeared on the Royal Variety performance Lennon suggested to the audience that those in the cheap seats clap along whilst those (looking toward the monarchy) in the posh seats rattle their jewellery. This was funny and pointed but not cruel or unkind. Since then artists seem to think speaking their minds, no matter what shit it is they utter, is okay. Lennon was amusing, satirical and made a political point in the best way possible. They all of them were funny guys. They loved the Goons, the radio shows they performed would often feature spontaneous moments of Goon like humour. When interviewed they showed intelligence and wit and never took themselves or the journalists seriously. Why would they, it was Rock and Roll they were playing and that was the epitome of fun. They were like four stand ups, sharp, quick witted with puns ever ready.They reflected this admirably well in fact so well no band since has managed it so effectively. Forever lippy but never swaggering. Typical lads who gave you cheek but left you smiling.
Then there was the films. In those days it seemed anyone, any big musical act, Elvis for example, and the British copyist Cliff Richard, made films. I liked their films but then again I was ten and eleven respectively when 'Hard Days Night' and then 'Help' came out. Again, they depicted four young men having fun, doing the one thing they had wanted to - make music, make art, live a little.

Lennon's books (I have written about them somewhere on this blog) were very good and highly acclaimed. He has been touted as being the young disciple of Edward Lear. His art also sold, those tiny lithographs he produced,  again receiving acclaim.

It was not so much their defining an era for they did not do that alone but rather the manner in which they did it. Theirs was an embracing, all encompassing attitude that listened to a vast range of influences, adapted and then fed back with intelligence. It was a generous spirit, childlike in its enthusiasm, adventurous and exploratory.  Suddenly a generation had arrived with influence, with something to say and here, at the head of that unstoppable beast were blokes from Britain whose vision was universal. They were the zeitgeist.

Those early albums, the ones where Lennon, McCartney and Harrison sang in harmony with a scouse variant of the Everly Brothers, a sort of sweet and sour sound inspired by those two most distinct of singers, that lit my fire as a child. The guitar of George's that so inspired The Byrds and a host of other like minded bands, that open chord cadence that appeared years later on Creams song 'Badge.' It is a mesmerising noise, bright, emotive and powerful that leads us into Clapton's brilliant solo.

The sound they produced in those formative years showed such a diversification of influences: folk, R and B, Country, soul, classical. Not one band before them had thought of introducing such strains into what was ostensibly Rock and Roll. And let's make no mistake here, the music of the seventies, Led Zeppelin and so on was not the same thing. It was American music made over by European bands and returned with thanks. Yes, it was good, better than good at times, excellent in fact, but far, far more sophisticated than its parent. It was The Beatles who started at the coal face, who  then ran the bases down igniting concepts and sounds never before heard in popular music. They showed us where popular music could go redefining its parameters as they did. When they arrived guitar bands were passé, old hat, dead. They breathed new life into dead flesh dragging the fifties with them delivering it into the 21st century. Thank Christ they did.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog