Rock ‘n’ Roll: Not a Passing Fad

Back when Elvis or Bill Haley or Jerry Lee had audiences of young teens enthralled, many parents hoped this terrible noise would disappear; but it only got worse.

In the 1960s, hair got longer, the guitars distorted, the lyrics unintelligible, the groove more hypnotic, and the generation gap became enormous.

Parents hoped that Rock ‘n’ Roll was a passing fad and we’d be safely back with Bing, Perry and singing along with Mitch.  But it wasn’t to be.  The tectonic plates of music would shift and keep moving. The gap between parents and kids would remain for many reasons, musical tastes just one of them.

A few years ago a term came into our vocabulary: classic rock.  That’s almost an oxymoron in meaning.  Rock has never been about something that could be categorized or even a specific thing, and classic rock is more a personal preference than something with boundaries.  The wikipedia description of classic rock: Music ranging generally from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, primarily focusing on commercially classic_rock250successful hard rock popularized in the 1970s.  The definition, aside from a timeframe, seems tied to a format used by radio programmers and what is called AOR, or album oriented rock, which focused less on hit singles and more on well-known tracks that received airplay but usually not chart hits.  The “hard rock” emphasis is not necessarily accurate either. What was called hard rock in the 1960s might have been the Beatles.  During the 1970s, hard rock could range from Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Santana or even the Eagles.  Again, beware of definitions.

In the 1960s, music was shifting away from singles to albums, and musicians used the album format as a musical pallet. Songs could stretch the entire length of one album side, or be separate songs connected by themes or interlinking segues. Albums were art forms, hence the more intense exploration of albums by listeners and radio DJs.

Every city had a radio station, usually of the FM variety, that exposed listeners to songs that other hit-oriented stations shied away from.   These stations were usually involved in concert promotions, artist publicity and listener contests.  These stations also helped break new artists and featured certain times of the day to highlight new music or certain albums.  Sometimes the station, usually at night, played entire albums.  This was years before the Internet, so hearing new music came from the radio or listening to a friend’s new album purchase.  Talk about the stone age.

By the definition above, the late 1960s to the late 1970s, was a fertile time for music. If those musicians are still around, they could be celebrating anniversaries anywhere from 40 to 50 years.  And those teenage listeners are now parents and grandparents, and on the other end of the generation gap.

A few of the bands celebrating 50 years recently are The Rolling Stones, YES, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues and The Who.  In some cases, the bands are down to one or two original members but they work hard to reproduce the classic sound and stay above the notion that they are tribute bands.  In recent years, festivals, devoted to the bands from this time period, are held around the world.  The newest fashion is a cruise with a theme related to the 1960s or 1970s such as Cruise to the Edge, featuring YES and other progressive musicians of the day.  Fifty years ago, Woodstock was in a muddy cow pasture; today, it’s umbrella drinks aboard a luxury cruise ship.

As time marches on, we wax nostalgic, and innovations in technology, allows the music industry to take old recording and remaster the music from the original source tapes to remove noise and improve the sound. Baby boomers love their old music, and generally have the cash to buy new versions of old classics. The danger in tampering with the original sound is to change what you hear.  It is possible to de-clutter the sound and allow instruments and voices to be heard that were buried in compressed layers of sound.

The other recent change is for some albums to be remixed, meaning the sound is changed by taking the original tapes and altering the level or each instrument or voice.  Usually, the remixing is done by members of the band or done with their permission.  Remixing could be like changing the color definition on a painting ever so slightly that what you see provides a subtle change of impression.  Remixing is controversial and not for every fan.  Even if the original tapes are not remixed, technology allows music to be transferred to a DVD music format or transferred using a more sophisticated sound technology for which you need different stereo equipment to experience the difference.

And one more thing.  Vinyl albums were written off for dead after the CD emerged.  Vinyl has returned, made from heavy grain vinyl, the deeper the groove and the more information available to the needle.  The quality of the vinyl is even better but you pay for it.  Now all you have to do is dig your old turn table out of the basement.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is famous for recording and mixing his early hits to be heard from a car’s AM radio.  Before he released new music he would have it played through something resembling a car radio because that is how many listeners heard his music.  AM radio, as marvelous was it was 50-plus years ago, is like the musical covered wagon by today’s standards.  Is hearing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice ” through a $10,000 home sound system a different experience than on your transistor radio?  My memories are of the mono version of the song on some rinky dink radio.  Yes, the sound quality is different, but the memories are the same.  The opening bars of “She Loves You”, no matter the source, still make the hairs on my neck stand up.

As Buddy Holly sang, “For you to know just how I feel, A love for real not fade away.”

A love for your favorite music will not fade away.  I’m pretty sure of that.

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