Cover from the 1972 debut album #1 Record by Big Star
A Rant By Jason Motz
A random comparison of albums released forty years ago reveals a stunning truth: the early 70s weren’t quite the James Taylor-plagued shit pile I always thought they were.
Any year that boasts debut platters by the shimmering Big Star and the spectral Sandy Denny, the Big Bang of Glam (Ziggy Stardust, T Rex’s The Slider and Lou Reed’s Transformer), the cosmic folk of Tim Buckley and Van Morrison, the bleak-as-a-coal-mine-blast of Townes Van Zandt can’t be all bad. Throw in some other classics and staples by the likes of Miles Davis, Neil Young, Al Green, Jimmy Cliff and something called Exile on Main Street for a lark.
Above left, Frank Zappa who called his band The Mothers of Invention. Above right, Dusty Springfield, who was called by Elton John “the greatest white singer ever”.
And then, in no real order, add releases by Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, Jimmy Smith, The Allman Brothers, Nick Drake, Todd Rundgren, two slices of Stevie Wonder’s genius, Thin Lizzy, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman, Ornette Coleman, Deep Purple, ZZ Top, Dr. John, T. Rex, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, James Brown, Rod Stewart, Nilsson, Mott the Hoople, Genesis, Scott Walker, gospel Elvis, debut solo albums by Pete Townshend, Richard Thompson, and Lou Reed, the prog of Hawkwind, Amon Duul II, and Can, some fine folk from Joni Mitchell, some soul from Dusty Springfield, the funk of Marvin Gaye and Funkadelic, and the jazz styling’s of Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Weather Report and Miles Davis.
Given that list, it’s hard to imagine a better year for music. Sadly, 2012 is nowhere close to rivalling 1972. Still, on the plus side, 2012 has seen….
Bruce Springsteen, Beach House, Patti Smith, Paul Weller, Guided By Voices, Off!, Justin Townes Earle, Bobby Womack, Frank Ocean, NAS, The Gaslight Anthem, The Sheepdogs, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Kathleen Edwards, Air, Leonard Cohen, Esperenza Spalding, Lambchop, The Shins, the Dirty Three and Miike Snow, all release decent to great records.
But with the exception of Patti Smith’s Banga, it is too early to tell which of these offerings have the lasting impact, attitude or groove as the ’72 class.
Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
At the risk of coming across as a Wavy Gravy manqué, where has all the good music gone? With all of the channels available to us, shouldn’t there be a greater and wider availability of stunning debuts, game-changing LPs, and instant classics? How has the music world changed so that an entire year’s worth of releases pales so dramatically to a list of random LPs that, were they people, would now be in middle age?
Forty years from now will the future music geek (or spawn of Vivoscene) look back fondly at the releases of 2012 and think, ‘wow, them be some stone classics?’ That seems worse than dubious.
Just a quick boo at Billboard magazines weekly charts offers copious evidence that in 2012, the music industry has given up the ghost. If mediocrity were currency, we’d be in a true golden age. The bulk of the charts on any given week reveal an industry-wide hollowness. This is the new music reality; a suffocating, darkened sarcophagus strangling the creativity right out of the body of our culture. There are no Sliders or Ziggy Stardusts to put an end to these dreary times.
An artist today is just as likely to sell you a ringtone as they would an album. Promotion comes via every conceivable social media channel. There is no end to the noise. When 1972′s child was lucky to catch a rare glimpse of their hero artist on TV , today’s spoiled brat is just a Google search away from a miasma of corporate websites, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, MySpace and Facebook profiles of every artist in cyberspace. You don’t need to buy CDs, assuming you can find a store still selling such antiquities, when you can find most anything on YouTube or a bit torrent. This includes bootlegs, rare television appearances and leaked albums.
The bland niceties of modern pop, the cultural denial of anguish and frustration, the lack of economic foresight, the repression of pure emotion and the fabrication of a Stepford duality where being vapid, uncultured, dismally nonmusical, ProTooled past the point of intuition, processed, zealously overdubbed, an era of pop where even the sub standards for lip-synching have receded to the point of making Milli Vanilli sound like two of the three tenors, is where it’s at in 2012. Such a culture could not allow the birth of a Zappa, Beefheart, Nina Simone or an Archie Shepp.
For a year that I often dismiss as being the armpit of the singer-songwriter movement, an era of pomposity and sterility in rock, a time when rock music seemed to have been tamed, neutered and defanged, a look back shows that 1972, and not 2012, is the radical and more diverse of the two years.
1972 was the era when glam emerged as the serious threat (at least in the UK) to staid State sponsored radio. But if Adam Lambert is truly a descendent of the Glam era then we surely have lost sight of priorities in the wake of Marc Bolan’s silence. And I’ll wager today that forty years from now Adam Lambert’s name will have as much status in the annals of rock and pop as John Tesh.
Above left, Marc Bolan of T Rex. Above right, Adam Lambert. And the glamour boy is which one?
Adele has sold her weight in records, but does that mean anything? Will we mention Adele forty years from now in the hushed tones of reverence reserved for the likes of Aretha Franklin? (As of this writing Adele is ensconced in the top 200. But before we chisel statues in her likeness, let’s see what else she has to offer. Until then, Aretha, ya still the Queen, baby. ) Adele remains a burgeoning talent. Two LPs in and things look good. Can she sustain her chart dominance? Can her voice withstand another session let alone a proper tour? With questions like these weighed against her, prognosticating her cultural status forty years on is impossible.
And where is the underground movement, trying to upset the industry, to steal children’s minds away from parental control? Where is the avant-garde movement to rival the piddle and crap? If ever a generation of pop music listeners needed a Vietnam or a Johnny Rotten, it’s today’s Bieber Bunch.
There is nothing on Billboard today as seductive as the Slider, as plain badass as Super Fly. (Frank Ocean, a lone exception, but I find his ascent to fame a bit too scripted for my liking). And if Luke Bryan is the face and voice of a new wave of singer-songwriters, then the Mayan prophecies can’t come any sooner. (To be honest, I’ve never even listened to this guy. Is he the Randy Newman of 2012?)
Above left, the band Big Star. Above right, Luke Bryan. Yes, that’s the face of modern music.
B.O.B. Godsmack. Nicki Minaj. Tenacious D. Luke Bryan. Gotye. Smash and Glee. One Direction. Lionel Ritchie, with a country album no less! Is there anyone out there left making music today, I mean really making music? This uninspired lot should be relegated from the charts until they can step up their game.
Where are the defiant recordings, the genre-makers boasting a Transformer-like influence, or the career-threatening experimentation of On the Corner? The overall tone of the records coming out in 2012 is one of vanilla white plasticity, of low fat popcorn and non-alcoholic beer. This only ensures that MOR playlists will remain stuffed to the gills for another twenty years. And that is hardly the stuff to sustain a culture.
There is no riot going on here. Not today. For as much fun as it is to mock the 1970s for the self-righteousness, the polyester fashions, the Muppet-inspired beards, and the earnest-till-your-ears-bleed-lyrics, at least the decade provided some alternatives to today’s overproduced crap-rock, soulless pop, and the sexless and safest R&B and Hip-Hop either genre has ever produced. For shame!
And what will the legacy of 2012 be then? Somewhere in the bleachers I can hear a tiny voice holler “dubstep.” Skrillex et al cooks up a nice noise and all but this sub-genre is more reactionary than revolutionary. That scene will have growing pains that will make the fall of the Hair Metal deities of the 80s and 90s look like naptime on the set of Romper Room.
And so with that, this rant ends. Happy 40th to the albums of 1972! You look good and sound great for your age.
As for you current lot of records, shape up or simply piss off.