Friday, August 28, 2009

Rock and Roll Until I Lost Interest

By Asokan Ponnusamy

What in the 1950s started as Rock and Roll ended some time in the late 70s. What now passes for Rock and Roll is only the form sans substance. Rock as we knew it was a most consistent yet constantly transmuting form of music chaperoned by as varied luminaries as the Supremes, Blondie, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the king of them all Elvis with whom, on a personal note, this writer had become so besotted that he had to christen anything he begot, physically or metaphorically, after him.

Rock and Roll, no doubt sadly, eclipsed the glorious days of Doris Day, Johnny Ray and others of the era. Bill Halley, Elvis, Chuck Berry and a host of others set the toes tapping and fingers snapping with their vibrant and never-heard-before sounds. Eddie Cochran, the handsome, an even handsomer Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly who was immortalized, perhaps at Elvis' cost, by Don McLean two decades later, are still big favorites.

The kaleidoscopic spread of rock and roll spawned acid rock, heavy metal, bubble gum, glam rock, folk rock and a host of other sub-species. The 60s were enlivened by rock going electric all the way, purists disclaiming the trend, but like Bob Dylan said, times, they were a-changing. America reigned supreme those days. They had it going like a wild fire. Until 1962. That was when the bubble burst.

Except for the diligent few, not many Michael Jackson enthusiasts realize what happened those days was something improbable, not like the mere switch-over mechanism that followed Thriller. The Beatles turned the world upside down. They simply changed the face of music with their one song "I Wanna Hold your Hand".

This song and others that followed echoed through mountains and valleys, seven seas and five continents. When the bubble burst, the fall-out was incredible. There was a deluge. British bands' numbers swelled and the deluge spiraled with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Herman's Hermits and the Hollies regularly spinning out magical numbers. Together, they swept the Americans off their feet.

Which brings us to the quintessence of the American response with the Monkees who were unabashedly just another Beatles, the Archies and the Beach Boys. Many amongst the readers must be shocked that Brian Wilson should have been included in this list but even his die-hard fans (this writer is one) would agree that the raw energy of Lennon and McCartney was clearly missing even in the peppiest numbers the Beach Boys belted out.

An unlikely hero emerged out of nowhere and surpassed even the Lennon and McCartney team. Shedding his Jewish name, a Woodie Guthrie fanatic, now named Bob Dylan, with a nasal twang burst on the scene and held sway. Critics soon lampooned him for turning electric but he went on doggedly, and thank God for that!

Guitar metamorphosed into God and the high-priests Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison and umpteen other demi-Gods coaxed us all into trying our hands at being practitioners er ... no, well, pretenders. Not long after wards though, piano claimed its place on the high pedestal, perhaps a rung below with adherents like Elton John and Richard Clayderman.

One hit wonders like Cascades with "Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain", Ohio Express with "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy", Dana with "All Kinds of Everything", Johnny Nash with "I Can See Clearly Now" and the Shocking Blues with "Venus" made their appearance and had gone nobody knows where but frankly, who needs another hit with a hit like those?

Meanwhile, folk rock made its appearance with Jethro Tull, Peter, Paul and Mary and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young but it was Simon and Garfunkel and perhaps even Gordon Lightfoot that people are still crazy about. John Denver, God bless his soul, for countless people, personified country rock but even he, gentle soul that he was, would have readily given his nod to Don Williams, Johny Cash and Willie Nelson among others.

Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the like made people delirious with their out-of-this-world music and a pure 100% rock was being dished out by the Sweet, T. Rex, Deep Purple, Alan Parsons Project and Atlanta Rhythm Section, etc. No names here, but there were countless pretenders too.

Some wrote their songs and sang them too. Neil Diamond, James Taylor, Burt Bacharach and Cat Stevens were all pioneers with no comparison. Tragedies struck too. Drugs had taken away Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin ........ . Some though, escaped the deathly drugs, Johnny Cash being one who became a born-again Christian to boot.

A Jody Foster-crazed fiend shot dead John Lennon for reasons best known to himself. Accidents mercilessly snatched away Mark Bolan, Buddy Holly and John Denver. And, perhaps in keeping with the times, Freddie Mercury contracted AIDS and had to say good-bye. Incidentally, the Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is widely agreed to be the best ever song, whether you agree or not.

Detractors were many and some were condescending. Frank Sinatra who first took the micky out of rock later sang live duets with Elvis, signaling the change. Parents left clueless by the new music came round and sneaked into record shops first and then what the hell, did it openly. Can you, those days, have even imagined Elton John and Paul McCartney being knighted?

Come 1980 and suddenly we rockers found ourselves orphans. The music changed abruptly and it was rock no more. We were at sea and had not a clue what was happening. Maybe times, they were a-changing. We did not want to change. Maybe we are too old for rock and roll but we are too young to die, happy to sit by the fire in our rocking chairs with a hot cup of coffee, or better still, a chilled glass of beer in hand and listen to a Lobo or a Donovan.

This author is quite a greenhorn to writing as well to the ways of computers. In fact, this is his first attempt at writing. He hopes to improve his writing soon and to learn about computers which for him are just typewriters with a screen!


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