Bob Dylan (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)By Neal R Warner
Why has rock and roll lasted over fifty-five years when since the 1950s people have said that it was just a fad that wouldn't last five years?
Specifically, why has Classic Rock lasted forty-seven years with its own radio station format and its artists still popular not only with its original audience but with their children and now their grandchildren?
Teenage angst, rebellion, social protest and sex eventually lose their appeal, at least as song topics, so what is it about Classic Rock that keeps on rockin'?
One of the defining elements of Classic Rock are the somewhat obscure lyrics. If a lyric is too abstract to be easily understood it is often thought to be "deep" or poetic. If the average listener can't tell just what exactly the song is about then it is assumed to represent something that can't be told in plain English.
Rock songs are well known for saying things "between the lines" that can't be said in polite society. Sex and drugs were taboo subjects once and so the slang of the counter cultures of the times was used as code within the song lyrics.
If someone didn't readily understand the words it was assumed he or she just wasn't "in the know" or cool enough. This put the public in a position where it felt the need to project their own meaning to songs that may or not have been originally intended. But this really doesn't explain Classic Rock's lasting appeal.
What might explain it is that many Classic Rock fans get from the music the feeling that some kind of esoteric knowledge is hidden within the lyrics. Much of the lyrical content of Classic Rock and particularly of Progressive or Prog Rock is based on visual symbolism.
Rather than tell you facts, the lyrics paint you a picture and a picture is worth a thousand words, or rhymes. You get the feeling you understand the song rather than think you understand and feeling something is always much more involving than thinking it. Thinking does not necessarily involve emotion while feeling almost always does. It reaches a deeper part of your consciousness and that is why you may feel a particular song is "deep" or important even if you really can't explain why.
Symbolism is the universal language of our dreams. We all perfectly understand what's going on in our dreams while we are wherever "there" is. It is only when we awaken and cannot translate the meaning of the visual symbols of our dreams but only remember the symbols themselves do we think our dreams weird or strange. They certainly weren't weird or strange to us while we were dreaming them.
Unconsciously we do understand the information we were given in the dream state and in other cultures these dream events are taken just as seriously as any event in "normal" waking reality. In the lyrics to some Classic Rock and Prog songs the abstract nature of the lyrics reminds us of the language of our dream state and we instinctively recognize their importance even if we can't consciously interpret their literal meaning.
It is because of this connection with a deeper consciousness that the lyrical content of a song provides combined with the musical and sonic accompaniment that often is also dreamy or "trippy" as well that makes this style of music so important not only to its original fans but to new generations.
Some great examples of Classic Rock lyrics are in the songs:
Hotel California - (The Eagles) This song about time spent in a mysterious hotel is about modern life in California yet never leaves the hotel.
All Along The Watch Tower - (Bob Dylan) The most famous version has Jimi Hendrix trying to phonetically sing the first line, "none of them along the line know what any of it is worth," that he obviously doesn't understand.
Almost anything by the band Yes. Jon Anderson claimed he chose his song lyrics according to the sound of the words, not the meaning yet most Yes fans will tell you their lyrics are very deep and full of meaning.
I Am The Walrus - (The Beatles) John Lennon claimed to have written this in response to the fans and the press continuously trying to interpret his lyrics. His famous quote was; "Let the f#$%kers figure this one out."
Neal Warner is an artist, writer, filmmaker, member of the multimedia band, The Tooners and founder of Director's Clip, The Internet and Music Video Sponsorship Site (http://www.directorsclip.com) and Rock & Roll Rehab, For The Control of Rock & Roll (http://www.rocknrollrehab.com).
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