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When Two Worlds Collide
The following article was printed in the Red River Gazette in the USA
Remember when the music came from little boxes strung with silver wire. And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire. For we believed in things and so we'd sing - Harry Chapin "Remember when the Music".
A long long time ago I can still remember how that music used to make me smile - Don McLean "American Pie."
I was born in 1952, a post Second World War child who not for one moment considered the fact that the great struggle for democracy and fight against evil was still fresh in the memory of so many.
Rock music in all its shades was slowly coming of age and preparing for a revolution which would change the music world for ever and a day.
But where were the differences between the American and British rock scenes? Where did they criss cross and where, if anywhere, were boundaries broken down?
It would be childish to suggest that rock music, again in all its forms, had a "start date." It was a true progression, fusing together the ballads of the early 50s with a need to break out into something more vigorous and more meaningful.
In January 1954 for instance the American charttopper was Eddie Fisher's Oh My Papa (a particular favourite of my own grandfather). The number one album was the Glen Miller story. Neither were ground breaking portents for the future of music. But deep in the undergrowth something vital was stirring!
Elvis Presley recorded a 10 inch demo in January, blues and rhythm and blues were alive and well and Bill Haley and the Comets recorded Rock Around the Clock.
In May of that year disc jockey Alan Freed coined the phrase "rock and roll" and the world never looked back. That America could claim a stronger musical heritage than the United Kingdom was important on two counts.
First of all there was a freshness in Americana in all its forms, uncluttered by history but with its roots still steeped in the past and the intrinsic learning experience of a relatively young nation.
Great Britain on the otherhand seemed happy to listen and learn before divising their own style which was to surface in the Merseybeat sound of the swinging 60s.
It was still a slow revolution, however, with artists such as Rosemary Clooney, Mario Lanza and Perry Como still dominating the American charts. In Britain "pop" charts hadn't even been introduced and it was probably no surprise that when they were introduced crooner dickie Valentine found himself at number one.
On June 29th, 1955, Rock Around the Clock became the first bona fide rock record to hit number one on the American pop chart. More importantly Haley's anti establishment stance broke the mould and heralded in a brave new dawn.
Interestingly the demise of Rock Around the Clock from the charts co-incided with a return at the top for less controversial songs such as Mitch Miller's Yellow Rose of Texas (another of my grandfather's favourites) and Dean Martin's Memories are Made of This. So the slow revolution continued.
By 1956, however, the American singles chart was dominated by Elvis as rock and roll began to erupt into being. In Britain the nonsense that was Johnnie Ray was being replaced by Elvis.
The always uneasy relationship between rock and roll and the establishment became stretched to the limits when many American radio stations held "record breaking weeks" during which they destroyed rock and roll records on the air. Soon these stations would find themselves strictly backing the wrong horse.
Ultimately it was the young people of the day who decided what they wanted to listen to although the late 50s saw a return to the rather futile middle of the road styles of earlier years.
If America notionally fused blues, r and b and rock to give a hint of what was to come, it was the United Kingdom which took up the baton and ran with it.
The teen do wop sound from both sides of the Atlantic was ripped apart by the Liverpudlian Merseybeat sound and its prime exponents The Beatles. If Presley launched a thousand hip swingers, the Fab Four taught the world how to write glorious pop songs at the rate of two full LPs a year - something unheard of today.
Many argue that 1967 and the release of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the most important single year of rock. I would argue for 1964 when the genre made great strides ahead on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was the nemesis of rock and the beginning of a long journey into musical enlightenment that would take us into hitherto unknown territory which would soon become well chartered waters thanks to the Beatles, the beach Boys et al.
Suddenly rock music was a swinging global property. Britain invaded the States with the Mersey Sound and also the Animals and the Rolling Stones and America responded by giving us the likes of Dylan, the Byrds, the Lovin Spoonful, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and ultimately the "Summer of Love" where the image was more important than the reality.
So two nations were learning together and what a glorious experience it was. - One small step for a man, but one giant leap for mankind.
There were so many vital years for rock music (notice how the roll aspect was dropped to give the idea of a more general genre). And whilst I argue for 1964 as possibly the most important year for rock as a whole I would give 1971 and 1972 as my own particular favourites.
Just listing the acts recording in those two years proved what a global property rock had become and how two worlds had well and truly collided. By the early 70s rock, jazz, folk, and every other form of music was beginning to mingle with the promise of much more to come.
The decade between 1964 and 1974 were the years that people found their own freedom, decided to express themselves. They were exciting times providing a rich and vibrant heritage of music that has never been bettered.
I conclude with that lists of acts recording in the early 70s. There is no need for further comment except to underline how unnecessary it was to list the American and British artists separately.
Rolling Stones, Neil Young, John Lennon, Elvis Presely, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Jefferson Airplane, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, the Who, James Taylor, Elton John, Captain Beefheart, Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Crosby Stills and Nash, Randy Newman, Carole King, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Doors (1971 saw the death of Jim Morrison), T Rex, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, King Crimson, Procol Harum, Bee Gees, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Slade, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, Joan Baez, America, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, Chicago - the list is truly endless.
© Peter Steward 2000.