So, I went on iTunes earlier, looking for a place to find my soul. I’ve hardly added anything to the old iPod since I chucked on the rest of my Steve Marriott anthology.
And I couldn’t think of anything to look for. Literally nothing. I’ve got shelves full of CDs, but they’re at home.
For probably the first time ever, I went and browsed on iTunes and ended up in some themed recommendations list for 1961. It had ‘The Basics’, ‘Next Steps’ and ‘Deep Cuts’… which is a bit like being spoonfed rock music by an indulgent governess, but whatever, I was desperate to find something to love.
I’ve been drifting lately, listening to the same couple of Humble Pie tracks over and over again or simply letting everything sail through my head. The other day, I hardly noticed one of my favourite Thin Lizzy songs come on, play and end.
So I was there, in this list of themed lists called ‘My Groove’ or something. I don’t like compilation lists usually, because they never get it right. They often trivialise the music entirely- a themed list called ‘Air Guitar Classics’? One called ‘Altered States’? Please. Not to mention that the ‘Autumn’ list includes a favourite of mine, Summer’s Almost Gone, by the Doors. HELLO! If Summer is almost gone, it’s not finished, ergo surely it should be in the SUMMER list? No? Whatever.
Anyway, the point of this nonsense is this: I grew up on rock and roll. I mean the real rock and roll stuff you got before the Beatles came and changed everything. Chuck Berry. Buddy Holly. Elvis when he was actually good. Duane Eddy. I must’ve been the only kid in my school who knew who Dion was! My Dad owned (possibly still owns) a set of cassette tapes with the ‘best’ of each year of the early 1960s with these great colourful covers- I’m sure at first I picked the colours I liked best. 1962, I liked that one. I think that was the grey one with orange spots.
I listened to a lot of his tapes and records when I was a kid. I liked Elvis enough to earn my own mixtape. I liked Buddy enough to have meself and a bunch of friends taken to Buddy The Musical when I was ten or eleven. I liked that early stuff so much. Real rock and roll is so simple, so perfect and catchy. It’s Roll Over Beethoven, No Particular Place To Go. It’s teenagers and love and sex and money and summertime. It’s two chords, it’s three chords if you’re lucky. It’s somehow finding new things to do with the same thing you did last time.
It’s the stuff the people who came next fell in love with. While people bang on and on about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones with good reason, some of them/a lot of them forget that this stuff came first. Without Chuck Berry, there’d be no Elvis. Without Elvis, there’d be no Beatles. Without the Beatles, Kenny Ball would be Britain’s most famous musician and Acker Bilk would be invited onto Celebrity Big Brother.
Without this music, there is nothing of music that you love today, unless you love trad. jazz or baroque classics.
So these lists for 1960-3 made me remember simpler times, when Cliff Richard was the bloke driving to wherever on a big red bus, when I was so little I couldn’t hold albums properly. A time when I thought Billy Fury must have been a big star, when Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were names on my lips. When I knew all the words to Rubber Ball by Bobby Vee.
Hell, so long ago that I believed my dad when he said the Beatles weren’t much cop.
I’ve been reacquainted with songs I’ve loved, songs I’ve hated and songs I knew so well. Some I forgot, some I set aside.
You know, it’s occurred to me more than once in my life that my musical tastes have developed chronologically… just a few decades behind. When I was a child, I believed that the 1950s offered the best rock and roll to be found. When I grew a little older, before the sarky-cheeky humour soured into cynicism, I believed the 1960s was the pinnacle of rock achievement. When I turned older still, I moved towards the 1970s and the tight-jeaned nastiness it had to offer. It has not escaped my attention that I moved from the cheerfully rocky C’Mon Everybody and Be Bop A Lula to hopeful, be-nice-to-each other All You Need Is Love and then onto the Oedipus Rocks of The End before sliding into the devil’s guitarist of choice Page and the hopeless doom of Philip Lynott.
It hasn’t escaped my attention at all. The music back then was simpler, kinder. Sex was there, as it always was, but it was nice sex, the kind you get in fifties and sixties movies where they have to infer stuff so the censor doesn’t spank them. Sex was there- you think Eddie Cochran was climbing twenty flights of stairs for anything else? Death was there- I always loved death ballads like Tell Laura I Love Her by Ricky Valance or Teen Angel by Mark Dinning.
I hardly even remember my original point, and I swear I had one. Perhaps it was that I really was born too late and am doomed to repeating everything thirty years behind the people I should’ve been hanging out with. Like Philip Lynott or Steve Marriott. In fact, my sudden return to the Small Faces in a bigger way than before is one of the few times I’ve gone backwards… and even then the songs I love best are the ones I have always loved- The Universal, for instance.
The point was this, I think: Yes, the Beatles are better than Chuck Berry, even on Chuck Berry songs. The Rolling Stones’ version of Buddy’s Not Fade Away is better. Maybe. Fact is, that Buddy Holly was one of the first guys I respected for the music. And he was dead tragically, thus beginning a chain reaction that would lead to me chucking up in front of Philip Lynott’s mum and fucking off to Paris for one single afternoon.
Some say that rock and roll lost it in the first years of the 1960s. And that’s true to a point- Connie Francis and Pat Boone and their ilk rather ruined everything for us after Buddy died and Elvis went into the army. But there’s good stuff there, there really is. Duane Eddy’s guitar still sounds amazing, raw and potent. Shakin’ All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates still sounds fucking filthy… especially if you try to dance to it.
Hell, try to dance to any rock and roll pre-Beatles and you’ll start to see why your grandparents were so terrified your parents were going to hell.
This is the music I loved when I was a child, when the rest of my friends were listening to New Kids on the Block and later Take That and their sorts. Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, even the Shadows before they started doing shit covers of movie themes. This is what laid the very foundations of who I was to become, how I was to see the world, how my life would progress.
So it’s little wonder that I’m so fucked up and weird.
Seriously though… popular music is nothing without these people. Ask the people you love who they love and then who those people loved. You will come back to Buddy Holly. You will come back to Gene Vincent. And incidentally, if you were to ask Elvis who he loved, you’ll come back to Dean Martin apparently.
Don’t dismiss things because they’re old or because you think they’re out of fashion. Chances are the things in fashion wouldn’t exist without it. Chances are you might find something you’d forgotten you once loved. You might find something to make your heart and soul reach for the skies, the music that makes you think of heavenly choirs of angels.
Or, you might find Pat Boone. It’s a risk you should take.