For this week’s discussion, we will explore the role of gender in the hard rock, heavy metal, glam rock, disco and punk genres. Choose a “star” from one of the aforementioned genres in music (e.g., Donna Summer for a woman in disco or The Village People as an LGBTQ+ band in disco). You may wish to review Chapter 57 as well since this topic underlines several themes within our course (pp. 247-249, text). Describe how music began to transition from the typical heterosexual male singing and playing electronically amplified instruments loudly to a driving rock beat to these new styles. Share (use the mashup tool) a musical example and explain how gender in the era of your choice offered a new perspective to music.
In response to at least three of your peers, when responding to your peers this week, choose an additional musical example (use the mashup tool) and describe how it either reflects or contradicts your peers’ points of view.
When sharing your musical selections with the class, you may use the mashup tool for YouTube. If you are uncomfortable with that or would like to post a traditional text response, that is acceptable as well. Below are the Mashup direction should you choose to use that option. Using Mashup is NOT mandatory.
How to Create a YouTube Mashup How to Create a YouTube Mashup – Alternative Formats
YouTube Instructions YouTube Instructions – Alternative Formats
Unit 5: Readings and Resources
Textbook or eBook:
Campbell, M. (2019).
Popular music in America. 5th ed. Cengage Learning.
In this unit, we will be exploring the development of soul to funk and its role in the adaptation ska to reggae. This unit also looks into disco, its culture and influence and the impact it had on the punk music scene.
· Chapter 14: New Trends of the Late 1970s (pgs. 256-277)
Articles, Websites, and Videos:
The Funk Music Hall of Fame and Exhibition Center: This site offers some additional historical information about funk music and those punk stars that have been honored in the hall of fame.
History of funk
The Funk Hall of Fame.
CH. 59 Funk
George Clinton and Funk
From Soul to Funk: Sly and the Family Stone
The path from soul to funk went through James Brown; Brown was the “father of funk” as well as the “godfather of soul.” Funk musicians built their music on both the basic concept of Brown’s music and many of its key features. However, it was Sly and the Family Stone who played the key role in the transition from soul to funk.
The band was the brainchild of Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart, 1944), a disc jockey turned producer and bandleader. More than any other band of the era, Sly and the Family Stone preached integration. The lineup included two of Stone’s siblings (his brother Freddie and sister Rosie), Cynthia Robinson on trumpet, and several others, including trend-setting bassist Larry Graham. There were blacks and whites, and women as well as men.
In a series of hits spanning a five-year period (1968–1972), Sly and the Family Stone created an exuberant new sound. We hear it in “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” which reached the top of the charts in January 1970. The music of James Brown is the direct antecedent of this song and this style. Like Brown’s music, there is a groove built up from multiple layers of riffs, played by rhythm and horns. There is no harmonic movement—everything happens over one chord, and the vocal part is intermittent, with long pauses between phrases.
Sly & The Family Stone perform on the TV show The Midnight Special, 1971.
“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (1970)
Sly and the Family Stone.
STYLE Proto-funk ⋅ FORM Open, with chorus
Listen For …
Vocals (group singing most of the time), electric bass, electric guitar, drums, keyboards, and horns (trumpet and saxophone)
Moderate tempo; rock rhythm with sharp backbeat; many layers of rhythmic activity, including several double-time (based on rhythm twice as fast as rock beat) rhythmic figures. Almost everything is syncopated.
Repetitive melodies made up of short riffs in both the verse and the chorus
One chord throughout the entire song
Dense, layered texture, made up of riffs in rhythm instruments and horns underneath the vocal. Texture remains much the same throughout the song.
DARK LYRICS, UPBEAT MUSIC
Words and music = conflicting messages? Party-time groove versus sobering portraits of ghetto life.
EMPHASIS ON THE GROOVE
Focus on rhythm and texture; harmony = one chord; melody = repeated riffs
NEW BASS SOUNDS
New, more percussive style: string plucked, slapped, or thumped
BRIDGE FROM JAMES BROWN TO FUNK
Common threads include the great groove, static harmony, and percussive sounds
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
The most direct antecedent for complex rhythms over static harmony is found in James Brown’s music. However, the sound is much denser and more active than that heard in “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Although the drummer marks off a rock beat along with the backbeat, the underlying rhythmic feel of the song is twice as fast. This new rhythmic foundation is what is now often called a
. We sense this faster-moving layer in virtually all the other parts: the opening bass riff, the guitar and horn riffs, and—most explicitly—in the “CHUCK-a-puck-a” vocalization. The more active texture opens up many more rhythmic patterns that can conflict with the beat.
There is a spontaneous aspect to the sound, as if it grows out of a jam over the basic groove. It is this quality that gives the song (and Stone’s music) its distinctive looseness—looseness that implores listeners to “dance to the music.”
59-1aSocial Commentary and Seductive Grooves
If we just listen to Sly’s music, it can hypnotize us with its contagious rhythm. However, when we consider the words—the opening lines of the lyric are “Lookin’ at the devil, grinnin’ at his gun/Fingers start shakin’, I begin to run”—we sense that the band is laughing to keep from crying, or burning down the house. As with many other Sly and the Family Stone songs, there is a strong political and social message. We sense that the music is the buffer between the band and society, a restraint against violent activism.
This is our first example of what would become a growing trend in Afro-centric music, from the United States and abroad: powerful lyrics over infectious rhythms. There is an apparent contradiction between the sharp social commentary in the lyrics and the seduction of the beat. They seem to be operating at cross-purposes: full attention and response versus surrender to the groove. Perhaps that’s so, but it’s also possible to interpret this apparent conflict in other ways. One is to view the music as a tool to draw in listeners, to expose them to the message of the words. Another is to understand the music as a means of removing the sting of the conditions described in the lyrics: lose yourself in the music, to avoid simply losing it.
Sly and the Family Stone became popular after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and after the backlash from the civil rights movement had built up steam. Although civil rights legislation removed much of the governmental support for the racial inequities in American life, it did not eliminate prejudice or racial hatred. The lyrics of this and other songs by Sly and the Family Stone speak to that.
The music provided one way to escape the pain of prejudice. Drugs were another. Sly Stone used them to excess and torpedoed his career in the process. He became increasingly unreliable, often not showing up for engagements; promoters stopped booking his band. Once again, drugs had silenced a truly innovative voice.
The influence of Stone’s innovations is evident in a wide range of music from the seventies and beyond—directly in styles like the art/funk jazz fusion of Herbie Hancock and the film music of Curtis Mayfield, and indirectly in styles like disco. However, it led most directly to funk, especially the music of George Clinton.
George Clinton and Funk
George Clinton (b. 1941) was the mastermind behind two important funk bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. While still a teen, he formed the Parliaments, but as a doo-wop group. They signed with Motown in 1964 but did not break through. When Clinton left Motown, he had to relinquish the Parliaments name, so he formed Funkadelic while battling Motown to reclaim the name. Funkadelic represented a major change of direction. As the group’s name implies, it brought together funk and psychedelic rock: James Brown and Sly Stone meet Jimi Hendrix. When Clinton regained control of the Parliament name in 1974, he used two names for the same band.
He recorded guitar-oriented material under the Funkadelic name and more polished horn-section material with vocal harmonies under Parliament’s. This enabled the two “bands” to perform on one stage at one time.
The formation of Funkadelic signaled Clinton’s transformation into Dr. Funkenstein (he also referred to himself as Maggot Overlord). The title of his 1970 album Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow shows another side of his funky sense of humor.
Although Clinton certainly enjoyed being provocative and playing with words, there is in many of his songs a sense that he too is laughing to keep from crying. He tucks his darker messages inside humorous packages set to a good-time groove. When he tells listeners to “Tear the roof off the sucker,” he could be urging them to party hard—or to riot.
Without question there’s an escapist aspect to his work: Clinton’s many aliases, the flamboyant costumes he and his bands wore in performance, and the sci-fi world he created (the “Mothership Connection”) evidence that. Clinton seems to invite listeners to become “one nation under a groove”; surrendering to the rhythm offers momentary relief from the pain of daily life as a black person in the United States. We experience this in his 1976 hit “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk),” which his band Parliament recorded.
The song shows Clinton’s debt to James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, and the ways in which his music went beyond theirs. Clinton’s most obvious debt to Brown is in personnel. After 1975 his roster included three significant James Brown alumni: bassist Bootsy Collins, saxophonist Maceo Parker, and trombonist Fred Wesley. They were key members of his large band, which included as many as twelve musicians at a time. As a result, the sound of Clinton’s bands is fuller than either James Brown’s or Sly Stone’s because there are more instruments and all of them are busy.
“Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)” (1976)
Bootsy Collins, and
STYLE Funk ⋅ FORM Open
Listen For …
Voices, electric bass, drums, conga drum, electric guitars, synthesizers, and horns
Moderate tempo; basic beat is a rock rhythm, but many parts move twice as fast as rock (the opening “rap,” the bass patterns, and the conga part). Lots of syncopation in the instrumental background.
Melody derived from blues-inflected modal scale. First melody: long, unbroken descending line. Second melody: short riffs. Third melody: long sustained phrase. All three melodies are simply repeated several times; there is no development.
No harmonic change: decorative harmonies (in voices and synthesizer) derived from modal scale
Dense texture, with voices, percussion, bass, sustained chords on horns and synthesizers, and high synthesizer lines and chords. Strong contrast from section to section (“Give up the funk” = voices, bass doubling the melody, and percussion).
RHYTHM OVER MELODY
The rhythm, which features complex interactions among the various instruments, is more interesting than the melody, which doesn’t develop at all
THE BASS AND BLACK MUSIC
Completely liberated bass: little timekeeping; instead, intricate patterns and riffs, occasional doubling of melody
IN THE GROOVE/IN THE MOMENT
The only focus is to give up the funk. No story, no musical journey toward a goal.
ROAD TO RAP
The emphasis on rhythm and the chantlike melodies are a prelude to rap and techno
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
Like Brown and Stone, Clinton creates the groove over static harmony: this is a one-chord song. The texture is dense: there are riffs and sustained chords from both horns and keyboards, high obbligato lines from a synthesizer, an active but open bass line, lots of percussion, and voices—both the choral effect of the backup singers and Clinton’s proto-rap. Clinton gives Bootsy Collins a chance to stretch out. Collins’s lines are active, syncopated, and melodic, calling attention to the increasingly prominent role of the bass in this branch of black music.
The rhythm has a sixteen-beat feel over the eight-beat rhythm laid down in the drum part. Clinton’s rap-like introduction moves at this faster rhythm, and so do the horn riffs, the bass line, and the guitar parts. This is a denser version of Stone’s proto-funk style. It is a darker sound as well, mainly because of Clinton’s voice and the prominence of the bass.
Clinton’s various bands ran into trouble in the late seventies, primarily because of bad money management, sloppy business practices, and drug abuse. By 1981, Clinton had consolidated the two versions of the band under one name, the P-Funk All Stars.
In its purest form, funk never crossed over to the pop mainstream. “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker,” which was Parliament’s highest-charting song, only reached No. 15. It was more successful commercially in pop/funk fusions, such as those by Earth, Wind & Fire.
Earth, Wind & Fire and a Black Music Synthesis
From the time Jerry Wexler coined the term, “rhythm and blues” has also embraced not only rhythmic and bluesy music but also black pop, which emphasizes melody and harmony over strong rhythm and deep blues feeling. During the 1950s and 1960s, black pop and rhythmic and bluesy R&B inhabited largely discrete worlds: doo-wop and Motown versus big beat music, electric blues and soul. James Brown didn’t sing black pop; Diana Ross didn’t sing soul.
Few artists have successfully fused these two streams. Among the few are two truly great performers: Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Both brought soul into pop, and vice versa. In the early seventies, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder moved easily between funk and romantic pop. In the latter part of the decade, Earth, Wind & Fire joined them.
Maurice White (1941-2016), the founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire, named the group after his astrological sign. He was a Sagittarian: the sign contains three of the four elements—earth, wind, and fire—but not water.
After a successful career as a session drummer at Chess Records and with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, White set out in 1969 to create a new kind of group. By 1971, they were Earth, Wind & Fire. The next year, they moved to Columbia (now Sony) Records and continued to climb up the charts. By 1975, they had become one of the elite groups of the decade, both on record and in live performance, and remained a top act through the end of the decade.
Earth, Wind & Fire was a big group. In this respect, they were in step with other black acts, such as George Clinton’s funk bands, Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra, and the various Philadelphia groups. As many as fourteen musicians could be on stage. The nucleus of the band was White, who sang and played a kalimba, an African thumb piano; his brother Verdine (b. 1951) on bass; and singer Philip Bailey (b. 1951). In words and music, the group projected a positive attitude, as we hear in their first No. 1 single, the Grammy-winning 1975 hit “Shining Star.”
In “Shining Star,” Earth, Wind & Fire juxtapose funk and more melodious music within a single song: the verse sets up a complex funk-style groove over a single chord, while the refrain underpins a more coherent, riff-based melodic line with rapidly changing harmonies. Rich harmony helps project the optimistic, hopeful mood of the title and refrain: “Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be.”
Earth, Wind & Fire’s ability to meld funk-like grooves with more melodious material is one key to their crossover success. This versatility is evident in the range of their hit songs, from soulful ballads like “That’s the Way of the World” to funkish grooves like “Serpentine Fire.” Few seventies acts were at home in both funk and black pop styles; fewer still succeeded in blending the two. Earth, Wind & Fire was one of them.
The influence of funk was far more extensive than its market share. Its more active and complex rhythms bled into much of the new music of the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s. It’s apparent in much pop-oriented black music, and even more in disco. Much disco employed a more obvious form of funk rhythms. However, it was rap that was most directly influenced by funk; indeed, with the advent of digital technology, rappers sampled Clinton’s music mercilessly.
“Shining Star” (1975)
Earth, Wind & Fire.
STYLE: Funk/black pop fusion ⋅ FORM: Verse/chorus
Listen For …
Lead and backup vocals, trumpets, saxophones, keyboards, electric guitars, bass, drums, additional percussion
Extensive syncopation over active sixteen-beat rhythm, mainly in guitar and drums
Both verse and chorus built mainly from repeated riffs
One chord in the verse, quickly changing percussion in chorus
Dense, with numerous active syncopated lines
Both words and music emphasize the power of positive thinking
The verse of this song is Earth, Wind & Fire’s take on funk. By contrast, the chorus is more melodic and has active harmony, although it retains the groove.
It is marked in the guitar and conga drum. Other rhythms map onto this faster rhythm; most are syncopated.
STACKS OF RIFFS
Numerous riffs in the horns and rhythm instruments help create a dense texture
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
CH. 60 Reggae
From Ska to Reggae
Bob Marley and 1970s Reggae
Jamaican Independence and Social Unrest
Most Jamaicans are of African descent—about 90 percent at the turn of the twenty-first century—and most trace their roots back to slavery. Like the United States, Cuba, and Brazil, Jamaica was a destination for the slave traders. More than 600,000 slaves arrived in Jamaica between 1665 and 1838, the year in which the slave trade ended. British colonial rule continued for more than a century. Great Britain gradually transferred authority to Jamaicans, with the final step—independence—taken in 1962. Redress of the economic and social inequities of colonialism, however, did not keep pace with the political changes.
One result was a great deal of social unrest in the sixties. “Rude boys,” disenfranchised young black Jamaicans who grew up in the most disadvantaged sections of Kingston, personified the violent dimension of this unrest. They were sharp dressers and often carried sharp knives and guns. For many Jamaicans, including the police, they were outlaws. Others, however, saw them as heroes, much as the James Brothers and Billy the Kid were heroes to earlier generations of Americans or as today’s gangsta rappers are to some young people. Another group with a much longer history of confrontation with white authorities were Rastafarians.
Rastafarianism was an important consequence of Marcus Garvey’s crusade to elevate the status of people of African descent. Garvey, born in Jamaica, agitated for black power in the United States during the 1920s in response to the dire poverty and discrimination that the vast majority of blacks living in the Americas faced. His efforts blended church and state. Even as he pressed for an African homeland to which former slaves could return (it never materialized), he prophesied that Christ would come again as a black man. After serving half of a five-year sentence in an Atlanta prison, he was exiled from the United States and returned to Jamaica.
Rastafarians claimed that Garvey’s prophesy had been fulfilled. Jesus had indeed come again, in the person of Haile Selassie (Prince Ras Tafari), the emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie claimed lineage back to King Solomon, which Rastafarians have taken as further proof of Selassie’s divine status. In line with Selassie’s personal genealogy, Rastafarians also claim to be descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel.
These beliefs, which have never come together as “official” doctrine—as has happened in organized religions—are the religious dimension of Rastafarians’ efforts to promote a more positive image of Africa and Africans. This has largely come from within the movement.
For those on the outside, the most vivid impressions of Rastafarianism are images, smells, and sounds: dreadlocks, ganja (marijuana, which they ingest as part of their religious practice), and music. To Jamaican music, they gave a sound—Rastafarian drums—and reggae superstar Bob Marley.
Rhythm and Blues and Jamaican Popular Music
The influence of rhythm and blues on Jamaican music is in part a matter of geography. Kingston, the capital city, is just over 500 miles from Miami as the crow flies and about 1,000 miles from New Orleans. Stations from all over the southern United States were within reach, at least after dark. So it should not surprise us that Jamaicans tuned in their radios to American stations in the years after World War II. For many young Jamaicans, rhythm and blues replaced
, the Jamaican popular music of the early fifties.
Sound systems, the mobile discos so much a part of daily life in Jamaica, offered another way to hear new music from America. Sound systems were trucks outfitted with the musical necessities for a street party: records, turntables, speakers, and a microphone for the DJ. Operators would drive around, pick a place to set up, and begin to play the R&B hits that the enterprising DJs had gone to the United States to fetch.
From Ska to Reggae
By the end of the 1950s, Jamaican musicians had begun to absorb rhythm and blues and transform it into new kinds of music.
, the first new style, emerged around 1960; it would remain the dominant Jamaican sound through the first part of the decade. Ska’s most distinctive feature is a strong afterbeat: a strong, crisp chunk on the latter part of each beat. This was a Jamaican take on the shuffle rhythm heard in so much fifties R&B. It kept the long/short rhythm of the shuffle but reversed the pattern of emphasis within each beat. In the shuffle rhythm, the note that falls on the beat gets the weight; the afterbeat is lighter. In ska it is just the opposite, at times to the extent that the note on the beat is absent—there is just the afterbeat. It remains the aural trademark of early ska.
As ska evolved into
in the latter half of the sixties, musicians added a backbeat layer over the afterbeats. This created a core rhythm of afterbeats at two speeds, slow and fast: which soon became the characteristic offbeat ka-CHUN-ka rhythm of
. Because the bass had no role in establishing and maintaining this rhythm, bass players were free to create their own lines, and the best ones did. As rock steady evolved further into reggae, other rhythmic layers were added. The absence of beat marking, the mid-range reggae rhythm, the free-roaming bass, and the complex interplay among the many instruments produced a buoyant rhythm, as we hear in Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come.”
Jimmy Cliff and the Sound of Reggae
Jimmy Cliff (born James Chambers in 1948) was one of reggae’s first stars. By the time he landed the lead role in the 1972 film The Harder They Come, he had gained an international reputation as a singer-songwriter. His appearance in the film and the songs that he recorded for the soundtrack cemented his place in popular music history. In The Harder They Come, Cliff plays Ivan O. Martin, a musician who becomes a gangster. Although his character is loosely based on a real person from the 1940s, Cliff’s title song brings the story into the present. The lyric resonates with overtones of social injustice and police oppression and brutality even as it outlines how the character will respond: “I’m gonna get my share now of what’s mine.”
“The Harder They Come” (1972)
STYLE Reggae ⋅ FORM Verse/chorus
Listen For …
Lead vocal, two keyboards (with organ sounds), piano, electric bass, drums, electric guitar
Cliff’s vocal style, with its use of falsetto and melisma, seems inspired by sixties American music. Choked guitar sound.
Moderate tempo; rock-based rhythm with distinctive reggae feel; considerable syncopation and lots of activity, some of it double-time (moving twice as fast as the rock rhythm)
Long phrases, which are repeated, in the verse and the first part of the chorus (bridge); the title phrase is a short riff
Densely layered, with several chord instruments, plus busy bass and drums behind the vocal
REGGAE AS PROTEST MUSIC
Jamaican people’s music: It came from them, and it spoke to them and for them, in direct, uncompromising language
The interaction of the two organs produces the distinctive ka-CHUN-ka rhythm of reggae heard mainly in two organ parts
WORDS AND MUSIC/WORDS VS. MUSIC
Combines lyrics that describe the harsh conditions in which the black underclass lives with irresistible, joyous music
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
The music sends a different message. Behind Cliff’s vocal is a large rhythm section, with organ playing on the backbeat, another keyboard playing afterbeat chords, guitar and drums marking the rock rhythmic layer, and the bassist playing an active, bouncy, line. Their interaction produces the rich, complex, buoyant reggae rhythm, its most distinctive feature.
In “The Harder They Come,” we are again faced with the seeming contradiction between words and music. The lyrics are dark, even menacing, but the music nevertheless brings a smile to one’s face and a body movement somewhere. This is happy music, in its rhythm, in the lilt in Cliff’s voice, in the form (a carbon copy of Motown’s verse/bridge/chorus formula), and in the gently undulating melody. We are left to ponder: is the music the candy that entices us to listen to the message of the lyrics, or a way to forget for the moment the situation that the lyrics depict? What we do know is that many of the songs that put reggae on the international musical map embedded hard messages within the music’s infectious rhythms and sounds.
Like the music of Sly and the Family Stone and George Clinton, reggae contrasted hard lyrics with happy music. However, reggae was different in that it first became known outside of Jamaica as music with a message. The music of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, and other early reggae stars called attention to the social inequities in Jamaica. Moreover, it came at a time when rock had largely forsaken its role as a vehicle for social commentary. Marley would help fill that void, becoming a powerful voice on social issues.
Bob Marley and 1970s Reggae
Bob Marley (1945–1981) began his recording career in the early 1960s; it took off in 1964, after he formed the first edition of his backup group, the Wailers. By the early 1970s, he was extremely popular in Jamaica. A recording contract with Island records propelled him to global stardom.
His success on record and in concert gave him and his country’s music unprecedented exposure. For many outside of Jamaica, Bob Marley was reggae. Worldwide, he was its most popular artist. His popularity gave him the leverage to work for meaningful change in Jamaican society. He became the decade’s most visible spokesperson for peace and brotherhood, carrying the torch of sixties social activism and idealism into the seventies. Much of Marley’s music was political: Songs like “I Shot the Sheriff ” and “Get Up, Stand Up” are familiar examples.
Bob Marley, 1978
“Is This Love” (1978)
STYLE Reggae ⋅ FORM Verse/two-part chorus (first part contains title phrase)
Listen For …
Lead, backup vocals, several percussion instruments, including Rastafarian drums, bass, guitars, horns (at end) and keyboards
Shuffle-based reggae rhythm at moderately slow tempo: light beatkeeping and ka-chun-ka pattern formed by offbeat/backbeat keyboard chords
Slow-moving vocal line, free bass line over characteristic reggae rhythm
Memorable extended instrumental riffs recur throughout; vocal line has widely spaced repeated riff in verse; flowing
Rich texture, concentrated in mid-range (bass moves freely)
Song about love, not politics, sung at a leisurely tempo
Rich rhythmic texture with light percussive beat keeping, flowing melody, distinctive backbeat/afterbeat ka-chun-ka rhythm in keyboards, free bass line
Activity concentrated in mid-range, with keyboard and percussion providing steady but not beat-heavy rhythm, serves as musical cushion for vocal line
Listen to this selection in the unit playlist.
However, he periodically displayed a more intimate side. In “Is This Love,” Marley speaks one-on-one with a special woman. In keeping with the content and tone of the lyric, the form of this song sprawls lazily through time. The slower layer (marked by a sharp guitar “chunk”) is the reference tempo, as it is in most rock steady and reggae songs. The vocal line implies the primacy of slower tempo, especially when Marley sings the title phrase over and over: “Is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I’m feelin’?”
The gentle pulsations of the drum and tambourine, prompted by the fast shuffle afterbeat rhythm in the organ (rather than the even, rock-like afterbeats in “The Harder They Come”), keep the rhythm afloat, while the vocal parts—Marley’s slow-moving melody and the sustained harmonies of the “I-Threes”—and in-and-out bass slow the beat down to a speed below typical body rhythms—even the heartbeat at rest or the pace of a relaxed stroll. As a result, the rhythm of the song is buoyant and lazy at the same time. All of this evokes a feeling of languid lovemaking in the tropics, a perfect musical counterpoint to the lyric of the song.
Reggae as an International Music
Reggae’s popularity outside of Jamaica owed much to the heavy concentrations of Jamaicans in England. As part of the transition from colonialism, Great Britain opened its doors—or at least its ports—to people from its colonies. More arrived from the Caribbean than from any other former colony—around 250,000 in the late fifties and early sixties. By the end of the sixties, the British government had put into effect legislation that severely restricted immigration. By that time, however, those Jamaicans already in England re-created much of their culture. All the Jamaican music of the sixties and the seventies found a supportive audience in England, among Jamaicans eager for this link to their homeland and among British whites intrigued by this quite different music.
For a new generation of British musicians in search of “real” music, reggae (and ska) provided an at-home alternative to the blues. Eric Clapton, who had immersed himself so deeply in the blues during the sixties, led the way with his cover of Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”; the recording topped the charts in 1974. A wave of new British acts, among them the Clash, Elvis Costello, UB40, and the Police, wove the fresh sounds of reggae into their music.
Reggae’s path to America seems unnecessarily roundabout. The music didn’t find an audience in the United States until after it had become popular in England. Once known, however, its influence was even more diverse—and more divorced from the music’s social context. For example, we hear echoes of the distinctive reggae rhythm in the Eagles’ huge 1977 hit “Hotel California.”
Jamaican music influenced African-American music in two markedly different ways. Black pop musicians used the rhythmic texture of reggae to further liberate the bass from a timekeeping role, beyond the advances of Motown and the Philadelphia sound. Because reggae embedded the pulse of a song in its distinctive mid-range rhythms, bass players were free to roam at will, largely independent of a specific rhythmic or harmonic role. Its influence was evident in such songs as “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Gaye’s 1982 ode to carnal love, and “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Tina Turner’s 1984 cynical rejection of it.
The other source of influence was not reggae, per se, but a characteristic element of the sound-system–based Jamaican street parties. Between songs, DJs delivered a steady stream of patter. Much of it was topical, even personal. They would pick out, and sometimes pick on, people in the crowd that had gathered around. This practice was called
. It became so popular that Jamaican record producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry began releasing discs in which the B side was simply the A side without the vocal track. The instrumental track would then serve as the musical backdrop for the DJ’s toasting—and save the producers some money.
Toasting is a direct forerunner of rap. Kool Herc, a Jamaican who moved to the Bronx as a young teen, brought toasting from Kingston to the streets of New York, where it quickly evolved into hip-hop: Grandmaster Flash, one of the seminal figures in early rap, described Kool Herc as his hero. Rap’s first hit, the Sugar Hill Gang’s 1979 “Rapper’s Delight,” is a classic example of the practice: extended raps over a loop of Chic’s “Good Times.”
From Discothèques to Disco
The Mainstreaming of Disco
Disco and Electronics
Reactions against Disco
Disco and Dance Fads
The Influence of Disco
From Discothèques to Disco
Discothèques survived the war, and after the war became increasingly popular in France. The first of the famous discos was the Whisky à Gogo in Paris, which featured American liquors and American dance music, both live and on record. Others sprung up in the postwar years, eventually becoming a favored destination of jet-setters. Discothèques began to open in the United States around 1960. The first was Whisky a Go Go in Chicago, in 1958. The Peppermint Lounge, which Joey Dee and the Starlighters called home and where the rich and famous did the Twist, opened in 1961 in New York City.
As dance fads like the Twist moved out of the clubs and into mainstream society, the original audience sought out new dance music in different, less exclusive, and less pricey venues. By the end of the sixties, a new club culture was thriving. It was an egalitarian, nonrestrictive environment. The new, danceable black music of the late sixties and early seventies provided the soundtrack: Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, and above all the Philadelphia acts, such as the Spinners, the Stylistics, the O’Jays, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Clubbers included not only blacks but also Latinos, working-class women, and gays, for whom clubbing had become a welcome chance to come out of the closet and express themselves. Despite the gains of the various “rights” movements in the sixties and seventies, these were still marginalized constituencies.
61-1aThe Mainstreaming of Disco
By mid-decade, however,
had begun to cross over. Integrated groups like KC and the Sunshine Band, which exploded onto the singles charts in 1975, began making music expressly for discos. Saturday Night Fever was the commercial breakthrough for the music. Almost overnight, what had been a largely underground scene briefly became the thing to do.
In New York, the favored venue was Studio 54, a converted theater on 54th Street in Manhattan. It became so popular that crowds clamoring to get in stretched around the corner. It was the place to see and be seen. Writing about Studio 54 at the end of the seventies, Truman Capote noted, “Disco is the best floor show in town. It’s very democratic, boys with boys, girls with girls, girls with boys, blacks and whites, capitalists and Marxists, Chinese and everything else, all in one big mix.”
61-1bDisco and Electronics
Meanwhile, the discothèque scene continued to flourish in Europe. The new element in the music there was the innovative use of synthesizers to create dance tracks. Among the most important musicians in this new domain were Kraftwerk, a two-person German group, and Giorgio Moroder, an Italian-born, Germany-based producer and electronics wizard who provided the musical setting for many of Donna Summer’s disco-era hits.
Kraftwerk and Moroder exemplified the increasingly central roles of the producer and of technology. Disco became a producers’ music, even more than the girl groups of the sixties. Just as Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” was more famous than the singers in front of it, so did the sound of disco belong more to the men creating and mixing the instrumental tracks than the vocalists in the studios. Here, the wall of sound was laced with electronic as well as acoustic instruments. Singers were relatively unimportant and interchangeable; there were numerous one-hit wonders. Donna Summer was an exception.
Donna Summer: The Queen of Disco
If there’s one performer whose career embodies disco—its brief history, its geography, and its message—it was Donna Summer (born Donna Adrian Gaines, 1948-2012). Summer grew up in the Boston area and moved to Europe, while in her teens, to pursue a career in musical theater and light opera. While working as a backup vocalist, she met Giorgio Moroder (b. 1940), who would collaborate with her on her major seventies hits. Her first international hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” was released in 1975; it was a hit in both the United States and Europe. Summer’s erotic moans were the most striking feature of the song. In its graphic evocation of the bedroom experience, it is in spirit an answer to Barry White’s seductive songs.
As the song title suggests, “I Feel Love,” her next big American hit, also explores the erotic dimension of love, although not as blatantly as the earlier song. Here Summer’s deliberately wispy voice floats above Moroder’s sea of synthesized sound. Summer’s vocal may be the most prominent element of the music, but the background is certainly the more innovative. The innovation begins with Moroder’s use of electronic counterparts to a traditional drum set; there isn’t one conventional instrument on the track. Even more noteworthy is the idiomatic writing for synthesizers. Moroder creates a rich tapestry of sound by layering in a large quantity of repetitive patterns, some constantly in the foreground, others in the background and often intermittent. None of them really corresponds to traditional rock guitar or bass lines. It is not only the sounds that are novel, but also the lines that create the dense texture behind Summer’s vocal.
Rhythmically, the song converts the sixteen-beat rhythms of funk and black pop into an accessible dance music by making the beat and the sixteen-beat layer more explicit. From the start, we hear the steady thud of a bass drum–like sound on every beat and an equally steady synthesized percussion sound moving four times the speed of the beat in a mid-range register. Other parts, most obviously the synthesized ascending pattern that runs through the song, also confirm regular rhythms. Compared to previous examples that used this more active rhythm, “I Feel Love” is far less syncopated and much more obvious in its timekeeping. This is certainly due in large part to its use as dance music. The busy rhythms of the accompaniment contrast sharply with Summer’s leisurely unfolding vocal line and the slow rate of harmonic change. These two seemingly conflicting messages about time in fact invoke two aspects of the disco scene: the activity of the dancers to the throbbing beat and the endlessness of the experience, as one song mixes into the next. (The abrupt ending of the song suggests its use in a disco: The DJ would fade it away before the end as he brought up the next song.)
Summer’s career started before disco went mainstream, then crested during the late seventies. Perhaps anticipating the imminent commercial decline of disco, she took her music in new directions in songs like “Bad Girls.” This helped sustain her popularity through the end of the seventies; her last three albums of the decade went No. 1.
Among the most loyal members of Summer’s fan base were gays. Their connection to disco took on a public face in the music of the Village People.
“I Feel Love” (1977)
Giorgio Moroder, and
Donna Summer, vocal.
STYLE Disco ⋅ FORM Two statements of verse/chorus form
Listen For …
Voice and array of synthesized sounds: bass, percussion, chords, and so on
Summer’s wispy voice vs. bright electronic sounds
Regular timekeeping at three speeds: beat, 2× beat, and 4× beat; other rhythms unfold slowly
Repeated riff in accompaniment; slow, narrow-ranged vocal line
Rich texture made up of electronic sounds envelops Summer’s vocal
ELECTRONIC SOUND WORLD
No conventional instruments; electronic substitutes for percussion, bass, and chord instruments
Beat marking in electronic bass drum, low synthesizer riff produces relentless timekeeping at three levels
WOMAN VS. MACHINE
Contrast between Summer’s gradually unfolding vocal line and slow harmonic change and active rhythms in many parts
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The Village People: Disco out of the Closet
The Village People was the brainchild of Jacques Morali, a French producer living in New York. Morali’s various accounts of the formation of the Village People are conflicting, but what is certain is that he recruited the men who fronted his act literally off the street and in gay clubs.
The public image of the Village People was six guys dressed up as macho stereotypes among gays: the Indian (in full costume, including headdress), the leather man (missing only the Harley), the construction worker, the policeman, the cowboy, and the soldier. These expressions of hyper-maleness were, in effect, gay pinups. Their look was more important than their sound, although after a disastrous appearance on American Bandstand, Morali fired five of the six men and replaced them with new recruits.
Portrait of the original members of the Village People (l+r) Randy Jones (the cowboy), David Hodo (the construction worker), Felipe Rose (the American Indian), Victor Willis (the cop), Glenn Hughes (the leather man), and Alexander Briley (the G.I.).
The whole Village People act was an inside joke. Morali and gay audiences laughed behind their hands while straight America bought their records by the millions and copied the look—mustaches, leather jackets, and the like. Many listeners were not aware of the gay undertone to the lyrics—or if they were, they didn’t care.
The group’s song “Y.M.C.A.,” their biggest hit on the singles charts (No. 2 in 1978), shows the macho men at work. In most cities and towns around the United States, a YMCA (established by the Young Men’s Christian Association) is a place for families to participate in an array of activities. Some are athletic—basketball, swimming, and gymnastics—others are social and humanitarian, such as meals for senior citizens. In larger cities YMCAs can also accommodate residents. In cities like New York, these became meeting places for gays.
Henrio Belolo, and
The Village People.
STYLE Disco ⋅ FORM Verse/Chorus
Listen For …
Voices (a lead vocal, plus others occasionally reinforcing the lead line), drums, tambourine, handclaps, electric bass, keyboard, violins, and brass (especially trumpets)
Disco tempo (about 120 beats per minute). Bass drum thuds out the beat; backbeat is also strong.
Melody moves at a moderate pace with some syncopation. String and brass figurations often move four times as fast as the beat (sixteen-beat speed).
Updated versions of the “Heart and Soul” progression (verse and chorus are slightly different). The progression cycles through the entire song; it never resolves.
Rich, layered texture: low = bass and bass drum; mid-range = voices, sustained strings, some brass riffs, and percussion sounds; high = brass riffs and string figuration. Always a thick sound
NYC YMCA = gay meeting place. Lyric full of inside jokes
DISCO, A MULTIPLE-MINORITY MUSIC
Disco’s original audience included gays, blacks, and Latinos; provoked homophobic and racially prejudiced reactions
SLICK DANCE MUSIC
Amateurish singing, relentless dance beat, and fancy strings
FUNK, DISCO, AND THE BEAT
Funk and disco are close musical relatives, but the more obvious beat in disco made it more popular
CONTROL OF THE PRODUCER
With disco the producer assumed the main creative responsibility. Singer(s) were primarily for image.
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The lyrics of the song have fun with this situation. Seemingly innocuous lines like “They have everything for men to enjoy/You can hang out with all the boys” take on a quite different meaning when understood in the context of the Y as a gay gathering place.
The music is quintessential disco. It’s apparent in the march-speed tempo, with the beat marked by the bass drum; active rhythms, especially the bass in the chorus and the string figuration; rich orchestration, with strings, oversize rhythm section, and electronic instruments; catchy chorus melody; and repetitive harmony.
Disco: Culture, Reception, and Influence
Although most disco artists came and went—Donna Summer was the biggest star, Chic the most successful band—disco was widely popular during the latter part of the seventies. During that three-year window it spread from urban dance clubs to the suburbs, and its audience grew considerably. Disco had clear and strong gay associations, as “Y.M.C.A.” makes clear, but it was more than music for gays and blacks. In this respect, Saturday Night Fever was a slice of life. There were many working-class urban youths who used disco dancing as an outlet.
Disco was more than the music or even the culture that had produced it. For many it became a lifestyle. It was hedonistic: Dancing was simply a prelude to more intimate forms of contact. It was exhibitionistic: Fake Afro wigs; skin-tight, revealing clothes; flamboyant accessories; platform shoes; everything glittering. And it was drug-ridden: With disco, cocaine and Quaaludes became mainstream drugs; the logo for Studio 54 showed the man in the moon ingesting cocaine from a silver spoon.
61-4aReactions against Disco
All this, plus the inevitable stream of mindless disco songs (the ratio of chaff to wheat in any genre is high; disco was no exception), gave disco’s detractors plenty of ammunition. They trashed the music and the culture. Ostensibly, it was simply a reaction against disco’s many excesses, but there was also a strong homophobic undercurrent. Perhaps the most notorious disco-bashing incident occurred in Chicago during the summer of 1979. Steve Dahl, a disc jockey at a local rock station, organized Disco Demolition Night. Fans who brought a disco record to a Chicago White Sox doubleheader got into the park for 98¢. They spent the first game chanting, “Disco sucks”; after the first game, they made a pile of records in centerfield. An attempted explosion turned into chaos.
61-4bDisco and Dance Fads
When disco disappeared from the charts and the radio, there was an “I told you so” response from those who hated it. But in retrospect, it would have been surprising if it had lasted much longer. All the major dance fads in the twentieth century have had short life spans: the Charleston and the Black Bottom in the early 1920s, jitterbugging and Lindy hopping around 1940, the Twist and other rock-and-roll dances around 1960. The Charleston and the Twist were dance fads that caught on somewhat after the introduction of new rhythms: the two-beat foxtrot in the teens and early twenties and the eight-beat rhythm of rock and roll in the fifties. Disco, like the jitterbug, was a dance fad that emerged with the division of popular music into two related rhythmic streams. In the thirties, it was sweet (two-beat) and swing (four-beat). In the seventies, it was rock (eight-beat) and disco (sixteen-beat). The swing and disco eras were brief periods when the more active rhythms of black and black-inspired music became truly popular. In both cases, much of the music was rhythmically more obvious than the music that had spawned it. Many of the hits of the swing era, especially by the white bands, laid down a strong beat but lacked the rhythmic play of music by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, or Benny Goodman. Similarly, disco was more rhythmically straightforward than funk or black pop. This made it accessible to a greater number of dancers but sacrificed musical interest in the process.
61-4cThe Influence of Disco
It shouldn’t be surprising that disco faded away so quickly. It was following much the same path as the other dance fads that signaled the arrival of a new beat. And it should not be surprising that a new beat took root in the music of the 1980s, following disco’s demise. In this way, disco was influential, far more so than its brief life span would suggest.
Disco has also had a more underground influence—on two levels. It was, more than any other popular style, the gateway for the wholesale infusion of electronica. And it created a new kind of underground dance-club culture, which would continue through the eighties and flower in the nineties.
The Roots of Punk
The Power of Punk
Saturated Rock Rhythm
The Sex Pistols
The Roots of Punk
Punk took shape in New York. Much like the folksingers of the sixties, bands performed in small clubs located in Greenwich Village and Soho. CBGB, the most famous of these clubs, launched the careers of a host of punk and new wave bands. Among the CBGB graduates were Patti Smith, Richard Hell (in the Neon Boys, then Television, and finally as Richard Hell and the Voidoids), the Ramones, and Talking Heads. Ohio was another spawning ground: Pere Ubu, from Cleveland, and Devo, from Akron, both had careers under way by 1975.
Among the major influences on punk in New York were the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls. The Velvet Underground embraced the New York City subculture sensibility and nurtured it in their music. Their songs (for example, “Heroin”) were dark, which foreshadowed punk’s “no future” mentality, and the sound of their music was often abrasive and minimalist. They presented an anti-artistic approach to art, a rejection of the artistic aspirations of the Beatles and other like-minded bands. Moreover, their impresario was an artist, Andy Warhol, who packaged them as part of a multimedia experience (the famous Exploding Plastic Inevitable). This anticipated McLaren’s vision of punk as a fusion of image and sound in the service of outrage.
The New York Dolls, led by David Johansen, were America’s answer to David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and the rest of the British glam bands. They lacked Bowie’s musical craft and vision; their musical heroes were not only the Velvet Underground but also the MC5 and Iggy Pop and the Stooges. In effect, they dressed up the latter groups’ proto-punk and made it even more outrageous, wearing makeup and cross-dressing outlandishly—they out-Bowied Bowie in this respect—and in taking bold risks in performance. Brinksmanship came easily to them, as they were, in the words of one critic, “semi-professional” at best.
Patti Smith, a rock critic turned poet-performer, was the first major figure in the punk movement to emerge from the New York club subculture. Smith was its poet laureate, a performer for whom words were primary. There is nothing groundbreaking in the sound of her music. Indeed, she wanted her music to make a statement, not create a spectacle. Her work had much of the purity and power of punk: purity in the sense that it returned rock to its garage-band spirit, and power in the outrage. But it was not outrageous, at least not by the Sex Pistols’ standards. Smith was also important because she was a woman in charge; she played a pivotal role in the creation of this new/old style. Partly because of her presence, punk and new wave music were much more receptive to strong women than conventional rock.
In the United Kingdom, punk was a music waiting to happen. All the components were in place, except for the sound. Disaffected working-class youth wanted an outlet for their frustration: pierced body parts, technicolor hair, and torn clothes made a statement, but they weren’t loud enough, and they didn’t articulate the message. Following McLaren’s return to London and the Ramones’ 1976 tour, punk took off in England as well as in the United States, most notably in the music of the Sex Pistols. Elvis Costello quickly became the bard of the new wave. The Clash, the Pretenders (fronted by Akron, Ohio, native Chrissie Hynde), and the Buzzcocks were among other leading U.K. bands in the late seventies.
The attitudes expressed in the punk movement reflected deeply rooted contradictions in everyday life during the seventies. The “we” mindset of the sixties—the sense of collective energy directed toward a common goal—gave way to a “me” mindset, where people looked out for themselves. The various rights movements and the move toward a more democratic society eroded class distinctions at a rapid rate. Still, there was a strong conservative backlash in both Britain and the United States. At the same time, a prolonged recession, fueled in part by the absence of fuel due to the Arab oil embargo, gave working- and middle-class people little opportunity to take advantage of their new social mobility. And sky-high interest rates and inflation created the fear that today’s savings would be worth far less in the future. “No Future,” the nihilistic battle cry of the Sex Pistols, was in part a product of this bleak economic outlook.
The Power of Punk
Although the look screams outrage and the words scream rebellion, the power of punk comes through mainly in the music. It is the sounds and rhythms of punk that most strongly convey its energy and attitude, especially when experienced in its native environment—a small club overflowing with people. The music overwhelms, injecting the crowd with massive shots of energy.
Punk is to rock and roll what heroin is to opium: It gains its potency by distilling its most potent elements and presenting them in concentrated form. “Pure” punk songs are short; they say what they have to say quickly and move on. In their mid-seventies heyday, the Ramones would play 30-minute sets in which all of the songs lasted about 2 minutes. Within such brief time spans, punk offers songs that intensify the dangerous aspects of rock and roll: the volume, the sounds, the rhythms.
Punk is loud. Subtlety is not part of the equation; typically, it’s full-bore from beginning to end. Punk is noise: guitarists and bassists routinely use heavy distortion. Punk singing is the triumph of chutzpah over expertise. Indeed, the lack of vocal skill or sophistication was a virtual requirement; one couldn’t credibly croon a punk song. Part of the message was that anyone could front a band if he or she had the nerve. Punk is fast: Tempos typically exceed the pace of normally energetic movement—walking, marching, disco dancing. However, the most compelling feature of punk is its approach to rock rhythm.
62-2aSaturated Rock Rhythm
A brief recap of 20 years of rock rhythm: recall that what distinguished rock and roll from rhythm and blues was the eight-beat rhythm. We heard it in the guitar lines of Chuck Berry and the piano playing of Little Richard and gradually in other rhythm instruments, as musicians caught on to this new rhythmic conception. Move ahead to the late sixties and early seventies: as rock musicians became comfortable with rock rhythm, the basic rock beat became a springboard for rhythmic play, as we heard in the music of The Who, Led Zeppelin, and others.
Punk restored the essence and power of rock rhythm by isolating it, saturating the rhythmic texture with it, and speeding it up. In punk, the “default” way of playing the rock rhythmic layer was simply to repeat a note, a chord, or a drum stroke over and over at rock-beat speed. Musicians could graft riffs onto this rhythm to create variety and interest, but this was an overlay; typically, the eight-beat rhythm continues through the notes of the riffs. By contrast, Chuck Berry’s rhythm guitar patterns typically oscillate every beat between two chords. This oscillation creates slower rhythms that attenuate the impact of the faster rhythm. Punk strips away these slower rhythms, presenting rock rhythm in a purer form.
Punk made this “purer” form of rock rhythm stand out through a two-part strategy. First, the entire rhythm section typically reinforced it: Guitar(s), bass, and drums all hammer it out. Indeed, depending on the speed of the song and the skill of the drummer, the reinforcement could be heard on the bass drum as well as the drums or cymbals. Second, it favored explicit timekeeping over syncopation and other forms of rhythmic play. We sample the power of punk in a song by the Sex Pistols.
The Sex Pistols
We think of rebels as independent figures standing apart from the crowd. So there is an uncomfortable irony to the fact that the most rebellious act in the history of rock music was part of an extraordinarily complex and manipulative artist/manager relationship. Malcolm McLaren made the Sex Pistols: vocalist Johnny Rotten (born John Lydon, 1956), guitarist Steve Jones (b. 1955), bassists Glen Matlock (b. 1956) and Sid Vicious (born John Ritchie, 1957–1979), and drummer Paul Cook (b. 1956); he also made them an instrument that enabled him to realize his own provocative ends.
McLaren found the Sex Pistols in his shop. Matlock, the original bassist with the group, worked for McLaren. When he let McLaren know that he and two of his friends, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, were putting together a band, McLaren found them rehearsal space, took over their management, and recruited a lead singer for them. John Lydon, who became Johnny Rotten (allegedly because of his less than meticulous personal hygiene), had been hanging around SEX for a while. McLaren had gotten to know him and felt that he had the capacity for outrage that he’d been looking for. (Another SEX shop hanger-on, Sid Vicious [John Ritchie], would eventually replace Matlock.)
In fact, none of the four had much musical skill at the time they formed the band. Jones was more adept at thievery than guitar playing: He stole the group’s first sound system. McLaren booked the group into small clubs, where they acquired more of a reputation for outrageous conduct than for musicianship. Word spread about the group through word of mouth, newspaper reviews, and subculture fanzines.
The Sex Pistols found their musical direction after hearing the Ramones and learning the basics of their instruments. What they had from the beginning, however, was the ability to shock, provoke, confront, and incite to riot. Indeed, their sets often ended in some kind of fracas; their attitude was more than words and symbols. When they added the musical energy of the Ramones, they were ready to overthrow the ruling class, a stance that is evident in two of their best-known songs, “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen.” Johnny Rotten opens “Anarchy in the UK” with “I am an Antichrist; I am an anarchist” and ends with a drawn out “Destroy.” The opening line lances both church and state; the final word makes clear their agenda. Rotten, a skinny kid who knew no bounds, sings/screams/snarls the lyrics. In “God Save the Queen,” we can imagine the sneer on Rotten’s face as he delivers the opening line, “God Save the Queen, the fascist regime.” And although Rotten railed against the “fascist regime,” punk’s use of the swastika image evoked the ultimate fascist regime.
The Sex Pistols walk down the street in 1977 (l–r) Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones.
“God Save the Queen” (1977)
The Sex Pistols.
STYLE Punk ⋅ FORM Verse/chorus
Listen For …
Vocal, guitar, bass, drums
Abrasive vocal style: loud speech; less than singing; heavy distortion in guitar and bass
Distilled, intensified rock rhythm at moderately fast tempo
Most distinctive melodic material = guitar riffs; vocal not distinct melodically, even in chorus
Thick, heavy sound; low-range power chords stand out
Song lyrics slam British royalty, establishment; “no future” = hard times for underclass
SOUND WITH AN EDGE
Abrasive vocal, distilled, aggressive, saturated rock rhythm, distorted power chords produce classic punk rock sound
POWER OF PUNK
Inflammatory message in lyrics reinforced by aggressive musical setting
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The music amplified the message of the lyrics. It wasn’t just that it was loud—particularly when heard in the small venues where the punk bands played. Or simple—power chords up and down the fretboard. It was the beat. Punk fulfilled the confrontational promise of the very first rock-and-roll records. It was the subversive element that got the revolutionary message across loud and clear, even when the lyrics didn’t. In “God Save the Queen,” guitar and bass move in tandem to hammer out a relentless rock rhythm almost all the way through; only the periodic guitar riffs that answer Rotten’s vocals give it a distinctive shape. The drummer reinforces this rock rhythm by pounding it out on the bass drum and either a tom-tom or hi-hat. Like the Ramones, the band distilled and intensified rock and roll’s revolutionary rhythmic essence. There is no way that a rock beat could be more pervasive or powerful.
The power of the song comes from its stylistic coherence. Every aspect of the song—the lyrics, Rotten’s vocal style, the absence of melody, simple power chords, the heavily distorted sounds, and the relentless, fast-paced beat—conveys the same basic message: they are mutually reinforcing.
The message of the Sex Pistols resonated throughout the United Kingdom. Many working-and middle-class youths were tired of the rigid class system that they inherited and foresaw a bleak future. The Sex Pistols’ songs encapsulated the frustration and rage they felt.
The Sex Pistols embodied the essence of punk in every respect. No one projected its sense of outrage and its outrageousness more baldly. Despite their meteoric rise and fall (Lydon announced the breakup of the group in January 1978), the Sex Pistols were enormously influential. No group in the history of rock had more impact with such a brief career.
CH.63 Punk Reverberations
The Talking Heads
The Reverberations of Punk
was the umbrella term used to identify the music that emerged in small clubs, mainly in New York and London, during the mid-seventies. It embraced not only punk acts but also other bands seeking a similar audience. Among the more important were Talking Heads and Devo in the United States and Elvis Costello and the Attractions in England.
These diverse acts shared considerable common ground. Both bands and audience assumed an anti-mainstream position. With few exceptions, their music, whatever form it took, was a reaction against prevailing tastes. The reaction could be rage, weirdness, cleverness, humor, and more; but it was typically a reaction.
As this new music emerged, it was labeled “punk” or “new wave” more or less interchangeably. In retrospect, one of the significant distinctions between punk, or at least the “pure” punk of the Ramones and Sex Pistols, and the new wave styles that emerged at the same time is the aim of the music. Punk aims for the gut; new wave aims for the brain, or perhaps the funny bone. The songs of new wave acts such as Talking Heads and Elvis Costello demand attention to the words, and the musical setting puts the lyrics in the forefront.
To support clear delivery of the lyrics, new wave bands favored a stripped-down, streamlined sound: guitar(s), bass, and drums, with the occasional keyboard. (Elvis Costello seemed fond of cheesy-sounding synthesizers.) The rhythmic texture was relatively clean, with little syncopation or rhythmic interplay. This energized the songs without overpowering or deflecting attention from the vocals. Instrumental solos were at a minimum; the primary role of the music was to enhance the words.
The Clash and the Evolution of Punk
Like the Rolling Stones, the Clash grew out of a chance encounter. However, the meeting between guitarists Mick Jones and Joe Strummer took place not in a train station over an armful of blues records, but while waiting in line for an unemployment check. As in the United States, rampant inflation in the United Kingdom had had a devastating effect on the economy. An influx of people from the former British colonies (Jamaicans, East Indians, Nigerians, and others) strained social services and heightened racial tension. At the same time, the class distinctions that had been part of British life for centuries were under assault—as was made manifest in “God Save the Queen.”
The Clash came together in 1976 when Strummer (1952–2002) and Jones (b. 1955) teamed up with bassist Paul Simonon (b. 1955) and drummer Terry Chimes (b. 1955). Topper Headon (b. 1955) soon replaced Chimes. Simonon gave the group its name, which suited the confrontational personality of the group and their on-stage persona. In the summer of 1976, Strummer and Simonon found themselves in the middle of a riot between Jamaican immigrants and police. “White Riot,” the song that they wrote in response to the incident, was the group’s first major hit. It not only got the group noticed but also set the tone for their career: Many of their songs railed against political and social injustices. “White Riot” and many other early songs follow the lead of the Ramones; they are fast, loud, and crude. However, the group quickly evolved into a much more skilled and versatile band. By 1979, the year when they released London Calling, the Clash were at home in a variety of styles. However, they never lost the passion that informed their first work. It is evident in virtually all of their music, regardless of subject.
“Death or Glory,” a track from London Calling, comments on a central issue for the group: whether money will motivate a group to sell out. The lyric oozes attitude. The cast of characters includes a “cheap hood” and a “gimmick hungry yob” (“yob” is British slang for a young working-class thug). The images are brutal: The hood beats his kids; bands that haven’t got it should give it up. The chorus sums up the disillusionment that pervades the song.
The music that supports it is simply good rock, rather than high-energy pure punk. The song uses the conventional verse/chorus form; the chorus features catchy melodic hooks that embed themselves in listeners’ ears. Once under way, the song maintains a driving beat enriched with rhythmic interplay among the rhythm section players, except for an adventurous interlude that spotlights Headon. The texture is dense in a way that is typical of rock, with melodic lines in both guitars and bass, and there is an array of timbres, from the distorted chords that announce the chorus to the more mellow bass and guitar sounds in the introduction.
“Death or Glory” is not representative of London Calling, nor are any of the other tracks. Each song has a distinct character and musical setting; they range from swing-evoking “Jimmy Jazz” and reggae-inspired “Revolution Rock” to the clever punk-style “Koka Kola.”
“Death or Glory” (1979)
Mick Jones and
STYLE Punk-influenced rock ⋅ FORM Verse/chorus form
Listen For …
Lead and backup vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, electric bass, drums, keyboard
Clean, active rock rhythm at moderately fast tempo, with most parts moving at eight-beat speed except during interlude, when activity doubles
Distinctive, often syncopated rhythm in guitar accompaniment
Contrast between rapid rhythm, flat contour in verse, hooks in chorus, musing instrumental riffs in intro/interludes
Thick texture, with much melodic interest in guitar parts underneath plain vocal line and in instrumental sections
LYRICS IN FOREFRONT
Both verse and chorus put words in forefront; lyrics laced with brutal images of wannabes who fail as musicians and people
ROCK SONG CONVENTIONS
Verse/chorus form and melodic hooks make the song easy to follow and appealing
STRONG SECTIONAL CONTRASTS
Musing introduction, straight-ahead verse, chorus with can’t-miss hook, instrumental interludes shift to more or less relaxed rhythms
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However, throughout the album the Clash infuse their music with the power and passion of punk. Regardless of the style or influences of the music, the songs matter—because of the lyrics and because the music backs up the lyrics.
More than any other group of the late seventies, the Clash demonstrated by example how to revitalize rock with words and music that mattered, because, unlike the “gimmick hungry yob,” they refused to compromise. (Interestingly, their record company undermined their integrity by marketing them as the “The Only Band That Matters,” a phrase created by their fans.)
The Reverberations of Punk
Punk and new wave restored the soul of rock and roll. The important bands resurrected rock’s sense of daring and amped it up well beyond what had gone before. Their music contains powerful messages: political, social, and personal. However, in punk, the rock can be as brutally blunt in its musical message as in the lyrics. There is a synergy among attitude, words, and music that gives both punk and new wave unprecedented impact. Once again, this is rock music that sought to change the world, or at least shake it out of its complacency.
In punk, the message is primary, whether it is expressed directly or obliquely. This helps account for the relative simplicity of the musical materials—whether presented as a sound blitz (as in the Sex Pistols’ music) or with imagination (as in the music of the Clash and Talking Heads). If the musical setting were too elaborate, it would deflect attention away from the underlying intent of the song.
As with any significant new music, punk and new wave would reverberate through the music of the next generation. Punk, and especially the music of the Clash, served as a bridge between the significant rock of the sixties and the significant rock of the eighties, most notably the work of U2.
It introduced a new conception of rock rhythm that would filter into numerous mainstream and alternative styles. This was one reason why much of the rock from the eighties sounds as though it is from that decade and not from an earlier time. It sharpened the edge of much rock-era music, even the pop of Michael Jackson and Madonna. It opened the door for those outside corporate rock; the alternative movement that began in the early eighties continues the independent spirit that typified the punk and new wave music of the late seventies. That spirit lives on most fully in the post-punk bands that have emerged since 1980.