Classic Rock Apocrypha - Scott Walker

In many ways, Scott Walker was the inspiration for this entire blog. I had the pleasure of watching a documentary, 20th Century Man, centered around Walker and his impact on the music world. Watching David Bowie and members of Radiohead discussing the impact this man's music had on them, I was struck with the revelation that bands and artists most people have never heard of helped shape pop music without ever being included within it. The Velvet Underground and The Stooges may be the classic examples, but Scott Walker was the example that really drove the point home.

After all, the true tragedy of the punk genre (and, as previously mentioned, the alternative and grunge movements of the 90s) was that it was a deliberate reaction against what was already popular. Once the genre itself became mainstream, the artists suddenly lost their purpose. The simplest illustration of this is The Clash, who went from who went from their 35 minute, self-titled debut to the three-disc, 144 minute album Sandinista! in three years.

The point is, the proto-punk all-stars were never meant to be mainstream. They deliberately pushed boundaries by reducing their music to a skeletal version of what the public considered rock music. It's considerably different from how David Bowie chose to push boundaries, and how he chose to revive the careers of the two kings of proto-punk, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. Bowie, after all, made new music by combining elements of already popular groups into an unfailingly interesting (at least until the early-80s) whole.

Scott Walker falls under the Bowie-camp described above. Formerly a part of the reasonably successful Walker Brothers, Scott broke off on his own after it became clear that his ambition and artistic influences far outstripped those of his 'brothers' (none of the group were actually named Walker; Scott's real name is Noel Scott Engel). While the other Walkers operated in basic, MOR pop, Scott found himself attracted more to the baroque and embellished, symbolized by the work of Jacques Brel.

Already one of the more popular Walker brothers due to his distinctive baritone, Scott was allowed to pursue a solo career by his parent label, releasing the critically and commercially successful album Scott. It's impossible to tell how much of the album's baroque-styled violin and horn embellishments were actually Scott's idea instead of his producer, but the lyrics and melodies were certainly his. Many of the songs were translated versions of Brel's songs (including the classic "My Death" which Bowie himself often performed on tour though never, oddly enough, on record) but Scott's own songs displayed his touch for the dramatic and memorable.

His next two albums, creatively titled Scott 2 and Scott 3, followed a similar pattern, though 3 provided early hints of Walker's later musical style. The records continued to be successful as well, helped along by Scott's own television show.

None of this exactly sounds like an obscure, cult-following musician, does it? Though he has never been successful in the US (which is ironically his home country) Scott's albums consistently hit the top-ten in England, no doubt helped by the fact that his baroque style had at least vague similarities with Sgt. Pepper.

That all ended with Scott 4, the first album to be released under Walker's birth name instead of his alias. The change was prompted by Walker's belief that this album represented his first 'true' artistic statement, growing from the avant-garde subtext of 3 into full blown experimental music. To give an idea of just how experimental it was, the first track is "The Seventh Seal", a five-minute summary of the Ingmar Bergman classic. That's about as far from pop as you can get without going into Metal Machine Music territory. The album was also bereft of most of the baroque-style of his first three albums, further suggesting that those orchestra overdubs were the responsibility of the producer.

Predictability, the album flopped. Whether it was too off-the-wall or simply lacked Walker's name recognition is impossible to answer; it was likely a combination of the two, but the album isn't really that beyond the pale for late-60s pop music.

Though Walker faded into a period of obscurity following Scott 4, he made a psuedo-comeback with '84's Climate Of The Hunter. I say psuedo because it merely marked an artistic comeback; Walker has never captured his early success and, judging from his current style, he doesn't want to.

Hunter kicked off Walker's avant-garde, heavily experimental period. That album, along with everything that followed, fall into the No Wave territory that Sonic Youth briefly strode out of during the late-80s. Those albums, especially The Drift, released in 2006, are the aural equivalent of a slasher movie. I don't like them, but I also hate Sonic Youth so it shouldn't really be much of a surprise.


Classic Rock Apocrypha - ABBA

You think I'm fucking with you don't you? "Ha ha ha," you say, "ABBA is a classic cornerstone of music history. Very funny, now go do a post on the Eagles or something." Well fuck your shit; I'm going to take the time to carefully explain how ABBA is the single most important dance/club group of all time.

Laughing again? Like it or not, dance music has been one of the most important parts of pop music since the classical era. Most of the pieces we regard today as 'art' was deliberately designed to be background music for a shindig. This is why virtually every symphony (including the much venerated "Fifth Symphony") includes a movement based on a common dance rhythm.

Shit, why do you think people liked jazz music? Up until Coltrane got all uppity with his artsy mumbo-jumbo jazz was made for a bunch of people to dance to. Remember when swing came back for ten minutes back in the late-90s and that one guy you knew started going to swing dance classes? Dancing, not the rockin' horn section, gave swing its popularity.

You can nail down rhythm as key through pop music history, from jazz all the way down to contemporary R&B. People don't like Ke$ha, the Black Eyed Peas, or Lady Gaga for their talent (I hope), but because their music's got a good beat and they can dance to it. This is why no one gives a shit about shoegaze, drone, speed/black/scream/anything-after-second-wave metal, or art rock; you can't dance to it.

And of course, when you talk about dance/club music, you absolutely must discuss disco. Why? Because disco was the original contemporary R&B. Both genres require minimal effort (drum machines and synth, later to be joined by the hated Autotune) and often have empty lyrics about sex/drugs. Same shit, different name. So why do I love ABBA?

Let me first address something; certain bands have the special distinction of being household names. They are bands that have transcended mere popularity and have entered into the public consciousness on a very basic level. In many cases, the names of these bands have become adjectives.

ABBA is, quite obviously, part of this list. Everyone knows about ABBA. There's an entire musical devoted to them; not even Sinatra got that kind of attention. It's proof of what I'm talking about with dance music, because ABBA is very definitely a pop group. They weren't particularly experimental or interesting. What they had going for them were hooks. Tons of hooks. Shit-tons of hooks. They were a goddamn tackle box.

First, they are a singles group among singles groups. This is one distinction ABBA shares with pre-Beatles pop music; no one can name a single one of their albums. The only album ABBA put out that the modern music-lover cares about is Gold, one of the unquestionably perfect greatest hits compilations of all time (along with the one for Al Green).

Second, they are absolutely fundamental to modern day pop music. Their work helped make synthesizes ubiquitous to the modern sound, and firmly established the soaring female tenor that gripped contemporary pop since the classic era. More admirably, they helped expand the range of emotions available to pop musicians, from simple ("Dancing Queen") to the historical/political ("Fernando") to the depressed/bitter ("The Winner Takes It All") and finally to the self-assured ("One Of Us", "Thank You For The Music").

So why are they in the Apocrypha, the category I use for the obscure and underrated? It's because popularity is a continuum, and if Scott Walker defines one end of the spectrum, ABBA defines the other. They are so well known, so ingrained in our lives, that we no longer care about the actual music they produced. Not in a historical sense anyway. Maybe it's because so many music critics are incurable snobs, but the more popular a band becomes, the more likely people are to dismiss them. Look at what happened to Elvis; one of the most popular and innovative (remember, John Lennon attributed all of rock music to him) performers of all time became a grotesque joke in the public consciousness. His music faded into the background, and by 1977 we no longer cared about his contributions, only his failures. The same was true about Michael Jackson; it took his unexpected death to cure people of their associations, to remove his music from purgatory and put it back on the towering pedestal where it rightly belongs.

So what about ABBA? Are we supposed to dismiss them just because they have a museum, Broadway musical, and film dedicated to them? Or should we accept that no band could get this popular without having some measure of talent? Just because disco was popular doesn't mean it was all a wash. I'm not saying there wasn't a lot of pointless drivel produced in that genre; there was, just like every other popular genre. From the right angle, every genre known to man is shit. A pointless waste of time. Looking at things that way, music doesn't seem to have much of a point at all. The important thing is to look at what is good, and has persisted among us because of some inherent quality. I may not like Journey, but I don't deny their significance in music history.

Genre Dictionary - AOR

I've referenced this before, and the term is obscure enough that it deserves a decent explanation instead of my usual sarcasm-laden posts from this category.

AOR stands for album-oriented rock, and was, essentially, the first major type of alternative radio. The format got its start when FM stations were prohibited from echoing the playlists of their AM counterparts, who predominately played major singles, in the late-60s. Fortunately, the mid-60s had ushered in an era of album-based experimentation, marking the beginning of the LP as the main form of artist expression. This, in turn, had its origins in the late-50s concept albums put out by Frank Sinatra (which included major critical successes like No One Cares, Come Fly With Me, and Sinatra's personal favorite of his discography, Only The Lonely).

The LP-as-artistic-statement got a further boost from the Beatles' post-Rubber Soul output, especially the landmark Sgt. Pepper album. Suddenly flush with songs, FM DJs began playing songs that hadn't been selected as singles, giving them a much wider range of material to work with.

The end result was that a certain branch of music was suddenly given a great deal of widely played material, especially during the 70s. One key example is the Eagles; many of their best known songs (such as "Desperado") were never issued as singles, meaning the distribution of such tracks was due to the AOR format.

The format is extraordinarily wide-reaching (its influence can be seen in college radio and most alternative stations, who play bands that probably never had singles in the first place) but the stations that fell directly into the form disappeared in the late-80s and early-90s... to be replaced by classic rock stations. Which is why the term AOR tends to crop up so much.


Modern Rock Canon - Smash Mouth

As much as I like to play up the whole 'music snob' angle (both on this blog and in my day-to-day life) certain bands bring me back down to Earth and make me realize that I am also susceptible to canny pop styles and nostalgia. "Drops Of Jupiter" still brings a smile to my face, "One Week" makes me grin like a loon, and "Walkin' On The Sun" is still one of my favorite songs. My hipster cred is officially gone. Thank god for that; I feel lighter already.

Smash Mouth was one of the 'alternative pop-rock' bands that sprouted up in the post-Nirvana mainstream. They were never challenging and their music never breached a comfortable decibel ceiling. The most subversive thing about them was some minor ska influences, much like the similarly successful No Doubt. They also demonstrate one of the more important aspects of pop music, that often gets overlooked; advertisement.

Advertising music is not a concept that comes easily to most bands. The last ad for a CD I saw on TV was for one of those NOW Music compilations; the last one for a band I saw was one for Nickelback during the early-00s. No band that claims to be 'alternative' or 'independent' will buy direct ad space on television (they will on radio though; that's what a single is, after all) but bands that are labeled 'alternative' or 'indie' will often be featured quite prominently in all kinds of mediums. The most significant? Film.

I've mentioned this before in the context of Roy Orbison's woefully brief comeback during the late-80s and it holds just as true for many other groups. Smash Mouth is a wonderfully textbook example; what's the first song by them that pops into your head? Was it "All Star" or "I'm A Believer"? The key feature of both of those isn't hooks or brilliant lyrics, it's the fact that they were both prominently featured in the blockbuster movie Shrek. At least, that's what I believe.

It's a simple numbers game. Most of the best-selling albums worldwide top out at around 40-50 million units sold (with the exception of Thriller, which sold over double that amount). This is all very well and good, but sales like that put those few albums close to dead last when put into movie terms. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl was a pretty big movie, selling an estimated 50,648,900 tickets (Box Office Mojo). This puts it at 90 out a 100 on a list of top tickets sold. Gone With The Wind sold about four times that many tickets (202,044,600) (Ibid), which is twice as many copies as Thriller did (~110 million). The difference is astronomical and very obvious; more people see movies than buy albums.

Similarly, television can achieve the same effect. You know Moby, right? The only reason you do is his impressive campaign to mass market his breakthrough album, Play. Make no mistake, it's a great album but far less people would have bought it if Moby hadn't put every song into ads, TV shows, and other mediums outside of radio. It was a brilliant marketing strategy that ensured that Moby would never have to try again.

This is how songs/artists persist in the public consciousness; exposure. This is why success is not a viable metric for musical quality; because if it was then Whitney Houston is one of the greatest musicians of all time. Even better than the Black Eyed Peas.

Classic Rock Canon - Journey

Up until now I've stuck to bands that I both enjoy and know about. I'm attempting to keep this blog largely positive because, believe me, I could go on for the next three years about twee, contemporary R&B, and those miserable shit-fuckers the Black Eyed Peas (who, by the way, are still in the fucking top 20 of the Billboard 200, proving that I'm perfectly justified in hating everyone in existence) but it would probably get old after a while. Besides, I don't want to invest that kind of time in a blog of all things.

But when discussing classic rock, even when limiting oneself solely to bands with some historical relevance, there comes a time when you must discuss the dregs of the genre. It's inevitable, like how every David Bowie fan has to admit that he did, in fact, make albums after the mid-80s. You look down on the floor and mumble something about how 1. Outside had some great avant-garde influences and was really cool for pulling in electronica and people let you get away with it out of pity.

The difference is that I fucking love Bowie, despite his flaws, and have some serious issues with classic rock, mainly because of its flaws. And no flaw is bigger or better selling than Journey. God I hate Journey. If you want to save time you should take those words and go find something cheerier.

Let's address the band first; Journey got their start when Santana's backing band got sick of playing second fiddle to ol' Carlos (which they should have seen coming considering what he named the group) and decided to take a stab at a career on their own. This isn't unheard of; The Band (Bob Dylan's backing band) had some decent success on their own. The difference is that the original version of Journey tried to make a stab at financial success with jazz fusion, which had the result you'd pretty much expect.

Their label, Colombia, told the guys to find a frontman and change their style to something closer to Foreigner/Boston. They complied, and after going through a few guys they settled on Steve Perry, otherwise known as "that talentless schmuck who stole Pete Townsend's nose."

As much as I hate Steve Perry, the band themselves hated him more. The group's drummer and keyboardist both left the band, and did it after it became obvious that Perry's Journey (for it very much was under Perry's control) would be monstrously successful. Not even buckets of money, each as large as Perry's schnozz, could convince them to put up with him.

You may think I'm being mean-spirited here, but this is how intense my hate of Perry is. Why do I hate him so much? Because of classic rock stations, who all fucking love Journey. Goddamn do they love Journey; I can guarantee that, on any given classic rock station, no more than two hours pass without a Journey song.

And what songs they are! Thanks to The Sopranos and countless bars around the world, "Don't Stop Believin'" is the best selling iTunes song of all time at three million downloads. That's roughly six million dollars, all spent on Swiss. "Separate Ways" has the cheesiest opening outside of Styx's discography; "Faithfully" is the only love song less convincing than "Hey There Delilah"; and "Wheel In The Sky" is... actually pretty cool. I like that one. Worse, every lyric Perry ever sang/wrote is ever worse than "Welcome To The Jungle".

Wanna know who to blame for synth rock? Journey. Vapid lyrics sung by people who sound they have a cold? Journey. A bizarre love for overly emotional lyrics sung in the least convincing way possible? Journey. Worse, they're one of the core bands of the classic rock canon. They are universal; heard everywhere. Even today, the average person on the street is more likely to know about Journey than any other band from the early-80s, guaranteed. For a lot of people, they are the 80s, representing the entire decade's rock movement.

That's why I'm pissed off. That, and because they suck.


Genre Dictionary - No Alternative

I briefly touched on the alternative genre in my write-up of Nirvana, but some of the terms I called up deserve further exploration, mainly to address how similar it is to classic rock. Again, much of this comes from my own knowledge; I'm not putting a lot of research into this and, as a result, my presented history may differ somewhat from reality. If you care, I suggest looking up some authoritative sources, as opposed to an amateur blog.

The easiest source to cite for alternative music is the post-punk movement of the early 80s. Though difficult to define, post-punk can be understood as any group with similarities to Joy Division (except for modern ripoffs like Interpol and She Wants Revenge; they both fit more comfortably into generic alt. rock) or Public Image Ltd, depending on the band's country of origin. Post-punk is noted as 'difficult' music; it owes a great debt to the Krautrock movement of the mid/late-70s and therefore uses a lot of synthesizers, odd time signatures, and abstract/absent melodic structures. There's a lot of focus placed on rhythm and on the twisting of melodies, making it the direct predecessor to drone, shoegaze, noise rock, and No Wave. Important figures include the aforementioned bands, along with the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed's solo career, Kraftwerk, The Stooges, Iggy Pop (especially The Idiot), David Bowie, certain Beatles' songs ("Revolution 9", "Helter Skelter", etc) (proving once again that they had their little hands in nearly everything), Brian Eno, and King Crimson (technically progressive rock).

For the alternative genre, post-punk is best understood through the lens of the seminal New York group, Sonic Youth. More likely to walk on their instruments then play them, Sonic Youth helped bring the genre more into the light of the day via a few surprise successes in the late-80s, particularly Daydream Nation. If you've ever read Pitchfork than you've no doubt heard enough fellatio for Thruston Moore and Kim Gordan, so I'm going to leave things at that. Other majors groups falling under the post-punk umbrella are Dinosaur Jr, Pavement (another favorite of Pitchfork), Nine Inch Nails, The Birthday Party, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

This is all very similar to the rise of punk in the late 70s; the post-punk/proto-alternative bands had some popularity and a lot of notoriety, but they were largely ignored within the pop scene. Sonic Youth were hardly a match for Madonna; after all, you can't really dance to "Teen Age Riot".

Also notable, but not fully under the banner of post-punk due to their more conventional song structures, were the Pixies. I've mentioned them before and I'm bound to mention them again; the Pixies are, in my mind, the modern equivalent of the Velvet Underground. While VU inspired punk and post-punk, the Pixies inspired the modern interpretation of alternative rock by way of Nirvana.

I've covered this before so I'll stick with a summary: Nirvana basically took the basic formula used by the Pixies (soft-loud-soft song structures) and combined it with melody, thus defining alternative rock for the early-90s.

I'm avoiding the use of 'grunge' because it's a terribly misapplied. Grunge only describes one Nirvana album (Bleach) and refers to a lo-fi sound best equatable to garage rock. Dinosaur Jr was grunge; The Meat Puppets were grunge; PJ Harvey's first two albums were grunge; Nirvana was only grunge when Sub-Pop forced them to be.

Which brings me to my next point; alternative rock is horribly bloated. The same genre contains any number of groups that sound nothing like one another; the link between Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins is tenuous, at best. One owes a debt to Led Zeppelin and other first-wave metal groups, while the other pays homage to baroque pop with post-punk sensibilities. Do you realize Bjork is considered alternative? How does she sound anything like VU (aside from the Nico comparison)? It's all nonsense, just like classic rock.

The 'grunge' of the early-90s gradually gave way to the much maligned adult alternative of John Mayer and the Dave Matthews Band, as well as the even more bizarrely named post-grunge genre, which was basically alt. rock with the piss taken out of it (Matchbox 20, Nickelback, Goo Goo Dolls). Post-grunge is best compared to New Wave in terms of genre relations; a follow-up movement specially calculated to be mainstream. I'd call it No Wave, but that one's been coined already. How about fuzz pop? It sure as hell isn't 'alternative', considering it was manufactured for the radio.

That last bit, by the by, is the reason I think alternative rock imploded in on itself; the artists involved didn't want to be popular. They were alternative after all, it was the same pitfall punk hit back in the late 70s, and it was solved by radio in the exact same way.

I should also bring up the fact that alternative rock technically includes nearly every genre that emerged in the 90s, including rap rock and funk rock. This is ridiculous for reasons I shouldn't even have to address.


Alternative Canon - Nirvana

Had things been a little different, I firmly believe that Nirvana could have been yet another divisive artist in pop music history. The 90s were, thanks mainly to the bizarrely large success of "Smells Like Teens Spirit" and Nevermind were the home of the now collapsed alternative rock genre, along with his sibling/child sub-genres of grunge, No Wave, post-grunge, noise rock (to a minimal extent), Brit rock, and post-punk (all those Joy Division rip offs basically; Nick Cave has never been mainstream). This gave way to rap and, later still, hip-hop, club, and contemporary R&B, essentially a backtracking to Michael Jackson. Somehow, the alternative genre experienced a disco-esque lifespan; a monumentally large success matched in degree only by its brevity.

A large part of this was no doubt the apparent instability of the genres major groups. Nirvana dissolved when Kurt Cobain passed away, Alice In Chains went into limbo when Layne Staley overdosed, and none of the other major groups in the grunge wave seemed to have any staying power (Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam only really made two good albums each, Soundgarden fell through when Chris Cornell went crazy, Temple Of The Dog had similar problems with deaths, etc).

The other issue was one of size. Even at its peak, grunge was a very tiny genre compared to other mainstream flavor-of-the-months. Its fellows in the alternative rock umbrella also suffered from the simple fact that they identified themselves as alternative. Melodic hooks served as an exception to oftentimes off-putting cacophonies of sound, especially in the noise rock and No Wave movements captured by groups like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. Each of these groups had a few radio-friendly unit shifters peppered in amongst a sea of feedback and distortion, like "Where Is My Mind?" on Surfer Rosa. They didn't want staying power; they wanted obscurity, like punk before them.

Nirvana seemed the major exception to this rule. While Layne Staley seemed to have a similar love for sheer melody, Kurt Cobain embraced it in a way that no other alternative musician ever did. Pearl Jam was the closest band in terms of approach but, lets face it, they never had anything on Nirvana. The best you can say about Eddie Vedder and his merry men is that they had better solos.

I'm sure music fans are getting in a tizzy reading this, but you have to look at the facts. Even on Bleach, probably the least radio-friendly album Nirvana made, you can see Cobain's touches of melody. The only real differences between that album and the landmark Nevermind are production and approach; the group's debut was tailor made to fit into what was then considered grunge at the behest of their label, Sub-Pop, while Nevermind was more unsupervised due to the recent success of Sonic Youth. On that album, and even on the deliberately uneven In Utero, melody was king. It was that contrast, along with the terraced dynamics that Cobain ripped from the Pixies, that made their music interesting.


Pop Music Canon - Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson is the second-most recognizable artist/group of all time, standing neck-and-neck with The Beatles. Unfortunately, much of this attention is based more in questioning his personal life than admiring his oftentimes brilliant musical output. Because of this, I again encounter the problem of a topic covered once too many, so I'm not going to waste time with a summary of what everyone knows. Instead, I'm going to focus on Jackson's significance in my overall flowchart of pop music.

I've mentioned earlier that The Beatles represented a divisive moment in pop history. There is pre-Beatles pop (crooners, vocal jazz, rockabilly, and rock and roll) and post-Beatles pop (what we understand as classic rock, blue-eyed soul [also popularized by Roy Orbison], and psychedelic rock). In the same way, there is pre-Jackson pop (disco, New Wave, synthpop) and post-Jackson pop (contemporary R&B, neo-soul, R&B, new jack swing, modern dance music). Both groups were important in how they combined the elements that came before them into what came after them; you could consider the two groups as bottlenecks in simplified schematics of pop music (note that this excludes metal, punk, and goth, which are basically small sub-groups of the mainstream).

In radio terms, Michael Jackson brought about both the end and beginning of classic rock. Before Jackson and the pop music of the late 80s (think Madonna), classic rock existed as AOR stations (previously discussed in the Roy Orbison post), which played the same basic music but with a slightly larger setlist. The name change, I suspect, was due to a shift in perspective; before Michael Jackson, AOR still existed on the fringes of pop music. Artists fitting into the genre were still accumulating (and would continue to do so through the end of the decade, albeit at a slower pace) and were exhibiting influences from the rest of the pop spectrum (AOR + synthpop = Steve Perry's Journey, for example). After Michael Jackson, pop music consolidated/collapsed around him and R&B as a whole, leaving AOR in limbo. AOR was no longer pop, but there was still some demand for it. Therefore, canny corporations created classic rock, and DJs perpetuated it.

This was the last major divisive moment of pop history. Modern pop (contemporary R&B) carries the indelible mark of Michael Jackson, and will continue to do so until the next breath of fresh air comes along. My guess? Synthrock.

Classic Rock Apocrypha - Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison (briefly known as "The Big O" before that one got creepy) is one of the oddest omissions from classic rock that I know of, and was one of my main inspirations for starting this blog in the first place. The one song you're likely to know of is "Oh, Pretty Woman", but even that hardly gets touched by radio stations. My generation, along with the previous, mainly knows that tune from the Julia Roberts movie that shared its name.

Which brings us to the subject of Roy's popularity. Back in the early 60s, Roy was one of the biggest names in rockabilly and blue-eyed soul, maybe THE biggest. When he opened for The Beatles he enjoyed a preposterous fourteen encore show, despite being a solo performer opening for one of the biggest British groups of the time. Did I mention the show was in England? Right after Please Please Me?

Unfortunately, this popularity diminished considerably during the late 60s and 70s, due in no small part to the onset of the British Invasion. For better or worse, Orbison never really changed the style of his music throughout his career, an was thus left behind the rapidly changing pop scene. Never really hurting for money, he retired from touring, aside from a few shows in foreign countries where he maintained his monumental fanbase.

As I alluded to earlier, Orbison's comeback was largely due to the use of his songs in other forms. Linda Ronstadt had a major hit with Orbison's "Blue Bayou" in 1977 and Don McLean covered "Crying" three years later, achieving similar success. What really brought Orbison back into the spotlight was the use of his song, "In Dreams", in David Lynch's 1986 neo-noir film, Blue Velvet. The usage was... memorable to say the least (a demented lip syncing session followed by Dennis Hopper using the lyrics as a threat) and it put The Big O back in the public eye.

1988 saw Orbison capitalize on his new found popularity: he featured on the all-star supergroup The Traveling Wilburys; released a new album, Mystery Girl, featuring a song co-written by Bono himself, "She's A Mystery To Me"; and released a live album/video featuring yet another all-star band playing backup (Black And White Night). His resurgence was tragically cut short by his death the same year.

So why isn't he better known? In all likelihood, it's down to simple timing. Classic rock stations evolved out of a station type known as AOR (album-oriented rock), which developed during the late 70s, continuing on through the 80s as an alternative to the now burgeoning disco/R&B craze. Orbison, omitted from popular music over the course of the 70s, missed his chance for preservation by a few short years. Had his popularity come back during the early 80s, before Michael Jackson split the airwaves, you'd probably be hearing "In Dreams" every three hours instead of "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

Classic Rock Canon - The Beatles

When discussing classic rock, or rock/pop music in general, The Beatles are an unavoidable feature. If popular music is a planet, The Beatles are a moon. There is no group more significant to our modern conception of rock and roll; the very name has become something of a logo for the genre as a whole.

This all makes them an extraordinarily boring subject to discuss, mainly because there is very little left to discuss. I'm willing to bet that every music critic/journalist active in the past thirty years has written at least one article/review/blog post that referenced the Fab Four, and at least half of them have probably reviewed a Beatles album or discussed their history. The well is dry.

There are still a few things I consider worthy of consideration though.

- Unlike every other band I can think of (especially for the era in question) every song The Beatles put to record has a reasonable chance of being played on a radio station (with a few exceptions ["Wild Honey Pie", "Revolution 9", etc, etc]). They are one of the scant few exceptions to the "one/two a day" rule I mentioned in my introduction to this subject.
- The modern conception of twee music can be traced back to a single song, "Yesterday". That song is the blueprint for every Jason Mraz song you will ever hear.
- Similarly, punk music can be traced back to "Revolution", as well as a number of other 60s groups (that I'll cover later in the Apocrypha). The Beatles were one of the first mainstream groups to make significant use of audio distortion.
- Studio experimentation was brought to the forefront. People will argue that Pink Floyd did it better, but The Beatles sold more records with it. Among other things, this means that Autotune can be traced back to John complaining about how terrible his voice was.
- They would have never existed without Jayne Mansfield (more on that later).


Genre Dictionary - Twee As Fuck

EDIT: Changed title from "Fuck Twee" to the above in order to keep up my formatting. My sentiments, however, remain unchanged.

People who love/enjoy/appreciate the current trend of indie/twee music will often cite its ‘happiness’ as a reason for their own adoration. This is happiness in contrast with the ‘anger’ or ‘sorrow’ or ‘threatening atmosphere’ of rock music. Twee music is constructed from the same cookie cutter as dance music, except that dance music occasionally pushed some kind of boundary (see: Michael Jackson, Madonna, or even Lady Gaga) while twee seems content to wallow in its kiddie pool, dressed up in second-hand clothes and making ‘cute’ little remarks. It’s that cuteness that really gets me; that insistence that being random and silly is somehow preferable to acting like you have some semblance of dignity/class. I can see a fat man dancing (poorly) outside a window and it somehow seems like the perfect simile to use. The only people that find these twee-as-fuck nitwits cute or funny are people with similar outlooks on life. Everyone else (myself very obviously included) simply see an insufferable git prancing about as if their Target-bought shirt with a ‘clever’ slogan is somehow original, despite the fact that 10,000 copies of the exact same thing have been sold nation-wide.

More interesting to me is the supposedly negative aspect of rock music. Somehow, the passion embodied by such music is labeled as a bad thing. I’m the first to admit that sometimes things can get out of hand (as in gangster rap) put decided that anger and sorrow are somehow cliché and overplayed is a bit presumptuous. For better or worse, art can contain/represent emotions across the entire spectrum. Rap ranges from the cheerful and silly (“Birthday Party” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five) to the embittered and inward looking (“Message” by… Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five). Neither end of the spectrum is necessarily bad, but only one of the songs above is considered a hip-hop classic (hint: it isn’t the song with kazoo).

“But wait,” you might say, “’not necessarily bad’? Aren’t you contradicting yourself?” Of course not. I hate twee music because of how it deliberately scorns any emotion deeper than insufferable cheerfulness. I’d call it Mary Poppins music, but even that movie had a range of emotion (compare “Spoonful of Sugar” to “Chim Chim Chiree”) while twee music, as I said before, wallows. It’s a matter of execution; the darker emotions are seen equally in punk and emo, but I only like the former because the latter often gets a bit too cliché for my tastes. Same thing with black metal compared to classic metal; it’s a matter of degree. I’m not saying people who prefer the overblown, in your face emotion of, say, Linkin Park have bad taste. I’m implying it.

It’s a matter of degree and also one of ego. The perception that twee music is fundamentally better than darker music is absurd; mainly because (as I addressed above) other genres are far from homogenous. Hell, singular artists/bands aren’t homogenous (“Folsom Prison Blues” vs. “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog”; “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” vs. “I Got You (I Feel Good)”; “Love Me Tender” vs. “Jailhouse Rock”; etc.) so how could their respective genres be that way? There’s no use/point/need for a genre devoted to silly clichés. That’s what the radio is for.

PS: Fuck Jason Mraz