What’s going to happen to rock and roll writing when all of the old gods have shuffled off this mortal coil? Obviously, there are plenty of post-1970s bands and artistes to write about, but Duran Duran or The Cure don’t quite strike my generation as legendary. The trend in music writing for books that focus on a particular year in rock and roll history might be a clue.
Jon Savage’s 1966 wasn’t the first of these books but it was probably the most high profile. Now David Hepworth is about to publish 1971 - Never a Dull Moment: Rock's Golden Year. It all has something to do with the The Beatles demise on New Year’s Eve 1970 and the long list of artistes, from Bowie to Marvin Gaye, producing great albums in that year. While you’d have to be a cloth-eared twerp to disagree, it is somewhat ‘so what?’ isn’t it.
(Rolling Stone is doing a neat little mini-series picking the bones out of 1973, in a tie-in with the Jagger/Scorsese vinyl thing.)
But if you care about the music, hasn’t every single year since rock and roll became rock and roll been a golden year? In an attempt to disprove my own theory, I picked a year at random.
I have a friend who had the profound misfortune to have been raised a Jehovah’s Witness. Now, Jehovah’s Witlesses believed that the world was going to end in on New Year’s Eve 1975. Anticipating armaggedon, they shagged each other even more senseless. When the world didn’t end, various members of my friend’s parent’s flock had to leave town sharpish while the rest looked sheepish.
My friend claims that the world did actually end in 1975. And, if you take a superficial look at the music and fashion, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he may well be right. The clothes were horrific – even a fashion historian would have to admit that. But when you dig deeper, and abandon any kind of ‘Punk was year zero maaan’ prejudice, you realise, when it comes to the actual music, that’s complete bollocks.
Springsteen’s Born to Run came out in 75, as did Patti Smith’s Horses and Bowie’s Young Americans. I could go on listing stone classics, because I was 14 in 1975, in love with the music and listening to the radio night and day. I was a fan, just like the, ahem, kids of today.
2016 was a golden year for music
If you are a fan, and not a music writer who needs to find a way to earn a living, every year is golden. Look, it’s only February and we’ve already seen Beyoncé do her Black Power thing at the Superbowl.
I don’t give a shit about the music but she’s every bit as brave as Johnny Rotten was. Beyoncé saying it loud that she’s black and proud may not have any effect on the grotesquely race-ruled political situation in Amerika but, ahem again, go girl!
Those of us of who moan about the apathy of the yoof of today have no idea what we’re talking about and should hush our mouths. Music is every bit as exciting, engaged and radical – not to mention good – as it ever was.
Coda: The 1975
I honestly had no idea Manchester band The 1975 existed when I picked on that year to set my example. Naturally, I had to find out how they got their pretty crap name. According to frontman Matthew Healy, he met an artist in Mallorca when he was 19:
‘His house was like some kind of 1960s bazaar, original Beatles records, signed Elvis stuff, a photo of him with Hendrix...
‘He gave me a whole load of beat generation stuff.
‘I found a mental page of scribblings. It was SO mad I couldn’t figure out whether it was suicidal or totally life affirming. What stuck with me was that the page was dated, “1st June. The 1975”.’
That artist sounds like someone I know.