Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 6)
Part 6: Sixty something. Dave reflects on originality and where to find it.
Although fashion (I hate that word) is reputedly cyclic, it is nevertheless remarkable how much influence the music of the 60s still has today. Back in the actual 60s (which I survived, by the way - can I claim some sort of award?) there was no great interest in recreating the music of the 40s. Why would a 60s teenager want to sound like Glenn Miller? It was a time to experiment with wild new sounds and enjoy the results - Eddie Phillips, lead guitarist with The Creation, seized a violin bow and scraped it across the strings of his uncontrollably feeding-back guitar, stunning his audience. Mike Ratledge, myopic leader of Soft Machine, plugged his Lowrey organ into a fuzz box, wah-wah pedal and a Marshall stack to produce a glorious shrieking, buzzing sound. Had either of them been listening to recordings of Ambrose and his Band or The Harry Roy Orchestra? I doubt it.
When The Jimi Hendrix Experience played 'The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice'("Look out for that door! Stay away from that door!") were they influenced by Edmundo Ross and his Latino dance band? Of coure they bloody weren't. This was new stuff, fantastic new sounds in an atmosphere where creativity and originality were prized and encouraged.
What a contrast to music now. What's that on the radio? Sounds familiar. Ah - it's a moronic dance version of that old 60s favourite 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Used to like that song. Wish they'd got the chords right, though... Oh God, it's terrible - quick, change channels. That's better. The Beatles, isn't it? The real thing - 'I Am The Walrus', what a great song. No, wait a minute, it's Tears For Fears' 'Sowing The Seeds Of Love'. Very 60s. Or is it the Dukes Of The Stratosfear? Let's see what's on TV. Oh look, it's the Inspiral Carpets trying to sound like The Doors. And after them, some terrible band from Manchester wearing kaftans and sounding considerably worse than Kevin Ayers on a bad night. 60s, 60s, 60s. Why can't we get it out of our system? What happened to the idea of doing something new?
The simple, horrible answer is that in the 90s, people are scared to do something new because they think it won't sell. The music business is now full of people who think a record is only any good if it sells a lot — if it doesn't sell, it's a bad record. Furthermore, an utterly original musical phenomenon like The Jimi Hendrix Experience would nowadays be turned down by most record companies because it bore no resemblance to anything currently in the charts. If it doesn't sound like another hit record, it can't be 'commercial'. No matter that the public actually prefer to hear original and creative music - the A & R men (who never actually buy records themselves, by the way - think about it) dictate that originality is out. So, if your band is experimenting with new sounds and ideas, don't expect encouragement from those who control the commercial supply of records and tapes - what they want is the same old stuff.
Unfortunately, many musicians have gone along with this viewpoint, instead of treating it with the contempt it deserves, and so in 1990 (in England at any rate) we have a music scene dominated by record companies churning out records which they don't actually like, but which they think might sell, and a market totally clogged up with boring, derivative, viciously conformist dance mixes. No wonder we look back hopelessly to the good old 60s when you were allowed to do something different.
Of course, you can still do something different today. It is not yet illegal to use wild, original sounds in a song. It is still theoretically possible to experiment with musical ideas, chord shapes, scales, bass lines, lyrics, rhythm parts and sound effects within a popular format. And if you run your budget digital synthesizer or bottom-of-the-range sampler through a fuzz box, a ring modulator and a cheap phaser pedal in order to create some startling new racket, the police will not come round and arrest you. So please, let's try to forget about the horrible commercial 80s, (which were a bit like the 50s really) when we were all too screwed up to be really creative, and start getting into the 90s, the caring, sharing decade when we're all going to stop being breadheads and start really opening up and, like, digging each other and really grooving on the vibes of the whole planet... just like in the, er, 60s.
Before this article gets any more absurd, I think for all our sakes I'd better show you some music. Here are some parts from a song I wrote called 'My Scene' (originally 'This Is My Scene And It Freaks Me Out'). Only the terminally stupid amongst you will have failed to divine that the subject matter of the song is, of course, the period in musical history about which I have waxed so eloquently above. Dig it.
First published in 'Keyboard' magazine, Japan All music © Budding Music 1990.
'My Scene' Is from the CD The Big Idea fay Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, available via mall order from Broken Records, to whom any correspondence to Dave and Barbara should be directed. Dave Stewart has warned that The Big Idea contains original music.
Broken Records, (Contact Details).
Feature by Dave Stewart
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