“The golden age of rock was cut short by the success of the Beatles” — Henry Flynt

Music

For me, the golden age of rock was cut short by the success of the Beatles, which could be dated either 1964 or 1966.  UK artists had contributed important hits to the pop field—but the triumph of the Beatles formula shifted pop away from the breakthrough of the late Fifties.  The Beatles were essentially a music-hall “kid” act, limited to a four-square, discrete-pitch vocabulary.  (They knew American ethnic music only by rumor.)  They found and crystallized the segment with the best numbers—early teens who wanted something more bland than actual rock.  At this point, the regime of maximum sales backfired, as one might well have expected it to.

The “youth” craze of the Sixties became increasingly dubious (from flower power to Altamont), and the Beatles and their imitators morphed, leading their fans to a mystique of consumerist dissipation.  (Carnaby Street and “Yellow Submarine.”)  For me, the Beatles’ consummate song was “Revolution,” which begins “If you wanna make a revolution, count me out.”  It served as the anthem for all the mediocrities who responsed to the stresses of the late twentieth century by embracing institutional co-optation.

After the Beatles seized the market, white pop ceased to interest me except for the flukes.  When Bob Dylan added electric instruments and blues chops to his act for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” that impelled me to my initial rock efforts of 1966 (with Walter De Maria on traps).  Given my political engagement, I had been waiting for an impetus to try songs with “revolution” lyrics.

In general, the ascendancy of the Beatles, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., ended ethnic-rock—the ethnic impulses reverted to the segmented R&B and C&W markets.  After the mid-Sixties, rock-pop no longer had ethnic chops—could I have been the only one who was musicological enough to realize that?  Rock-pop became uniformly loud in a way which was vulgar, mechanical, and bloated.  (There was no more of the profundity, and I mean profundity, of a Chuck Berry or of “Be-Bop-A-Lula.”)

From Henry Flynt’s essay “The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly and Blues Music.”

 

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11 thoughts on ““The golden age of rock was cut short by the success of the Beatles” — Henry Flynt

    1. I like some of the Beatles’ music very much, but I also find Flynt’s analysis intriguing—I don’t see how “musical snobbery” has anything to do with it. This seems like a purely ad hominem attack (against Flynt? or me, the person who posted this? unclear).

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  1. Yes, I see your point. I should have acknowledged it is an interesting piece though, in my opinion, full of sweeping generalisations. I also should have said that I consider the piece to be elitist rather than snobbish which does not constitute an attack on either of your persons, neither he for writing nor you for posting. Tis but an opinion and we are all allowed express those, preferably to the point, as you say, and not to the man. As a matter of interest to myself, who, exactly, were these ‘golden rockers’ whose careers were cut short when the Beatles came on the scene? I see your WordPress name is Biblioklept. I like Biblioklept though I am new to WordPress. Is this your site?

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    1. Hi, Sean–
      It is my site—I’m Ed Turner. I post reviews/essays under that name, but stuff like this, that isn’t mine, I post under the site’s name (if that makes sense).
      Here’s Flynt’s full essay:

      http://www.henryflynt.org/aesthetics/meaning_of_my_music.htm

      Flynt’s coming from two places, really: 1) he’s got a background in avant garde art/music/composition and 2) he’s interested in “hillbilly” or ethnomusic. He’s interested in early, raw recordings—he cites “Transfusion,” “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” “Willie and the Hand Jive,” “Bumble Boogie,” as records he loves.

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  2. Old Henry is on to some thing and I was disappointed that the blurb ended so soon. I like the Beatles; I understand where they are coming from. Tea and biscuits and domesticity. The Rolling Stones and hard rock bands like them are more the itinerant street crowd. Kids escaping the constraints of a ‘regular’ life, imagining life as a continuous ‘On The Road’ novel rather than ‘The Hobbit’. Revolt against conformity rather than trying to fit into the ‘whole’. Meanwhile, ‘…she’s leaving home…’ Both are folk music, meaning music by folk rather than formalist composers. Life styles and tastes at the time reflected the difference in mentality – Trans Am’s and Triumph mc’s compared to VW bugs and motor scooters. Both have ‘deep’ lyrics and both have wonderfully nuanced riffs in their music.

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  3. This is strange and untrue. OK, the golden age of rock was wonderful but it was already gone by the time of the Beatles. What the Beatles created was new and wonderful and real. They were more real than most of the American pop scene. They were “Musical Democracy”!!

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    1. What constitutes ‘more real’? What is ‘Musical Democracy’ constructed of? Golden Age – golden for whom? I am unsure how it all fits together. Is ‘I Want to Bang Your Box’ Golden Age or prescient of minimalism – pre-Punk perhaps?

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  4. “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out?” Has he ever heard the song “Revolution 1″ beyond rumor? Interesting analysis, sure, but that’s sloppy, and interesting dissolves into mundane; positing Adorno merely for surface. We all know that rock’s roots are blues and that it was from the blues; Led Zeppelin a great example of taking songs, but it was out of admiration and not just blind-siding (Plant still comes to the MS Delta all the time). What about Hendrix? Surely Hendrix has profundity. Or does he get negative marks for having a white-backing band? This guy levels himself w/ Ornette Coleman later in the piece. Nah, that ain’t happening, hah… He tears down other white people just so he can turn around and place up himself among those he praises while also being white, a true inheritor of the African-American spirit, etc. Contradiction and hypocrisy, really.

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    1. Peace, Brother. What was wrong with the Beatles? They did not put an end to Rock, just took it in their direction. Same as Bob Dylan, The Jellybeans, and Manfred Man take R&R in those directions. It certainly did not end R&R. Rock is open source, like Fortran or WTF programming languages. When did Rock end – or did it evolve and mutate. Surely Led Zeppelin, Megadon, Nirvana must be in Rock & Roll heaven. Gillian Welch singing ‘Give Me That Old Time Rock & Roll’. In addition to those mentioned by other responders above, I thought that the Jefferson Airplane, Roy Orbison, The Supremes, Aretha, on and on were just great – and preferred their styles of Rock to the Beatles. I doubt if I could listen to just The Stones, either. Altamont didn’t really change anything other than burst the bubble of the ‘it’s all groovy’ illusion. I am unaware of any song causing a political riot. In addition to being cute, The Beatles could sound marmy smarmy and namby pamby. Here is a list of the top 100 best selling Rock songs from 1964 (as if ‘best selling’ is a measure of art). http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/bg_hits/bg_hits_64.html

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