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.”
You can read the entire comic here.