Note: It’s easy when mentioning the ‘man’ or the ‘establishment’ to consider it a conspiracy to keep rock and roll down by inventing moral panics. I don’t believe or condone the belief in such organised systems, any references to the establishment or the ‘man’ only make oblique reference to the morals and ethics of the time as upheld by opinion formers in the press. There is no organisation, although the level of consensus could sometimes convince you there is. As usual, the ‘establishment’ culture is at any time at least five years behind the times. Keep this in mind.
I can’t quit you, baby: the established myth of Sabbath/Zeppelin.
With cock-rock singers, microphone twirling, virtuoso solos and downtuned string-stroking commonplace shorthand for ‘rebellion’ and rock and roll itself relegated to the dusty back room of popular music, it’s easy for modern day fans of the Black Keys and Tame Impala to ask ‘from whence sprung our current yawp worship? It’s easy to look back at Led Zeppelin, the daddies, or Deep Purple, because of their artificially inflated influence and the downplaying of any other bands of that period. It’s pleasant, and easy, to believe that society’s penchant for hip-swaying, guitar destroying rock and roll was born with Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple. It goes with the (quite right) canonisation of all three group’s individual genius and collective playing revolution and the re-popularisation of the atavism and simplicity of rock and roll. The return, in part, to our heathen roots, pre-Christian beliefs about sex, mind-expanding narcotics and individual freedom and the political revolution, heralded by rock and roll, that has gripped the world and is entering a new phase of protest and resentment of established order. It’s a nice belief, and not untrue; the revolution, particularly of Sabbath’s playing was massive, in part accidental, in part deliberate. In part, a stroke of genius, in part an inevitable of their working-class Birmingham surroundings.
Perfect Strangers: An alternate history of 200 years of atavism.
A hundred years before Robert Johnson, the most rock and roll musician was Niccolò Paganini, whose virtuoso violin work prompted accusations that he was possessed by the devil; his fame as a world-class violinist was equaled only by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer. By playing from the soul, rather than from a sheet and according to principles he caused something of a stir, fast forward a hundred years and 30s America was being rocked to its moral core by jazz and swing music. By reversing the relationship between music and musician, by apparently channeling rhythms rather than playing them, predominantly black and underclass musicians were able to animate whole rooms of people in ways that today seem quite staid and restrained, but at the time were seen like a mosh pit today. The ability of beat to reduce people to primal responses went arm in arm with sex, which was taboo, and still perplexingly is. Jazz clubs were havens of alternate political ideas, chemical experimentation and abandonment of traditional moral values. There was a moral panic, among the straight, square population that people were connecting once again with their immortal souls, who didn’t desire work, but pleasure, companionship, for life or just the evening, who desired carnal pleasure and pharmaceutical escapism; but at least all this sort of thing was largely contained. To the black population and to the youth, who inevitably grew up and straightened out…
You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog: Elvis changed everything, the Beatles changed it again.
Elvis, seen as quite staid himself today was able to induce 50s housewives to go weak at the knees. So offensive was his sexual hip-thrusting that he was shot on television performances from the midriff up, so you could tell something was going on, but you couldn’t tell what, which only increased his illicit appeal. Elvis sang black songs to a white country audience, dropped Hiroshima-style into the national consciousness, the resultant joyous seventy years of rock and roll that show no signs of abating are all Elvis fallout.
Next, the Beatles broke America, and it’s yet to be fixed. The success of the Beatles heralded two important realisations in people and bands throughout the world, firstly it was possible for four working class English lads to become the biggest thing on the planet and more importantly the biggest thing in America, and secondly, rock and roll was here to stay. The Beatlemania spectre is invoked often in discussions of Justin Bieber and One Direction fans, but at the time the designation was serious, Beatles fans (mostly young women) seemed to be possessed by a very real mania, insanity, obsession and this was bad. Not only were they out of control, they were young and women and this couldn’t do for the establishment. The Beatles and their mania are also indirectly responsible for the sonic assaults from all corners that would be commonplace by 1970 and discussed at length later. At early Beatles concerts the band couldn’t be heard for girls screaming, so Marshall and Orange decided to produce amplifiers that could shut out any crowd, and produce levels of noise hitherto unheard of. And then it was on, for young and old.
Strange Brew: The Pretty Things and the Wild Thing.
Close observers of rock and roll could look at the gentlemanly be-suited Beatles in 1965, and then Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant, Keith Moon and all the other rock stars of 1970 and ask “what happened?” in 1965, the Pretty Things were released on an unsuspecting world. Society was already in such a ferment as revolution, the counter-culture, rock and roll, feminism and anti-war protest fractured societal norms. Pretty Things concert footage from somewhere in ‘66 or early ‘67 is breathtaking for how contemporary it looks. Drummer Pete Kitley was the template for the insane rock drummer, and Phil May on vox claimed to have the ‘longest hair in Britain’. They inspired the Stones, and by that, everyone.
It is at this point in our history that the reference machine goes into overdrive, in less than four years the following albums were released, Cream – Disraeli Gears. Blue cheer – Vincebus Eruptum. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath and Paranoid. The Doors – The Doors. Grand Funk – Grand Funk. The Gun – The Gun. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin. Mountain - Climbing! Randy Holden – Population II. Deep Purple – In Rock and the Stooges – Fun House. Along with countless others that it would be no use to namecheck. From now on we move from song to song, and the importance of charting songs at soaking into the collective consciousness consecutive new high-bars of heaviness was vital, as was the subsequent whisky-sweat pouring out of the underground band pores in the same year each time. The release of the Troggs Wild Thing, relatively unknown now and remembered for its infinite cover versions (including one from Hendrix). If the Pretty Things kick started the long hair, the trashing hotel rooms and the general insanity (both exaggerated and real) that is left in the wake of rock and roll, then the Troggs supplied the first dose of genuine heaviness, and it was like the one unlucky drink that shoves a wavering alcoholic off the wagon. After the monumental bass-blast and tightrope walk balance of Wild Thing the genuine first metal hit Race with the Devil by little remembered The Gun was inevitable. Again remembered mostly through Girlschool’s cover version, the original still has a real punch and is well worth finding, it led on to Inna Gada-Da-Vida by Captain Beyond connected Iron Butterfly.
Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen: the American rock revolution.
After supplying the Elvis petrol that set this blaze a-burnin’, the early sixties were a trailing time for American rock and roll, in the wake of the Beatles and the Pretty Things, it was time for the American counter-cultural revolution. Tensions in America had been building throughout the sixties, as a group of mostly young people from the first generation of ‘baby boomers’ (also the first generation to grow up with rock and roll as a staple) as well as their teachers in colleges like Berkley came of age and began to prefer fornication and narcotics to what had preceded. A general disenfranchisement swept the nation in a cultural wave not known before or since. Two key moral pressures were exerted on the culture by the counter-culture, that of civil rights for women and African Americans, and protest against the pointless bloodshed in Vietnam. Against this backdrop of specific protest against the policies and attitudes of ‘old America’ there was also a general cultural attitude of disobedience. Sex and drugs were rampant, and the cement holding this revolution together was rock and roll. Largely coming out of the centre of the counter-culture revolution, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, there was the Doors, from Los Angeles who established a less acid-drenched rebellious rock and roll different to that of the Rolling Stones, and the mainstays of the acid scene in San Francisco, of academics, writers and musicians, represented most commonly by Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Almost outside of this scene was the fame of Jimi Hendrix, himself inspired by Cream, Hendrix’s music was a new sort of sound, the most obvious forerunner to heavy metal in popular minds, although usually the preserve of the rock snobs rather than the metal snobs. Hendrix’s groove inspired many who were already enamoured with the Trogg’s heavy assault. Their anthems of revolution carried over into the sidelined acts, the super-heavy groups, the crowned kings of which were Blue Cheer. Blue Cheer are now staple listening for anyone interested in heavy metal blues riffs and played out on Hendrix, but even in the late eighties, they were omitted entirely from histories of rock and roll, only in recent years have Blue Cheer received their deserved fame. Vincebus Eruptum, as well as their bombastic, super loud and super heavy live show was the jolt of pure adrenaline needed to kick start a true heavy revolution.
And thus the Rolling Stones and the Who were born of the Pretty Things. Thus Zeppelin and Deep Purple was born of Hendrix and Blue Cheer. And Sabbath? They have the same influences as Zeppelin except for one crucial addition. Coven from Chicago. Their album, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls is spectacularly heathen, of the sort latterday Electric Wizard can’t compete with, and even includes the track Black Sabbath. The great Lester Bangs described Black Sabbath as ‘England’s answer to Coven’. Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls was removed from sale shortly after launch because of the closing track Satanic Mass, a thirteen minute spoken word hair-raiser that predates anything in Black Sabbath’s debut. Thus, were the great bands created. Not by magic, not by spectral unprecedented genius.
Written under duress by Steven.