TW – drugs
For his second solo album, Louis Tomlinson had faith and went back…for the Future. Admitting that he never fully adhered to his musical taste in his debut solo album Walls, Louis embraced his Indie/Britpop roots and his love of this music that shaped him in his younger years.
“That’s the sound that I would say defined growing up for me. That kind of music is big in the North of England full stop and especially in working class Doncaster,” he said in an interview with Metro. “I spent a lot of my time as a young lad in this indie bar called Priory, and that’s how I discovered a lot about music that I’ve grown up to love. And those kind of associations for me are important because that kind of perception – coming from a band like One Direction, you have to chip away at that perception. But that Indie/Britpop/Alternative/whatever words you want to use to describe its sound, that’s who I am as a listener, and I think that’s the way I am as an artist as well.”
Louis even wrote an “ode” to Doncaster in “Common People” (this title will sound familiar later in the article). “I’ve got that place [Doncaster] to thank for who I am. I’m very aware of that and I love it,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. “So it was important for me to have a song that honored that and gave Doncaster its credit. I dressed it up in the form of a love song. But really, the intention was just to give Donny a moment.”
Louis’s fans already know about his personal roots: Donny lad. Big brother. Class clown. Actor. Footballer. What we may not realize about his music roots is how deep they actually are. Indie and Britpop music have been influenced by so many earlier genres and UK artists that they are not only rooted in the past, but also Louis’ past, his future, and the Future. Cover band member. The unique, angelic voice of One Direction. The rest is history.
Part 1: UK music takes root
In post-World War II Britain, teenage singer-banjoist Lonnie Donegan, who was part of the Traditional jazz band Chris Barber’s Dixieland, began learning American rhythm-and-blues/folk songs of artists to the likes of Lead Belly and Woodie Guthrie. Traditional jazz came to be classified as the British version of New Orleans jazz. Donegan started to perform his own versions of these songs and ultimately named the resulting genre skiffle, which was originally applied to jug band music (guitars, banjos, harmonicas, kazoos, and jugs) that originated in the 1920s.
He recorded a more spirited take on Lead Belly’s “Rock Island Line” in 1954 and it garnered instant success. It was the first guitar-led music to become popular in Britain, along with it being the first style where a song could be played on three guitar chords. Young musicians were ecstatic to find a style with a DIY appeal since it could be played on cheap instruments like the guitar and banjo and makeshift instruments such as washboards and tea-chest basses. As a result, hundreds of teenage skiffle bands were formed.
In 1958, Cliff Richard, who originally played in skiffle bands in northern London, was the first English singer to move toward American rock-and-roll and its “hip-shaking” rebellion. Influenced by Elvis Presley, his debut single “Move It” became known as the first British rock-and-roll song, and Richard,who was supported by his band The Shadows, became the biggest thing in British rock-and-roll. But not for long.
John Lennon (guitarist and singer) and Paul McCartney (bassist and singer) had a shared interest in American rock-and-roll and were mostly self-taught musicians. Adding George Harrison (lead guitarist) and Stuart Sutcliffe (bass guitarist), they formed a band that first experimented in skiffle. Changing their name from the Quarrymen, to the Silver Beetles, to the Beatles, the last name finally stuck. After bringing drummer Pete Best to the group, they joined a booming “beat music” scene that was thriving in Liverpool in 1961. Also known as Merseybeat, the sound was a combination of American rock-and-roll, rhythm-and-blues, and British skiffle.
The Beatles soon added a more polished drummer in Ringo Starr and took Merseybeat a step further by writing their own songs in their own recording studio instead of using a commercial producer. By the end of 1961, they released their first big British hit, “Please Please Me.”
In 1963 the band continued to produce original music while also playing American rock-and-roll songs on various BBC radio programs. Their recordings, eventual live performances, and appearances on British and American television ultimately led to “Beatlemania” in the UK and a so-called “British Invasion” in the U.S.
The Beatles not only reinvented the sound of rock-and-roll but also its cultural meaning at the time. It embodied the ideas and joys of self-indulgence, the pursuit of pleasure, and experimentation (drugs, spiritual reflection, etc.).
Their popularity motivated creativity in their music that had never been seen in rock-and-roll music. Their arrangements ranged from pop ballads (“Yesterday”), to folk (“Blackbird”), to hard rock (“Helter Skelter”), with songs containing heavy lyrics, imaginative arrangements, and technological “trickery” that was typical of their studio work. Albums Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and Magical Mystery Tour (1967) introduced psychedelic elements in its songs. Pink Floyd later became the leader of this genre.
Psychedelic rock was largely inspired by hallucinogenic drugs, which also intensified the sound and loudness of the music that was created. Whimsical and surreal, the songs were longer and incorporated influences like beat poetry, jazz, and instruments like the sitar. It greatly influenced later genres like heavy metal, art/progressive rock, and punk.
Although there were many American artists that they chose to emulate, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Bob Dylan, the Beatles’ original songs paved the way musically and expressively for many UK artists. Their harmonies, arrangements, lyrics, and overall production created new standards of excellence in music.
The Beatles’ influence, along with the rise in the fanbase of British rock-and-roll, paved the way for other bands during the British Invasion:
Manchester: The Hollies, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits
Birmingham: The Spencer Davis Group (featuring Steve Winwood), The Moody Blues
Newcastle: The Animals
The most popular came from London:
The Rolling Stones – Formed in 1962, the original band, consisting of Mick Jagger (lead vocalist), Keith Richards (lead vocalist), Brian Jones (guitarist), Charlie Watts (drummer), and Bill Wyman (bassist and backup vocalist), began playing Chicago blues in pubs and clubs in West London, the most famous being the Crawdaddy Club. Their early work consisted of remakes of blues and rock-and-roll songs of the 1950s, but, following the lead of Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles, Jagger and Richards began composing their own songs. Original hits include “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Get off My Cloud,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The Rolling Stones became known as the “bad boy” counterparts of the Beatles who put the “raunch” back in rock-and-roll. Whereas the Beatles of the mid-1960s had long hair, charm, and matching suits, the Rolling Stones had longer hair, hostility, and wore what they wanted. The Beatles were reassuring; the Rolling Stones were rebellious. They are defined by the image of sex, drugs, radicalism, and satanism. The band ventured into the psychedelic scene in their album Their Satanic Majesties Request, but it was not successful.
The Kinks – Formed as a rhythm-and-blues band in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, their music combined rhythm-and-blues with theatrical attributes of the British music hall (the equivalent of vaudeville in America) and lyrics about social observations. They exaggerated the androgynous image created by the Rolling Stones with an often playful demeanor, foolish clothes, and extremely long hair. Built on power chords, their third single, “You Really Got Me,” provided their big break and later had hits in “All Day and All of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting for You.” In 1965, the Kinks changed their approach with “See My Friends”, a story of male bonding, which represented the first fusion of Western pop with Indian musical forms. As their impact in America lessened due to an unsuccessful tour, the band later released social comment songs like “A Well-Respected Man,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” and “Sunny Afternoon.” The Kinks greatly influenced the early Who, mid-1960s garage punk, and early 1970s heavy metal.
The Who – Though primarily inspired by American rhythm-and-blues, the Who took a bold step toward defining a British rock language in the 1960s. Rejecting the “idealized” romance of the Beatles and the “cocky swagger” of the Rolling Stones, the band decided to straightforwardly deal with teenage toils and angst. At a time when rock music was a global uniting force, the Who were the outsiders.
They cultivated a pop art image to match the fashion-obsessed British “mod” subculture, with guitarist Peter Townshend acknowledging that clothing made from the Union Jack (sharp suits and pointed boots, along with short hair) was a gimmick, but it succeeded in creating a core following. By the late 1960s the mods were history, and the Who were long past needing to identify themselves in terms of “fashion.”
The Who’s music highlighted themes like alienation, lust, peer pressure, and gender confusion, lashing out with harsh lyrics and power chords. Their first four singles, “I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” “My Generation,” and “Substitute” were an unprecedented force of fury and aggression, only to be intensified onstage by Townshend’s habit of smashing his guitar. Their 1971 album, Who’s Next, included would-be teen anthems in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” (that one sounds familiar, right?). The Who firmly became advocates of making violent rage a form of “rock art.”
The Yardbirds – Following in the footsteps of the Rolling Stones, the band’s early work consisted mostly of cover versions of rhythm-and-blues songs in 1963-64 but became best known for being inventive/experimental in converting this type of music to rock. They also stretched the boundaries of pop, adding a harpsichord in “For Your Love” and a sitar-style lead in “Heart Full of Soul.” The Yardbirds eventually took the Rolling Stones’ spot at the Crawdaddy Club.
They were the first group of the British Invasion to be recognized for the instrumental power of their guitarists – Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. With Clapton as the lead guitarist, the band created the “raveup,” extending instrumental breaks and accelerating their playing until it transformed into white noise. Page later became the leader of one of the most successful heavy metal/hard rock groups of the 1970s, Led Zeppelin. Employing distortion and reverb (a series of echoes that blend to create sonic space), Beck pushed hits like “Shapes of Things” into the realm of psychedelic rock.
A product of the psychedelic scene and a subgenre of rock, progressive rock (also known as prog rock) was initially developed in the UK in the late 1960s and had its “golden age” in the early-mid 1970s. This music emphasized experimental/bold compositions, sophisticated harmonies, and concept-driven lyrics. Like traditional rock-and-roll bands, progressive rock groups based their sound on the guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, and a lead vocalist, but many incorporated classical/jazz elements and embraced technology. Lyrics were inspired by literature, poetry, film, and history, which created the genre nicknames of “symphonic rock” and “art rock.”
Early influences included groups like the Beatles, who began pushing the boundaries of pop music by creating concept albums (again, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and introducing atypical instruments like the Mellotron (early synthesizer) in “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Much of the early progressive rock movement was based in England, particularly in the city of Canterbury. The Canterbury scene produced groups that included Caravan and Soft Machine, who created psychedelic rock albums with instruments like the flute and clarinet. Their music inspired groups like Jethro Tull to make the flute a key instrument in their songs.
Among the pioneers of the early progressive groups were The Nice, Yes, Supertramp, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Many of these groups started out as traditional and then moved toward literary lyrics, unusual chords, and mixed time signatures. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer incorporated pieces from classical composers like Tchaikovsky. Although less popular, groups like the Moody Blues and Procol Harum pushed boundaries by creating rock albums focused on orchestral instrumentation.
While most progressive rock groups enjoyed small but loyal fan bases, a few broke out into mainstream success and influenced future genres of music.
Founded in 1967, Genesis was first known for their songwriting and the theatrical onstage performances of Peter Gabriel. With the addition of drummer Phil Collins and guitarist Steve Hackett in 1970, their style featured heavy synthesizers while their compositions, unlike other progressive rock bands, emphasized group performance rather than individual pyrotechnics.
Pink Floyd, who was part of the early 1960s psychedelic scene, popularized the concept album for mass rock audiences in the 1970s. Led by lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett, his blues/music hall/psychedelic styles, along with references to British author Lewis Carroll (the book Alice in Wonderland), established the band in Britain’s underground scene. Their first hit was the controversial “Arnold Layne,” a song about a transvestite; their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was an extravagant and experimental record that has since become a rock staple. Their sound became increasingly daring with the incorporation of sound effects, spacy guitar/keyboard riffs, and extended periods of improvisation.
Barrett was replaced by a different guitarist in 1968. With the loss of his impressive lyrics and songwriting, the band began to concentrate on live music, making records that were song-based but thematic (concept) and included long instrumental periods. Entering the American charts with Atom Heart Mother (1970) and Meddle (1971), Pink Floyd’s biggest commercial success was a dark account of death and emotional breakdown in 1973s Dark Side of the Moon. Alienation within the band and in society was illustrated in the best-selling album of 1979, The Wall.
British record companies played a vital role in the development of progressive rock but they also had a major influence in its decline. There was pressure from record labels for pop hits and they insisted on making music more commercial. Radio also played a key role in the downfall since commercial FM station restrictions did not permit tracks that were over ten minutes long.
Progressive rock had become one of the dominating, serious genres to emerge at a time when liberal tensions made their way into music. Future artists used the genre as an inspiration while others used it to confront the standards of the time. Either way, the sound and look of the rock scene was changing.
Look for Part 2 of “Go Back to Where I(t) Started” in the February issue. We’ll continue to “rock on!”