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Sep 06

Popular ’68

Popular121 comments • 2,451 views

I AM THE GOD OF POLL-FIRE AND I BRING YOU… tickboxes. 44-year-old tickboxes. Mid-August 68 and the TODALLY bonkers world of Art Brown was here, soon giving way to a string of killer Bs, Beach Boys, Bee Gees and The Beatles Band. The latter clearly warming up their newly-minted Olympic theme song.

So, here’s Tom’s standing orders:

I give a mark out of 10 to every single featured on Popular. This is your chance to indicate which YOU would have given 6 or more to, by whatever standard you wish to impose. And if you have any ‘closing remarks’ on the year to make, the comments box is your place!

Which of the Number Ones of 1968 Would You Have Given 6 Or More To?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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  1. 31
    wichita lineman on 20 Aug 2012 #

    Johnny Reggae is reggae innit. Swede, have you ever come across Don’t Stick Stickers On My Paper Knickers by X Certificate? None more 70s. It references clunk click, ooh you are awful, put a tiger in your tank, and sounds like Johnny Reggae times ten.

  2. 32
    Jimmy the Swede on 20 Aug 2012 #

    Lineman – I can’t bring myself to agree that “Johnny Reggae” is anymore reggae than “Reggae Like It Used To Be” so I have to file it elsewhere. Anywhere!

    No, I’ve not come across X Certificate. I shall investigate when I can get to a more obliging computer. It sounds wonderful. Cheers for the prompt.

  3. 33
    Tommy Mack on 20 Aug 2012 #

    Listening to MacArthur Park, possibly for the first time, certainly for the first time intentionally. To my ears sounds more Nilsonesque pop classicism than Brian Wilson-ish mad, reaching for the stars exploration. Actually, I’d bloody love to hear a Harry Nilson version of MacArthur Park!

    Back to JJF: what strikes me about most of the Stones’ ’68 stuff is not the much noted raw/back-to-basics-ness etc, but the murkiness of it: everything on JJF (and Street Fighting Man even more so) sounds like it’s looming towards you out of the dark and the rain and greasy pea-souper fog.

  4. 34
    wichita lineman on 20 Aug 2012 #

    I think they’re the first post-Andrew Oldham productions. The single before JJF in most of the world outside the UK was She’s A Rainbow b/w 2000 Light Years From Home. It’s a clear division for me between the 60s and 70s Stones (even though it’s only summer ’68!).

    Street Fighting Man predicts the Slade production sound, perfected on Gudbuy T’Jane: man singing really loudly three rooms away.

    Can’t really hear Harry Nilsson in Macarthur Park, Tommy. Structure and lyrics are more Smile than Aerial Ballet innit?

  5. 35
    Tommy Mack on 20 Aug 2012 #

    I’d say ’68 is like a transitionary period between 60s and 70s Stones. By ’69 and Honky Tonk Women, they’ve hit on the raw, brash bar-band sound they’ll use throughout much of the 70s as they build the World’s Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band brand, but in ’68 there’s still magic and mystery and menace and psychedelic wierdness hanging around, curdling fascinatingly with the tougher grooves they’re starting to bring in. There’s a real serpentine menace to Jagger around this time that he’d never really have again.

    I like She’s A Rainbow and We Love You (esp the video with Keef in his newspaper wig), but my favourite Stones song of the time has got to be (relative flop) Have You Seen Your Mother… – really nice marriage of furious garage-rock momentum with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink psych-era production values – should have been a much bigger hit!

  6. 36
    swanstep on 21 Aug 2012 #

    In case anyone hasn’t come across it before, Nik Cohn’s Dec 1968 joint review (pdf) in the NY Times of The White Album and Beggars Banquet.

  7. 37
    punctum on 21 Aug 2012 #

    “the TODALLY bonkers world of Art Brown”; this is why Britain will be relying on UN food parcels before 2020.

  8. 38
    punctum on 21 Aug 2012 #

    I read the first paragraph of that Cohn piece and knew that it was so batshit I didn’t need to read any further. I did, though, and it was boring. “Stray Cat Blues,” eh? G*ry Gl*tt*r really only the tip of a very big and unpleasant iceberg in rock.

  9. 39
    Cumbrian on 21 Aug 2012 #

    Being childishly rebellious, I thoroughly enjoyed throwing “Stray Cat Blues” back in the face of my Stones loving Dad when he complained about the lyrical content of some of what I was listening to when a teenager. Soon put paid to that line of reasoning.

  10. 40
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    Punctum, I thought Cohn was pretty on the nose: White Album sees the Beatles getting tired and settling for pottering when they once would have flew (and yes, it’s been said many, many times before, but you could do away with much of disc two and the world would be none the poorer – even George Harrison admitted he rarely got further than side one!), the Stones embracing their inner scumbaggery to more menacing effect.

    Apparently Nick Cohn was a massive pinball fan and The Who wrote Pinball Wizard to ensure a good review from him!

  11. 41
    punctum on 21 Aug 2012 #

    Sorry but apart from the Pinball Wizard story that is total bullshit.

    Why should anyone admire anyone for “embracing their inner scumbaggery” or being “menacing”? This is the thing that holds pop or rock back from getting anywhere; this stupid leather kecks, rocknroll, chicks drugs n SLEEEEEEEEEEAZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ notion that was antiquated at the outset. “Rock and roll” as premature heritage factory/theme park is BORING. I mean if Jagger’s going to drool over 15 yr old girls, shouldn’t Scotland Yard be rounding him up (I don’t CARE that it was ’68; it was shit then and it’s shit now), but no, we preserve him as some skeletal reminder of HOW IT USED TO BE without recognising that HOW IT USED TO BE had already been proved USELESS.

    Also ’68 Cohn’s a shit writer; too many presumptions and assumptions, inability to see outside his own head, let alone the bigger picture. OK he was only about twelve or something when he wrote this but I wrote better than him when I was twelve.

    Totally wrong, received opinion about the White Album (but so was anybody related to it called George); I demolished all that type of thinking when I wrote about it on TPL, go look it up, I’m not your butler.

    Rock “growing up” doesn’t NECESSARILY mean turning into the Moody Blues.

  12. 42
    punctum on 21 Aug 2012 #

    They actually played “Stray Cat Blues” on the radio the other day. Christ it was chronic. Three-and-a-half decent tracks on that record. Glad I didn’t have to write about it.

  13. 43
    Mark G on 21 Aug 2012 #

    I vote “Stray Cat Strut” for the win.

  14. 44
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    Why should we admire anyone for being menacing or transmitting scumbaggery? Because he’s a performer and it creates a compelling spectacle. I’m not really talking about chicks’n’drugs’n’sleaze – agreed…boring…can’t even remember Stray Cat Blues.

    What comes across with all Jagger’s best stuff is his sheer coldness, his detachment and antipathy. It’s more of a ‘shudder, I hope I don’t meet you on a full moon’ than a ‘you’re so cool and hedonistic and badass, I wish I was you’ Reprehensible in a person, but then I’m not asking him to be my mate or a role model. Not a goodie, but a charismatic and compelling baddie; puckish, snaked-hipped master of mischief, stirring up trouble, spreading corruption throughout the youth.

    Mind you, as I’m typing this, I’m struck by the notion that I’m basing much of this on Sympathy for the Devil and I vaguely remember much of Beggars Banquet being rather rickety acoustic blues – I’ll have to go back and listen to it again.

    As early as ’69 I’d say you’d have a fair point about The Stones and their rock’n’roll becoming a bit of a theme park (although I still love those early 70s Stones albums, as daft as I’ll admit their gunslinger imagery is), but on their best early sides, they still sound like they genuinely want to raise Hell, rather than just ‘raise hell’

  15. 45
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    As for The White Album, I find much of it boring and unsatisfying. I actually used to like it a lot more, but I’ve got bored of it over the years in a way that I never have with most other Beatles albums. Even some of the songs I like are little sketches. The sound is mean and thin and spare compared to the joyous exuberance of their last…well, of nearly all their stuff up to this point. It’s an interesting album and it’s a good album by anyone else’s measure, but it’s very near my least favourite Beatles album, probably only Let It Be I enjoy less. Actually, much of Abbey Road is ropey too, but then I’d say Come Together and Here Comes The Sun are better than nearly everything on The White Album.

    Agreeing with the concensus is not the same as lazily adopting the concencus: you shouldn’t assume that anyone who disagrees with you does so through ignorance, but I will check out your article and see if it does indeed demolish my thinking. I’m quite open to having my mind changed.

  16. 46
    punctum on 21 Aug 2012 #

    You see, my feeling is that dislocation and dissolution are sort of the point of the White Album; as the decade falls apart, so do its avatars etc., but I reckon the Beatles had an art to their dissolution and it’s something that I find much more redolent than the Bernie Delfont posturing of BB. You speak of Jagger’s coldness, and I agree, but at this point his coldness is still fairly tepid – or maybe half-baked (you’re right that once you get past the big setpieces, BB is mostly falling-to-bits acoustic bloooz yawns) – and both he and the band (or whatever was left of them after Brian) re-emerge quite dramatically with Let It Bleed; it’s only right that in terms of sixties number one albums, they should have had the last word. At that time I felt it was a more apposite and dynamic response to its moment than Abbey Road, but really it’s like trying to square JG Ballard against Evelyn Waugh.

    Revision: maybe not so much “demolish” your thinking as “reshape” it.

  17. 47
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    Ah yes, Let It Bleed has much of the stuff I vaguely thought was released a little earlier.

    Reading your White Album piece now: fascinating reading, makes me want to relisten to the whole album, which as I mention, I used to like a lot more: curse you, I meant to get some work done this afternoon!

  18. 48
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    There’s also an element of spite in admiring Jagger’s wickedness: It’s ’68, The Man has pulled the flowers of of The Kids’ hair and stomped them into the mud, so now let’s unleash the worst of us on the man: let rock’n’roll actually become all the filthy, nasty stuff The Man suspects it is. Of course, it’s never really The Man that gets it, more often the 15-year old groupie of Stray Cat Blues, but Jagger, like Eminem, can be thrilling on the occasions he turns his venom on more deserving targets.

  19. 49
    Tommy Mack on 21 Aug 2012 #

    On The White Album: I guess it’s been a real victim of what Tom Ewing and Lord Sukrat were calling the ‘cull mentality’ a while back. I always used to be a real completist, determined to see the worth in even the flimsiest and most throwaway tracks, but there’s nothing like having to choose your favourite 16GB of music to carry round with you to make you succumb to the cull mentality: Martha My Dear is no longer a charming slice of whimsy, it’s occupying space that Charles Wright, The Zombies, Tricky or Billy Bragg (to cast a glance at the pile of CDs waiting to be podded) could be sitting in. And so all of history gets reduced to what feels best to jog or cook or blot out the night bus to!

    Mind you, there are loads of albums on my iPod with filler tracks that I regularly skip on random play, but I still keep on there because I sometimes like to listen the whole album and I can’t say The White Album is among them. Maybe because the Beatles did so much great stuff, I don’t have to make the effort to enjoy something of less obvious charms. I did really enjoy your article and I will give the album another listen in full and see if I change my mind!

  20. 50
    JonnyB on 21 Aug 2012 #

    The Nik Cohn piece: Sympathy for the Devil ‘remains a strong melody line’.

    That single sentence about the music seems an odd bit of analysis, in the least.

  21. 51
    Ed on 22 Aug 2012 #

    ‘Revolution’ does even better: it “remains a brilliant melody line.”

    Did the NYT not employ any subs in the sixties?

  22. 52
    Mark G on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Yes, they all thought Nik Cohn remained a brilliant writer.

  23. 53
    Tommy Mack on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Cohn’s opinion on The White Album wasn’t much shared at the time, was it? I think I’m right in saying that it was the White Album that earned Lennon and MacCartney the Schubert comparison (in The Sunday Times? But Cohn’s opinion has come to be cliche – the recevied opinion of which punctum speaks. Mind you, Cohn also says he thinks The Stones have missed their moment and they’ll never get the recognition they deserve!

  24. 54
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Ned Rorem said “She’s Leaving Home” (on Pepper) was comparable to Schubert: that is in the New York Times. It’s an obvious, almost an unavoidable comparison at a certain point — number of songs pouring out, arranged in song cycles, classically literate commentators enjoying them, someone was always going to say it. I think there was disappointment at the time with the White Album — not at a fall off in quality so much as a shift in tone… it’s a chastened and a wearied record, and people didn’t think they came to the Beatles for those things. Certainly my mum and dad didn’t play it as often as they had Pepper (I suspect I played it more than they did) : but they had tougher burdens to bear by then also, with knowledge of my dad’s Parkinson’s sinking in — and the absurd bright youthful joy of 1967 was something they knew they wouldn’t recapture.

  25. 55
    enitharmon on 22 Aug 2012 #

    I’ve certainly heard Revolver attract Schubertian comparisons but I can’t name names. Here There and Everywhere is an obvious candidate, as is Eleanor Rigby.

    The White Album has some cracking stuff on it. It also has some misfires but I can’t hold it against them for trying. Even misfires can be picked up and developed by others.

    I’m in the camp that believes Revolver >> Sgt Pepper.

  26. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    In his famous Times review of Pepper*, William Mann mentioned Schumann, Wolf, Monteverdi and Britten — but I believe Mann had written about them before, calling them the “greatest songwriters since Schubert”. He was a subtle and an elegant writer — his Pepper review is thorough and accurate — and I suspect the context turns the grand puffing claim into less of a hyperbole and more of a precise point. Leonard Bernstein was also very excited by them at this point.

    *Which I still have, kept as a cutting in my parents’ copy of Pepper, in the sleeve in place of the Pop Art cut-outs, which my sister and I had made short work at the time, running round the sunlit garden of the welsh holiday cottage in cardboard glasses and mustache. It was the week after my 7th birthday.

  27. 57
    Mutley on 22 Aug 2012 #

    I think the comparisons with classical music started earlier than any of the above-mentioned (see http://www.beatlesebooks.com/not-a-second-time). According to this article, William Mann, the music critic of The Times wrote in 1963 “Harmonic interest is typical of their quicker songs, and one gets the impression that they think simultaneously of harmony and melody, so firmly are the major tonic sevenths and ninths built into their tunes, and the flat submediant key switches, so natural is the Aeolian cadence at the end of ‘Not A Second Time’ (the chord progression which ends Mahler’s Song of the Earth).” John Lennon said, however, that he was influenced in this song by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. I think William Mann was the one who also made the Schubert comparison.

  28. 58
    Mutley on 22 Aug 2012 #

    As stated in #56 which I hadn’t seen when I sent #57.

  29. 59
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Aug 2012 #

    Other classically literate enthusiasts included Wilfred Mellers and Deryck Cooke. Well-grounded scholars were genuinely startled (and delighted) at the new turn of events: some of them dug pretty deep too, and didn’t just heap praise on the big names. Many of them — not all — were a bit baffled at the idea you could learn songwriting by ear (rather than by studying scores), and thus magpie up ideas by very unattested, “unwriterly” routes (and roots). And they weren’t all familiar or comfortable with blues or R&B, of course — though Bernstein and Mellers certainly knew jazz fairly thoroughly.

    There isn’t nothing in White Album to excite this specific kind of attention — Revolution No.9 is a superb bit of Goons-inflected musique concrete, for example — but on the whole it’s a record more about limits and regrets than about wide-open possibility.

  30. 60
    Mutley on 22 Aug 2012 #

    From the standpoint of a teenager (I was 19 when the Beatles first broke) favourable classical comparisons during the Beatles’ early days were welcomed, as rock’n’roll was still on the defensive against the older generation (and more traditional pop, trad jazz etc) even after 7 years or so of existence. So in that respect, classical comparisons for me (and I suspect many others) were on a par with “Elvis can really sing, just listen to It’s Now or Never” and in the grand tradition of “Don’t Knock the Rock” and “Rock’n’Roll is Here to Stay”. As we all know, the Beatles made rock’n’roll “loveable” for mums and dads, and a little intellectual support could only help. This of course was in those cosy Horlicks-ridden days when you wanted your mum and dad to like your music. I recall that there was quite a bit of mocking of these classical comparisons at the time (Paul Johnson? Bernard Levin?)

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