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Rock and Roll and the Western Soul
by Carl Halling
11/30/12
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When such Glam acts and artists as David Bowie and the Sweet had first appeared on British television in full make up around 1972, there were those undilutedly masculine British males who were doubtless moved to revulsion and rage. Yet by about '74, Glam could be said to have shed much of its revolutionary potency.
But by the time it had done so, it had effectuated a minor sexual upheaval by making male androgyny more acceptable than ever before. And it did so in defiance of the Bible's strict delineation of the sexual roles, and prohibition of any form of cross dressing.
And one can only wonder what effect it had on the psychological development of young men such as myself, who'd already been weaned on the ferocious rebel sounds of Rock, only to swoon at the feet of the gorgeous androgynes of Glam.
But while it had entered the mainstream as Teenybop Pop, an avant-garde form persisted in the shape of an apparent nostalgic love affair with Europe's immediate past - and especially its decadent cabaret culture - on the part of acts and artists as diverse as Bowie and Roxy Music; as well as critically acclaimed newcomers Cockney Rebel. And the persona Bowie adopted in 1976, and which he enigmatically dubbed The Thin White Duke could be said to have been the apotheosis of this romantic Europhilia.
But little of this was in evidence in the happy world of Pop which continued to mine the Glam Rock craze for all it was worth, propelling a multitude of entertainers into the charts in the process. Such as one David Cook, a startlingly handsome young cockney Londoner of Irish Traveller extraction who as David Essex became a major star on the fringes of Glam.
But rather than Rock or Teenybop Pop, he did so largely through acting. And it was his own song Rock On that really put him on the map as a major heart throb in 1974, when it became a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic, due in no small part to its distinctive string arrangement, featuring one Pat Halling as concertmaster.
Its follow-up, Stardust, was the title of the hit movie of the same name, a salutary tale of a young Londoner who achieves his dreams of superstardom, only to end up holed up in some Spanish castle as a drug-addicted recluse.
Like its predecessor, it had been produced by New Yorker Jeff Wayne, with whom Pat worked both on Rock On and his own Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, widely viewed today as a masterpiece.
That same year of '74 saw the release of Cilla Black's In My Life, produced by David Mackay, and The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast by Rod Edwards and Roger Hand from an original book by William Plomer; both with orchestra led by Pat.
While he was still a close colleague of Mickie Most, who was enjoying the second phase of his glittering Pop career. For as previously stated, Most had been briefly involved with the burgeoning Rock movement in the shape of the Jeff Beck Group, which had been formed in early '67.
But in time, he bequeathed the band to his friend and business partner, Peter Grant, and under Grant's aegis, they went on to enormous success in the US. And by so doing, they anticipated the mega-glory of another Grant-managed band led by a one-time member of the Yardbirds.
I'm referring of course to Led Zeppelin, a band perhaps second only to the Rolling Stones in terms of legendary darkness and mystery, if you'll excuse the leitmotiv.
While Grant went on to take the US by storm with Led Zep, Mickie set about turning RAK, which they'd formed together in 1969, into one the key Pop record labels of the '70s and home to several classic Glam, Pop and Teenybop acts.
These included Disco-Poppers Hot Chocolate which had been formed as early as 1969, and former Detroit native Suzi Quatro, both of whom Pat worked with on several occasions with Mickie at the helm; as well as Mud, Arrows, Kenny, Smokie and Racey.
Quatro benefited from the brilliance of songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for the Sweet, Mud, Arrows, Smokie and Racey, and for a time was one of the few female stars of the Glam-Glitter genre. But Pat's work in the mid 1970s was by no means restricted to the purest pure Pop, far from it.
There was a major movie project in the shape of The Day of the Jackal, directed by the great Fred Zinnemann, whom I have always admired enormously.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him by Pat. And he was the second of two legends of the cinema I met around about that time, the first having been the great Charles Chaplin, and they were both quite delectably charming to me.
Pat was the concertmaster, serving under the Frenchman Georges Delerue - whom I also met - who both composed and conducted the music.
In terms of recorded music, Pat became caught up in the final stages of the Prog Rock boom when he served as leader for Jethro Tull, for despite himself, he'd been part of the growing Rock movement from the outset.
And notably through his association with the Beatles, who by '67 were at the forefront of the Rock revolution; although their Rock was ever replete with beautiful Pop melodies. But the same could also be said of Tull, one of the most purely artistic bands of the genre, which yet achieved both commercial and critical success on both sides of the Atlantic. And the first of these projects, War Child from 1974, could be said to be the quintessence of Rock as an art form, whose earliest expression was the aforesaid Prog.
For by fusing elements of Classical, Folk and Rock, the Prog phenomenon created a music that at times amounted to high art, as in the case of Tull.
But it was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention who effectively birthed the genre; although the notion of Rock as art had evolved by degrees in both Britain and America, with both the Beatles and Bob Dylan being especially influential in this respect.
Yet while both Britain and America served as the cradles of Art Rock, Prog was characteristically British, with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Gentle Giant and Genesis serving as early exemplars. And in keeping with its position within the rebel music of Rock, its lyrics often inclined to a darkness of tone which was characteristic of much of the musical Underground of the late 1960s.
Speaking of which...from about '73, it could be said that Progressive Rock set about a return to the Underground whence it had emerged. And from there, took to informing a vast variety of musical genres...including Glam Rock, Jazz Rock, New Wave, Post-Punk, Alt Rock and Indie. In fact, one might go so far as to say its been ubiquitous ever since, so that as things stand, several of the most successful acts in the world could be said to be Progressive in varying degrees.
But by '73, pure Prog was already starting to look stale in comparison to the Art Rock of figures such as Todd Rundgren and David Bowie, who were operating as progressives within the Glam Rock genre.
And in that selfsame year, Pat worked on two concept albums that were nowhere nears as commercial as anything by these two innovators, namely Cosmic Wheels by Donovan; and Johnny Harris' All To Bring You Morning, for which he led the strings. And which featured no less than three one-time members of Yes, who just happened to be recording next door at the time as Johnny and friends, and were great admirers of his work.
He went on to work on a series of Art Rock projects which while not as successful as international best-sellers by the likes of Tull have received fresh critical acclaim through the internet.
They include Beginnings (1975) by Steve Howe, Octoberon (1976) by Barclay James Harvest, Visionary and Perilous Journey (1976/'7) by Gordon Giltrap, Donovan (1977) by Donovan, and Woman in the Wings (1978) by Steeleye Span lead singer Maddie Prior. While a very early Progressive project of Pat's was Definitely What (1969) by Brian Auger and the Trinity.
But for Pat, involvement in the rebel music of Rock and Roll was ever but a means of earning the amounts of money necessary to support a home and family. While in my case, it was entirely voluntary, and one after the other I immersed myself in its messages of revolt.
Which is not to say that all Rock music is overtly dark or iconoclastic, far from it. For much of it is relatively innocuous, and there is much beauty to be found in all forms of Rock, both musically and lyrically, as I've already made clear. Yet from a historical perspective, it could be said that few art forms have been quite so effective in challenging the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western culture as Rock.
And for a time, it was as if a civil war was being fought for the hearts and minds of the young. And that's especially true of the '60s, where in both Britain and America, the conflict was quite extraordinarily fierce...and this persisted into the '70s. With the result that the British Punk insurrection provoked a reaction from ordinary members of the public which would be inconceivable today in a West that has become so utterly inured to outrage.
While by the '80s it could be said to have started to wane, as the values of the Counterculture started percolating the mainstream. And while this was concurrent with a famous conservative backlash, the latter hardly constituted a wholesale return to traditional values. For these were still in terminal recession, and fighting desperately for their very existence. And the backlash was but an expression of this desperation as I see it.
And to those who disagree, I can only say they have failed to realise just how deeply embedded into our society these values once were.
While today, they are merely the province of a minority, and a relatively powerless one at that. So for the time being, it could be said that the culture wars of the past half century or so have been won...and that Rock and Roll stands tall among its victors.

 



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