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Rock and Roll and the Youth Tribes of Albion 1
by Carl Halling
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That Totemic Year


Again and again, 1955 is cited by cultural commentators as the year in which things started to change in America and the West.

When it comes to Britain, there seems to be no doubt that within the space of a mere two generations, a spectacular rise in criminal violence from the low rates of at least the previous two centuries, occurred from about 1955. This same rise coincided with increasingly large-scale denigration of such traditionally sanctified Christian institutions as marriage, pre-marital purity and the two-parent family, which had always been seen as the enemy by various revolutionary tendencies within art and politics, while being respected by the majority, and affected every industrial nation apart from Japan.

The truth is that far from being a unique historical event devoid of precedents and precursors, the post-war cultural revolution, whose repercussions continue to be felt throughout a tragic broken West could boast historical roots reaching at least as far back as the European Enlightenment. Since that time, the Western World has been consistently assailed by tendencies hostile to its Judaeo-Christian moral fabric, and the Counterculture of the 1960s was simply the culmination of many decades of activity on the part of revolutionaries and avant-gardists, especially since the First World War.

Thenceby the time of the Hippie revolution, much of the groundwork had already been done, not least during the two immediate post-war decades.

During this brief 20-year period, the Existentialists, Lettrists and Beats became international icons of revolt...Britain's first major youth cult surfaced in the shape of the Edwardians or Teddy Boys...a cinema of youthful discontent flourished as never before, fuelling a desire among many young people to be identified as rebels and wild ones...and Rock and Roll took over the world with Elvis Presley as its first true superstar.


Even the Beatles Themselves


Inthe still relatively innocent Britain of early 1963,seminal Pop groups such as the Searchers and the Dave Clark Five - even the Beatles themselves - were quaint and wholesome figures. They fitted in well in a nation of Norman Wisdom pictures and the well-spoken presenters of the BBC Home or Light Service, of coppers, tanners and ten bob notes, sweet shops and tuppeny chews. But it wouldn't belongbefore the Rolling Stones, the band with the outlaw image that contrasted so violently with that of the four lovable moptops, started threatening the Beatles' position as Britain's number onePop Group.


Pop Transmuted into an Art Form


Rock was Pop transmuted into an art form, while somehow including Pop as its less intellectual counterpart.

It included both Soft and Hard Rock, as well as the sophisticated Art Rock of acts and artists as diverse as the Beatles, Frank Zappa and the Doors, and the out and out Progressive Rock of Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

For Rock was split into two categories...Underground and Commercial.The latter being pure Pop, whose domain in the UKwas the hit parade featured weekly on the long-running TV programme, Top of the Pops.

The Underground, on the other hand, was composed of acts and artists who made music largely for the growing album market. And there were those among them, such as Led Zeppelin, who never graced the singles chart despite earning fortunes through concerts and album sales.

But it was Frank Zappa (and the Mothers of Invention) who arguably more than any other artist

originated 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 going to serve 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 1972, Prog set about returning to the Underground whence it emerged.
And from there, set about influencing acts and artists within a vast diversity of genres, including Glam, Jazz Rock, New Wave, Post-Punk, and Alternative, in fact, one might go so far as to say it's been ubiquitous ever since.

But a new Rock revolution was underway in the shape of a heterogeneous mix of Rock and Pop allied to an outrageous androgynous image. Ultimately known as Glam Rock, it had begun to infiltrate the British charts as early as '71, while making little impact on the US, despite the fact that several of its pioneers were American.


During the Glam Rock Epoch


The mid to late sixties witnessed an extraordinary explosion of androgyny on the part of the Western male, which served to pave for the way for the Glam Rock movement, pioneers including the Rolling Stones, the band that effectively invented the genre, the Kinks, Barrett era Pink Floyd, early Soft Machine, and Alice Cooper.

While 1972 could be said to be the year in which the androgynous seventies really began, as the excitement surrounding the Alternative Society and its happenings and be-ins and love-ins and free festivals and so on started to fade into recent history.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


In the UK, Glam swept a host of musicians who'd been striving for major success since the early '60s to fresh levels of stardom. Such as David Bowie, Elton John and Rod Stewart. For all three had first appeared on record as part of the British Blues Boom...Bowie and Stewart in '64, and John in '65; and despite being idolised at the height of Glam, they continued to be admired as serious album artists.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


For there were two major strands of Glam in its heyday of ca. 1971- 73, one being allied to the consciously artistic tradition of Progressive Rock, the other, to the purest pure Pop. And among those acts and artists affiliated to the former were David Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band; while the latter embraced T. Rex, the Sweet, Gary Glitter, Slade and Wizzard. While there were many more who either flirted with the genre from within the confines of Prog, such as the Strawbs, or existed on its fringes, such as Silverhead.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


As to stateside Glam, pioneered primarily by Alice Cooper, it went on to include such cult icons as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Jobriath and Brett Smiley; as well as singer-songwriter, Todd Rundgren, a serious candidate for the most gifted Rock artist of all time. While several major acts were briefly touched by it; such as Aerosmith and Kiss, but it would not be until the 1980s that Glam entered the American mainstream in the shape of Glam Metal.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


Glam had been carried into the UK mainstream by one Marc Bolan, ne Feld, who had been featured in 1962 in a magazine called Town, as one of the Faces, or leading Mods, of the Stamford Hill area of North East London. Although by then he'd moved with his family to a council house in Summerstown near Wimbledon. He went on to achieve major success as one half of the acoustic duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex; the other being multi-instrumentalist Steve Peregrin Took who, like Bolan, was a leading figure of London's Hippie Underground centred on Ladbroke Grove.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


But In 1970, Took was replaced by percussionist Mickey Finn, who shared Bolan's love of old-time Rock and Roll. And as T. Rex, they had their first top 5 hit in the shape of Ride a White Swan. And by the time of their first number one the following year, T. Rex were a four-piece band, with Bolan the biggest British teen sensation since the Beatles. While the Bolan phenomenon was dubbed T. Rextasy by the British press...and all throughout the land, bedroom walls were adorned with Bolan's fascinating elfin face.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


The cult of androgyny was a powerful force in Britain in the early '70s, having been incubated first by Mod and then Flower Child culture, as well as Rock acts such as the Stones, the Kinks, Alice Cooper, T. Rex and David Bowie. Furthermore, it was reinforced in the cinema by several movies featuring angelically beautiful men. And yet, you still took your life into your own hands if you chose to parade around like a Glam Rock star in the mean streets of London or any other major British city - to say nothing of the countryside - and therefore few did.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


There were popular songs by acts such as Slade and Gary Glitter that were like football chants set to a stomping beat; while even former skinheads were now sporting shoulder length hair. The golden age of the long-haired boot boy had lately come to pass.

It was as if the spirit of Weimar Berlin with its unholy mix of violence and decadence had been resurrected in stuffy old England.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


As the '70s proceeded apace, Glam receded in terms of influence, although it would be revived in the '80s through American Glam Metal, and the British Goth and New Romantic movements; and still exists to this day. However, given the extent to which the West has become inured to outrage, its power to shock has been reduced to zero.


What a time it was, a time of constant, frenetic change in the wake of a social revolution that had been all but bloodlessly waged only a few years before.


A Languid Cafe and Cabaret Culture


When such Glam acts and artists as David Bowie and the Sweet had first appeared on British television in full make up around 1972, doubtless there were those undilutedly masculine British males who were 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.

But while it had entered the mainstream as Teenybop Pop, an avant-garde form persisted, and there were those artists around1974–76 who appeared to share a love affair with the languid cafe and cabaret culture of the continent's immediate past.

Among these were established acts such as David Bowie and Roxy Music, and newer stars such as Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel; and Ron and Russell Mael of strikingly original LA Band, Sparks.

Some of Roxy's followers even went so far as to sport the kind of nostalgic apparel favoured by Ferry himself, but they were rare creatures indeed in mid-seventies London.

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.


The Legacy of the Soul Boys


The Soul Boys' love of black dance music was a legacy of the Mods and Skins that preceded them.

While the Soul Boys themselves were largely working class dandies, some were in fact not Soul Boys at all, so much as elegant trendies with a penchant for floppy college boy fringes, plaid shirts worn over white tee-shirts, straight leg jeans, and winklepickers.

And these were the kind to be found at such sumptuous places as the Sombrero on Kensington High Street ca. 1977.

The Soul Boys also favoured the wedge haircut, which could be worn with streaks of blond or red or even green, brightly-coloured peg-top trousers and winklepickers or plastic beach sandals. Speaking of the wedge, it was taken up at some point in the late 1970s by a faction of Liverpool football fans who'd developed a taste for European designer sportswear while travelling on the continent for away matches. Thence, the Casual subculture was spawned, and the passion for designer sports and casual wear that was characteristic of its eighties adherents persists to this day among British working class youth in urban areas and towns and shopping malls large and small all throughout the land.



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