Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Musical Roulette (The '80s)

Okay going into '80s music I have to talk about something I was avoiding. By the late 70's music had re-segregated itself.  In the 60's everybody was playing together regardless of race. Good music was good music. Hendrix and Santana played right on the same stages as Janis Joplin and Pete Townshed.  To this day I die a little inside when anybody refers to "Gimme Shelter" "Fun Fun Fun" or "Summertime"  as "white boy music."  "It opens with a Chuck Berry riff your granddad probably knew by heart you idiots."   But that was the perception by the 80's. 

I couldn't tell you why even if I wanted to. I think that the re-segregation of music reflects the larger re-segregation of America. The '60s were over. God damned Nixon.

Why do I bring that up. Because I'm going to talk about the birth of hip hop, which would be shunned by mainstream i.e. white audiences for almost a decade.  And the same could be said for Jackson's new style that was not viewed as "mainstream" enough for top 40 stations. By the way on Thriller that is Eddie Van Halen.

As for being a white guy in rap talk to Eminem. He'll have some choice words for you. Listen to the opening of "The Real Slim Shady". Em Em. "Y'all act like you never seen a white person before. Jaws all on the floor."

But anyway.

The Birth of Hip Hop

Here is the thing. Early hip hop was basically just D.J.ed disco.  When people think of disco they tend to think of Studio 54. If you were rich and in L.A. maybe. Otherwise, you got the local cat with a record player, some punch, and some lasagna. In other words a house party.

Disk Jockeys and Masters of Ceremonies oh wait, D.J.s and M.C.s. had one collective duty. Keep the party going.  Make sure everybody was having a good time. After awhile they developed various ways of doing this rhyming when talking, break beating, scratching when you wanted the audiences attention.  Eventually people liked it so much that they were trading recordings of the parties, for these features.

The Old Guard

By this point you had a lot of hard rock, metal, and punk artists who had did their time in the '70s and were getting buzz. It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. A lot of the mainstays of 80's rock radio, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Joan Jett, ZZ Top, The Clash, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Judas Priest had been doing this for a long time. Like with anything they had to pay their dues. Time after... okay I won't subject you to that. But my point stands. It took a while for these guys to gain the rabid fan bases they have now. Years of touring, writing, rehearsing, and recording. This is why my mom thinks punk, metal and rap were all invented in the '80s.  It didn't help that a lot of these bands were imports. There is always a cultural delay across the ocean.  Can you say Supercop. Which brings me to.

Marley and Tosh
Reggae started catching on. My knowledge of that starts and ends with Legend so lets talk about the second longest charting album in history. First off if you have not listened to it do so now. Go ahead I'll wait.

Yeah the album is amazing, which is expected considering it's a best of but still. So if I know nothing about reggae why am I talking about it. Here is the thing about the early punk scene. There wasn't always a live band at the club. If the owner/D.J.  needed something to throw on that wouldn't anger the crowd they threw on reggae, especially in the U.K. Eventually reggae became a central punk influence. Especially if you were the black guy in the club.  Keep that in mind when I get to the '90s.

The L.A. Scene
By this point metal had diverged into more or less the same two groups hard rock had a decade earlier. You had glam rock which prized theatricality, and thrash which hated that stuff. I'll get to them in a sec. Let's talk about Kiss. They were huge. Girls wanted them and guys wanted to be them. Why? Their explosive shows.  If you went you know you were going to see some crazy shit. Kiss brought the spectacle. It was like a religious experience.

I know what you're saying. But weren't Kiss at their zenith in the '70s. Well yeah, but here is the thing. Everyone was trying to be the new Kiss in the '80s. The makeup, the hair, the lights, the pyrotechnics, the stunts. All trying to out-Kiss Kiss. 

That in a nutshell is glam metal. And if you wanted to be taken seriously in L.A. in the 80s you bet you conformed.

You tell some guys to put on makeup and, "jump" they will deck you. These are those guys.  By the late 70's rock had become partially about masculinity. It was man music, and a lot of guys said "What the fuck?" to being told they had to dress in makeup and leotards to play, "man music".

They went and did their own thing acting parallel to the glam guys just 50 miles down the road. You know the whole Jimi Hendrix competition thing.  Well two of these bands have a more sinister version of it. Dave Mustaine was an angry drunk and got kicked out of Metallica. Afterwards he swore he would outsell them. He tried doing this by being faster and more technically proficient than the guy they hired to replace him, Kirk Hammett. Thus the heavy metal arms race began. Louder, faster, more technical play.

Hardcore Punk
By this time you get what I call the second generation of punk. And they generally went in two directions. Let's talk about hardcore. By the late '70s and early '80s one barometer of punk skill was the ability to play quickly, and... menacingly. Who the hell am I kidding that was always a barometer, but again punk started to become a movement.  The Sex Pistols had galvanized it. It's weird. It was underground in both cases, but if you were lucky enough to see the '78 tour, it affected you. And The Sex Pistols always flirted with being jackasses. Especially Sid. Oh God Sid.  Like his music, don't condone everything else. If you want to read up on him do it in another article. All I will say is for better or worse the anger of punk was born of him and Johnny Rotten.

Beyond that. It was the '80s. The the "love children" were dealing with the hypocrisies of their parents. Especially in Thatcher England and Regan America.

"What happened? You guys used to be cool,  talking about social justice, and international peace, and environmentalism, and civil rights, and anti-consumerism. When did you guys become the man,"

Now let me backtrack, mainstream rock had become somewhat racially and sexually homonginzed. Punk was the genre where women and blacks had an integrated place. The Blackhearts were lead by Joan Jett. Polly Styrene and Excene were getting buzz. The Dead Kennedys had D.H. Peligro.  Bad Brains were getting serious props. Like I said in my last post as long as you could pogo you were in.  It was good ... until the Nazi punks fucked it up. Watch This is England.

Post Punk and New Wave

I said it before. But well here you go. Punk is limiting. Punk is about the barebones of rock and roll, add much more and it becomes something else.

When I first started listening to artists like The Clash, The Jam, Blondie, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie who were sold to me as the founders of punk I found something out. They didn't sound like punk to me. What's with all the synths? And is that a drum machine? Whaaaaa?

They were on to something new. Post-punk. You know all that wierd '80s pop stuff. That was post-punk. Which became the sound of the 80's.

No, I'm not calling Madonna and Whitney Houston punk. God no. No!  But what I am saying they sounded a lot like those guys at the time. Not as rough maybe, but musically I see it.

See punk sort of diverged. Whenever an artist wanted experiment, they stuck a toe out. Post-punk was sort of a new progressive rock movement except unlike the prog movement for some reason it was accepted.  By the early 80's prog rock had become something of the redheaded stepchild of music and yes this did leak into disco.

I think that is because the music had always been a bit unrestrained. It is hard convincing a D.J. to spin a 30 minute track. Not a 30 minute album. A 30 minute track. But by the  mid '80s a lot of bands were looking back at the techniques, equipment and instruments it played with and incorporated them, the first generally being the European punks. And it spread to everything. Pop, Grunge, other punk, hip hop. Everything.  Except maybe metal. (Okay so I forgot about Foreigner and Journey) 

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