Little Richard – Rip it up
For most people it is Elvis Presley who epitomises that Rock ‘n’ Roll rebellion but for me it’s Little Richard. Elvis was a imitator and interpreter of the R&B scene. People like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were the real innovators. They created something out of nothing.
Little Richard’s incredible Gospel edged voice and raucous style was the visceral rebellion of the fifties. It rocked the establishment, mobilised the kids and got things moving.
Little Richard was energy unleashed.
Phil Ochs – Cops of the World
Nothing changes. When Phil wrote this song about the ‘Cops of the World’ he was singing about the American invasion of other countries, the rape and abuse and arrogance of it. That was back in the sixties during Vietnam. We’d yet to see the delights of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
Phil was a reporter and chronicler, an idealist and commentator. He wrote some delightful, insightful songs.
Cops of the World is one of them.
Billy Bragg – World Turned Upside Down
Billy was another of my social/political bards. When he broke onto the scene with his portable sound system and ragged, shrill guitar, he was like a breath of fresh air. His spikey songs, like Between the Wars, were thought-provoking and perceptive. His rough voice was just right and his passion was real.
He sang about what he believed in and spoke his mind. Not only that – but he could write a song or two. For me he followed in the footsteps of Woody, Bob, Phil and Roy.
I like my music with a cerebral/social content. Billy had the heart for it.
Linton Kwesi Johnson – Sonny’s Lettah (Anti Sus Poem)
Linton put poems to reggae music and became the bard of Brixton. His words illustrated the Brixton riots and put into patois the feelings of the beleaguered black community. He was eloquent and his rich voice painted pictures. They were pictures of anger and resistance, pictures of unleashed fury and they told the story of discrimination and disadvantage, of persecution and distrust and an establishment that was the enemy.
Linton, like Michael Smith, had an ability to speak in the language of the black minority and articulate their feelings in passionate music that was brilliant in its own right.
Sonny’s Lettah is superb.
Bob Marley – Redemption Song
Reggae was a minority music beloved by Mods before Bob Marley turned it into a global phenomenon. The great thing is that he managed to do that without pandering to the lowest common denominator and watering down his music or message. He has Chris Blackwell to thank for melding it to a harder Rock beat that gave it more balls but it was just as uncompromising.
Bob was one of those geniuses who could write a song that stuck in your head that also had content and meaning. He expressed complicated thoughts in easy to grasp language.
Redemption song is a master’s song. It looks at slavery and then towards an optimistic future without racism, where black people will reach their potential.
I think he will be proved right.
Buffy St Marie – My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.
Buffy was a full-blooded Native American Indian who was rightly proud of her heritage and wrote a series of excellent songs about it. These included Soldier Blue, Now That the Buffalos Gone and Universal Soldier. They are all good but pale before this incendiary epic about the lies and genocide perpetuated on the Plains Indians by the United States Government.
I discovered that Buffy was the only female I had in my top twenty songs. That made me think. I don’t think it’s sexism. I do like Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Glace Slick and many others but I admit to having a tendency to prefer male voices.
So Buffy has to represent all women and she does it admirably. This is a really strong song. They don’t come any stronger.
The Clash – London Calling
The Sex Pistols were brilliant but the Clash were better. They were all the intelligent Punks but that demeans the lyrical genius of many of the Punk outfits. Johnny Rotten was no slouch with words. He could be pithy.
The Clash were criticized at the time for moving away from the Punk ethos and developing the music into more complex styles. Who cares? This is brilliant music. Why categorise it?
It was a great shame that they split up and fell apart with all that animosity. They were a great band and London Calling, with its imagery of a post-holocaust world is brilliant.
The Doors – Unknown Soldier
One of the best bands to come out of America. Consistently brilliant. They melded Jim Morrison’s poems to an incredible music and were all masters of their instruments.
If Jim Morrison had not been so self-destructive with his drinking they would have gone on to do a lot more. I think his alcohol consumption sapped his creative spirit and fed his disillusionment. By the end he was fed up with the hype and falseness of the industry and despised the whole pantomime. He even despised his audience and doubted their motives.
I chose Unknown Soldier because the image of the theatrical mock execution is cemented into my brain from their Roundhouse performance. I love the antiwar stance and that song was superb musically as well.
The Mothers of Invention – Help I’m a Rock
At one point in time they were another best band in the world. Nobody comes close to the satire and creativity of Zappa. He refused to be labelled or put in a pigeon-hole. Frank was Frank.
He also had a superb sense of humour.
Help I’m a Rock illustrates that. It was an early Dada masterpiece that brought me to tears of laughter. Brilliant.
We’re Only In It For the Money was a later genius of an album.
The Kinks – I’m Not Like Everybody Else
This was the B-side of Sunny Afternoon I believe. I used to put this on in my bedroom, on my Dansette with the arm raised, and play it endlessly when I was fifteen. It seemed to sum up exactly how I felt about the world. All the angst, disillusionment and rebellion would pour out in that strident vitriolic diatribe.
The Beatles – Come Together
We seem to be in an age when it’s cool not to like the Beatles; to align with the Stones. But it’s not an either or. I love them both.
What nobody can argue with is the impact of their music on Britain and the world. Rock music was dead and Britain was a backwater before the Beatles came along. They blew the doors down and kick-started the corpse.
Not only that but they developed and progressed so that they were always at the cutting edge of what was happening. They led the way. The West Coast bands looked to them.
It is also now convenient to focus on the more Pop and twee element of their repertoire – like Yesterday. I prefer their more complex, harder edged material – Revolution, Tomorrow Never Knows, Glass Onion and Strawberry Fields. I prefer my acerbic Lennon to the sweet McCartney.
Come Together was Lennon at his most inventive. No nonsense.
The Beatles were rightly the greatest Rock Band to have ever lived for a large number of reasons. The major one being that they were unremittingly brilliant.
That concludes my paltry list. I’ve had to leave out so much!
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