In this series of articles on pop, I have so far discussed the basic lines for the analysis of contemporary pop music (nlr 39), and one pop group—the Rolling Stones (nlr 47). However, this procedure, passing from the theoretical preconditions for a study in depth to the work of a single group, is open to the criticism that it has ignored the breadth of pop music and the diversity of the genres included under that rubric. Pop criticism is in such a parlous state that studies in breadth can hardly yet be begun, if they are possible at all. However, the North American rave magazine Cheetah has produced a chart that claims to map the field. Rather than producing my own counter-chart, I have chosen to comment on and criticize their chart, which is reproduced with this article, stressing its omissions and mis-allocations, and then to discuss whether such a classificatory technique can replace the study of individual artists and groups.
The Rock Of Ages should include Eddie Cochrane, The Crewcuts, The Diamonds, Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Ella Mae Morse, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and The Crickets, who were much more than just Buddy Holly’s backing group, pioneering the standard beat group instrumentation and style. I would also propose including some more recent artists—The Four Seasons, because of their archetypal schlock classics such as Sherry Baby, and Nico whose LP The Chelsea Girls, particularly the title track, shows her to be the most important chanteuse since Billie Holliday.
I would also suggest creating a special honorific category for The Yardbirds because they are no longer an important force and because they did so much to open up the British scene (remember Shapes Of Things?).
The Rock Of Ages does not contain all the seeds of contemporary developments; often, these various styles are commemorated rather than creatively developed. The major omission from this chart is a documentation of the outside influences that have enriched contemporary rock to such an extent. Firstly, of course, there is the rhythm-andblues tradition, the most important individuals being Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters (The Best Of Muddy Waters is probably the most influential single album in the world), Bo Diddley and BB King, whose work has provided direction for all the most important pop guitarists (Bloomfield, Clapton, Hendrix, etc). For the purposes of this survey we can ignore the purists’ divisions between pure and contaminated blues (see for instance Charles Keil: The Urban Blues). Secondly, there is the folk tradition in its contemporary form. Thirdly, there is
The three major individual influences on the contemporary scene are correctly recorded. It should be noted, however, that neither The Beatles nor The Stones have remained transcendent and didactic, and that both have been influenced by other artists on this chart. The twoway interaction between the Stones and the soul tradition should be represented.
It should be noted that the soul tradition stretches back to gospel music, and, to make the chart complete in this area, one should record the decisive influence of Ray Charles whose own music is a synthesis of gospel, blues and Negro popular sentimental ballad. (One recalls Bill Broonzy’s consternation upon hearing Charles in a blindfold test:— ‘He’s got the blues, he’s cryin’ sanctified. He’s mixin’ the blues with the spirituals. I know that’s wrong . . . . He should be singin’ in a church.’) Charles’ was the greatest single achievement in all the art. The geographical and racial divisions in this category do not represent stylistic differences. There is no reason, incidentally, why blue-eyed soul should be inferior to the rest of the music, but it just is. Spencer Davis belongs here rather than in Blues Rock. The most important omission, however, is Booker T & The MG’s (Memphis) who reduce the nitty gritty to its basic essentials and present it as it really is.
One notes, in the growing body of rock criticism, a certain arrogant disregard for this music. While this is not difficult to understand —it is the most stereotyped music on the present scene, conveying the most confused and mystified sentiments (I certainly will not let my children listen to Aretha Franklin)—why this music is found so distasteful would constitute an interesting and important topic for further analysis. The study of soul music also includes the question of the disappearance of the Negro aesthetic from white consciousness. I hope to attempt such an analysis in a future issue, considering the music, not as it is in Detroit or Harlem but as it functions in the metropolitan discothèque.