IN 1983 James Hencke wrote a feature in the American music magazine Rolling Stone about the British music press. In it he enumerated the differences between the American music press and its UK equivalent.
“One is the sheer number of publications,”
he wrote of the latter. “In addition to the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, there are two other weekly magazines: No 1, a Smash Hits imitator that just began publishing this year, and Record Mirror, a former newsprint tabloid that recently switched to a glossy format. Then, of course, there’s Smash Hits, which comes out every other week, and, finally, The Face, a slick, extremely classy monthly that delves into such areas as film, fashion and politics, as well as music.”
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All these years on and every one of those British titles has gone (a version of the NME still appears, but it is a hollowed-out shell). Rolling Stone rolls on, however, as immovable, as irritating, as exhilarating as ever.
Those of us who grew up reading those 1980s UK titles mostly looked down on Rolling Stone. The word “hippies” would be uttered. And not approvingly. But it turns out the hippies had more stamina than they were given credit for. Rolling Stone is 50 years old this year. It was set up in San Francisco by publisher Jan Wenner in the same year the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“I thought rock ’n’ roll needed a voice,” he writes in the introduction of the new book 50 Years of Rolling Stone, “a journalistic voice, a critical voice, an insider’s voice, an evangelical voice – to represent how serious and important the music and the musical culture had become.”
Wenner employed writers such as Griel Marcus, Joe Eszterhas (later to script Basic Instinct for the screen) and Cameron Crowe, who would eventually turn to film directing, as well as big beasts Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson, whose contributions would take the magazine far beyond the confines of music journalism.
Then there were the photographers. The likes of Baron Wolman and Annie Leibovitz, who responded to Wenner’s visual ambition for the magazine. (“I took cues from the great, sensuously designed German magazine Twen and the Swiss magazine Camera,” he writes.) The result were images that helped define the stars who graced the magazine’s pages, from a near naked David Cassidy to a teenage Britney in her underwear.
A voice of the counterculture, Rolling Stone has never hidden its liberal politics.
The music and the belief system went together for those 1960s kids. In a way it’s why it still stands out today as the world has lurched to the right in the last few years.
Even now, Rolling Stone still believes in rock ’n’ roll.
Someone has to.
“I love you baby like a schoolboy loves his pie …”
WHEN you think about it, this line from the 1966 classic River Deep Mountain High is not only trite, but bizarre and probably even a bit sinister. Sung by Tina Turner, however, in that famous rasp, it has the most extraordinary immediacy and intensity. It still puts shivers down my spine.
Like many of my generation I first came across her in the mid-1980s with the likes of We Don’t Need Another Hero and Private Dancer. She seemed to me then glossy and a bit establishment, big in every way – especially that hair. But as my musical education progressed I realised there was far more to her than shoulder pads.
She had been a real-deal soul child, born Anna Mae Bullock and brought up dirt poor in the fields of Tennessee. Music was her salvation and when you listen to those early songs, recorded with her husband, the band leader Ike Turner, what strikes you is the utter authenticity. Her voice may not have had the purity of tone of Ella, the darkness of Billie or the richness of Aretha, but what it had in spades was pure, visceral soul, as the likes of River Deep, Proud Mary and Nutbush City Limits attest.
Ike, it turned out, was a violent bully who terrorised Tina and their children for years. She nearly lost everything – including her life – on a number of occasions, and it took years of abuse and humiliation before she finally had the courage to leave the marriage.
The truth came out in the early 1990s when she became one of the first celebrities to openly discuss domestic violence. The impact this had on other women was profound; if it could happen to a star, it could happen to anyone. Her honesty inspired thousands to seek help and brought the issue out of the shadows.
This Rolling Stone cover from 1984 is classic Tina, of course: big hair and great legs. But it is also a wonderful depiction of someone I have come to respect more and more over the years, not only as an incredibly gifted musician, but a woman of immense strength and vitality, joy and dignity. An inspiration. Here’s to you, Anna Mae.
WATCHING The Who thunder their way through their immense back catalogue at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow recently, it struck me how crucial the band’s visual dynamic has been to their story.
As the artfully-curated video backdrop testified, London’s most explosive exponents of Maximum R&B packed as much of a punch in the fashion and art stakes as they did with Pete Townshend’s power chords, Roger Daltrey’s blues-steeped vocals, Keith Moon’s staggering drumming and John EnTwistle’s intricate bass playing, at least during the 1960s breakthrough period.
In the classic line-up, The Who were a band of virtuosos, with each member laying justifiable claim to being as gifted as any of their peers. The artistic and musical vision, though, was dominated by Townshend, the band’s principle songwriter.
It was while attending Ealing Art College that Townshend first concocted the graphic arrow rising from the letter O which became a mainstay of the band’s logo (though the initial design was deployed on the touring van of The Detours, The Who’s original incarnation). And it was during this early 1960s cultural firmament that a youth movement called Modernism – whose followers were known as mods – blossomed.
Surrounded by some of the scene’s prime movers, Townshend aligned The Who to the burgeoning youth culture, adopting its fashion cues (think sharp Italian suits, button-down collar shirts and desert boots), musical preferences (soul, ska and R&B) and symbolism (Union flag, RAF roundel).
It was an association which would define many of the era’s most totemic photographs and record sleeves, and although this all exploded a full decade
I S THIS a good place to think about the male gaze? It’s 1983 and I’m watching The Tube (both the medium and the TV programme). It’s showing a film made in the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. On the screen an American blonde dressed in raggedy black is dancing. A straight-outof-the-bedroom dance routine.
The song is called Holiday, a sprung-rhythmed sugar rush of a thing. She’s all fringe and netting, bare midriff, dangly earrings, pre-Photoshop figure.
I am rather taken with her. Smitten, you might say.
My girlfriend even notices.
I could say it was because she represented NY disco bohemianism. But, really, it was the gap in her teeth.
My first glimpse of Madonna. Within a year, 18 months, she’d be one of the biggest stars on the planet. She still is. How likely was that? How likely that she would outlive her pop contemporaries Michael Jackson and Prince (the Hacienda, too), and would be making great (yes, I used that word) pop records well into the 21st century?
Not if all that she had to offer was blonde ambition (though that was clearly there in spades). Madonna always knew who to work with and when; from Nile Rogers to William Orbit and Stuart Price. She had great taste in collaborators.
You could even be contrary and make up a mixtape that punted her as a chillwave pioneer before the fact – on Bedtime Story (written by Bjork and Nellee Hooper), on the William Orbit-helmed Drowned World/Substitute for Love and the Massive Attack-produced stoned cover of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (a particular favourite).
Really, though, she was a pop star and it’s the hits – Into the Groove, Vogue, Like a Prayer – that matter.
But I said we were going to talk about sex, didn’t I?
I guess Madonna’s career qualifies as a problematic text. But then doesn’t everyone’s? There were the Guy Ritchie years, the naked desire for celebrity, the re-commodification of female sexuality, most nakedly in her Sex book; something that depressingly would become a default setting in pop ever since, leading to Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock wearing chaps.
And yet Madonna’s choices were hers alone.
They never felt imposed on her.
And while pop has always been a misogynist male playground, there was something to be said for Madonna’s confident expression of female desire. She owned it (especially when she decided to snog a black Jesus in the Like a Prayer video; pop as expression of ego and otherness).
Madonna spoke as much – more probably – to young girls who could copy the style in the early days and then spoke out in favour of control and power. Men were often scared of her.
But, yes, I guess some of us fancied her too. Pop is a desire engine after all.
Where’s the woman in all this? Where is the girl who lost her mother when she was five years old and struggled with daddy issues for years after?
She’s there in the music if you look for her.
It’s 2017. I am standing in a chippy in Falkirk waiting for my Italian omelette. The bank of TVs above the fryers are all tuned to a music station, the sound muted. And there she is. Alongside Justin Timberlake and Timbaland.
“Hey Madonna,” Timberlake chants. And I’m looking for the gap in her teeth.
PEACOCKING, grandstanding, narcissistic, hedgehog-haired, Celtic-daft, 5ft 10in of lofty blond self-regard who’s as tight as two coats of paint. Yes, Rod Stewart is all of those. And more. And we love him in spite of and because of it. He arrived on the pop scene at exactly the right time, when more was never less, rock was glam and androgynous fashion thankfully appreciated. Rod offered the nation’s skinny 15-year-old boys a prescription for the ailment that was Presbyterianism. He told them it was OK to wear your wee sister’s lilac jumper with your powder blue unisex jeans. But Stewart has been more than a clothes horse at the vanguard of fashion, all the time demanding to know if he were indeed sexy. For a time, he was a great songwriter. And every song was a story. In 1971, when we first heard the line, “Wake up Maggie, I think I’ve got something to say to you”, we were all ears because we knew a tale of wonder was about to unfold. And it did, of a schoolboy having his heart ripped out by an older woman. His stories continued, each song chronicling his love life, and what a love life he had. But if we loved to live vicariously via his experiences, we loved him even more in later years, when he admitted to having had his heart crushed. Later, he revealed a crisis of confidence about his songwriting. And while he kept his onstage swagger it was now aligned to a new, human vulnerability we could connect to. He may be 72, but he can still roll out the rock classics. And he still has the hedgehog hair.