Wednesday, August 12, 2015

the (first) Bad Music Era - 1968-69-70

and that's just the Yanks

could do another dozen with the Brit end of things

these'll have to do for now


  1. The US stuff reminds me of the roster of Sub-pop.

    Ten Years After were a bitter disappointment for me. Waste of a great name as well. (They also could have been on Sub-pop.)

  2. I read some of your older (great) posts on the 'bad music' era of the mid-1980s but I was wondering if you'd ever explained what constitutes a 'bad music' era (maybe I missed it). Can there be 'good music' in a 'bad music' era? Like the White Album in 1968 or The Queen is Dead or "No UFOs" in 1986? Or is it more like a slowing down of things, a kind of inertia/statis where we just sit around and use the just-established cliches of pop as the basic building blocks 'new' music? Or are 'bad music' eras the very eras where just-created exciting musical forms are rendered into cliches? I also wonder if there is an explanation for the emergence of a 'bad music' era. Are there signs, patterns, forces already evident in the prior era (in this case, mid-1960s, and post-punk respectively) or are the 'bad music' eras simply historical anomalies without explanation. Or conversely (and finally), can one say that the entire history of modern pop is one 'bad music' era punctuated by a few bursts of forward motion?

  3. hey Mr Spaceman

    it's not exactly a super thought out concept .... the initial phrase came from my own lived experience of the mid-80s and so it's about perception as opposed to Objective Measurement of Music Quality Levels (as if such a thing is ever possible). The sensation of living through a Bad Music Era is caused by having immediately prior lived through a Very Exciting Period - it's that which creates a feeling of decline, deterioration, entropy. So the mad rush of Punk>Postpunk>New Pop - advance up on advance - new directions, swerves, twists, etc too many records to buy, things to check out- dissipated into much muddled, directionless phase. where you were struggling to find things to be enthused by and what there was wasn't quite good enough, and so much shit... fads, 2nd and third-waves of once-new/exciting ideas... a feeling of sluggishness

    i didn't live through the late Sixties Bad Music Era (well i was alive but not following pop music attentively) but looking back on it objectively there does seem to be a preponderance of terrible music and a lot of misguided directions... a bloating.... compared with the electric excitement of the early-to-mid sixties - the 63 to 67 acceleration .... and quite a few people who did live through felt that the dawn of heavy and proggy was a decline.... i daresay others saw it as the steady maturation and sophistication of rock.... i wouldn't say it was a completely barren time at all - so much rock was being recorded and released, the industry was churning it out, that there's quite a few gems in there.... but the same could be said of the mid-80s which produced some of my all time faves like Meat Puppets or Cocteau Twins.... and quite a lot of "interesting" stuff.... but the overall feeling of both eras, for many of those living through them, was "something gone awry"

    the whole of modern pop as Bad Music with spasms of forward motion/inventiveness is interesting... raises whole question of periodisation, how far you zoom out, macro versus micro

    i'm thinking i must have picked up the phrase Bad Music Era from some reference in Forced Exposure or perhaps a Steve Albini interview - a passing, facetious reference to the Bad Music Time.... it was in that zine or a zine on a similar wavelength, or uttered by the kind of band they tended to feature... i'm not sure what they were referring to though - the prepunk Seventies probably? at the time Forced Exposure-types would have considered the Eighties itself to be a new kind of Bad Music Time, on account of Eighties drum sounds, college rock, New Wave, English haircut bands etc

  4. I can objectively corroborate 1985 - 1986 as being a Bad Music Era. I was 14/15 and it was hell trying to find something to attach my newfound teen music enthusiasm to. The charts were a disgrace, and the indie was tepid.

  5. Well OK, but that was also a period that saw Hendrix, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Sly Stone and Iggy Pop - and arguably the Beatles, the Stones, the Velvets, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Pink Floyd, the Temptations and James Brown - produce the best work of their careers.

    A bit more than a few gems, surely?

    It feels more like an idea I've seen you use in another context (about drum and bass?): there's a tremendous amount of experimentation going on, and some experiments fail, create only a bad smell, but others split the atom.

  6. Oh, and if you stretch to jazz, Miles Davis was arguably at his peak 1968-70, too.

  7. Phil, I have about four Ten years after LPs picked up for a dollar each. Great covers, but music dreary for the most part. Why do you think the name is so great? i kinda agree but i couldn't say why.

    Matt, actually think the pop charts were better than the indie during the 85-86-87 bit - cos at least you had Janet Jackson and Prince and Def Jam, and The Smiths. Few others. but yeah tepid is the word for indie - tepid, misbegotten, bloated, third-hand. Again, fair number of exceptions.

    Ed - yeah it's true there were some great things even during the First Bad Music Era - Hendrix I would agree, and Stones just getting better - 68 - 72 is their peak really. Stooges, agreed - but then are bucking against the prevailing wind. Zeppelin , Sabbath - showing that not all post Yardbirds/Cream developments were terrible.

    However i think the Beatles are adulterated with the Bad Music Vybe - great things on both LPs but i don't love White Album or Abbey Road. It is all getting bearded and grown-up.

    Likewise Pink Floyd... Atom Heart Mother is definitely stained with Bad Music Era vybe.

    I suppose when I'm saying Bad Music Era i'm really talking about Rock rather than black music per se ... but then again, apart from Sly Stone and James Brown and a few psych-soul bits, i don't necessarily recall much golden from black music in that precise period 68-70. Perhaps i'm missing something. but the sort of golden harvest of progressive-influenced, artistically-autonomous black music I associate more with 1972-onwards - Steve Wonder, 'papa was a rolling stone' and all that message/conscious soul that came after.

    Likewise I think Miles is sort of in a different zone... although it can be safely said that he did inspire quite a lot of dubious music from white jazz-rock and fusion bands.

    i think it's the shockingly misconceived badness of the Bad Music Era bands and their inflated selfconception that is what marks the era out .... there were mediocre groups in the early-to-mid-Sixties alongside the obvious mindblowing ones, but they were kept on a leash to some extent by the general imperatives towards economy and directness.... (as were some geniuses at first - on Jimi's first LP, most of the songs are three minutes long). But were there any bands 1963 to 1967 as shockingly not-right as Blood Sweat and Tears or Chicago Transit Authority or etc etc.... the problem i think was mediocrity entering a period when Artistic Ambition and Big Statements and Taking Your Bleedin' Time If You Felt Like it were not just allowed but almost imperatives...

    also groups looked so bad during BME #1... the classic often cited turnabout is the change in the look of The Who from supersharp to ooh-Lord

  8. so just to complete the thought, it's groups who didn't have Grand Artistic Statements in them feeling encouraged / entitled to attempt them.... or long showy forays into solo-ing and what-not.... failed art, failed pretension

    another thing (being a nut for psychedelia) the backlash against psychedelia and the big return to roots / basics/ the American blues - country etc fudnamentals .... generally not taken with that, give or take The Band's second LP. So vastly prefer Byrds of "Eight Miles High"/Younger Than Yesterday / bits of Notorious Byrds Bros to what followed.

  9. I always took "Ten Years After" to be referring to The Bomb i.e. it's a post-apocalyptic name.

    To me they're a band that should be good but somehow aren't - they're the zeitgeist without the geist. Listening to them, I can imagine how the mythical crusty old Colonels of the Home Counties heard all young people's music - just a lot of hairy degenerate noise signifying nothing.

    They also remind me a bit of those episodes during comedy films of the era when Robin Asquith or Nicky Henson or somebody would clandestinely take Reg Varney or Sid James's daughter to see a rock band, and you'd get some deliberately forgettable generic group wigging out.

  10. OK I see your point. Still, I think that using the narrow Carduccian sense of rock as aggressive electric small group music, you can make the case for 1970 being its best year ever. Paranoid and Funhouse were released within three months of each other. It doesn't get much better than that.

  11. that is a good point I must admit!

    although there is that general view of 1970 as being the sort of stagnant in-between year - sixties dying on the vein, Seventies not really started. lots of solo albums. Dave Mason's Alone Together. Etc

  12. Ed: The Miles assertion, yes -- arguable, as you say. Plenty of critics and listeners at the time found what he was doing at the incomprehensible, heretical, or “indulgent bullshit.” And that consensus grew in the five years that followed. The revisionist account didn’t start to get underway until the late 1980s.

    Simon: What strikes me is how much of what you cite above is a holdover from the late ‘60s “blues-rock” phenom. (Which I gather, was even bigger -- if only slightly -- in the U.K. as it was in the U.S.. Hence why Hendrix’s manager initially told him to start in London before trying to “break” in his own home country.)

    Noted that you extended the BS&T citation to include Chicago -- who some claim started out pretty strong, before rapidly devolving into an armchair parody of their own jazz-rock fusion formula. (By contrast, partisans of that type of sound would probably argue that Steely Dan succeeded where the former failed.)

    The Allman Bros: Maybe a blues-rock basis here, but I’m inclined an evaluation would hinge on how one feels about the Grateful Dead. But if you wanted to pin the tail on the worst of the southern “boogie” bunch, Black Oak Arkansas would probably be a far better candidate.

    Grand Funk Railroad: Frequently singled out as the epitome of the worst musical trends of the period in question.

    As you say, Simon: Lots of people used to single out the early-to-mid/late ‘70s as the nadir -- the increased corporatization of rock, the tepid country-rock of much of the Laurel Canyon “Avocado Mafia” crowd, soporific singer-songwriters, the diminishing returns of second-gen “cock rock,” a few hirsute blue-eyed soulsters thrown in for good measure, & etc. etc.. (It’s been argued that mass quantities of cocaine -- and its deleterious effects of creative judgement -- was to blame for much of this.) But as you and others argued above, there was plenty one can salvage from that era. But that once-unanimous opinion began to experience a turnaround some two decades ago. Reclamation is an ongoing process.

    Amused by Phil’s Sub-Pop comment. Concur...a lot of grunge borrowed from early ‘70s metal riffage, which itself evolved out of blues rock.

    > "...i don't necessarily recall much golden from black music in that precise period 68-70."

    Norman Whitfield-era Motown? The Isleys? Early Funkadelic? Isaac Hayes? Granted, those few years were a transitional wind-up to what would soon follow, but it wasn’t a total lull.

    Largely agree with with the Big Artistic Statement thesis; but I dunno if the backlash was all that pervasive, was it? I recall the ‘70s being littered with its share of Tediously Bloated “Concept” albums(?).

    Apologies for the length of the reply.