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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 24. 26th September 1973

Is Rock Music Art?

Is Rock Music Art?

Too many rock musicians, too many rock fans and too many rock critics are misled. They are misled in believing that rock music is art. They believe, as one misguided critic has said that "rock is an established art form" because it has lasted "long enough" to qualify as such.

Rock emerged in 1954—55 as a distinctive new sound. It was not merely a white version of black music. Although rock combined many other music forms, the end combination was new and original. Although some rock musicians imitated the older blues masters and the great country stars, their's was not a slavish imitation. Black music made a parallel development. Rock music was wild and primitive. It liberated the young. It was, at its best, unpretentious, hard, simple, body music. Nobody needed to be told to get up and dance.

It wasn't long before the second-rate imitators appeared. With little exception, pop radio in the early sixties was nothing but the worst kind of garbage imaginable. And then the Beatles came along. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Beatles revived the spirit of the earlier days in rock. Although many of their versions of the earlier songs were not very successful, they did remind everyone where it had all come from.

The Rolling Stones were doing much the same thing but they managed to improve on the originals. They modernised as they interpreted.

Early rock was never intended to be reflective or profound. It was simple and unassuming and was never thought of as art.

But for some, it wasn't good enough They didn't want to sing about cars, balling dances, school and summertime blues. They felt they had to say something big and new Rock became cerebal.

Dylan, Simon, Cohen and others brought poetry to rock. Fair enough — they had the artistic ability to do it. But there are too many lyricists who feel they must be poets. For no extra cost you get a lyric sheet with "Wishbone Four". Read it and you'll see what I mean. And if rockanroll is art, what do you call the words to Led Zeppelin's "The Crunge"—

"I wanna tell you 'bout my good thing I aint
disclosing no names - but she is a good friend
I aint gonna tell you where she comes
from if I tell you you won't come again
I aint gonna tell you that
I should do but I know now let me tell you 'bout
my girl open a newspaper and what do I see
see my girl looking at me and when she walks,
she walks and when she talks, she talks and...."


The Elton John/Bernie Taupin partner ship suffers all the more because of Taupin's self-confessed desire to write poetry. His best lyrics are those he writes when he forces himself to be simple and neglect his ambitions. They don't ask to be judged as poetry. But the lyrics to "Tiny Dancer", "Rocket Man" and "Your Song" do.

And the lyrics are pretentious, naive and trivial.

There is nothing wrong with being serious if you keep it all in perspective and if you have the artistic ability to be serious. Most rock lyricists are banal, amateurish and insipidly stupid when they try to express their philosophy of life in rock music. If rock is submitted as serious art, then it will be judged as such. Someone's heading for a fall.