Guardian Music Critic’s Insights

A decent enough farewell piece (I was directed to it by a tweet from London Lee). But I think one of the five points is particularly bad and one particularly relevant and telling.

The first point is the clanger. “It’s a myth that critics could make someone popular.” WHAT!?! — If this is a major insight to you, you don’t understand what criticism does. The “make popular” tripe is just another duff variant on the canard that “critics tell people what to like.” Good criticism deepens your appreciation and understanding of what you listen to — and if an ace critic can’t turn you on to something fresh that you love, your tastes are too narrow to need criticism, anyway.

Although I’m not certain I know what’s going on with the second half of the first point — what are these “stories” exactly? — it seems to say: “serious criticism is out, backstory and profiles are in.” Nothing new about that — been Rolling Stone‘s basic agenda for 40 years.

The fifth point is the winner. I agree with every word about the dire narrowing of styles and experiences. I have spent my entire career trying to avoid situations where I would have to write about a performer for the fifth time — who cares if I had anything new to say — because everybody else is doing it and their latest release has really hot sales right now. I think it’s inevitable that fewer and fewer people will become passionately engage with music — there’s no adventure, no jolts, it’s boring.

Chuck Berry — And the Whole First Wave of Rock and Rollers — Have a Right To Be Pissed

Can’t be said often enough about a peculiar phenomenon I have never understood. The sex-terrified reactionaries of the ’50s wanted rock and roll to just go away — by banning if necessary. Send that monster Elvis into the Army. Send that threat to white women Chuck Berry to jail.

And damned if it didn’t work in a funhouse-mirror way. The rock of the British Invasion and later (up to a point) is annoyingly present (just consider the nonstop soundtrack we had to put up with while the car was worked on this Sat. — maybe the single most painful part was the inclusion of “I Wanna Be Sedated” like it was the hit it shoulda been). But the whole original wave of rockers is neglected except for oldies moments.

C’mon everybody (ahem), you can program that stuff right in with the Boss and related acts.

A Pop-Concert Trend …

… that I’ve worried about for a long time seems to be accelerating. Shows are either humongous extravaganzas by beyond-established stars (maybe doing a complete version of a hit album from 20 years ago) or else threadbare, poorly organized and bad-sounding trifles in tiny rooms. One cause is that so many young players now have to manage and promote themselves and play wherever a gig is possible. Of course there are exceptions. But the (in hindsight) steady ol’ system is gone for good.

Little P.S. on BYG and Royalties

A couple young compatriots have wondered why I was waxing (“waxing” — geddit?) nostalgic about a record label that made money by selling vinyl without paying royalties to anybody anywhere.

The key word is “nostalgic” — were are talking about a different music-retail world, here. When I got the Parker sides on BYG, the seller himself — only store in Missoula that carried non-mainstream jazz — told me they were essentially boots but it was the only way in hell at that time I was gonna hear the music. When small record labels were out of business back then, they were Out. Of. Business. Forever, for all we knew.

Of course the world of popular music history changed when James Brown Live at the Apollo was reissued and before you knew it, operations like Rhino were relative powerhouses.

So my basic stance is this: buy a legitimate, royalty-paying release whenever available. And nowadays, just about everything is out there. Well, except Into the Unknown by Bad Religion — oh, wait …

My Hall of Fame Pix

Roger Carter comment from previous post:

Don’t leave us in suspense! What were your choices Milo?

  1. The Bad Brains
  2. The Cars (yeah, yeah, I know)
  3. Chic
  4. MC5
  5. Joe Tex

I’m proudest of the last nomination, because I think Joe Tex is the most scandalously obscure knockout performer in R&B and soul.

First pick:

25 All Time Greatest Hits

Up Next:

Yum Yum Yum – The Early Years 1955-1962