They don’t make ’em like they used to

Posted: July 16, 2010 by undergroundfisherman in Music
Tags: , , , ,

Most people reading this blog will quite rightly hate the fact that the most famous people in rock today are Brandon Flowers from the Killers, Gary Lighbody from Snow Patrol, and of course Coldplay. This is, frankly, wrong. What happened to all the “characters” in music? How come today’s musicians have no personality? Here’s what they used to be like…

Sun Ra inspired many to be innovative with their music

Sun Ra

Well known for his Cosmic Philosophy, Sun Ra has been posthumously accredited as one of the forebears of electronic music. Born in 1914, Sun Ra and his “Arkestra” toured non-stop for years, playing some really funky, experimental jazz along the way.

Space, religion and mysticism were his main sources of inspiration, and while in college in 1936/7, he claims to have had a religious vision which shaped him into the musician he became. Looking back on the event in a 1956 interview he said, my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That’s what they told me”.

There’s no doubt he was a serious musician, but it was hard to take him seriously at the same time. His costumes, inspired by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and his abstract, essentially structureless music meant that a lot of people thought he was just a drug-crazed chancer. To be honest, he quite possibly was… as this video suggests Still though, you gotta respect way he did things, he’s a lot more interesting than Chris Martin anyways. His career took off properly in 1953, when he “started off playing advanced bop, but early on was open to the influences of other cultures, experimenting with primitive electric keyboards, and playing free long before the avant-garde got established”. Here’s a great example of that early period, which isn’t a million miles away from the sound the Doors would adopt over a decade later.

Captain Beefheart

Another experimental type of fella, the Captain has been described as as one of the frontrunners of punk, before the genre was even invented. Writer Mike Barnes has said that Beefheart, (who is known to his mother as Don Van Vliet) was “one of modern music’s true innovators, with a singular body of work virtually unrivalled in its daring and fluid creativity.” More praise came in the form of his 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, being named as #58 in a Rolling Stone list of the top 500 albums of all time. Legendary English DJ John Peel was another fan of his eccentric style and diverse sound, claiming that he had influenced an untold amount of current musicians, saying “If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it’s Beefheart… I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I’ll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week”. To be honest, it’s not my cup of tea at all, but the fact that someone who made music like this attracted a cult following is great, because it’s important to see diversity in music.  

Lou Reed

The drug-riddled frontman (are you starting to see a pattern here?) of The Velvet Underground, the band which brought us classic songs such as “Waiting for my Man”, “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs”, became way more subversive, and equally brilliant when he embarked on his solo career. On his own, he came up with more great tunes such as “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day”- which Bono and Pavarotti managed to ruin.

As his ego and drug intake rose to unprecedented levels, he released Metal Machine Music in 1975. Made up entirely of white noise and distortion, it’s an album which has divided critics since day one. Some think its the shambolic nonsense of someone who needed a bit of drug money, or as Rolling Stone Magazine put it; “like the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator”. There have been others that disagree, and say it’s an inspired work of postmodern soundscapes. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you think it’s good or not, the real point is that people were making stuff like this back in 1975, and musicians don’t seem to have the courage to do something like this now.

David Bowie

OK, so everyone knows about David Bowie, but how many people in today’s music scene are anywhere close to the levels of audacity that Bowie consistently delivered? Here’s a nice reminder…


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