Rock of ages or ageing rockers
We’re all getting old by Trevor Moore
I was idly watching something mindless on Netflix last night when the phone gave its familiar “you have a message” sound. It was my pal Macman. Anyone who have read my scribblings before will know that Macman and I are continually trying to outdo one another with rock ’n’ roll trivia. I have reproduced our SMS exchange in the picture on the right. Millie Small had died, not as it turned out of COVID19 but, aged 73, of a stroke on 5 May. I had failed to notice this event, but I was able to tell Macman that My Boy Lollipop was released under the name of Millie rather than Millie Small.
Contrary to what Macman thought – and I always need to get one over on him – the single was released by Fontana. Listening to it now makes you realise how different things were in 1964 when it reached number 2 in both the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard 100. It made number 1 in Australia.
The lyrics start:
My boy lollipop
You make my heart go giddy-up
My word, we were easily pleased by anything but a deep and meaningful lyric. You can find the song on Spotify as part of a compilation called Trojan presents: Mod Ska. Strange that, I had never thought of it as ska but when I listened just now, it certainly is. (In fact, the rest of the compilation is excellent with Winston Samuels, The Skatalites and Lord Kitchener among others).
I had seen that same morning that Macman had texted me about Millie that yet another rock ’n’ roll great had died. The band Kraftwerk are stylistically about as far away from Millie as you could wish. It would be difficult to over-estimate Kraftwerk’s influence on almost every genre of music. As a bit of an amateur muso myself the mysteries of the synthesiser are a continual source of entertainment. But they are all software these days. Kraftwerk were using equipment that was not perhaps as reliable as one might wish and whose sounds could be jarring if not created with great skill, effort and time.
Florian Schneider, who died aged 73 on 6 May 2020, was a co-founder in 1970 of Kraftwerk. In 1970 synthesisers were in their infancy; the first Moog was released in 1964 but it wasn’t until the late 60s that they became more mainstream. Interestingly enough it was a classical rather than a rock composer who made this happen: Bach. Switched-On Bach released in 1968 was an album of Bach compositions arranged for synthesiser and sold well. This album is featured on an Australian podcast called One Dollar Vinyl (22 January 2020) which is perhaps testament to its durability – or lack of it. On the other hand, as the podcast tells me, it won loads of awards and was a best-selling classical album between 1969 and 1972. But I am digressing.
As the 1970s progressed Kraftwerk’s influence on rock music deepened. David Bowie’s 1977 album Heroes contains the song V-2 Schneider, whose only lyrics are “V-2 Schneider”. Bowie would play Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity before his concerts. Later Kraftwerk had a major influence on 1980s groups like Depeche Mode and Human League and you cannot deny that hip hop and techno are children of albums like Autobahn and Radio-Activity. There is a great video on YouTube from 1982 of the band playing Das Model. It’s a perfect example of synthesised music. Look a bit further and you will find them playing Die Roboter. Just brilliant.
But it is not enough to lose two great musicians this week. The Stranglers’ keyboardist Dave Greenfield died aged 71 on 3 May 2020 after contracting Covid-19. Greenfield wrote the music that became their best-known song Golden Brown. This song has had over 75 million hits on Spotify. The Stranglers came to prominence in 1977 with the punk explosion. In retrospect, punk was a much needed jolt to a complacent record industry that was making money selling the same old stuff to people like me. We found punk hard to take but we needed it. 1977 saw the release of their debut LP, Rattus Norvegicus, which featured the singles “Peaches” and “(Get a) Grip (on Yourself),” the latter of which used Greenfield’s intricate keyboard - probably a Moog synthesiser - lines. Another rock ’n’ roller who will be missed. As Jack Black said in School of Rock: “stick it to the Man”. Greenfield was certainly part of sticking it to the Man.
And while we’re on the subject of Jack Black, there’s a remake on iView of the 2000 film High Fidelity that starred Jack Black (and that is based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel. It’s worth watching. The genders have been switched around a bit but Zoe Kravitz’ (daughter of Lenny) performance is very good.
And while we’re thinking about rock ’n’ roll trivia, I was pleased to remind Macman that it is 50 years since the release on 8 May 1970 of The Beatles’ last studio album, Let It Be. Not one to be outdone, Macman replied, as you can see in the exchange pictured here, that it is 49 years since Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park (released as an album early the following year). I leave it to you to decide whether being able to recall a 49th anniversary of anything is the ultimate definition of trivia. Be that as it may Let It Be and Concert in Central Park have one thing in common; there’s not a dud track on either of them.