ROCK GO ES GOLD
The Voyager II spacecraft now making its three-billion mile journey to Neptune contains some of humanity’s best-loved sounds: a gold record sampling of J.S. Bach, a baby’s cry—and Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry’s rock ’n’ roll classic. Once excluded from mainstream American society, Berry and other rock ’n’ roll pioneers are beginning to enjoy the sort of respect once reserved for astronauts. During a recent gala at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, 1,200 adults, many of them greyhaired, greeted Berry, 60, with a standing ovation. The occasion: a dinner to induct 15 legends of the 1950s and 1960s into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A score of past and present rockers paid tribute to this year’s honorées, in-
cluding Brian Wilson, 44, of The Beach Boys, who remembered breaking into a “cold sweat” in 1963 when he first heard The Drifters sing On Broadway. And Bruce Springsteen, 37, recalled teenage nights in his bedroom, the darkness illuminated only by the lights of his stereo, listening to the songs of Roy Orbison. Said Springsteen: “He made a little town in New Jersey feel as big as the sound of his records.”
Rebellious: As rock music rolls into middle age, it is experiencing a revival that spans the generations. Contemporary stars are paying homage to their musical fathers. Teenagers who first shimmied to the sounds of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley are now parents sharing that music with their children. And rock fans of all ages are turning
into history buffs as the once rebellious music legitimizes its roots. Established last year, the Hall of Fame’s first honor roll included Berry, Presley and James Brown. This year’s list added the first woman, 44-year-old Aretha Franklin—like Brown, a nominee at this week’s 1987 Grammy Awards celebration. Next year the pantheon is expected to include The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Tina Turner.
And the resurgent interest in rock’s roots is spilling into other areas: books and film documentaries chronicling rock’s golden era, movies and commercials whose musical scores feature 20year-old hits and new releases of recorded classics. As the December, 1986, issue of Rolling Stone magazine de-
dared, “The hottest trend in the American record industry this season is rock history.”
Born nearly 40 years ago, deep in the American south, rock is the offspring of a mixed marriage: black blues and white country music. It was a coupling that shook the world. Now rock plays a role in everything from political campaigns to attempts to solve world hunger. And joining the establishment it once threatened to overturn, rock has become an industry now worth an estimated $6.2 billion annually in North America alone. The music, in turn, has created a multitude of spin-off industries in film, video and publishing. In fact, rock has created an entire culture, influencing the way people talk,
dance and dress, whether they live in Moscow, Tokyo or Montreal. Said Derrick de Kerckhove, co-director of Toronto’s McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology: “In the 20th century, rock has harmonized with the rhythms of industrial man.”
Dazzling: Back in the 1950s, white parents often worried about the effect that rock’s sexually explicit lyrics and strong black flavor would have on their teenagers. They reassured themselves that the music was just a passing fad. And as the decade ended, it briefly appeared that rock had burnt itself out.
But in 1957 a young Liverpool teenager named Paul McCartney auditioned for a neighborhood group named The Quarry Men, dazzling band member John Lennon with his full-
blown imitation of black American rocker Little Richard. Seven years later, infused with British creativity, the music richocheted back to North America. When Beatlemania passed, and the echoes of protest, folk and drug rock had faded, detractors once again predicted that rock’s force was spent. But now the music is once again loud and strong—in large part thanks to its original beat. When Toronto rocker Paul James (page 35) quotes the old refrain, “Rock and roll is here to stay,” it is no longer a defiant boast of rebellious youth but a mature recognition of the facts.
The renaissance of rock coincides with the rising career of Springsteen, the biggest selling pop star of the decade. And his roots-oriented music has helped point public attention to rock’s
pioneers, many of whom received little money or respect in their prime (page 36). Now the career comebacks of Franklin, Brown and other legends are giving veteran artists renewed confidence. Said Little Richard, 54, who has just released a vigorous new album, Lifetime Friend: “Aretha, James and myself are survivors, proof that good things can live on. We’re still going strong and still looking good.”
Sexuality: But perhaps the biggest comeback has been Turner’s. Since her 1984 album Private Dancer, which spawned four hit singles and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, Turner, 47, has enjoyed a burgeoning film career (including the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunder dome)—and a reputation for more sizzling sexuality than women half her age. Last fall Turner released another album, Break Every Rule, and an autobiography I, Tina, which chronicled her troubled marriage to band leader and musical partner Ike Turner. Now, the grandmother from Nut Bush, Tenn., shares her spotlight with white superstars from Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger to David Bowie and Canadian Bryan Adams in steamy duets.
Hollywood’s cinematic hit parade also reflects the renewed appeal of rock. The Big Chill (1983), one of the first films to strike the chords of rock nostalgia, choreographed the adult anxieties of baby boomers to the carefree sounds of 1960s Motown. And its sound-track albums sold four million copies. In Back to the Future (1985) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), the protagonists jitterbugged back in time to the golden era of rock ’n’ roll. Last year’s Stand by Me—which featured Ben E. King’s 1961 hit as its title track—revived the song and catapulted King back into the Top 10 for the first time in 26 years. And two other 1986 films, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to School, introduced The Beatles’ 1963 hit Twist and Shout to a new generation and put it back on the charts after a 23-year absence.
Nostalgia: With seemingly endless blasts from the past on airwaves, listeners themselves may feel caught in a time warp. Aiming to reach a more affluent share of the urban market, radio stations across North America are switching from Top 40 hits to babyboomer classics. At times, the voices of legends like Elvis threaten to drown out those of living artists. Vancouver’s CFUN radio made the format change in 1985, followed the next year by its sister stations in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Now, according to David Farrell, editor of The Record, a Canadian music industry tip sheet, 15 per cent of all radio stations in Canada
are devoted to nostalgia programming. Said Toronto’s CHUM program director Terry Williams: “Our format change wasn’t so much a return to the past as an acknowledgment of it. People who grew up with these songs never really left them behind.”
When television advertisers hear the hits of yesteryear, they also hear the jingle of cash registers. Increasingly,
TV sponsors are using a mix of nostalgic imagery and music to woo the same baby-boom market sought by radio. North American sponsors as diverse as Molson’s Breweries Canada Ltd., Chrysler Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co. now feature slick new commercials set to well-known 1960s pop songs. Discussing the success of those ad campaigns in terms openly borrowed from record industry jargon, Molson’s senior brand manager Ron Gibson said, “If the song conveys a positive image associated with our product, then the commercial is a hit.”
Raids: In some cases, commercials even re-create hits. According to a spokesman for Capitol Records, Molson’s use of The Beatles’ 1964 song A Hard Day’s Night in one advertisement helped generate a recent 20,000-copy surge in the record’s sales. But corporate raids on memory lane have not pleased everyone. Some consumers complain bitterly when songs they privately cherish turn up in commercials—sending personal memories into head-on colliu, sion with product images. In § a recent letter to the editor $ of Toronto’s weekly newspaö per Now, journalist Ellen z Vanstone suggested a boy-
cott of Molson’s products because she resented their using her favorite Beatles’ songs to sell beer.
Meanwhile, the publishing industry is also harvesting rock’s roots. Before the birth of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967, rock literature consisted largely of pin-up magazines for teenage girls. Now it encompasses respectful biographies and even scholarly tomes—and the lists are growing. Recent books include portraits of James Brown (The Godfather of Soul) and former Supreme Mary Wilson (Dreamgirl), as well as historical accounts of southern rhythm and blues (Sweet Soul Music) and the Motown sound (Where Did
Our Love Go?). And Rolling Stone itself has just published Rock of Ages, an encyclopedic and often lively survey of three decades of music.
Rich: Clearly, the fascination with rock’s past reflects a generation’s attempt to legitimize the culture of its youth. Says Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner: “Since the past constantly informs the present, preservation of this rich legacy ought to be a priority.” Indeed, when the Hall of Fame officially opens next year in Cleveland, under the chairmanship of Ahmet Ertegun, rock history will become enshrined in a museum-like institution. The son of a Turkish diplomat, Ertegun, 63, founded Atlantic Records and became one of soul music’s first major promoters. With
the Hall of Fame, he says, rock will be taken more seriously as an art form. At the institution’s founding dinner, Ertegun said: “Rock ’n’ roll is still looked down on by many ‘serious’ people because it appeals to the masses. But rock is an outgrowth of American musical traditions, especially black traditions of gospel music and jazz, on which the record industry was built.” Hail! Hail!: Ertegun has good reason to nurture the nostalgia trend. Atlantic Records, of which he is still chairman, leads the way in reissuing the work of rock ’n’ roll’s pioneers. In 1985 Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 191+7-1971+, an ambitious 14-record set that re-
tailed for $95, was released. It featured performers ranging from such littleknown trailblazers as Big Joe Turner, Professor Longhair and Ruth Brown to Ray Charles, The Coasters and Otis Redding. Despite its price, the lavish set has sold 12,000 copies to date. Now other companies are rummaging through their vaults to dust off old master recordings and reissue vintage songs. This year MCA Records will release some original albums from the old Chicagobased Chess Records catalogue, including those by such seminal figures as Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Last fall another member of that generation, Chuck Berry—the man who still sings a lascivious ode to Sweet Little Sixteen—turned
60. To celebrate, some of rock’s biggest stars gathered in his home town, St. Louis, Mo. It was a tribute on a regal scale: two concerts featuring guitarist Eric Clapton, Rolling Stone Keith Richards and other musicians playing before an audience of about 4,500 each night. Berry, who still plays as many as 100 concerts a year, also performed. His guitar work remained as clear as a bell—and he even treated his fans to a sample of his famous duck walk around the stage. Meanwhile, the cameras hummed: Hollywood director Taylor Hackford (White Nights) captured the event on film to complete his cinematic portrait of Berry called Hail! Hail! Rock ■h’ Roll, due for theatrical release this summer.
More than any other early rock V roller, Berry’s music captures the exuberance of youth. Many of his songs evoke freewheeling images of driving down a highway with no particular place to go. Said Hackford, 42: “I grew up listening to Chuck Berry songs on the radio. It was music to drive by and live by—and it still wears well.”
Drug-addled: But like many of rock’s founders, Berry’s talents were bounded at first by the racial color line. In the 1950s the white-controlled record industry termed records by black artists “race music.” When recorded, it was underpromoted and rarely played on radio. Sam Phillips, a Memphis record producer once said, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” When he discovered a poor southern white boy named Elvis Presley in 1953, Phillips struck pay dirt: Presley’s recording of That's All Right, a black rhythm-andblues song, topped the charts. But Phillips then wrote himself out of musical history, selling the singer’s recording contract to RCA for $35,000. And when he died in 1977, a bloated, drug-addled wreck, Presley —still called the King of Rock ’n’ Roll—left an estate worth an estimated $31 million.
After Presley, other white artists were quick to adopt the raunchy rhythms of black music. In the late 1950s Pat Boone scored hits with his color-corrected versions of Little Richard’s Tutti-Frutti and Long Tall Sally. But by then Elvis had put his own inimitable stamp on the music. A cross between country and western and rhythm and blues, Presley’s style confounded listeners as much as it thrilled them.
While blacks like Chuck Berry are remembered among rock’s founding fathers, Presley will always be considered its favorite son. Before he died, the son of a truck driver and sewing-
machine operator from Tupelo, Miss., had achieved an international popularity his fellow rockers could only envy. His records have sold more than one billion copies—enough to circle the globe twice. And Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, remains one of the largest tourist attractions in the American South, with more than 500,000 visitors annually.
Once the music of youth and rebellion, rock has clearly come of age. In 1965 the British group The Who issued their angry anthem—a song called My Generation proclaiming, “Hope I die before I get old.”
One of its members,
Keith Moon, did—of a drug overdose. But in 1985 The Who’s surviving members, now in their 40s, joined Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and a gathering of rock’s royalty to take part in Live Aid, the benefit for African famine relief that attracted an estimated 1.5 billion television viewers. Demonstrating rock’s adult sense of responsibility, they helped raise $33 million for the cause—and also helped create the music’s first knighthood. Last year Queen Elizabeth II made rocker and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof a Knight Commander of the British Empire.
Decadent: Despite its mainstream acceptance, rock has never completely lost its power to offend—particularly religious fundamentalists who view it as evil and immoral. In God’s Choice: The Total World of a Fundamentalist Christian School, University of Illinois professor of education Alan Peshkin reports that illicitly listening to rock is the major way for some strict Christian teenagers to express rebellion. That fuels their parents’ hatred for the music. Said Peshkin: “They feel that any music that gets toes tapping and hips moving will get the soul going in the wrong direction.”
While segments of U.S. society still resist rock, its global influence grows. Now, even Soviet authorities—who traditionally viewed rock as a decadent Western phenomenon—are giving it the Kremlin’s stamp of approval. Melodiya, the state-owned record label, recently released two early Beatles’ albums. When they went on sale in Moscow last summer, they sold out within days. The state now supports a growing number of indigenous bands with Western-sounding names. Among
them: the rock group Autograf, which appeared last month at Rendez-Vous 87 in Quebec City; Kino (Cinema); Zoopark (Zoo); and Televisor (Television), who perform a song that includes the provocative line, “They keep an eye on us from childhood.”
But it remains unclear whether Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s campaign for glasnost—openness—will apply more generally. Said Artyom Troitsky, a Moscow concert organizer: “If cultural officials are sincere, they should demand critical, sharp songs.” Visits by Western rock groups are still
fraught with culture clash. When British reggae-rock band UB40 toured the Soviet Union last fall, its members were shocked to see volunteer police restrain members of the audiences from dancing in the aisles. Only after strong protests from the group were fans officially permitted to boogie. Now UB40 is planning another Soviet tour —this time with other British bands.
Having bridged racial barriers, it is not surprising that rock has been able to cross political boundaries—and the generation gap. Rock veteran John Fogerty told Maclean’s that when he met Paul Simon last year, he was surprised to find that Simon was once again enjoying music recorded by Fogerty’s 1960s band, § Creedence Clearwater 5 Revival. Simon ex1 plained that his teenage s son, Harper, had just discovered those songs. Said Fogerty: “I thought that was kind of cool, that two generations are still discovering the stuff.” Larry Corea, a 37-year-old Toronto social-service researcher, recently bought his 11-year-old son, Joshua, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album for Christmas. Said Corea: “It was always a favorite of mine, although I’d never owned it. Now it’s the record he puts on most frequently—even more than Bryan Adams.” He added, “In fact, he plays it too much.”
Cocky: The beat goes on, as a new generation discovers rock’s roots. At the Hall of Fame dinner, the musical giants being honored gathered on stage to perform in an all-star jam session. Bo Diddley led the group in his beat-crazy signature tune, Hey Bo Diddley, while country star Carl Perkins got everyone stepping smartly to his rockabilly classic Blue Suede Shoes. And when Chuck Berry led the celebrity lineup through a rollicking rendition of one of his most popular compositions, the lyrics he sang had the resonance of a fulfilled prophesy: “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.” Full of cocky self-assurance, those brash words boasted that the music would never stop. It never has. All grown up, with Beethovens and Tchaikovskys of its own, rock keeps rolling on.
-NICHOLAS JENNINGS with CATHERINE REDDEN in Moscow and RUTH ATHERLEY and PAMELA YOUNG in Toronto