My first night on Miami Beach I found myself in a grunjy teen-age hangout semi-filled with its regulars. Music from a tape-recorder on a table in the center of the room with a huge lampshade hanging right over, filled with a disturbingly weak bulb. The music was unmentionable top-40 staple. The girl in rapacious charge of the tape-recorder brutally cut short "Hey Jude" saying "I don't like that song at all" to a general chorus of approval. Walls covered with Gauguinesque posters and Peanuts homilies. The kids didn't dance but twitched spasmodically on their way to the bar--once three or four of them went out into the street in the comforting warmth of the Florida night and danced deliberately. "You want to hear some good music--not all this crap," the girl barked, turning on Frank Sinatra, greeted by the others as if he were a Bob Dylan piercing the night like a prophet. "Cheri," "Spanish Eyes," a strikingly syncopated version of "Three Coins." Strange to tell it was the most beautiful music session I have experienced in a long time. The music became a ferocious whole with the setting of gloom and ease and I assimilated it into my consciousness in delirious chunks.
One more time: the purring of the Atlantic Ocean by night, to the visual beat of four tiny buoy lights, red, green and blue, blinking on and off in god knows whose rhythm, is a form of music if you too are sitting there feeling the instability of the cosmos and brooding.
All this by way of pointing out that Any collection of sounds, from the most banal to the most complex and abstract, is enhanced by the right environment, spatial and spiritual. Ordinary music can be transformed into transcendental music if the conditions for it are right, if its purpose is felt at any one instant to be compelling, if it takes the listener's thoughts and sense-perceptions and embodies them in sound. Any music can be good music depending on your mood and the objective circumstances you find yourself in.
With this axiom firmly in mind we can begin to understand the peculiar vitality and uniqueness of rock and roll. Of all the forms of music, rock is the least demanding of a particular environment and atmosphere. Thus, I can see that "Revolution 9," which is hardly rock 'n' roll, might turn out, some dark and wintry night, to be right (it hasn't happened yet for me) but I know that "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da," which is pure rock, is right nearly all the time. This instant impact that rock 'n' roll has is due in part to the fact that it hits the listener at that deep level at which he stores his reservoir of the basic emotions of man: sorrow and delight, sexuality and violence. Being always present these responses are easily aroused. In part also rock 'n' roll owes its profound charge to the form itself: the typical rock song (and this applies even to a masterpiece like "Satisfaction") is internally compact in lyrics message, and overall feel, rigidly prescribed within a chosen format, a format defined above all by a thrusting beat. It brings its own tiny bristling life with it and is for this reason less dependent on one's personal circumstances which makes it easily, and so universally accessible.
In this respect rock 'n' roll differs from jazz and classical music both of which require that the listener impose a discipline on himself, that he abstract from the music to his own being. These two less starkly structured musical forms involve one's conscious relating to the music and so are helped by the intermediary of atmosphere and mood. Given this right environment and the appropriate mental attention they can be as beautiful as, or more beautiful than, rock 'n' roll.
But rock is immediately gripping and this immediacy is what makes the greatest rock music as widely popular as it is. Jimi Hendrix was named the most important star of the year by, of all publications, Billboard, that infamous organ of AM radio rock. This would all be fine, and all the various forms of music would coexist happily, if it were not for the fact that American rock today is in some danger of being subverted by pernicious influences. This is a message I bring back from the Miami festival: The music of groups like the Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, Spirit, the whole West Coast style that is spreading rapidly to the East, replete with long solos (often tasteless and meager in content) within a virtually unstructured form, is music of sorts, and under certain conditions it sounds magnificent, but it isn't rock 'n' roll, and so it is forever denied a mass audience.
The author's top 10 albums
This is a list of the 10 Best Rock albums of 1968. Blues albums, being in another realm, have been consciously excluded to make a hard task easier. --SII
1. Beggar's Banquet -- The Rolling Stones
2. The Beatles -- The Beatles
3. Electric Ladyland -- Jimi Hendrix
4. John Wesley Harding -- Bob Dylan
5. Wheels of Fire -- Cream
6. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter -- The Incredible String Band
7. Shine on Brightly -- Procul Harum