Inside the Rock 'n' Roll Jungle: The Mad Search for the In Sound

Rock 'n' Roll is more than a day-dreamin' boy sippin' lemonade in the summer in the city. Rock 'n' Roll is more than music. It is a thorny, destructive way of life directed by the tempo of the cash register. Unless you believe in magic, you'd better stay away from the Rock 'n' Roll scene.

If you believe in numbers, there's another good reason to go into your father's laundry business. Every day, 1000 new records are released in the United States. Only 300 new records find their way to radio stations each week. Of these 300, the average teeny-bopper station will spin about 20. And more than half of the 20 come from established groups.

But maybe you believe in miracles, or you're already in the Rock 'n' Roll bag and it's too late to get out. There still are two ways a young group or artist can make it: starting from the top with connections, or working up from the bottom with forbearance. Lew Opler, a sophomore in Lowell House, spent a month of last summer experimenting from the bottom. On Aug. 21, he knocked on the door of Richmond Recording, one of New York's biggest music publishing houses, and asked the receptionist if he could see whoever was in. He was introduced to the general manager and handed him a carefully-assembled tape of twenty original folk-rock songs. The general manager clicked on the tape, listened for perhaps ten seconds, and said "That's nice, but it sounds too much like Peter, Paul, and Mary. We're looking for a group sound like the Spoonful."

Several similar experiences convinced Opler that he'd better quit digging in the mud and find some connections. A few days after he discovered a family friend in the NBC hierarchy, Frank Music Affiliates discovered him and contracted for 26 of his songs.



You have to believe in something supernatural if you think you can make it starting from the top. Or maybe the Monkees just live right. Last January, a powerful television producer ran a classified advertisement in Variety magazine under the heading of "Madness." The advertisement announced that casting would begin the next month for a fall television show: "We are looking for four zany boys, between the ages of 18 and 26." In February, 438 bit actors tried out and, after extensive testing and interviewing, four were chosen. They never had sung professionally before last spring and still can't play well enough to provide the music for their own songs. But last week their first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," reached the number one spot, according to Cashbox.

Music professionals unanimously condemn the Monkees as the greatest public relations hoax since Ronald Reagan's rise to political prominence. At least California's governor-elect was an accomplished actor before he swapped vocations; the Monkees were still theatrical amateurs. That they can perform their cut-rate version of A Hard Day's Night every Monday night at 7:30 is a dismal reflection of the power of big money and connections in the music industry. The boys themselves are fully aware of their freakish birth and, for now, speak of "The Group" in a subdued whisper. "You know that if we could ever be one-fourth as good as the Beatles we would be happy," one said.

Who Do You Know?

Ask a young group two simple questions and you will know where they stand in the music industry: who do you know? and What is your "sound?" Even Nancy Sinatra would not have made it if she sang Dixieland. Having the "sound" is not a matter of quality; it is a matter of timing. Today's sound is a blend of the drive of hard-rock, the should of rhythm and blues, the four-part hard-mony of the Mamas and Papas, and the soft low-key effect of the Lovin Spoonful. The Left Bank is a new group that presents fullest evolution of the new sound. Another aspect of "sound" is whether a group can record a number as well as it can perform it before an audience.

The contrast between the careers of Barry and the Remains and the Spoonful proves that the "sound" must be "right" and "recordable." The Remains became Boston's most popular group a year ago with a hard, driving, Big-Rock sound like that of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Their personal appearances were highly successful because they knew how to trans- mit a personal excitement to the audience through their music. The Remains disbanded two months ago because their sound was out and they couldn't reproduce the quality of their performances on a record. During the same period, the Spoonful made it because their sound is contemporary and it is disciplined and tight enough to record well.

If you are an astute teen-bopper, you listen to the lyrics of Rock 'n' Roll as well as feel the sound. The words have evolved simultaneously with the music: from the sex of hard rock, to Dylan's abstract symbolism of protest and drug experiences, to the more naturalistic and commonplace lyrics of the Spoonful sound.

One knowledgeable advocate of the new sound and new lyrics is Judy Bernstein, who recently moved her offices from New York to Boston, after managing Herman's Hermits and the Animals. "If you are going to reach the masses, you need images which are simple and meaningful in the ordinary range of experiences," she says. "How many 15-year-olds have taken an LSD trip?"

If a group is talented, but their sound is on the way out, they are

Recommended Articles