The Real Eighties: The Filth And The Fury And The Froth

I used to think that the world was an awful place for music in the seventies – and Britain was worse than most.

Thirty-odd years later, I realize that statement was at least party something that came from the myopia that comes from being a kid and a bit of a zealot.

Still – the biggest selling British artists of the seventies were Elton John (the Bee Gees were technically Australian, and based out of the US for most of the decade).

Brits didn’t miss disco, per se – but go ahead, name a British disco group.  You thought of the Bee Gees, right?  See above.

So what does anyone remember from British rock and roll? Glam bands;if you can name one other than Queen, you’re pretty good.  Bubblepop bands like Sweet?  Down-the-middle pop like Leo Sayer?   Ponderous, dozey “heavy metal” like Black Sabbath?

Loathsome, plodding, ponderous art-rock like Emerson Lake and Palmer and (seventies-era) Genesis?  Sixties holdovers – including great ones that peaked in the decade, like Zeppelin, the Stones, the Who and the Kinks?

Punk changed that – but British punk in the seventies, looked at thirty-odd years later, was as much music made by screecny post-adolescent art-school fops, aimed at (let’s be honest) screechy adolescent art-school fops (like I more or less was, although not in the sense of actually going to art school).

But punk had a lot of fun slopover throughout Brit music in the eighties.

There was Motörhead…

…which blew away Brit metal’s seventies stodge in a booze-soaked blast of punk-influenced energy.  How big were they?  One of my enduring memories of being in Europe at the time was how much Motörhead there was, all over the place, from the UK to Germany and everywhere in between.

In fact, Brit “metal” (i use the scare quotes to ward off the inevitable argument about the history and taxonomy of metal leading up to the inevitable “________ is really hard rock, not metal”) went through a resurgence – getting energy and noise from punk, while keeping the chops.

Iron Maiden…

…and Judas Priest…

…were all “metal” (yeah, yeah, blah blah blah) that punk could listen to with a clear conscience.

And it had a much bigger effect on Brit music – much of it it in “Britain”, rather than “England”.  More on that as we continue through the week.

7 thoughts on “The Real Eighties: The Filth And The Fury And The Froth

  1. I recall an interesting bit of trivia from about….say 6 years ago. For the first time since the week before the first Beatles song hit the charts in the US, there was not one English band on the top 100 in America.

  2. Glam bands;if you can name one other than Queen, you’re pretty good.

    T Rex, Slade and Mott the Hoople all had their moments.

    Bubblepop bands like Sweet?

    I do a semi-regular series at my place called “Guilty Pleasures” and Sweet is pretty much the house band for that. So bad they were great, I say.

    I agree generally with your thesis, Mitch — if someone wants to see what British pop was like in the 70s, there are hundreds of videos on YouTube from Top of the Pops and there were some real train wreck acts out there (Sparks, anyone?) I’d suggest that the missing element is pub rock; specifically Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, etc. They got lumped in with the New Wave in America, but they are really half a generation older than that.

    As for disco — yeah, the Brits pretty much contracted that out in the 70s, although there is the act that is the bridge between disco and pub rock — Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

  3. D,

    Yep – thinking about doing a Pub Rock series one of these days. But that’s outside the scope of an Eighties series (obviously).

  4. Loathsome, plodding, ponderous art-rock like Emerson Lake and Palmer

    Plodding, ponderous, yes, but hardly loathsome. ELP (P for Powell) – best concert I have ever seen. But then I fully expect you to dump on King Crimson as well. I bet you think Robert Fripp does not know his way around a guitar.

  5. Indeed it is, Mitch; Edmunds and Lowe were active in the 80s but their moment came before that, as did Dury’s.

  6. JPA,

    Emerson, Lake, Palmer, Powell (two different guys and iterations of ELP), and King Crimson / Fripp were all excellent musicians. I watch vids of Emerson playing the Hammond B3, and Fripp just playing, and go “wow”.

    But the music never grabbed me.

    Loathsome may have been hyperbolic. I was a little punchy when I wrote that.

  7. You’re underestimating and leaving out the effects of the “prog rock” groups that punk was a direct reaction to, such as Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, and the mentioned EL&P to list just a few of the British ones. The prog rock movement was stifling for a lot of the British music scene until punk came along as a reaction to the high-falutin’ “art” and “message” of prog rock. There was a reason that Johnny Rotten wore the Pink Floyd shirt with the “I Hate” scrawled on it. Punk came and went, but the ponderous prog rock that it was a reaction to continued on and was far more profitable.

    Personally, I preferred the musicianship of the prog rock artists to the hard-core punkers in general. Tarkus by EL&P was one of my introductions to pop/prog rock, and the very interesting music time signatures and is one of the better uses of synthesizers. For someone who had a deep interest in mainly classical music it actually got me more interested in pop music even though I only discovered that album considerably past its recording date.

    And the early rampant nihilism of punk before the edge wore off was little more than pretentious posing of twits who should have known better but were too drug and alcohol addled to realize it, at least in most cases. They never outgrew the “deep discussions” typical of most junior high druggies. But Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and Sweet? Just plain fun. Music, attitude, and no attempt to make a larger social commentary that “true artists” seem to require. A lot of the punk movement were “artists” who were “suffering for their work.”

    But there’s no denying that punk reinvigorated pop music. But punk didn’t survive the collision with pop, though: the punkers could resist anything but temptation, and with success came the sex, money, and drugs that destroyed their movement.

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