Composition And Experimentation In British Rock 1967-1976
The single was
the principal means of achieving fame in the mid-1960s, and formed the basis
of the hit parade, in which the 33 long play hardly figured. In “New Musical
Express” (NME), four out of five of the hit parade categories were devoted
entirely to 45s. A “top 30”, reflecting sales in Great Britain, was presented
as the “First ever chart in Britain”, a “Top 30… [of] Best selling pop records
in US” and two “Top 10”s reflecting the situation five and ten years earlier.
LPs were given only a British “Top 10”. In “Melody Maker” the situation
was similar, albeit with a more pronounced national bias. The “Pop 50” (45s)
took up nearly a whole page, above, in small characters, a “US Top 10” and
a “UK Top 10” of 33s. A change can be witnessed from December 17 1966 when
the NME’s British Top 10 LPs became a “Top 15”, but it was not until 1971
that the “Top 30” of 33s acquired the same status as the “Top 30” of 45s.
This development was also reflected in “Melody Maker", though with some
significant chronological distinctions. In April 1967 the “Pop 50” of 45s
became a “Pop 30” in an effort to limit wilful manipulation of sales figures,
according to the magazine’s editor. And in October 1968, without explanation,
their LP “Top 10” became a “Top 20” , the printed characters grew in size
but remained inferior to those of the “Pop 30”. It was not until February
14 1970 that the editor adopted a “Top 30” of LPs equal to that of the 45s.
This system remained in place for six years, from when changes were of a
more stylistic nature. From January 1 1976 new hit parades would list music
by styles, for example “Top 20 Soul”, “Top 20 Reggae” and “Top 20 Country”.
The issues here were thus mixed. The transformation of hit parades in the mid-1960s suggests that what was an offer was as much a new technology as new music. Could it be suggested then that, as with the evolution of jazz music before the Second World War, the technology gave rise to the musical form? In other words, did the music adapt to advances in technologies, or conversely, was technological innovation itself accelerated by the output of musicians. It is worth pointing out that, in the pop music domain, the pre-eminence of the album over the single had already been widely discussed for some time. Eric Clapton complained of the influence of the 45 over the British media, by highlighting two major inconveniences. Firstly, the 45 represented a commercial system in which glory was conferred on the basis of an artist’s hits, and secondly it held back creativity. “To get any good music in a space of two or three minutes requires working to a formula
The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album without doubt gave a decisive push to an attitude which, up to that point, had remained largely theoretical. Their approach, in common with The Beach Boys or Frank Zappa, was to consider the 33 LP in a creative context independent of material requirements of the era. This was essential for the development of progressive rock since the 33 LP was no longer simply a means for promoting the big single, with the addition of a few songs of varying quality.
There is clearly no unilateral network of influences between progressive rock and its context. This is shown by the development of synthesizer technology. When Robert Moog used a recording called Switched on Bach by Walter Carlos to promote his Big Moog, his goal was evidently to find favour with the larger record companies and the world of classical music. The record was released on CBS Masterworks and contained only works from Bach, with sounds aiming to imitate classical music instruments. However, even though the studios showed some interest in this instrument, the majority of orders came from rock or jazz-rock keyboard players.
“Something went wrong. Switched on Bach was meant to be an artistic experiment, a learning and testing vehicle, an example of a contemporary composer trying to find himself - not the marked commercial success it has so clearly become”. (6)
The synthesizer’s development was influenced by the need to find a reliable instrument, not too large, which could easily be reconfigured during the course of a concert. The best example of this was the marketing of the Mini Moog in 1970. This influence of progressive rock on the development of synthesizers must however be tempered, since although it became one of the emblems of the genre, its arrival was somewhat late. Keith Emerson acquired his first modular Moog in July 1970 (three years after its appearance on the market), and his first Mini Moog at the end of 1971 which he subsequently used on the recording of Trilogy, the fourth ELP album, available to the public only in July 1972! Another emblematic figure of the genre, Rick Wakeman, introduced the Mini Moog to the music of Yes in the middle of 1971, but on the album Fragile was often limited to giving pastiches of classical musical. It is thus possible to claim that the progressive keyboard player’s typical instrumentarium was only in place from the middle of 1970s. Another essential point is that the late intervention of polyphony suggests that the glory days of progressive rock coincided with those of monophonic synthesizers.
of the development of radio, hit parades and of synthesizer technology should
not be viewed from an Adornian or Marxisant perspective. There is no question
of suggesting that musical output arose entirely out of the prevailing context,
but rather to demonstrate how the interaction between music and environment
was complex and widespread. Amongst a wide range of influences it is possible
to affirm that: