The Flip Sides of 1979
So rock rose. But it would be foolish to think that the release of records by Simon, Joel, Wonder and Ronstadt wouldn’t push a lot of the new rock & roll right off the airwaves again. Melody beats the big beat every time, which is the reason Simon and Garfunkel outsold the Rolling Stones in the Sixties. Trust this argument; history is on its side.
Less trustworthy, but worth considering: in the Seventies, a new kind of rock band developed that managed to sell its members as role models to the younger rock audience. But Grand Funk is gone, Alice Cooper’s career is in limbo, Aerosmith is on the wane, and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” however effective its disco beat, must have eroded Kiss’ credibility with its hardcore fans. Such acts are meant to be outgrown, and they can’t convert the next generation — there is nothing more obnoxious than your older brother’s favorite band, except maybe your younger brother’s favorite band. Along with old-line sounds — as exemplified by Foreigner — the Knack, the Cars and Cheap Trick appeal to this segment of the audience, too.
But there’s nothing remotely “new” about what these bands are doing; once more, the New Wave is filling a market void, not instigating a revolution in pop-music taste. The people who might do that–the Clash, to cite an extreme example–are still largely unheard by the pop audience.
Which is not to suggest that nothing at all is happening.
Call what remains a report from the front; what a fool believes; what any man could learn by paying attention to the radio:
There was the week last winter when Elvis Costello came out with Armed Forces, a record so brave it couldn’t be true; the week he called Ray Charles a nigger, I knew that it wasn’t… Listening all summer long to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and finally deciding that the Stones should have had her produce Some Girls… Watching the kids at the beach with their Cheap Trick tapes, spinning “Surrender” twenty times a day… Blowing my last five bucks on Van Morrison’s Into the Music and feeling cheered up… Playing Sly Stone’s new record, which was like running into a dear old friend… Seeing The Kids Are Alright and starting to cry when Keith Moon made that sudden, awful change from indestructible youth to fatigued old age… Discovering Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited” on the radio one Sunday morning and stopping the car, breathless that soul music still lived… Gaping at James Brown dancing at his own press party… Neon Leon at the Mudd Club, Beaver Brown at the Fast Lane, Ellen Shipley in Poughkeepsie, Carolyne Mas at the Other End.
Most of all, I remember two weeks in September when I saw the Who three times, followed by Bruce Springsteen and then, out in L.A., the Talking Heads. The Who told me that the old ways are sustaining: Townshend played his heart out, Kenney Jones fit like a glove, and I was as awed by them as if they were a new band. Bruce Springsteen playing at the MUSE shows inspired in me what he always does: the faith that this moment can be as magic as my memories. And the Heads played with the ferocity of a band that’s learned its skills from six months on the road–a joyous, crazy show that lived up to the others on a night when I would have asked for nothing more than entertainment. Better than my dreams, those moments.
But I would trade them all, and all the rest I haven’t mentioned, for the time at the breakfast table when my eight-year-old daughter walked in singing the “new” song she’d heard on TV: “Hearts of Stone”–not by the Stones or Springsteen but by Otis Williams and the Charms. At times like that, I don’t want to revolutionize the radio, or even hear the new-new New Wave — I just wanna dance.