Unlike the previous volumes in Jon Savage’s series of year-based 2CD compilations, which featured music from an expansive mixture of genres, this latest edition spans three years of 100% rock.
In the late 60s, British pop and youth culture began to fragment into tribes. There were many reasons for this: social class, economics, and events within the music industry itself. The success of the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” confirmed the primacy of the album over the single for the smart end of white pop, which was undergoing a prolonged dalliance with psychedelia and the drug culture. Hard mods disdained this trend, cleaving closer to the soul, Motown and Jamaican music that they danced to. By 1969, this began to harden into tribal warfare, as skinheads and hippies found themselves on opposite sides of the subcultural divide.
The divisions had always been there, even at the height of the supposedly classless mid-60s. I was an unrepentant rock fan. That was my tribe. I still bought Motown and reggae hits, but they were the hits: there was no deeper exploration. After Radio Caroline had gone, I’d lost most of the connection to black American music as part of the wider pop experience that I’d had in 1965, 1966 and 1967, even 1968. Thus streamed, I hunted the bins all over London for singles on Island, Elektra and Track.
On these singles, sound, attitude and, on occasion, lyrics were all important. They are expressions of a moment in time, when youth conflated purchasing power with political power. Looking into the future to a world they would fashion differently from that of their parents, they felt free to speak what was on their minds with the expectation that it might be listened to and have meaning. Here you have darkness and light, devilment and the searching for god, the escape to the country and the desire for rousing, primal rock’n’roll.
Rock in the US and the UK encompassed male braggadocio, anguished reflection, sincere if not naive protest, stonking riffs and loud, distorted guitars. Much of it was blues-based, particularly in 1969 as the back-to-the-roots impulse of 1968 worked its way through the sharp end of rock, but a year or so later some of it became wilder, stranger and even more basic – looking forward to what a truly 1970s white teenage music could be: that groundswell that eventually burst out in mid-decade onwards.
There was no real name for this period but, just before glam, it was an era of massive riffs, overloading guitars, mindless yet heartfelt protest, goblin chants and a general mood of questioning, exploration and disillusion. While many songs from this period have become generational clichés, it is hoped that this collection will help you in hearing them afresh. They were new once, like we all were.