By Kevin O’Sullivan
It’s forty years since Joni Mitchell went on down to Yasgur’s farm to join in a rock’n’roll band, camp out on the land and try and get her soul free. The same has passed since Abbey Road, Let It Bleed, The Band, Liege and Lief, Tommy, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Dusty in Memphis, Songs from a Room, Five Leaves Left and Led Zeppelin II first hit our shelves. It’s been fifty years since the first Newport Folk Festival. Next month the Beatles release the digital remasters of all their studio albums. Neil Young calls his re-release programme ‘The Archives’. The record industry is dead? Long live the music.
It’s everywhere now: on the train, in the shops, in the bath, on your television, on your phone, in the lift, in the swimming pool (I kid you not). Everyone’s a collector, everyone’s got their favourites on shuffle. Everyone, it seems, has released their own version of ‘Hallelujah’.
But amidst the saturation, it is easy to lose sight of the important role played by popular music in the social and cultural history of Western and, increasingly, global society over the past fifty or so years. There are plenty of treatises out there on music, culture and history, from journal articles to broader texts like Arthur Marwick’s The Sixties: Cultural Transformation in Britain, France, Italy and the United States, 1958-74 (1998), Mark Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year that Rocked the World (2005) and Eric Harvey’s interesting recent social history of the mp3 for the online magazine, Pitchfork. But by its very nature, the medium itself – the music – demands an altogether different approach. Read More