1959. Ohio-raised 19-year-old Johnny Paris, and four other musicians whose names will never be known and never need to be known, hit on the idea of throwing American folk songs into the context of swirling, organ-dominated rock'n'roll instrumentals. "Red River Rock" - a rebirth of the timeless redneck anthem (as it's always seemed to me, at least) "Red River Valley" - is the first result. It fizzes, it excites, it positively roisters with life. It hits Number 5 in the US charts and Number 3 in Britain, where Johnny and the Hurricanes will have much greater success from here on in. In America, the melodies they trashed and recontextualised were either too dully familiar or too treasured in their original form to really succeed in this style. America has taken the sleeping pills of Frankie Avalon and Fabian, while Britain is thrilling to this utterly alien culture like never before (and it was alien then - Macmillan's Britain was as protectionist as it's ever been).
"Reveille Rock" follows, and takes it further. The military bugle call is trashed, pissed on, used as the basis for another groove to rouse the dead, and it's a threat to every protectionist, monopolist military veteran in America, Britain, or anywhere (imagine if Norman Cook based one of his similarly immaculate pop prodctions on a sample of Elgar, and then imagine how the readership of The Daily Telegraph - http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/telegraph.htm - would react. That's how it seemed). The call of "Alright, you guys, rise and shine!" is removed from its usual context as a symbol of American military machismo, left to run in a new world of flourishing, pushing, irreverent, boisterous rock'n'roll.
Reverence, from this moment on, is dead. It will be brought back into pop later, of course - although the Beatles deserve no blame for the unintentional aftereffects of their embrace of high culture. It was a bitter irony that the joyous naughtiness of "I Am The Walrus" inspired a decade of dull prog-rock hero-worship, its barrage of references from everywhere (Lennon was pissing on the Fifties, and their stifling cultural separatism) became a backdoor reinforcement of that very separatism. There's a parallel universe of great pop music which doesn't give a shit, which freely pisses on treasured cultural iconography without a moment's thought of reverence, which revels in its trashiness and impermanence, and desperately tries to corall the ostensibly immune therein (The Toys' "A Lover's Concerto", Queen's "39", Steeleye Span's Mike Batt-engineered rocking up of "All Around My Hat", Boney M's "Rasputin", Momus's "Minty Fresh" and "The Seventh Wife of Henry VIII"). It all started here, though ...
Robin Carmody, 12th March 2000
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind:
Behind a painted smile: