Oo Koo K-Choo: Issues with John Lennon
John Clare has written on diverse topics for most major Australian publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The National Times and Nation Review, as well as Town and Queen magazines in England. John has published three books (Bodgie Dada: Australian Jazz Since 1946 (Queensland University Press), Low Rent (Text) and Why Wangaratta? – Ten Years Of The Wangaratta Festival Of Jazz) and has contributed to the previous three editions of extempore.
In this brief encounter with his latest contribution, John Clare explores the difficulties in “trying to talk people out of the things they like.”
As we have noted, when one of the ‘experts’ (aforementioned Times music critic) mounted a case for paying serious attention to the Beatles, John Lennon said ‘bullshit’, which was perhaps a little churlish. I am not really an expert although some think I am, and yet I spoke out for the Beatles when they first appeared in the charts. It was when I was working for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. I heard them a couple of times on the radio and listened closely without actually taking note of who they were. Then, while I was talking to a fellow at the NZBC who was very much into the pop music of the 1950s and early 1960s, there they were again on the radio. I think the song was ‘Love Me Do’. ‘Wo-oh, love me do’ was phrased like Ray Charles. I said, ‘Hey, I really like them. Who and what are they? They don’t really sound white, but I don’t think they’re black.’
‘What?’ he exclaimed. ‘They’re from Liverpool, you idiot. That’s the Beatles. They’re everywhere. They’re all right, but they’ll be gone soon.’
He much preferred Bobby Darin, The Shadows and number of others. I liked Bobby Darin too, and I was crazy about Ray Charles. He hated Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. He thought that black phrasing was too complicated. He did not like rhythmic displacements and gospel ornamentations. Straight-ahead pop was the music of the people. Which people? He was also racist, but that is by the by. It is tempting to say that the ‘expert’ turned out to be right on all counts while the man of the people was blind to the future, but it is never as simple as that. Some black singers later emerged―and were emulated by certain Idol contenders―who went so overboard with the ornamentations that I would have to agree with him if he were here griping at me today. The punk movement emerged while I was music editor of Hi-Fi & Music. Two of my rock critics quit writing about music in disgust. I liked some of the punk bands. They couldn’t understand that. ‘But you write about jazz and classical music.’ So? I remembered that Ornette Coleman had created a similar outrage in jazz circles. He couldn’t play. It was bullshit. He was an uneducated backwoodsman who didn’t understand sophisticated jazz progressions. Yet his defenders were real experts, such as composer Gunther Schuller, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and composer and highly educated pianist John Lewis (of Modern Jazz Quartet fame).