One of my favourite Christmas presents this year was a book from 1979, confusingly titled the Rock On! Annual 1980 which looked back at 1978.
Still following me? Good.
Rock On! was a short-lived UK magazine launched in June 1978. As with the Look-In Annual that I looked at a few months ago, it is a mini time-capsule, and reveals much about life in the summer of 1979 (when it was written). It looks back on the rock scene in the late seventies – about the time that pop music entered my consciousness.
The late seventies were a time of civil unrest in the UK. The four day week. Strikes. Unions. Rubbish piling up on the streets. The Wombles. Perfect conditions for a determined lady with blonde hair to rise up and take control of the nation. Which is exactly what Debbie Harry did when she appeared on Top of the Pops.
Revelations according to the Rock On! Annual include Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi punching Melody Maker journalist Allan Jones (who needed stitches in his jaw) for a particularly personal slagging off.
Meanwhile my (eight year old) thoughts were occupied with how Blue Peter would replace the irrepressible John Noakes…
The cover features the lithe and energetic Phil Lynott, the inside cover features the less lithe but still energetic Meatloaf. These two – and Meatloaf in particular were clearly the two big rock stars of the day – literally speaking in the latter’s case.
The A-Z of Heavy Metal contains some controversy. Aerosmith are described as “subtle” (well – My Fist, Your Face is slightly subtle…) and “melodic”. A Deep Purple re-union is “unlikely” (well – it was still five years off). Both bands escape lightly compared with Judas Priest, whose lack of success is attributed to “their unimaginative mundane metal sound” with their “cult” following being “a lot more than they deserve”. 1980’s British Steel made this summing up rather redundant.
Rock On! proves to be more prescient with other bands:
Motörhead: “Can only get bigger” (Ace of Spades was released a few months later). And as for Van Halen: “By the time you read this they should be famous”. As I read it a few weeks ago, I think they called that one correctly.
Rush however were “still to break really big in the States” and “their preoccupation with elongated science fiction fantasy numbers borders on the tedious”. Sage advice which Rush duly ignored and scored a platinum hit album with Permanent Waves.
Finally, Uriah Heep “finally climbed to the top of the heavy metal league” that year. They climbed down gingerly a few years later.
When, in the 1990’s the likes of Loaded and FHM magazine pioneered lads mags their reclamation of “lad culture” was seen as a rebuttal against political correctness, laced with a hint of irony. It was also a great excuse to look at women wearing not very much. However, you got the impression that the writers tossed off the articles about booze and babes in between writing their PhD on Ancient Greece and an article for the London Review of Books.
You don’t get that impression in Rock On!
The magazine has a blokey, cockney tone of voice that might have been rejected by the writers of Dick Van Dyke’s part in Mary Poppins as “too unrealistic”. The Led Zeppelin article begins thus: Getting into Led Zep is like all those other First Experiences that stay in yer ‘ead forever like sex, light and bitter, football, pay packets, motorbikes, Levi’s and so on (if you’re a bird, substitute as appropriate). And with Led Zep there were no irritating extras, like taking her home after…or income tax”. Brilliant to compare taking home a girl “after” as being as painful as paying tax. To misquote David Brent, this was in the seventies, before sexism was wrong.
The article on Women In Rock is similarly sensitive. It’s called “Sex n Girls n Rock n Roll”. Debbie Harry is described as an “ex-groupie and heroin addict”. “Who says life don’t begin at 32?” adds the article helpfully, and ungrammatically. In 1978 of course, “ageism” still wasn’t actually a word. On Linda Ronstadt the verdict was even less flattering: “We wonder if she would have made it if she hadn’t been so pretty though?” Of Joan Jett (“Macho Joan”) the reader is told to “catch this lot live and get turned on at the same time”. Nice image.
Thankfully the article ends on a serious note. “Make no mistake the rock business is still the most chauvinistic place around” it solemnly pronounces (rather unnecessarily). Without the slightest whiff of condescension whatsoever it applauds these brave females (who have torn themselves away from the kitchen just for our pleasure no doubt) and adds “So whatever the relative future success of the ladies on these pages, they’ve all done bloody well to get this far!”
Yes – well done ladies: Congratulations on having overcome your lack of male body parts and your inherent inability to play guitar and sing as well as men…
Next: Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt‘s Jeans get a two page spread.
Record #140: David Bowie – Suffragette City