I have a friend who has a friend whose dad said this in 1989 about The Stone Roses:
“Oh they’re just ripping off The Beatles and The Byrds.”
I’ve always found that sad.
Of course that’s not an isolated opinion: music journalist Robert Christgau famously wondered,
“What do [the Stone Roses] do that the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield didn’t do better in 1967?”
Here’s my answer:
Like all great bands, The Stone Roses learned from their influences—and made their sound their own.
Though I don’t know all The Byrds’ songs, I don’t think they began an album with a noise crescendo that gives way to a bass line that opens toward a sweet, high, teasing guitar that yields to a drum beat that sets the stage for a wash of a second guitar that has, really, no particularly 60s sound about it.
True: The Stone Roses, The Verve, Oasis, and countless other bands of the 80s and 90s were influenced by 60s bands. They alluded to that fact in lyrics and arrangements. They “stood on the shoulders of giants,” as they say.
And of course the great bands of the 60s stood on the shoulders of blues giants.
That’s what people do in art. They learn from what they love, and they create.
To me, there’s derivative, which is artless, and there’s influenced, which is sagacious.
One of the things I can’t hear enough of now is neopsych and 60s revival bands like The Black Angels, The Allah-Las, Wooden Shjips, Dead Rabbits, The Spyrals, etc.
Like the greats of the 80s and 90s, these bands borrow from The 13th Floor Elevators, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, The Stones, etc.
And like the greats of the 80s and 90s, they make their sound their own.
They evoke Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Vettes, The Byrds, The Birds, The Hollies, whatevs, but who they really sound like is themselves.
Here’s another 60s-influenced song that, like I Wanna Be Adored, begins with a bass line:
That badass fuzz* at 1:23 knocks my socks off. And when it comes back at 2:40 I kind of want to die cuz it sounds so good.
If there’s a dad, or anyone out there, saying “Oh they’re just ripping off The Byrds,” I feel sorry for them. They’re missing sonic transcendence.
When asked about 60s influences, the drummer for the Allah-Las, who swaps roles with the vocalist in the song above and sings “Long Journey,” said this:
“I think our generation grew up in a time where music . . . [is] just this big piece, so we grew up listening to a lot of 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s records, looking at it as just music . . . it’s just an evolution of trains of thought.”
I like the idea of a big piece and an evolution of trains of thought. I think it’s wiser than writing off stunning music as merely derivative.
That attitude is what makes this possible, where you hear surf blending like PB&J with Joy Division, Blue Oyster Cult, Iggy Pop, and 57 other varieties of brilliance:
[INTERLUDE] I can’t talk about psych, fuzz, “Britrock,” and having my socks knocked off without indulging in Spacemen 3, the 80s masters of 60s influences (well, they and their spinoff The Darkside), as far as I’m concerned:
I think about this influences stuff a lot, because just as it’s probably the best time ever in the history of the world to be a writer, it’s probably also the best time ever in the history of the world to love music.
But I started thinking about all this more yesterday when I felt an affinity with a friend who sent me the following song, which has 80s influences.
I felt the affinity because she loves what she loves. And she loves what I love. She loves doo-wop, surf, soul, disco, funk, bluegrass, big band, British Invasion, punk rock, garage rock, classic rock, new wave, electro, post-punk, ambient, rocksteady, downtempo, cheesy Top 40 80s shit, everything. She’s like most of my friends in that way, but sometimes she’s also grabbed fiercely by the rare tune that doesn’t spark much for others.
We discovered that we’re in a minority with loving this song:
Here’s what this song does for me:
There’s the beat, first off, which is probably the most important part of any song for me—even more important than a guitar hook, line, riff, sinker, whatever. Then there’s the keyboard “do do do DO do.” And what really gets me is the vocals, where the dude does highs and lows, and then there’s the harmonizing guy, and together they both sound like some weird amalgamation of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk and Michael McDonald.
It’s crazy. It’s hilarious. It’s wonderful.
We’re also both crazy about this song, which samples a sound from Last Tango in Paris:
To sum up, here’s what I have to say to someone who says “They’re just ripping off The Byrds”:
Just as you might love the one you’re with, love it if it’s good.
Top image: Abbey Road, found here. I tried superimposing the dudes from this fine video onto Abbey Road, but it didn’t work out too great, as you can see in the image below.