If the 60s completely revolutionized the way of playing (and listening to) rock, enriching the relatively simple forms of the mid-50s with new sound inputs and giving life to countless styles and substyles, it is still a revolution that takes place in furrows of tradition, based on pre-existing genre evolutions and while always respecting certain principles: the song-form, the artists’ belonging to certain styles, a more or less strong tendency to take oneself seriously (which sometimes resulted in a true and their own uncritical veneration by the public). It was innovating, of course, but always reworking and modifying the dosages of elements belonging to the popular area of American music: folk, country, and blues, just to reduce the discussion to the basics.
However, in the same years in which Dylan became a sensation by plugging in an electric guitar, and the Byrds invented folk-rock, a series of records came out that dare much more both from a purely musical point of view and in terms of content (often outrageous even from the cover).
Fugs, Godz, and The Holy Modal Rounders
Among these is the second, self-titled album by the Fugs (1966), the cacophonous “Contact High” by Godz (1966), and the lysergic “Indian War Whoop” by the Holy Modal Rounders (1967).
The former, strongly linked to the beatnik scene, were formed at the Peace Eye Bookstore in New York in late 1964: a group consisting mostly of amateurs, the Fugs are one of the most sarcastic and caustic voices of the counterculture, introducing that sense of humor that until then he has always been in hiding in rock and that soon becomes one of the strengths of the Mothers Of Invention by Zappa.
If the Fugs make a habit of their own musical incompetence with the Godz of “Contact High” this element becomes the fulcrum and raison d’être of the record itself: 25 minutes of lamentations, strumming, and out-of-time drumming, sound reconstructions of brawls between cats, and folk ballads with out-of-tune guitar and out-of-tune harmonica. As Lester Bangs said: “All it takes is insane perseverance and utter disregard for anything but yelling at the moon, and of course most people would never howl at the moon just to prove something. But the Godz do! And not to prove anything, but because they like to howl at the moon! And this is what distinguishes them from all the others. “
Placed next to Fugs and Godz, the Holy Modal Rounders almost risk passing for traditionalists, who revisit blues and folk with acid attitude and drunken voice, confusing the revisitation with parody, parody with experiment, linked to the other two groups by the common belonging to the ESP label, a beacon of the American avant-garde, for which the Pearls Before Swine and jazz artists who move between bop and free such as Albert Ayler, Steve Lacy, Ornette Coleman, and Charlie Parker have already come out or will be released.
The L.A. Scene
Another more or less avant-garde rock hub was Los Angeles, from which two of the greatest experimenters of the time come, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. The two, who also recorded a record together in 1959, united by a common desecrating nature and an interest in the musical avant-gardes, then move musically in radically different directions.
Encyclopedic connoisseur of every musical style, the first (not only rock but also contemporary classical and avant-garde) since “Freak Out!”, Debut in 1966 alongside the Mothers Of Invention, immediately shows what will be the salient features of his style: on the one hand a constant tendency to satire and joke that often leads to labeling his style as comedy-rock (probably one of the ugliest style definitions ever coined), on the other hand, the taste of brilliantly passing from one genre to another other, making use of his knowledge of musical history but also his passion for apparently antithetical genres such as avant-garde music and pop-rock and doo-wop of the late 1950s.
From the synthesis of these genres (but also of classical, jazz improvisation, and concrete music), records are born that anticipate the progressive rock of the 70s for richness and refinement of musical solutions, in an endless discography that testifies to his inexhaustible versatility and melodic creativity. Zappa’s English consideration (with heavy injections of Beatles and Kinks) is “The Bonzo Dog Band” which on the second album “The Donuts in Granny’s Greenhouse” (1968) brilliantly blends music hall, doo-wop, folk, and an unknown number of other genres, with often exciting results.
The direction taken by Captain Beefheart is different from the 1967 debut “Safe as Milk”, a skewed blues-rock record in the footsteps of Howlin ‘Wolf in which, on the one hand, you get the first taste of Van Vliet’s abrasive voice (real name of captain heart-of-ox), on the other hand, it remains more or less in the tracks of tradition. The story is different for “Trout Mask Replica” (1969): produced by Frank Zappa, an alien fusion of primitive blues, free jazz, and noisy avant-garde, atonal singing, and spastic and stammering rhythmic structure the disc is considered one of the absolute masterpieces of rock history, cornerstone, more by inspiration than by imitation, for many bands to come, from the crooked new wave of Devoto the down-and-out post-blues of Old Time Relijun.
I have never personally been into experimental or progressive rock, although I recognize good music, and the undeniable value to music history, and future genres and bands. I went to a period in my late twenties when I ventured into different genres and subgenres, but nothing won me over like hard rock, hardcore, and, above all, heavy metal.
The one artist I really loved was Frank Zappa. Even though I do not identify as a fan, I am without a doubt an admirer of, both his body of work, and him as human being. I think that his influence goes beyond music. I watched countless documentaries, videos, and interviews, and the thing that struck me the most, is his struggle to impress on everyone the importance of culture, art, and being open to everything even if it comes from a place that we’re not familiar with.
For me, Zappa was a true artist in every sense of the word, and his legacy and influence on music was huge, but unfortunately cut short.