January 2024 – A Brief History of the Bass Guitar

Prelude

WELCOME FAIR MUSIC‑MINDED PATRONS to the first CRAVE Guitars’ monthly article of the New Year. While we may be less than a full month into the year Two Thousand and Twenty Four of the Common Era, one hopes it is off to a good start despite global uncertainty (and insanity). Let us hope that those intent on geopolitical conflict come to their senses, unlikely as it may seem, rather than escalate tensions further. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be part of the doomsday generation. Scary.

Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all)” – Thomas Hobbes (1588‑1679)

Getting back to the musical point, ask pretty much anyone with a slight interest in modern music culture, the question, “Who invented the first bass guitar?” and I’m sure a lot of people would say, “Leo Fender, of course”. Well yes… and no. In the world of vintage guitars, things are rarely quite as straightforward as one may at first think.

With the recent addition of CRAVE Basses to the CRAVE Guitars, Amps and Effects family, this month seems perfectly apt to take a quick look at how the electric bass guitar as we know it came into being and how it has become such an integral component of contemporary music.

Primarily as a guitarist, my dalliances with bass guitars up to now have, I admit, been spawned out of curiosity and exploration, rather than a serious preoccupation. Those dalliances, though, span well over four decades, so the bass encounter isn’t a single, short or recent ‘event’.

We do not start the story, as many might imagine in the 1950s. We’ll come back to that in a little while. Before we get there, though, we should go back quite a few years. Many, many years in fact, starting with the classical orchestral double bass, originating from the 15th Century or thereabouts. Then we’ll explore the modern‑day innovations starting in the 1920s and 1930s before the ‘big bang’ that really exploded in the 1950s and 1960s. Finally we’ll come up‑to‑date, with a look at the instruments, equipment, artists and sounds that have helped to shape the modern musical landscape. Finally, we’ll take a wee peak into the near future of bass instruments.


The fretless acoustic double bass

Before the solid body fretted electric bass guitar, popular music relied almost totally on the acoustic upright double bass for low frequency impact. The instrument’s origins date approximately to the 15th‑16th Century in Venice, Italy. Venetian musician, Silvestro Ganassi developed a ‘bass viola da gamba’ in 1542, widely regarded as the forerunner of today’s double bass. It wasn’t until around 1700, though, that the double bass became part of the opera orchestra. The double bass as we now know it is the largest and lowest‑pitched chordophone in the classical music orchestra.

As a quick recap, defined by the Hornbostel‑Sachs system of musical instrument classification, a chordophone is a musical instrument that makes sound from vibrating one or more taught strings by bowing, plucking or striking the strings. Examples of chordophone types include violins, guitars, and pianos respectively. The word chordophone stems from the Greek words for string (chordē) and sound (phonē).

For more on the historical origins of musical instrument classification (to provide a context for the development of the guitar), see CRAVE Guitars’ March 2018 article.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (The ancient world up to the early Renaissance):
March 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part I (craveguitars.co.uk)

The traditional 4‑string double bass is usually played in one of two ways, either by rubbing the strings with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings with fingers (pizzicato). Some modern double bass players, for instance in rock & roll and rockabilly, also use a distinctive ‘slap’ technique. This percussive sound derived from the ‘Bartók pizzicato’ (‘snap’ pizzicato) named after the Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók.

Double Bass (courtesy of Roxanne Minnish)

Depending on the style of music, the double bass is also known by a number of other names, all of which refer to the same instrument. Some of these alternative monikers include bass, upright bass, string bass, acoustic bass, acoustic string bass, contrabass, contrabass viol, bass viol, bass violin, stand‑up bass, bull fiddle, doghouse bass and bass fiddle.

The traditional double bass is a large acoustic fretless instrument of the violin family that is played upright. The deep, resonant, woody tone of the double bass endows it with a very different sound when compared to the modern solid body fretted electric bass guitar. The tuning of the double bass is different from other members of the orchestral sting instruments, in that it is tuned in fourths (E‑A‑D‑G) rather than a violin’s fifths (G‑D‑A‑E). The double bass, then, is tuned the same as a modern bass guitar, an octave below the bottom four strings of a 6‑string guitar in standard tuning. This particular characteristic aided the bass’s transition from classical to modern day musical styles.

Originally, double basses were more likely to have three strings until four strings became commonplace by the 19th Century, by which time the standard format and construction of the double bass had become established. There are, however, 5 and 6 (or more) string variants and there are also various alternative tunings.

The double bass has been the mainstay of orchestral string sections and chamber music for several centuries in one form or another. It was predictable that, with the emergence and evolution of the major modern popular music genres, such as jazz, blues and country & western that the double bass would become the go‑to bass instrument, at least up until the 1960s when the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became predominant. However, the double bass hasn’t disappeared from contemporary music completely. Plenty of present‑day artists still use or revert back to the double bass for authenticity and/or effect.

The main drawback experienced by many players is that the double bass is a substantial piece of equipment. The full‑size double bass is almost 75 inches (190cm) tall, weighing in at c.20‑25lbs (9‑11½kg), without its hefty case. The scale length is set at around 42” (107cm), much longer than most modern bass guitars. Given these dimensions, the double bass is sizeable, cumbersome, unwieldy and plain heavy, making it far from the easiest of instruments to move around or play. There are smaller double basses including ¾, ½ and ¼ size, mainly aimed at younger players. Even so, the double bass not for the faint hearted, as the smallest ¼ size instrument is still over 61” (156cm) tall.

Another drawback is the double bass’s acoustic construction. Like the acoustic guitar, in the first half of the 20th Century, the acoustic double bass’s lack of volume made it hard to be heard in a jazz‑era big band mix unless there was some form of electrification through either a magnetic pickup or a microphone connected to an amplifier and, even then, acoustic instruments can be prone to feedback in high sound pressure level environments.

Traditional double basses are not only large but, because of their construction, they are also quite expensive, making them a major investment and therefore difficult for novices or younger players to access and learn.

Even so, despite its limitations, during the 20th Century the double bass became widely used in a diverse range of modern music genres, including jazz, blues, swing, rock & roll, rockabilly, country & western, bluegrass, folk, funk, reggae, metal, rock, pop, tango and visual media soundtracks.

Trivia: Believe it or not, there is an even larger bass, first built c.1850 by the French luthier Jean‑Baptiste Vuillaume (1798‑1875) in Paris. The octobass, as it is called, has three strings and is basically a larger version of the double bass tuned a further octave down. The octobass is a truly gargantuan beast, approximately 137” high (348cm).


The electric upright bass

To enable modern players to experience the spirit of the acoustic double bass in a more convenient and amplified form, there is the modern Electric Upright Bass (EUB), which is also played, as its name suggests, upright, like a traditional double bass.

EUBs allow for greater portability while retaining the playing style and general sound of its forebear. As the EUB doesn’t require the substantial acoustic resonating chamber of a double bass, they often feature a ‘skeleton’ body, making it much smaller, lighter and cheaper to produce. The minimal structure may have either a solid body or a small acoustic body.

A magnetic, piezo or condenser bass pickup provides the means to route the signal via a bass amplifier to loudspeakers. Like a double bass, the EUB’s strings can be bowed or plucked, although that is dependent on fingerboard and bridge radius. While evoking its acoustic origins, the structural and electric characteristics of the EUB endow it with a unique sound all of its own.

As the EUB’s construction isn’t bound by convention like its orchestral sibling, the flexible format allows for a range of scale lengths to be employed from around 30” (76cm), through 34” (86cm) like a long scale bass guitar to the full 42” (107cm) of a double bass, making it much more accessible to a range of players. Almost all EUB necks allow for a full two‑octave range and most but not all are fretless. Compared to the double bass or the electric bass guitar, the electric upright bass tends to be a modern, notable but relatively niche instrument. There are EUB models at all price points, making it easier for novices and experienced players alike.

The first production electric upright basses were developed independently in the mid‑1930s by Regal (Electrified Double Bass), Vega (Electric Bass Viol), Rickenbacker (Electro Bass‑Viol) and Audiovox (bull fiddle – see below). Gibson introduced their special order Electric Bass Guitar in 1938, which was still an upright fretless instrument with a hollow body and a magnetic pickup.

Manufacturers of electric upright basses include Framus, Ampeg, Warwick, Ibanez, Yamaha, Palatino, NS Design (Ned Steinberger), and Harley Benton.

Electric Upright Bass

The first solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar

As hinted at above, while Leo Fender was the major innovator associated with the solid‑body fretted electric bass guitar, he wasn’t the first. He was beaten to the starting post by at least some 15 years. Hardly a photo finish!

The first indication of the possible future of a bass guitar was in 1924 when the legendary Gibson designer, Lloyd Loar came up with a prototype electric bass. The Loar concept focused on the body, pickup and strings but with little additional detail. Loar’s radical design was rejected by Gibson management at the time. Loar left Gibson shortly thereafter in 1924, so his visionary ideas for an electric bass guitar went no further.

Nearly a decade later, around 1933, American musician and inventor Paul H. ‘Bud’ Tutmarc (1896‑1972), based in Seattle, Washington, began experimenting with reducing the size of the double bass to a more manageable instrument. Tutmarc originally devised an electrified fretless double bass‑style instrument described as an electric 4‑string upright ‘bull fiddle’, slightly smaller than a cello.

It’s worth a quick diversion to go back in time to take in an original report from the ‘Seattle Post‑Intelligencer’ newspaper, which published the story on 17 February 1935. The headline read, “Pity Him No More – New Type Bull Fiddle Devised.”

The article went on to state that, “People have always pitied the poor bass-fiddler… who has to lug his big bull-fiddle home through the dark streets after the theatre closes. But he doesn’t have to do it anymore. Because Paul Tutmarc, Seattle music teacher and KOMO radio artist, has invented an electric bull-fiddle. One you can carry under your arm. And it doesn’t even need a bow, either. You pluck a string – and out of the electric amplifier comes a rich, deep tone, sustained as if five or six bass violinists were bowing five or six bass‑violins with masterly artistry. The tone is sustained as long as you want it, too, without a bow.” The instrument described in the article was a cello‑like upright fretless instrument with an electromagnetic pickup.

Tutmarc was, however, about to do something far more radical. By 1935-1936, Tutmarc, had changed direction and developed the first solid body fretted electric bass guitar, pretty much recognisable in its modern form. It was this version of Tutmarc’s bass that was intended to be played horizontally, rather than upright, in a similar way to the modern bass guitar. The 1935 sales catalogue for Tutmarc’s company Audiovox featured his ‘Model 736 Bass Fiddle’, a solid‑bodied electric bass guitar with four strings, a fretted neck, with a 30½” (775mm) scale length, an ebony (or purpleheart) fingerboard with 16 frets, a black walnut body, a hidden single Tutmarc‑Stimpson horseshoe pickup below a mirror-steel faceplate, and a single volume control.

Tutmarc AudioVox Model 736

In addition, as an electric bass guitar would be pretty much useless without the means to amplify the sound, Audiovox also sold an accompanying ‘Model 936’ bass amplifier with 18 watts of power and a 12” Jensen Concert speaker.

Around 100 of the Model 736 Audiovox bass guitars were made in the mid‑1930s. However, there are only thought to be three Model 736 Tutmarc bass guitars still in existence today, making them remarkably rare. One belongs to the Experience Music Project (EMP), now known as The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), a non‑profit enterprise founded by Microsoft co‑founder Paul Allen in 2000 and based in Seattle, Washington state, USA. In 2018, a 1936 Audiovox Model 736 bass guitar was reportedly sold by Tutmarc’s grandson on eBay for $23,850.

Sadly, for Tutmarc, the Audiovox 736 was not a commercial success. The price tag was high for the mid‑1930s, in a country still severely affected by The Great Depression (1929‑1939). The 736 bass fiddle originally cost $65 and the matching 936 bass amplifier cost $75, placing it well out of reach for many musicians. The high price and the radical concept didn’t attract enough musicians at the time and it wasn’t long before it was discontinued and was subsequently forlornly forgotten to history. Tutmarc’s company, Audiovox folded in 1950.

It can well be argued that Tutmarc was ahead of his time. Perhaps it is a case of supply looking for a demand that consumers didn’t know they needed. Maybe it was bad timing and/or bad luck. The Model 736 also arrived shortly before the outbreak of World War II when the guitar manufacturing industry was deemed ‘non‑essential’ and resources were diverted to the American war effort. Furthermore, a bass guitar didn’t seem to fit seamlessly into any of the prevailing musical styles at that time.

It is surprising, though, that such a significant innovation in guitar history isn’t more widely known about. Perhaps it is time, nay overdue, for Tutmarc’s milestone achievements to be deservedly recognised.

One company, Luthiery Laboratories, makes modern‑day replicas of the Audiovox 736, keeping the spirit of the original instrument alive.

Audiovox 736 Bass (1/4) ~ Luthiery Laboratories (luthierylabs.com)


The first commercially successful mass produced solid body fretted electric bass guitar

And so it was that the scene was set for someone else to step in and make the bass guitar ‘a thing’. That someone else was Clarence Leonidas Fender (1909‑1991). Unlike poor old Paul H. Tutmarc, you may just have heard of him.

“I wonder if I could make an electric bass” – Leo Fender (1909‑1991)

For more on the history and development of Fender guitars and musical equipment, see CRAVE Guitars’ August 2018 article for the context behind Fender solid body electric guitars.

A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (1950s and 1960s):
August 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI (craveguitars.co.uk)

Once the proverbial ball started rolling, the bass guitar had a phenomenal, transformative and relatively rapid impact on modern music that cannot be underestimated or understated. It is also very easy to take the electric bass guitar’s presence on stages, in studios and bedrooms all around the world for granted. Back in 1950, though, no‑one other than a select few in Fullerton, California had any idea of what was to come.

So… what are we actually talking about? The answer, after the lengthy preamble (apologies for keeping you on tenterhooks for so long), is the mighty Fender Precision Bass. Three little words. Game changing, era defining and well‑deserving of all the hyperbole attached to it over the past seven‑plus decades. So much has been written about the Precision that there is little need to dredge up the detail again, so what follows is a brief overview.

Leo Fender was working on a prototype back in 1950, bringing the world’s first commercially successful mass‑produced electric bass guitar to market in 1951. Fender designed the Precision Bass (often shortened these days to P‑Bass) to overcome the many drawbacks of the acoustic double bass alluded to earlier in this article. Even the name, Precision, referred to the fretted neck to enable musicians to play in tune far more precisely than on the double bass’s fretless neck. Conservative double bass players may well have looked at the Precision Bass in the same way that conservative guitarists looked at the Fender Telecaster, which had been introduced a year earlier in 1950. Consternation and indignation were probably natural initial reactions from the ‘old‑school’.

At its most basic, the Fender Precision Bass is a solid body, 4‑string bass guitar equipped with a single pickup and a one‑piece 20‑fret maple neck with rosewood or maple fingerboard. It all sounds so very straightforward and unremarkable nowadays doesn’t it?

The Precision Bass didn’t, however, appear fully formed. The original design of the Precision borrowed several design features from the Telecaster guitar, other than the double cutaway body. Initial models carried one single coil pickup, a slab body, large scratchplate and a Tele‑like headstock.

After Fender introduced the Stratocaster guitar in 1954, some of its design features were brought over to the Precision including a contoured body and a Strat‑like headstock. The original pickup was replaced with a single split coil hum cancelling staggered design and a sleeker redesigned scratchplate. It is this version of the Precision from 1957 that has stayed in production largely unchanged to the current day. There have been many, many variants with numerous changes in specification over the years, including a fretless version (ironically, given the origin and intention of the Precision’s name). 5‑string versions, 22‑fret necks, active electronics, multiple pickups, etc. followed.

The original pre‑1957 Precision design has been re-issued by Fender at times over the years, often called the Telecaster Bass to differentiate it from the post‑1957 Precision specification.

The popularity of the Fender Precision Bass grew significantly throughout the 1950s especially with rock & roll and country fraternities, as well as with session musicians. During the 1960s the solid body fretted electric bass guitar became dominant in most modern musical genres. During the early days, there wasn’t a great deal of choice in terms of alternatives to the Precision but that was to change later on.

1977 Fender Precision Fretless Bass

Fender capitalised on their supremacy by introducing the solid body fretted electric Fender Jazz Bass in 1960 (originally called the ‘Deluxe Model’). The svelte Fender Jazz Bass (often now shortened to J‑Bass) was designed to appeal to a different customer base. Like the offset bodied Fender Jazzmaster guitar, it was aimed squarely at the dyed‑in‑the‑wool jazz community. However, like the Jazzmaster, the Jazz Bass’s appeal spread far wider than jazz musicians. Like the Precision, the Jazz Bass has rightly become an iconic industry standard solid body electric bass guitar.

Throughout the years, both the Precision and Jazz Bass have featured sizeable chrome covers over the pickup and the bridge, despite these items limiting playing techniques such as palm muting the strings. As the covers are purely aesthetic, rather than functional components, it is fair to say that the vast majority of musicians removed these covers permanently.

Without doubt, the Fender Precision Bass and its younger sibling the Jazz Bass are icons of contemporary music and remain hugely popular today. Consumers can purchase genuine P‑Bass and J‑Bass models from the budget Fender‑owned offshore‑produced Squier brand, through Mexican and American‑made Fender models, to the high‑end Fender Custom Shop versions. Throughout the decades, the Precision and Jazz Bass models have oft been imitated and/or blatantly copied by other manufacturers, eager to cash in on Fender’s industry‑dominant status.

Understandably, over the years, the Precision and Jazz Bass have become highly collectable, especially the earliest models. The highest vintage market prices undoubtedly belong to the models from 1951 (Precision) and 1960 (Jazz Bass) to 1965, when Leo Fender sold his company to industry giant CBS. Fender equipment from this period is known as ‘pre‑CBS’.

For more information on the Fender Precision and Jazz Bass, just complete any Internet browser search and, alongside a great deal of drivel, there is a massive volume of fact and opinion available, often described in forensic detail.

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

Evolution of the electric bass guitar

It is probably fair to say that, since 1951 and the introduction of the Fender Precision Bass, other brands were in the position of having to play catch up. In particular, Fender’s biggest competitor, Gibson, was wrong‑footed and they have never been able to compete on a level playing field. In 1953, Gibson released the EB‑1, which was a violin‑shaped solid mahogany body bass with a set neck. The EB‑1 didn’t catch on and was replaced by the semi‑acoustic ES‑335‑shaped EB‑2 in 1958, the SG‑shaped Gibson EB‑0 in 1959 and the EB‑3 (made famous by Jack Bruce of Cream) in 1961. While the semi‑acoustic EB‑2 proved popular, its Epiphone‑branded counterpart, the Epiphone Rivoli proved more successful. All these early Gibson basses used a shorter 30½” scale. In 1959, Gibson also released a hollow body EB‑6 6‑string bass.

Possibly Gibson’s best contender for an iconic bass guitar is the Gibson Thunderbird, originally introduced in 1963. The Thunderbird was based on Gibson’s Firebird guitar, designed by legendary American car designer Raymond Dietrich (1894‑1980). The Thunderbird was the first Gibson solid body bass to use the 34” scale made popular by Fender. Like the Firebird, the Thunderbird was redesigned in a simpler ‘non‑reverse’ form for 1966 and the original ‘reverse’ shape wasn’t reissued until the mid‑1970s. During the 1970s, Gibson also released the Ripper and Grabber basses but neither really captured bass players’ imaginations (or their precious dollars!). Later additions like the Gibson Triumph, Victory and RD basses didn’t fare much better as viable competition for Fender’s stalwarts. Epiphone have Thunderbird and EB basses in their line‑up alongside Epiphone‑specific basses such as the Newport and the Embassy.

Over at Danelectro in Neptune, New Jersey, Nathan Daniel launched the world’s first 6‑string bass, the UB‑2 in 1956 comprising a single cutaway semi‑hollow bass with a 30” scale, 24 frets and dual single coil pickups, earning its nickname the ‘Tic Tac bass’. In 1958, Danelectro replaced the UB‑2 with two new 6‑string bass models. The first was the Long Horn 4623 bass with a radical new lyre‑like design 24 frets, and a short 25” scale. The other was the Short Horn 3612 with stubby double cutaways, 29½”scale and only 15 frets. All Danelectro models substantially undercut the retail prices of both Fender and Gibson’s basses. The 6‑string models seemed to attract guitarists rather than bass players to their designs, providing a novel bridge between guitar and bass camps.

It should be noted at this point that older 6‑string basses are generally tuned an octave below a guitar in standard tuning, to E-E, while the baritone guitars that were appearing at the time were tuned either to B‑B or A‑A. On the other hand, modern 5‑string basses simply add a lower B string while modern 6‑string basses tend to add lower B and higher C strings compared to an equivalent 4‑string bass. Confused?

Meanwhile, back in the 1960s, Fender weren’t resting on their laurels. Following the popularity of the ‘student’ Mustang guitar, Fender introduced the short scale Mustang Bass in 1966. The Mustang Bass spawned two later variants, the Bronco Bass (introduced in 1967) and the Musicmaster Bass (introduced in 1971). Fender also released two esoteric ‘bass’ guitars, the Fender Bass V (introduced in 1965), which was the world’s first 5‑string bass guitar and the 6‑string Bass VI (introduced in 1961). The latter was strongly influenced by the Fender Jaguar guitar design. The Bass VI was Fender’s upmarket response to the Danelectro 6‑string bass introduced 5 years earlier. The Bass VI is unique in having 3 pickups, 6 lighter gauge strings, a short 30” scale, a floating bridge and a mechanical vibrato as used on the Jazzmaster/Jaguar guitars, as well as a removable string mute. To compete with the Gibson EB‑2 and Epiphone Rivoli thinline semi‑acoustic basses, Fender introduced the hollow Coronado Bass in 1966.

In addition, the ‘other’ Californian company, Rickenbacker, run by F.C. Hall at the time, also wasn’t going to be left on the side‑lines in the bass department. Rickenbacker had hired Roger Rossmeisl (1927‑1979) who designed the brand’s key guitars and the 4000 series basses. The Rickenbacker 4000 bass with its distinctive cresting wave body outline and thru‑neck construction was launched in 1957. Subsequent models were named 4001, 4002, 4003, 4004, all being variants of the same basic instrument. There isn’t enough space to go into the specification differences here.

Rickenbacker 4001

A decade after Leo Fender left the company that still carries his name today, Music Man was formed in California and released Leo Fender’s vision for the next evolution of his era defining bass guitars. The Music Man Stingray Bass was released in 1976 with a single large bridge humbucker, distinctive 3+1 headstock, innovative on‑board active electronics and an integral string mute. While Music Man’s guitars never caught on at the time, the Stingray Bass has joined Fender and Rickenbacker as an iconic design for many bass musicians. The Stingray Bass was especially popular for funk slap‑style bass technique for the likes of Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson.

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

There are a few other notable basses, such as the German Höfner ‘violin bass’, the 500/1, made famous by Paul McCartney of The Beatles. This model, introduced in 1955, with its carved solid spruce top and humbucking pickups, is often nicknamed the ‘Beatle Bass’. Beyond the Beatles connection, though, the 500/1 remains a relatively minor entry in the bass stakes, while the company’s only other notable entry being the Höfner Club and Verythin basses.

Another oddity to mention at this point is the Swedish Hagström H8, unique for being the world’s first mass‑produced 8‑string bass, with four pairs of strings on a short 30” scale. The H8 was only produced briefly from 1967‑1969.

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s a plethora of other companies jumped on the bandwagon, eager to make the most of the massive increase in demand as rock, pop and other genres proliferated. Many of the basses produced during this time were flagrant facsimiles of the best‑selling American brand models, often by Japanese companies (now termed ‘lawsuit‑era’ copies). Other companies like Warwick in Germany were making their own headway with their successful original‑design Thumb and Streamer basses.

Today (2024), Fender arguably still rules the roost with basses covering all bases (sic!) from budget to elite models. All other brands stand firmly in Fender’s enviable shadow. While Fender may dominate, there are now plenty of alternative options. There are some incredible bass guitars out there, some of which are listed later in this article for those that want to diverge from the predictable industry standard ‘Fender sound’. There are numerous ways to deviate from the common path, with different brands, string/pickup configurations, electronics, scale lengths, body construction, etc. The quality of budget instruments is vastly superior to anything available in the past and provides a strong basis (again, sic!) for players seeking to learn and develop their skills.


The acoustic bass guitar

While the solid body electric bass guitar finally took the world by storm from the 1950s and 1960s, the acoustic bass guitar has proved to be another modern, notable and niche instrument. The first (largely unsuccessful) attempts at acoustic bass guitars began to appear in the 1950s as a logical extension to its electric counterpart.

Historically, one of the earliest acoustic bass‑like instruments was the Mexican guitarrón, which has its roots in the 16th Century and is widely used in Mexican Mariachi bands. While looking similar to a guitar, these huge instruments were either 6‑string or 12‑string acoustic instruments, tuned in A‑D‑G‑C‑E‑A.

In 1972, Ernie Ball introduced the Earthwood acoustic bass guitar, stating that “…if there were electric bass guitars to go with electric guitars then you ought to have acoustic basses to go with acoustic guitars.” A simple yet ‘blindingly obvious’ observation, given the benefit of hindsight. Ernie Ball took a guitarrón, being the nearest thing to an existing acoustic bass guitar, and created a more practical instrument for guitar‑centric American consumers. The Earthwood was relatively short‑lived but the foundation of the acoustic bass guitar was established. American company Washburn took the concept and created more successful instruments that coincided neatly with MTV’s Unplugged concert series (1989‑1999). Interestingly, despite starting it all, Ernie Ball does not have an acoustic bass guitar available to buy at the time of writing.

Acoustic bass guitar construction is essentially similar to the steel‑strung flat top acoustic folk guitar, with a larger hollow wooden body and a longer scale neck. Most acoustic basses have four strings, tuned in the same way as an electric bass, E‑A‑D‑G, an octave below a standard guitar. The majority of acoustic basses have fretted fingerboards, although some are fretless.

Acoustic Bass Guitar

Like many modern day acoustic guitars, many acoustic bass models have pickups to enable them to be amplified for stage use or DI’d for recording purposes. Some instruments are thinline electric semi‑acoustic basses while others are full‑depth electro‑acoustic basses. These are designed primarily as acoustic basses with an on‑board pickup for additional amplification when needed.

Today, there are any number of acoustic bass guitars on the market for every level of player and every price point from many key manufacturers including, amongst others; Martin, Taylor, Guild, Fender, Takamine, Ovation, Tanglewood, Epiphone, Warwick, Epiphone, Washburn, Godin, ESP, Breedlove, Larivée, Framus, Hohner, Ozark, Dean, D’Angelico, Ibanez, Sigma, Alvarez and Cort.


Bass guitar amplification

In the early days of bass guitars, brands released bass amplifiers to accompany their instruments, often sold as a package (see Tutmarc’s Audiovox above, for example). Other brands like Rickenbacker did the same in the early days. The main difference between guitar amps and bass amps is that the latter are tuned specifically to reproduce bass frequencies accurately. A standard 4‑string bass guitar produces low frequencies in the range 41Hz to 100Hz with overtones extending up to 4‑5kHz (not dissimilar to an acoustic double bass in fact).

In terms of sound pressure levels, bass frequencies need more power to be heard by the human ear/brain at the same volume as higher frequencies, so bass amps tend to have higher power ratings than guitar amps. In the past, speakers for bass also tended to be larger with 12”, 15” or even 18” to shift the amount of air needed at lower frequencies. In contrast, guitar speakers tended to be 10”or 12”. Bass speaker cabinets, especially those with multiple speakers, normally had sealed or ported enclosures to increase volume. For all these reasons bass amplifiers and speaker cabinets tend to be different to their guitar equivalents.

Probably the most famous brand associated specifically for its bass amplification is the American company Ampeg, founded in 1946 and now under the ownership of Japanese giant, Yamaha. Ampeg started out attempting to amplify the acoustic double bass in 1949 by using a microphone/pickup in the instrument’s stand. The ‘Amplified Peg’ as it was called was then shortened to ‘Ampeg’ and the rest, as they say, is history. Their most famous range of amps was the 300W Ampeg SVT from 1969 and their bass combo amps, the B‑15 from 1960, as used by the likes of Motown session bass player James Jamerson.

It was no surprise that Fender, the leader in the world of bass guitars from the 1950s should also produce bass amps/cabs. Perhaps the most famous Fender bass amp was the Bassman from 1952 onwards, first introduced as a combo valve amp with a 15” speaker. The most desirable though, was the Dual Rectifier Bassman valve combo with 4×10” speakers. From 1960. Fender also released a ‘piggy back’ amp head and speaker cabinet design to cope with higher power levels and to provide flexibility. From 2000, Fender released a solid state version of the legendary Bassman amp. The original valve Bassman also became beloved by many guitar players for its tone, for instance by the late blues rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV).

Student bass players also needed a bass amp. So Fender introduced the Musicmaster Bass amplifier in 1970, as a companion to the Fender Musicmaster Bass guitar. The Musicmaster Bass combo amp was a very simple affair with one channel, 12W of power, volume and tone controls and a single 12″ Fender speaker. Like the Bassman, it has latterly been enjoying a bit of a revival as a budget vintage amp for guitarists. The Musicmaster Bass amp was discontinued in 1982 after the introduction of the Fender Studio Bass combo and Japanese Fender Sidekick Bass 30. Nowadays, the extensive Fender Rumble series has proved very popular with bass players.

Legendary British amplifier company Marshall was not going to be left behind. Marshall’s first 100‑watt bass head was the JTM 45/100 / JTM 45 Super 100 model. Another, also dating from the second half of the 1960s, is the JMP #1992 Super Bass 100 (100W) and JMP #1986 Bass (50W). Like the Fender Bassman, the Marshall Super Bass 100W also proved popular with guitarists. Bass players were also known to use the Marshall #1963 Super PA (50W) and Marshall #1968 Super PA (100W) amps.

Another legendary British amplifier company, VOX produced bass versions of its AC‑15 and AC‑30 combo amps. These were followed in 1963 by the VOX T‑60 and Foundation amps, the latter promoted by Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.

German acoustic amp company AER also produce a range of bass amps, particularly well‑suited to amplifying acoustic and electro‑acoustic bass guitars.

Bass guitarists turn out to be a little less conservative than their guitarist counterparts, especially when it comes to amplification and speaker cabinets. For instance there are plenty of modern‑day bass amps that use efficient solid state D‑class amplification (a type of amplifier that uses digital switching technology to amplify audio signals efficiently), with very high power ratings – 500W and 600W or more being not uncommon. Bass amps often also make wide use of sophisticated on‑board EQ. Speaker cabinet configurations also tend to be more versatile with reflex ports, horns, tweeters and combining multiple speaker types being common.

There are many other valve, solid state or hybrid bass amplifier manufacturers not mentioned above, including Trace Elliot, Ashdown Engineering, Mesa/Boogie, Peavey, Music Man, Hiwatt, Laney, Sound City, H/H, WEM, Hartke and Orange.


Bass guitar effects

Things have changed a great deal over the decades since 1951. In the early days of the solid body electric bass guitar, most players plugged straight into their amps without much in the way of tone augmentation.

By the 1970s and 1980s bass players had a paucity of effects specially designed for their instruments, so they generally adopted guitar effects with just a few bass‑specific pedals to choose from. Since the industry started to migrate to digital technology from the 1980s onwards, the major effect companies began to produce pedals designed primarily for use with bass guitars. Now, in the 2020s, there is plenty of choice with most of the big players in the effect industry now making bass‑specific effect pedals, including Electro‑Harmonix, MXR, BOSS, Ibanez, Fender, Laney and Ampeg.

In addition, from around the start of the new millennium, a number of manufacturers turned their ideas for integrated multi‑effect units into practical musicians’ tools that became popular for both guitar and bass, including BOSS, VOX, Zoom, Tech 21, Behringer and Valeton.

In 1998, Line 6 introduced a ground‑breaking innovation called the POD, which put many guitar effects, amps and cabinet emulations into a single portable unit. While the little red kidney shaped POD was initially directed at guitarists, the rack mounted Line 6 POD Pro models came in both guitar and bass versions. Since then, Line 6 and other manufacturers now combine guitar and bass amp/effect/cabinet emulations into a single unit. These units are constantly improving and are gradually replacing stage backlines with direct input (DI) into PAs/monitors, as well as into studio desks/DAWs. Along with the POD, Line 6, also now part of Yamaha, is still in the same business with their extensive Helix range.

Alternatives to the Line 6 POD and Helix units include the Axe-Fx III from Fractal Audio, which is a pro‑level amplification/effects processor suitable for both guitar and bass. Meanwhile, Kemper Amps took a slightly different route with their Profiler, which has all‑in‑one effects, amplifier and speaker cabinet profiles designed for both guitar and bass.

Just to finish off, there are numerous boutique effect pedal manufacturers that produce stomp boxes, often to very high degrees of quality, including brands such as Way Huge, TC Electronic, EarthQuaker Devices, Darkglass, Aguilar, Origin Effects, Free The Tone, Providence, Source Audio, Walrus Audio, ZVEX, Mooer Audio, Sansamp, Digitech, Eventide, Strymon, JHS, Keeley and Empress Effects.


Iconic (and other) bass guitars

The next sentence is likely to be highly provocative and intentionally so. While there are innumerable bass guitar models out there from 1951 to the current day, there are probably only four bass guitar models that can truly be called iconic (i.e. something that is widely considered to epitomize an era, culture, community or place). The four key instruments – none of which are based on guitar equivalents – that stand head and shoulders above the rest are:

Truly iconic bass guitars:
Fender Precision Bass (1951‑date)
Fender Jazz Bass (1960‑date)
Rickenbacker 4000 series (1957‑date)
Music Man Stingray Bass (1976‑date)

In addition, below are listed just a very few of the other great electric bass guitars manufactured from 1951 onwards. This is far from a comprehensive list and is intended only to be broadly indicative of the type.

Fender bass guitars:
Fender Bass V
Fender Bass VI
Fender Coronado Bass
Fender Mustang Bass
Fender Musicmaster Bass
Fender Performer
Fender Telecaster Bass
Squier Bronco Bass

Gibson bass guitars:
Gibson EB series
Gibson Thunderbird
Gibson Explorer Bass
Gibson Melody Maker Bass
Gibson Grabber/Ripper/G3
Gibson RD series
Gibson Triumph
Gibson Victory
Gibson 20/20 Bass

Epiphone bass guitars (not including Epiphone versions of Gibson basses):
Epiphone Embassy
Epiphone Newport
Epiphone Rivoli
Epiphone Viola

Other American brand bass guitars:
Alembic Series 1/2
Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite
Ampeg AEB-1
BC Rich Eagle
BC Rich Mockingbird
BC Rich Warlock
Danelectro Longhorn 4623
Danelectro Shorthorn 3612
G&L JB2
G&L L1000/L2000
Gretsch 6071/6072
Gretsch G2220 Junior Jet
Gretsch 5440 Electromatic
Guild B-301/B-302
Guild Starfire
Harmony H22
Harmony H27
Jackson JS
Kramer 450-B/650-B
Kramer DMZ
Lakland Skyline
Music Man Sabre
Music Man Sterling
National Val Pro Model 85
Ovation Magnum
Peavey T-40
Peavey Millennium/Milestone
PRS SE Kestrel/Kingfisher
Schecter Omen
Schecter Stilletto
Silvertone 1440 series
Steinberger Spirit XT
Steinberger Synapse
Supro Pocket
Travis Bean TB2000
Washburn Taurus

European bass guitars:
Burns Sonic
Hagström H8
Höfner Club
Höfner HCT-500/1
Höfner President
Hohner B2
Hohner The Jack
VOX Clubman
VOX Cougar
VOX Phantom 4
VOX Sidewinder
VOX VBW Teardrop Bass
Wal Mk1/Mk2
Warwick Thumb/Streamer/Infinity/Corvette
Warwick Rockbass

Japanese bass guitars:
Other than perhaps the Yamaha BB and TRBX series, and the Ibanez SR and TMB series, Japanese bass guitars do not have the same level of brand/model heritage when compared to those produced by American and European companies. There are, however, many Japanese basses produced by companies such as Ibanez, Tokai, Greco, Jedson, Westone, Teisco, ESP/LTD, Fernandes and Aria.

“Without the Fender bass, there’d be no rock n’ roll or no Motown. The electric guitar had been waiting ’round since 1939 for a nice partner to come along. It became an electric rhythm section, and that changed everything.” – Quincy Jones (1933‑)


Famous bass players

Below are listed seventy of the world’s most famous and influential bass players – alive and departed – including upright double bass and electric solid body bass guitar players. There are, of course, many, many more but this is an indicative list for those interested in exploring some of the music created by these diverse musicians (in alphabetical order):

Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett (Bob Marley & The Wailers)
Walter Becker (Steely Dan)
Andy Bell (Oasis)
Bill Black (Elvis Presley)
Jack Bruce (Cream)
Cliff Burton (Metallica)
Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath)
John Cale (Velvet Underground)
Stanley Clarke (Return To Forever, solo)
Adam Clayton (U2)
Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic)
Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave)
Billy Cox (Jimi Hendrix)
John Deacon (Queen)
Kim Deal (Pixies, Breeders)
Willie Dixon
Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie)
Bernard Edwards (Chic)
John Entwistle (The Who)
Flea (a.k.a. Michael Peter Balzary – Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Bruce Foxton (The Jam)
Simon Gallup (The Cure)
Roger Glover (Deep Purple)
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Larry Graham (Sly & The Family Stone)
Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash)
Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
Dusty Hill (ZZ Top)
Peter Hook (Joy Division, New Order, The Light)
Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple)
Jah Wobble (a.k.a. John Joseph Wardle)
James Jamerson (session musician)
Louis Johnson (The Brothers Johnson)
John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
Carol Kaye (session musician)
Lemmy Kilmister (Hawkwind, Motörhead)
Mark King (Level 42)
Alan Lancaster (Status Quo)
Geddy Lee (Rush)
Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead)
Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel)
Jenny Lee Lindberg (Warpaint)
Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols)
Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings, solo)
Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses)
John McVie (Fleetwood Mac)
Marcus Miller (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Benson)
Charles Mingus
Krist Novoselic (Nirvana)
Pino Palladino (session musician)
Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report)
Guy Pratt (Madonna, David Gilmour)
Suzi Quatro
Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)
Noel Redding (Jimi Hendrix)
Mike Rutherford (Genesis)
Robbie Shakespeare (Sly & Robbie)
Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth)
Gene Simmons (KISS)
Nikki Sixx (a.k.a. Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna Jr. – Mötley Crüe)
Chris Squire (Yes)
Sting (a.k.a. Gordon Sumner – The Police)
Danny Thompson (John Martyn)
Thundercat (a.k.a. Stephen Lee Bruner)
Robert Trujillo (Metallica)
Sid Vicious (a.k.a. Simon John Ritchie – Sex Pistols)
Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)
Tal Wilkenfeld (Jeff Beck, Prince)
Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings)

“The gunk takes the funk” – James Jamerson (1936‑1983)


Bass in the (near) future

It is difficult for, and unfair of, me as a guitarist, to predict any sort of unified future for the bass guitar but I’ll give it a shot.

The traditional conservative brigade will still stick to tried and tested instruments and equipment. Musicians looking for something a bit different will probably want to experiment with the format, for instance number of strings, scale lengths, pickups and electronics. If anything there will be more radical and custom bass guitar designs from up‑market and boutique luthiers that diverge from the traditional archetype set by Fender over 70 years ago. Many additions to the form extend the flexibility of the core instrument, so it may be a case of further evolution, rather than revolution.

Bass amplification will continue to diverge from its simple valve origins and continue to embrace the digital realm, probably dispensing with backline amps/cabs altogether with signals being DI’d into desks/PA/monitors.

While bass players haven’t been particularly well served in the past for bass‑specific effect pedals, I anticipate that bass effects will achieve greater representation, including some out‑there effects not currently available to guitar players.

Bass guitar players have struggled to compete, with synthesisers dominating the world of modern electronica, dance and popular music. At least, for now (thankfully), the bass guitar remains essential to most guitar‑based music in a sort of symbiotic, co‑dependent relationship. As long as guitars keep going, so will bass, and vice versa. Bass players, being ever inventive individuals, will adapt and cultivate new ways to keep the instrument relevant, current and in the limelight for decades to come.

Technique‑wise, there will continue to be the traditional approaches towards walking bass lines, typically using the fundamental root/fifth styles that has been the general mainstay of modern music for decades. In contrast, there will be many more amazing virtuoso bass players who see the versatility and potential of the instrument in its own right.

So, other than tangible incremental progress around the margins, there is probably not a whole lot that will change profoundly in the near future. I may be wrong with that last sentence. In many ways, I hope so!

Interestingly, while the upright double bass continues to appear in modern music from time to time, the solid body fretted electric bass hasn’t really made any headway into the clique of conservative classical orchestral music, which still relies heavily on the traditional, some may say archaic, acoustic upright double bass.


Resources

Periodicals dedicated to bass guitar may be the best place to keep up‑to‑date with the technology and equipment associated with the instrument. Publications include Bass Musician Magazine, Bass Player Guitar Magazine, Bass Guitar Magazine, Bass Magazine, Bass Musician and Bass Gear Magazine.

Online resources include Music Radar, TalkBass.com, Basschat and No Treble. There are also many books on bass guitars and bass playing techniques, including the inevitable, ‘Bass Guitar For Dummies’.

As far as purchasing bass guitars, there are the large Internet sites, brick & mortar retailers and the usual online sites, Reverb.com and eBay. For vintage and rare bass guitars, there are outlets purely for basses including (in the UK) Andy Baxter Bass, The Bass Gallery, The Bass Centre, Vintage Bass Room and ClassicandcoolGuitars.


Some final thoughts

I certainly learnt a lot from researching and writing this article. At first sight, there may seem to be quite a bit of relevant information on the Internet. It is only when one starts to dig deeper and attempt to put something together that makes some form of sense that things rapidly become unclear. All of a sudden, much of the available information seems incomplete, contradictory, vague and/or outright erroneous. In the end, it comes down to evidence and corroboration but sorting the wheat from the chaff isn’t always easy. It seems that online information about vintage guitars is far more reliable than that about vintage basses. There are far too many poorly informed people who invent facts and present opinion as truth.

Despite my best attempts to piece things together, I may have fallen foul of the same issues raised above. However, I have tried very hard not to fill in gaps with assumptions and/or fiction. While I endeavour to be thorough and rigorous, my approach isn’t academic and I don’t have the time, funds or energy to provide the last word in scholarly fact. The contents herein should therefore probably not be relied upon too heavily. This article should, for that reason alone, be regarded as my best intention to balance fact with entertainment.

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama – c.480‑400BCE)

This is just the sort of article that would benefit greatly from images to illustrate and break up the narrative. Sadly as a (broke) not‑for‑profit entity, I cannot afford the costly copyright/royalties charged for the use of relevant images, so I have had to rely on very limited free/public domain resources or my own photographs. I apologise for the thousands of words used to describe what images could do in none. Once again, no AI was used in the research and writing of this tome – only my own hard work.

NB. Apologies to anyone disappointed by the wait for a cheap, clichéd joke at the expense of ‘the bass player’! T’ain’t gonna happen here. Love ‘the bass player’.


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Album of the Month’

Given that this month’s article focuses on the fascinating history of the bass guitar, it seems only fitting to select an album that demonstrates the virtuoso bass playing of one of the greatest bass guitarists of all time, Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987) and his famous modified fretless Fender Jazz Bass.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977) – The seventh and most commercially successful studio album by the American jazz fusion band. ‘Heavy Weather’ was the first album with Pastorius on full‑time bass duties. The smooth jazz funk production of the album, which was released at the peak of the punk rock movement in the US and UK, stood in stark contrast to the otherwise brutal sounds of the late 1970s. Given that it sold in huge numbers (and still does) is testament to the composition and musicianship on display. Initial sales were about 500,000 and total sales to‑date are over 1.06 million. Other Weather Report albums may be ‘better’ according to purists but this is the one I heard first and it has stuck with me over the years.

Weather Report – Heavy Weather (1977)

To me, this album hit me right between the eyes about what virtuoso bass playing can be like. There are many, many other artists and albums that could arguably take the acclaim, for instance Stanley Clarke’s successful solo album, ‘School Days’ (1976), but on this occasion, the late, great Jaco (& co.) takes the accolade, such as it is.

“I’m the greatest bass player in the world” – Jaco Pastorius (1951‑1987)


Tailpiece

Well, there you go. I think that most of us love a bit of decent low bass in our music. I hope y’all got something out of this fleeting exploration into the defining instruments, artists and music of the lower registers. I think the narrative works well as a complement to the launch of CRAVE Basses at the end of 2023, but that’s just my (obviously biased) opinion.

I hope you feel inclined to come back next month to see what’s currently fermenting in the CRAVE guitars’ secret brewery.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Mundanity is the devourer of lost dreams”

© 2024 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2023 – CRAVE Guitars: Three Years in Review

Prelude

GOOD DAY’S SALUTATIONS and seasonal best wishes to all you good folks out there in music land. Welcome to vintage gear aficionados and greetings to the conclusion of the year, two thousand and twenty three. There is no point in, and no good will come from, re‑hashing the journey over CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus once again, so it is now officially behind us and a thing of the past. Gone. However, there may be merit in looking briefly at what CRAVE Guitars actually got up to behind the scenes during that time. It is the end of the year, so it’s kinda traditional for review anyway, as has been the practice in years past. This review, though, isn’t a single year but three years in retrospect. As it transpires, less has happened in those three years than would normally have occurred in one year prior to 2020’s global meltdown. Perhaps that is just as well. If the previous trend had continued unabated, CRAVE Guitars would have run out of space and funds a long time ago. I guess that there are silver linings at the end of the tunnel after all (I really must stop playing with mixed metaphors! Bad CRAVE!).

Well, there is no point in perpetuating petty procrastination, so let’s proceed with some prosaic pontification (nothing like a bit of CRAVE’s addictive affinity for asinine alliteration, again!). All text and images copyright of CRAVE Guitars. No AI used here.


‘New’ old gear over the past 3 years

The volume of acquisitions may not be great but the choices, I believe aren’t too shabby. I aim for variety and novelty in my quest for something a wee bit different to the norm, at least as far as the guitars are concerned. Here, there are two are from the 1960s, two from the 1970s and one from the 1980s. The effects are slightly more numerous and there is a little bit of gap‑filling going on here but variety is again a factor. Only 3 out of the 11 stomp boxes are ‘Made in USA’. Interesting. Right, here is the short shortlist…

Guitars and basses (5):

1963 Danelectro Pro 1
1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn
1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass
1979 Gibson Explorer E2
1964 National Glenwood 95

Effect pedals (11):

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal (distortion)
1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive
1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear (auto swell)
1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender (fuzz)
1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell
1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 (echo)
1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah
1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector (A‑B switch)
1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II
1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal (distortion)
1989 Marshall The Guv’nor (overdrive/distortion)

Over the last three years, there haven’t been any ‘new’ vintage valve amps. This is mainly due to space restrictions and the responsibility for maintaining these delicate electrical artefacts. They weren’t delicate when originally manufactured, they were built to go on the road and put up with punishment. However, after 60 or 70 years, they tend to get a bit temperamental. A bit like humans in fact. The last amp that joined the family was the fantastic little 1973 Fender Princeton Reverb ‘silverface’. Possibly my favourite amp.

There has been one notable departure from the CRAVE Guitars family. I was looking around for a Gibson Explorer E2 to partner the Gibson Flying V2. However, I couldn’t really justify yet another Explorer. Then, someone contacted me out of the blue enquiring about the black 1984 Gibson Explorer. If there was one guitar that I would let go to trade up, that was the one. It can be really strange how opportunity can present itself as coincidence. Eventually, deals were agreed and one came in while one went out. Serendipity and status quo. Result! I hope the 1984 Explorer is in a happy place.

Let’s take a closer look at the ‘new’ guitars – all of them exhibiting unusual construction and specification, making them exceptionally cool and rare (in my opinion). Right, here is the long shortlist…

1963 Danelectro Pro 1 – I first saw one of these a few years ago and was struck by its utter simplicity and quirky charm. Nothing fancy going on here. It is diminutive, dinky and hyper cute. It is, however not very practical. It has a short scale and upper fret access is awkward and only one pickup will limit it for some. However, it has all the usual Danelectro traits, including the unique construction and that classic lipstick pickup. It is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, that’s a good reason to dig it. It is a genuinely unique instrument and SO cool that it hurts. It’s great fun to play too.

Feature: 1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1963 Danelectro Pro 1

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn – I have long wanted a Fender Jazz Bass. The new CRAVE Basses has allowed me to indulge that luxury. However, this isn’t a Jazz Bass as you know it and definitely not in the long tradition of the J‑Bass. This lovely beast is a Longhorn, only made for five years, this one from the first year of production. The deep cutaways and 22 fret neck make it look, feel, play and sound different from a ‘normal’ Jazz Bass. The Longhorn nickname gained it an altogether humorously crude moniker of the ‘boner’ bass. Now this one lives with me, I actually now prefer the look of this unusual instrument over the one that defined the icon.

Feature: 1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1989 Fender Jazz Bass American Standard Longhorn

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass – Another oddity and one of the ‘lost Fenders’. After the success of the Mustang Bass, Fender went on to release an even simpler budget model. The Musicmaster has the Mustang’s short scale but the pickup is actually a 6‑pole Mustang guitar pickup. The overall design and specification certainly alienated a whole bunch of players but that kind of misses the point. Snobs. Take the bass purely on face value and it’s actually a decent ‘student’ bass with great build quality and that offset body look that is currently very popular. Not one for the traditionalist. Note: Since the feature and photos were published, the original 2‑saddle bridge has been reinstated.

Feature: 1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1978 Fender Musicmaster Bass

1979 Gibson Explorer E2 – Some people hate the Gibson Flying V2 and Explorer E2. I love them because of their unusual multi‑layered construction. As mentioned above, finding an E2 was a mission. Moreover, this one belonged to the lead singer of the band Go West, Peter Cox. Kudos and thanks Peter. I don’t usually go for provenance but in this case, it adds something significant to the guitar’s backstory. It’s the walnut‑faced model (some are maple‑faced) and in wonderful near‑original condition. While it’s not quite as whacky as the admittedly peculiar V2, it has plenty of character and charisma. The Gibson Explorer, I think, remains my overall favourite guitar model.

Feature: 1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1979 Gibson Explorer E2

1964 National Glenwood 95 – Here’s a glorious instrument with another unusual type of construction. The body is moulded fibreglass, what the makers, Valco, called Res‑O‑Glas. I was expecting the material to be thin and plasticky. Instead, it is quite thick and solid. The two halves are screwed together leaving the interior hollow. It is very unique and an awesome entry in vintage guitar history. Not only is it well built, it is visually striking in just about every way. Whatever part you look at or whatever angle it is viewed from, it is a startlingly beautiful creation. Neither is it a case of style over substance, it plays very well and with an inimitable sound. I could go on and on but I’ll let it speak for itself.

Feature: 1964 National Glenwood 95

1962 National Glenwood 95

… and, now moving on to the ‘new’ vintage effect pedals:

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal – A pedal renowned for creating a whole heavy metal sub‑genre thanks to Swedish death metal band Entombed and their debut studio album, ‘Left Hand Path’ (1990). Not many stomp boxes can claim that distinction. It is a monster. This one also comes with its original box and documentation. Very cool.

Feature: 1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1985 BOSS HM-2 Heavy Metal

1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive – Considered by many as a classic in the BOSS overdrive tradition. The SD‑1 adds a Tone control to the existing BOSS OD‑1 Over Drive to give it more flexibility and to help BOSS compete with other brands’ overdrive pedals. The SD‑1 has been seen on pedalboards all over the world for decades, earning it its enviable reputation.

Feature: 1984 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1985 BOSS SD-1 Super Over Drive

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear – This is one of the rarest, most collectable and misunderstood BOSS stomp boxes. The name gives nothing away. It acts a bit like a noise gate in reverse, the filter creating an auto swell effect. It is quite unique. After much experimentation, there is really only one sweet spot so, to be honest, sadly, it is a bit of a one‑trick pony, albeit an exclusive one.

Feature: 1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1979 BOSS SG-1 Slow Gear

1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender – The Supa Tone Bender is basically just a big box version of the original Colorsound fuzz. There is no room in this article to dive into the nerd zone and cover its origins or its similarities/differences to other models. The numerous gear obsessives out there will tell you at great length about all the geeky differences. Basically, it’s a great 1970s fuzz pedal. What more do you need to know?

Feature: 1974 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1975 Colorsound Supa Tone Bender

1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell – Another over‑sized ‘Supa’ version of a standard combination wah‑wah and swell pedal with a footswitch to go from one mode to the other. There’s very little on the inside other than empty space, indicating that the old marketing ploys of ‘more is more’ and ‘bigger is better’ played a part here. 1970s pedalboards weren’t as crowded as they are today, so pedals like this gained bragging rights. I can’t date this one accurately.

Feature: 1970s Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1977 Colorsound Supa Wah-Swell

1970s DOD Analog Delay 680 – Here is a truly wonderful 1970s American echo pedal. It’s not quite up with the benchmark Electro‑Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man but it is still authentic and very musical. I love these old analogue delays. It’s great fun to use and sounds great. It may not be in great cosmetic condition on the outside but few are because they were well used, an indication of what really matters to working musicians.

Feature: 1970s DOD Analog Delay 680

1980 DOD Analog Delay 680

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah – Probably one of the most iconic wah‑wah pedals of all time. This one is a straightforward model from the 1980s. As classic as they come, you know exactly what you are going to get. The model has probably been used by most of the great guitarists at some point during their careers. The pot is a bit scratchy but I can’t bear to replace it, so it’s still original.

Feature: 1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95 Wah

1980s Dunlop Original Cry Baby GCB-95

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector – Strictly this is not an effect, just an A‑B switch. Another ‘no bones’ pedal with nothing much inside the box. It has one input and two outputs (or vice versa if you wish). Not massively useful or flexible but it does what it needs to do in a simple set up. Typical 1970s EHX styling to boot.

Feature: 1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1970s Electro-Harmonix Switch Blade Channel Selector

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II – A pedal in the classic ‘square switch’ ‘0’‑series Ibanez effect pedal series (as is the most desirable TS‑808 Tube Screamer). The CD‑835 (catchy name, that. Not) is a perfectly capable pedalboard compressor. I still prefer the basic MXR Dyna Comp but this one will appeal to others. This one comes with its original box and documentation.

Feature: 1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1981 Ibanez CP-835 Compressor II

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal – Part of Ibanez’s ‘9’‑series, the SM9 is a massively beefed up Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer but without the reputation of the latter, so it is a bit of a dark horse. Much more flexible and with a greater range of sounds available. It is a bit fiddly to recreate just the right tone but it is worth the effort involved in getting it tuned in. How far do you want to go? Pretty colour too.

Feature: 1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1984 Ibanez SM9 Super Metal

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor – Way, way before the current fad of putting a guitar pre‑amp on a pedal board, Marshall basically came up with the idea back in the 1980s. For those wanting classic Marshall tones without a 100W head and two 4×12 cabs stacked as they should be, there is The Guv’nor. For a large box full of transistors, rather than baking hot valves, it does an impressive job. Not necessarily accurate but great distortion on tap nevertheless. This is the original ‘Made in England’ version, complete with its box.

Feature: 1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

1989 Marshall The Guv’nor

There you have it, a brief rundown of 3 years’ collecting cool and rare vintage guitar gear in the background. Not a great deal to show for 36 months in terms of quantity but a nice range of quality. I am completely out of both storage space and funds, so any progress will be slow and steady for a while.


CRAVE Guitars’ website

The superficial sheen of the website hasn’t really changed much at all. However, there are technical changes beneath the surface that will hopefully keep it up‑to‑date and relevant. I’m no techno whizz, so CRAVE Guitars doesn’t appear on the prized ‘first page of Google’. Still, seeing as it is not a commercial enterprise, I’m not overly bothered. Overall viewing figures though have continued to increase year‑on‑year over the last seven years, even through the hiatus, which is a promising sign.

The web site’s beneath‑the‑radar positioning hasn’t stopped all the typical spammers inundating CRAVE’s e‑mail box with the usual promotional BS. It is absolutely clear that they don’t do their research, so every single one them gets summarily blocked and deleted without exception. I do, however, welcome genuine communications via the website, so long as they are sincere.

The biggest ‘news’ on the website is the addition of the all‑new CRAVE Basses pages. The web site originally started out just as CRAVE Guitars almost a decade ago now. Then it expanded to include CRAVE Effects and CRAVE Amps a few years ago, so CRAVE Basses is a logical extension. Even though I’m primarily a guitarist, I like the occasional dabble with the lower frequencies. The new sections of the website include features on CRAVE’s four vintage basses, as well as additions to the galleries.

The two ‘new’ CRAVE Basses covered above join a pair of existing vintage basses that I’ve owned since the 1970s…

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

Feature: 1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1977 Fender Precision Fretless

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Feature: 1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

1978 Music Man Stingray Bass

Before Covid, the number of visitors to the site was steadily increasing and reaching peaks that I could only have dreamt about when I started. During Covid, things slowed dramatically, indicating that people, rightfully, had other things on their minds. This slow‑down was mirrored by consumer’s overall demand in the music equipment industry. Even after Covid, things have been slow. The so‑called cost‑of‑living‑crisis (thanks Putin et al), especially in the UK has hit most people (including me) hard and visits dropped right down to pre‑2020 levels. Other priorities rightly prevailed once again. Despite being generally subdued, visits seem to be gradually increasing again but it is way too early to call it a trend.

I actually have quite a bit more content already written for the site that I will get around to publishing at some point. It’s not super critical but it seems a shame not to use it.


CRAVE Guitars’ (un)social media

I really don’t have the resilience to return to social media to the same level as in the past. However, CRAVE Guitars is posting things irregularly on Musky old X (ex‑Twatter), Facebook and LinkedIn. I can’t respond to messages but I do review them every so often. That will have to do for now. My engagement with social media is not negotiable for now.


CRAVE Guitars’ database

There is not really a great deal to say about this other than I use it to catalogue all of CRAVE’s vintage guitars in some detail. In the case of catastrophe such as fire, flood, theft, cat, etc., at least the information should be safe and sound. A copy is saved in the cloud just in case the laptop goes the same way.

CRAVE Guitars Database

Brand augmentation

No, I’m not getting bigger brands for all you fetishists out there. CRAVE Guitars has been around since 2007. The short name is OK but it isn’t specific enough to identify that vintage guitars are the focus of the ‘brand’. The full name of CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is certainly specific enough although it is a bit of a mouthful when it comes to everyday use. Internet SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) also has some difficulty placing the CRAVE Guitars brand in the vintage guitar category. Type ‘CRAVE guitars’ into a search engine and the site appears straight away. Type in ‘vintage guitars’ and the site may eventually appear plenty of pages down.

So… In addition to the established short and full names used above, I will also be using the name CRAVE Vintage Guitars to help searchers and visitors to get a better understanding of what this strange entity is all about. It is a small but important change. It will take search engines a while to pick up on it but it might help people find the site. Future CRAVE Guitars merchandise is also likely to carry the updated branding as and when needed. As ‘they’ say, it does what it says on the tin (apart from the amps, effects and basses of course. Doh!).


Musical history update

It’s a while since the 14‑part CRAVE Guitars’ series of articles, ‘The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts’, culminated in May 2020. Sadly, we have lost far too many great music people since I published the last of the ‘Facts’ just 2½ years ago.

The inevitability of life is that it ends. RIP great men and women. This list picks up from where that last article on the subject left off. Here are just a few of them.

DayMonthYearMusic Fact
4June2020English bass guitarist, singer and founding member of glam pop/rock band The Sweet, Steve Priest died at the age of 72.
18June2020English singer, songwriter and entertainer, nicknamed ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’ during WWII, Dame Vera Lynn died at the age of 103.
6July2020Italian composer, conductor and musician, who wrote hundreds of cinema and television scores, Ennio Morricone died of complications after breaking a leg in Rome at the age of 91.
13January2021American guitarist with rock band New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain, died after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 69.
17February2021Jamaican vocalist and pioneer of reggae ‘toasting’ U‑Roy (Ewart Beckford) died from complications following surgery in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 78.
2March2021Jamaican singer, songwriter, percussionist and original member of The Wailers alongside Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer died from complications following a stroke in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 73.
28July2021American bass guitarist and long-term member of southern blues/rock band ZZ Top, Dusty Hill died at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 72.
13August2021Celebrated American folk singer, guitarist, and songwriter Nanci Griffith died in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 68.
24August2021English drummer with rock band the Rolling Stones for over five decades, Charlie Watts died in hospital in London at the age of 80.
29August2021Legendary Jamaican reggae and dub producer and recording artist, Lee “Scratch” Perry died of an undisclosed illness in hospital in Lucea, Jamaica at the age of 85.
26September2021English bass guitarist and founding member of pop/rock band Status Quo from 1967-1985, Alan Lancaster died from complications of multiple sclerosis in Sydney, Australia at the age of 72.
8December2021Jamaican bass guitarist and record producer, Robbie Shakespeare, best known as half of the reggae duo Sly & Robbie, died following kidney surgery in Miami, Florida at the age of 68.
10December2021American singer, guitarist and songwriter with TV pop band, the Monkees, Michael Nesmith died from heart failure at his home in Carmel Valley, California at the age of 78.
7January2022Canadian musician, singer, songwriter, and producer for Motown Records, R. Dean Taylor died at his home having contracted COVID‑19 (coronavirus) at the age of 82.
9January2022American jazz and R&B musician, songwriter, producer, and radio personality James Mtume died in South Orange, New Jersey at the age of 76.
12January2022American singer, co-founder and member the Ronettes, nicknamed the ‘bad girl of rock and roll’, Ronnie Spector died from cancer in Danbury, Connecticut at the age of 78.
20January2022American singer and actor Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, died from Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome in Nashville at the age of 74.
19February2022English singer/songwriter, keyboard player and founder of the rock band Procol Harum, Gary Brooker MBE died from cancer at his home in Surrey at the age of 76.
22February2022American singer/songwriter who worked with Isobel Campbell and Queens Of The Stone Age, in addition to a lengthy solo career, Mark Lanegan died at his home in Killarney, Kerry, Ireland at the age of 57.
25March2022American rock drummer of the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins died of heart failure probably caused by a drug overdose in a hotel in Bogota, Colombia at the age of 50.
4April2022American guitarist and member of Motown Records’ in‑house studio band, the Funk Brothers, Joe Messina died from kidney disease in Northville, Michigan at the age of 93.
26April2022German electronic music innovator, producer, composer and former member of krautrock band Tangerine Dream, as well as solo artist, Klaus Schulze died following a long illness at the age of 74.
17May2022Academy Award-winning Greek musician, composer and producer Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis died of heart failure in Paris at the age of 79.
26May2022English keyboard player, DJ and founding member of electronica band Depeche Mode, Andrew Fletcher died of an aortic dissection at his home at the age of 60.
9June2022American singer known for her collaborations with film director David Lynch, Julee Cruise committed suicide in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at the age of 65.
8August2022British Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John died from breast cancer in Santa Ynez Valley, California at the age of 73.
28September2022American rapper Artis Leon Ivey Jr., a.k.a. Coolio died from a heart attack caused by a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California at the age of 59.
4October2022Highly acclaimed American country music singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn died from natural causes in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee at the age of 90.
28October2022American rock ‘n’ roll pianist singer and songwriter, Jerry Lee Lewis died from natural causes in DeSoto County, Mississippi at the age of 87.
10November2022English musician and key member of space rock band Hawkwind, Nik Turner died from unknown causes at the age of 82.
21November2022English guitarist, singer, songwriter and one‑time member of pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, Wilko Johnson died from pancreatic cancer in Southend‑on‑Sea, England at the age of 75.
30November2022English musician, singer and member of Fleetwood Mac, Christine McVie died of Ischemic stroke and metastatic cancer in London, England at the age of 79.
4December2022German musician, composer, member of Ash Ra Tempel and solo artist, Manuel Göttsching died from natural causes in Berlin at the age of 70.
11December2022Acclaimed American composer of film and TV scores, Angelo Badalamenti died from natural causes in Lincoln Park, New Jersey at the age of 85.
18December2022English musician, singer and member of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, Terry Hall died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.
23December2022British musician, rapper, singer, songwriter and DJ, front man of electronic band Faithless, Maxi Jazz (Maxwell Fraser) died from undisclosed causes in London England at the age of 65.
10January2023English virtuoso guitarist and former member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck died from bacterial meningitis in East Sussex, England at the age of 78.
18January2023Legendary American guitarist and singer, member of The Byrds and CSNY, David Crosby died from COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Santa Ynez, California at the age of 81.
28January2023American singer, songwriter and guitarist with alternative rock band Television, Tom Verlaine died from prostate cancer in Manhattan, NYC at the age of 73.
8March2023Legendary American composer, songwriter, producer and pianist, Burt Bacharach died from natural causes in Los Angeles, California at the age of 94,
5March2023American guitarist and founding member of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington died from undisclosed causes in Milton, Georgia, USA, at the age of 71.
12April2023Influential Jamaican dub reggae sound system and record label owner, renowned for his work in London, Jah Shaka died at the age of 75.
1May2023Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist Gordon Lightfoot died from natural causes in Toronto at the age of 84.
24May2023English bass player and member of post‑punk alternative rock band The Smiths, Andy Rourke died from pancreatic cancer in New York City at the age of 59.
25May2023The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, American singer, songwriter and actress Tina Turner died after a long illness in Küsnacht, Switzerland at the age of 83.
6June2023English guitarist, singer and founder of blues/rock band Groundhogs, Tony McPhee died from complications after a fall and a stroke at the age of 79.
20June2023English guitarist with rock group The Pop Group, John Waddington died from undisclosed causes at the age of 63.
21July2023Legendary American jazz and popular music crooner Tony Bennett died from Alzheimer’s disease in New York City at the age of 96.
26July2023American musician, singer, songwriter, and founding member of the Eagles, Randy Meisner died from COPD in Los Angeles, California at the age of 77.
26July2023Irish singer, songwriter and activist Sinéad O’Connor died from unknown causes in London, England at the age of 56.
9August2023Canadian musician and guitarist for Bob Dylan and The Band, Robbie Robertson died from prostate cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 80.
24August2023Renowned English rock guitarist with Whitesnake and UFO, Bernie Marsden died from bacterial meningitis at the age of 72.
27August2023American musician best known for being one half of electronica duo Stars Of The Lid, Brian McBride died from undisclosed causes at the age of 53.
13September2023British singer, songwriter and musician Roger Whittaker died from a stroke in France at the age of 87.
30November2023British‑born Irish singer, songwriter, musician and frontman with Celtic punk rock band the Pogues, Shane MacGowan died from pneumonia and encephalitis in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 65.
5December2023English guitarist and founding member of The Moody Blues and Wings, Denny Laine died from lung disease at the age of 79.

Music industry opinion

A lot has (or rather hasn’t) happened in the music industry over the 3 years since CRAVE Guitars suspended its main activities. First, there was the hangover from global economic recession/depression, then the coronageddon, then the cataclysmic geopolitical conflicts adversely affecting far too many innocent peoples around the globe. At best, the music industry at all levels could only hope to hold its own.

In reality, it has been a tumultuous few years, to say the least. Everyone from equipment manufacturers (including their supply chains), venues, artists, music recording and distribution, publicity and management have been hit hard. Every conceivable facet of the market has been decimated. While I haven’t been able to keep up with events in the industry as I normally would have done, it is clear that things are only now just beginning to get back to 2019 levels.

Who would have predicted three years ago, for instance, that British amp stalwart Marshall would have been acquired by the Swedish digital music company, Zound Industries. A sign of the times, I guess.

Strategically, it has been a nightmare where even the best scenario planning has failed to predict wildly off kilter outcomes. Vintage guitar prices seem to have kept up as the super‑rich collectors are basically unaffected by economic blips that are savage to the rest of us. I know that I am paying more now than I would have done in 2019 for the same thing. While I am not economically motivated and CRAVE Vintage Guitars is a non‑profit enterprise, it is a relief that the 3‑year hiatus hasn’t totally wiped out the value of CRAVE Guitars’ precious artefacts.

It will take a long time for things to settle down and start to grow again. It will be a challenge for everyone involved for some time to come. The last three years haven’t signalled the death throes of the guitar music community. Yet. It has, however been badly wounded, let us hope not mortally so.


The guitar book

A while back, I was contacted out of the blue by a book publisher wanting to use one of CRAVE Guitars’ vintage guitars in their author’s new book on the subject. After a bit of formal toing‑and‑froing, it all went ahead and the book was published earlier this year. I was happy to do this for no commercial gain and the only reward was a shiny copy of the final print version and a credit in the acknowledgement section. While it won’t make CRAVE Guitars famous, I am quite proud of this minor morsel of exposure and recognition.

The book in question is, ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’ by author Ultan Guilfoyle, published by Phaidon Press (ISBN: 978 183866 558 6) (2023).

Link: ‘Guitar: The Shape Of Sound – 100 Iconic Designs’

Phaidon – Guitar The Shape Of Sound (2023)

The vintage guitar that was featured in the book is my lovely 1974 Ovation Breadwinner 1251 (see page 204‑205).

CRAVE Guitars Ovation Breadwinner

The pulp novel

As you may know, I have been writing on and off for some time, going back to the dim dark origins of CRAVE Guitars back in 2007. The main examples of this are the web site features and monthly articles on the CRAVE Guitars website over the last 9‑10 years or so, as well as the usual social media activity.

Very recently, I felt an irresistible urge to write a fiction novel. Its status is currently work‑in‑progress. It will be called, ‘The Distortion Diaries’ (remember, you read it here first). It started out as an amateur musician’s journal but the early content was clichéd, derivative and, frankly, very dull. It also wouldn’t fill a novel. So, I expanded the story to include a broader variety of situations and characters. The result will be, believe this or not, an eroti‑rom‑com with PARENTAL ADVISORY for Explicit Content. Even then, it isn’t at all what you might think or expect. Heck, how it turned out surprised me too! I don’t know if anyone will ever get to read it. It doesn’t matter. It is something creative that I had to do for myself. It isn’t good enough for a publisher to pick up and I have absolutely nil experience of self‑publishing, so it might never see the light of day. I have considered serialising it through the CRAVE Musings (i.e. the monthly blog articles) but I’m not sure the public is ready for some lovey‑dovey smut‑ridden muso pulp on a vintage guitar website though. The novel may end up just an aborted, ill‑advised, folly of an average superego’s gratuitous self‑indulgence. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Parental Advisory Label

Whether anything comes of this probably pointless fictional venture, I have no idea but it’s been addictive and fun to come up with something non‑factual for a change. And, no, it isn’t autobiographical, just in case you were wondering. Nor is it aspirational. Sadly, seeing as the protagonist has a ‘good time’ on the whole. Lucky git.

In truth, I would actually like to try and self‑publish the novel but I have no idea whatsoever about how to go about such an endeavour, so it will probably languish in long‑lasting literary limbo (stop it with the alliteration, already!).


New 2023 albums

As it’s the time of year for lists, here is a breakdown of 2023 album releases acquired during the year. As usual, these aren’t the only albums bought and neither will they be the only 2023 albums over time. Here are this year’s 33 purchases:

100 gecs – 10,000 gecs
Alborosie – Shengen Dub/Embryonic Dub
Caroline Polachek – Desire, I Want To Turn Into You
The Chemical Brothers – For That Beautiful Feeling
Creation Rebel – Hostile Environment
The Cure – Black Sessions: Maison De La Radio Paris 2004 (live broadcast)
Depeche Mode – Memento Mori
Don Letts – Outta Sync
Dub Pistols – Frontline
Everything But The Girl – Fuse
Fred Again.. & Brian Eno – Secret Life
Gentleman’s Dub Club – On A Mission…
Hollie Cook – Happy Hour In Dub
James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities
King Krule – Space Heavy
King Tubby & The Observer All Stars – Dubbing With The Observer
Kurt Vile – Back To Moon Beach
Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Laurel Halo – Atlas
Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
The Murder Capital – Gigi’s Recovery
The Orb – Metallic Spheres In Colour (Feat. David Gilmour)
The Orb – Prism
Orbital – Optical Delusion
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land Of Sleeper
Queens Of The Stone Age – In Times New Roman…
Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
Skindred – Smile
Sleaford Mods – UK GRIM
Slowdive – Everything Is Alive
Steve Hillage – LA Forum 31.1.77 (live)
X‑Press 2 – Thee
Yeule – Softscars

Is there a favourite 2023 album out of that lot? Well, I keep coming back to British alternative/indie shoegaze/dream pop band, Slowdive and ‘Everything Is Alive’ more than once, so that’s a fair choice at the time of writing. The big disappointment was Don Letts’ ‘Outta Sync’. Sadly. It comprises many well-crafted pop songs but very little of what I, and I think many others, hoped for in the way of heavy dub reggae tracks.

An even bigger disappointment for me was what didn’t appear. The Cure had hinted that their first studio album since 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream’, heralded as, ‘Songs Of A Lost World’ would be released in 2022. It was notable by its absence and many enthusiasts were hoping that it would finally see the light of day in 2023. The band tempted fans by playing several of the new tracks during their live concerts during the year. However, still nothing tangible has appeared on record store shelves. Let’s hope Robert Smith & co. get around to letting us hear it in 2024. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for new material. C’mon Bob, don’t keep us waiting any longer.

Note: I haven’t gone back to cover 2020, 2021 and 2022 lists of those year’s album releases, as this article would become just a loooooong list.


Whazzup for CRAVE Guitars in 2024?

Before Covid, I used to include at the end of the ‘review of the year’, a shortlist of vintage guitar gear that I might try to acquire in the subsequent 12‑month period. Rarely were the predictions spot on, or even close. Given CRAVE Guitars’ limited activity, space and funds, there is little point in speculating other than in very broad terms.

While there is always a long list of ‘most wanted’ guitars, it’s unlikely to expand significantly in 2024. I am actually generally relatively content with my lot. For now. I am sure that GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) will strike again at some point.

Having launched CRAVE Basses in 2023, there are only four vintage bass guitars in the ‘collection’ thus far. There are a few I might be interested in looking for and which may improve diversity in this area.

There are no intentions for ‘new’ CRAVE Amps at the moment. But that can change, depending on opportunity.

I am also keeping an eye open for some interesting vintage stomp boxes for CRAVE Effects but it really depends on whether anything crops up at a reasonable market price.

The overall result is that there are no specific ambitions for 2024. Next year’s annual review will probably be very short and very dull! I have learned from past experience that predictions aren’t a good idea. Not only are they over‑ambitious but also they end up way wide of the mark. So, I will take things as they come and await any surprises with great anticipation. That sounds like it might be a bit more fun than reporting on yet another failed plan.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record(s) of the Month’

It seems that this might become a regular feature. I listen to a lot of music (see last month’s article, ‘Music Machinations’ – November 2023). There are some albums that tend to stand out from the rest. There is no rhyme or reason why they do, they just do. Over the last month, I just can’t split two albums, which I’ve been enjoying amongst all the other great material out there. They both come under the general genre category of instrumental ‘stoner rock’ but that downplays their appeal. So, on account of there being SO much great music to discover, I’m going for the plural of ‘Record’ for December 2023. Let’s just call that extra little ‘(s)’ a Christmas/New Year treat for y’all. Enjoy

Eternal Tapestry – Beyond The 4th Door (2011) – First up is this strange thing of beauty. Eternal Tapestry is an American psych rock band based in Portland, Oregon. It may not be regarded by some as their best but it was their first ‘proper’ record label release, after several previous albums. It isn’t heavy. It sounds like a group of friends getting together for a jam session. To get that right is a LOT harder than people think. It is atmospheric, dreamy and so far out of this world that it leaves the sordid real world truly out of sight. Good. laid back, hypnotic, immersive, psychedelic and otherworldly experience.

My Sleeping Karma – Soma (2012) – Not the same as Eternal Tapestry but not too far off either. My Sleeping Karma is a German psych rock band from Aschaffenburg, Bayern and ‘Soma’ is their 4th studio album. The tracks are long, intentionally repetitive and with a gentle groove. It’s not quite an impromptu jam session but it has a distinctive psychedelic undercurrent that can be great for zoning out. I prefer this to other MSK studio albums, as it has a bit more variety within the confines of its moody origins. Emotional krautrock. Who’da thought?

Albums Of The Month – December 2023

Tailpiece

Good riddance to 2023. Funny (not) how I seem destined to repeat that same dreary sentiment every year. Ever hopeful and optimistically deluded, I have to remain confident that 2024 will be a bit better. Any improvement will be eagerly grasped. A new year, new opportunities.

My naïve wish and hope for 2024? Listen up all humans! Stop destroying our planet and stop killing each other. Then put all that wasted money to good use making a peaceful, sustainable civilisation, fare and just for all. A pipe dream, maybe, but one has to dream.

As far as articles for 2024 are concerned, I have a couple of ideas gestating, although nothing firmed up at this stage, Watch this space folks. Tune in, same time, same channel, next month. In the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year. Be good.

Truth, peace, love, and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “The best thing in life is freedom”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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November 2023 – Musical Machinations

Prelude

WELCOME ONCE MORE to CRAVE Guitars’ unhurried cruise through the planet’s turbulent waters this November 2023. While there has been much to protest about in the rapid disintegration of the prevailing ‘world order’ during the 2020s thus far, one has to grasp onto any positive prospects that may present themselves. Arising from the debris and carnage of grinding attrition, the poppies of opportunity are optimistic symbols for hope and prosperity, albeit fleeting. That’s basically all flowery language for carpe diem (from Roman lyric poet, Horace’s work, ‘Odes’ in 23 BCE – literal meaning ‘pluck the day’, commonly interpreted as ‘seize the day’).

“While we speak, envious time will have fled: seize the day, to the least extent possible trusting in the next one.” Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-8 BCE)

I recognise that there has been little in the way of exciting news on CRAVE Guitars core ‘business’ for many reasons outlined in the previous article (October 2023). It has been slow but it hasn’t been a total wipe‑out though and I’ll come back to that on another occasion. Here, I’m focussing purely on recorded music and principally a persistent quest to unearth something a little bit different.

Once again, no AI was used to research or write this article, only the author’s meagre cranial capacity and a bit of old school pre‑AI technology.


Context

The one upside of recent times has been an opportunity to embark on an intentional journey to explore off‑the‑beaten‑track modern music. As in physics, the musical micro‑universe is continuously expanding. The challenge is that the musical catalogue since the 1950s is absolutely massive and, with each passing day, becomes even bigger – far too much to begin with, let alone keep up with. While, on the basis that one’s knowledge is inherently extremely limited, it means that any adventure has plenty of scope for discovery, even if it is only vainly scratching the surface of the iceberg’s tip (there I go mixing metaphors again!).

“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” Greek philosopher Socrates (c.470-399 BCE)

On this particular excursion into the unknown, music discovery means expanding the author’s knowledge and appreciation across many aspects of contemporary music. The exercise is about not only consolidating existing music but also about travelling lands un‑trod for new music, which may mean older music that is new to me as well as recently released music that is new to everyone.

Fortunately, 21st Century explorations are sedate experiences. No longer do we have to fear ‘hic sunt dracones’ in ‘Terra incognita’ (here be dragons in unknown land). Note: The former derives from the Hunt‑Lenox Globe (1504), the latter from Ptolemy’s Geography (c.150).

Over far too many years than I would care to contemplate, I have been buying and listening to music. Nothing unusual about that. For many reasons (space, funds, etc.), music was largely revolved around established genre preferences. Fair enough; isn’t that what it’s all about, buy what you like and don’t bother with everything else? However, such an exercise becomes largely self‑perpetuating and insular. This I was aware of and felt that there was much more to be revealed. Where to start?

During CRAVE Guitars’ 3‑year hiatus (see last month’s article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’), I became fascinated by exposure to ‘new’ music, rather than the habitual repetitive listening to a small repertoire of familiar choons. This is no new epiphany. When much younger, I made a point of listening to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel (1939‑2004) and valued his nonconformist approach towards exciting new bands and their music, especially but not solely during the punk rock era. The late John Peel may not be familiar to readers outside the UK. It was because of John Peel that I bought my very first LP album – ‘Meddle’ by Pink Floyd (1971), after he debuted it in its entirety on his late night radio show.

While so many other things were getting in my way, I consciously elected to spread my musical wings again, mainly because it is something I had wanted to do and it was actually eminently do‑able, especially economically (at first!). I engaged in the hobby of ‘crate digging’ or simply ‘digging’ in the Internet age, i.e. searching anywhere for content, online suppliers and auction sites, charity shops, second hand record shops, brick‑and‑mortar retailers, etc. Buying used albums makes the exercise much more economic, fun and sustainable.

Record Store (credit: Cottonbro Studio)

“Music is an important part of our culture and record stores play a vital part in keeping the power of music alive.” Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Alternative sources include ‘recommendations’ from other music aficionados and using the Shazam app on a smart phone to identify something unfamiliar and interesting that pops up wherever one might be at the time.

One of the first steps was to identify what I had and where there were obvious gaps. I had already created a Microsoft Access database so that I could scrupulously catalogue the albums, EPs and singles in my possession. That soon ran into the application’s upper limit of 2 GB per database, so had to be split into multiple databases. Now that I readily know what I have (little), what I haven’t (massive). It also enabled me to log what I might want (a continuously growing ‘most wanted’ list). The systematic categorisation was reinforced by importing everything I had from source onto Apple iTunes. Between these two key resources, it became relatively straightforward to keep track of things. Then, it was on to, thankfully dragon‑free, pastures new.

My investigations are basically limited to modern contemporary music from the early‑mid 1950s – basically from the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll – to the current day. It also includes going back further into the history of some long‑standing top‑tier genres such as blues, country and jazz that were direct predecessors to, and influences on, everything from rock ‘n’ roll onwards, as well as continuing to evolve in their own right.

There have to be boundaries or I would go insane just collecting for collecting’s sake, which is not only unrealistic but also pointless. American rapper and entrepreneur Dr. Dre once stated that he accumulated 80,000 albums and kept them in storage, before realising just that basic error. I’m sure that somewhere out there is a comprehensive British Library‑esque collection of music releases over the last 100 or so years, catalogued for historical posterity. That would be one heck of a monumental task. My endeavours are, unsurprisingly, much, much more modest.

One has to enjoy, as well as feel that an avocation is worthwhile, or there is no worth in doing it. It is for this reason that I have to exclude classical music. For some reason, classical music leaves me stone cold dead. Always has done. I’ve tried repeatedly to get into it but to no avail. However, in contemporary music, there are styles of modern classical and minimalist music that blend, fuse or crossover into contemporary electronic sensibilities with classical instrumentation that I can grasp but I’m afraid that’s it. The likes of Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Philip Glass, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Walter/Wendy Carlos and Isao Tomita I can engage with, otherwise, meh. I genuinely apologise to classical music fans. I’m sure it’s fabulous n’all but it just doesn’t do anything for me and going down that particular rabbit hole is an experience I don’t want to pursue… so I won’t. My choice.

Here are just a few figures relevant to the 3‑year hiatus to bandy about. During that period, I’ve purchased circa 3,000 albums along with a (large) handful of EPs and the odd single. That equates to around 90 per month (averaging c.3‑ish per day). I dread to think of the gross expense but at least it is little and often, unlike buying vintage guitars. It’s also relatively quick and easy to do, filling those occasional idle moments. The last 3 years has basically doubled the hoard. The ‘most wanted’ (for want of a better term) list hovers around 1,500‑2,000 depending on timing and motivation. The ‘find out more’ about list of artists is, by comparison, relatively short at around 200‑250. The conclusion is that there is plenty of scope for improvement. Additions to the hoard cover about 100 genres with the largest proportions being mainstream ones.

I haven’t ventured into the realms of rare music collection – most albums I have been looking for are relatively available with patience and digging. Indeed, many have been from bargain bins. I can’t justify or afford two expensive artefact hobbies! Neither has this mission been to create any sort of ‘standout albums of the last 75 years’ or so. I don’t think anyone could possibly agree on what that might comprise.

Right, let’s get down to the business at hand; colouring in the sketch of the musical landscape, so to speak.

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”  From ‘Hamlet’ (c.1600) by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564‑1616)


Genre gap‑filling

Like most people, one has favourite genres, so‑so ones, and disliked ones. However, to rule music out just because it belongs to a hitherto underappreciated genre tends to limit one’s exposure to some highly regarded music. As an example, I was never very keen on country music. Then I watched an 8‑part documentary called, unsurprisingly, ‘Country Music’ which first aired on American TV channel PBS in 2019. I was struck by a whole bunch of music that I was completely unaware of and had summarily discounted out‑of‑hand because of what it was labelled. I was fascinated by the documentary and what it portrayed. PBS also produced another documentary series called ‘Jazz’ from 2001 that opened my eyes to what that genre also had to offer. Both PBS series were directed by Ken Burns. Actually, finding out more about the cultural history that surrounded the genres provided a context that enhanced the experience of the music greatly. This observation reinforces the (perhaps) blindingly obvious fact that societal change and musical development are both interdependent and co‑dependent. Having fired my imagination, I extrapolated the concept to other genres as well. Sometimes, ‘various artists’ genre compilations can provide a suitable entrée to a musical world less wandered.

Are there any contemporary genres that are considered out of bounds? On the whole, other than aforementioned classical, generally no. I am up for pretty much anything, while still retaining my core preferences, which include reggae/dub, IDM/EDM, ambient electronica, downtempo/chillout, dreampunk/vaporwave, indie, alternative, heavy metal, gothic, dream pop, drone, rap/hip‑hop, shoegaze, grunge, punk, garage, funk/disco, deep house, blues, rock and neo‑psychedelia. That’s a pretty broad spectrum.

My two recent articles on ‘Dub Reggae Revelation’ and ‘Adventures in Ambient’ (August and September 2023 respectively) I think adequately demonstrate the potential of genre gap‑filling. That was just breaking down two genres.

One ‘genre’ that sits outside the normal categories is the Original Soundtrack (OST). Film and TV soundtracks tend to fall into two types, one camp compiles existing music brought together to accompany what happens on screen, while the other camp employs music composed (scored) specifically for the medium. Both camps can be helpful when discovering new music.

“I’m a big collector of vinyl – I have a record room in my house – and I’ve always had a huge soundtrack album collection.” Quentin Tarantino (1963‑)

There are only so many genres (my database lists over 140 of them!) but when you consider the bewildering multiplicity of sub‑genres and micro‑genres within the umbrella of, say, heavy metal, dance or electronica, there seems no end to what can be achieved. One great thing about music is that there is always something out there somewhere to match one’s prevailing mood. Genre gap‑filling actively opens doorways into finding a whole raft of ‘new’ artists, and the next task of filling in some of the blanks was added to the ‘to‑do’ list. One simple example was a brief dalliance with Cajun and zydeco music. These originated from the 20th Century intermixing of French Canadian Acadian immigrants, native American peoples, African slaves, and freemen in Louisiana in the deep south of the USA. Fascinating. And, thus, the search goes on.


Artist gap‑filling

There were, as you might expect, quite a few artists already covered, while there were many more that I knew about or was curious enough about to complement existing artists with ones that I hadn’t previously coveted. Some of these artists work could best be exposed by buying ‘best of’ or compilation albums, especially when I wasn’t prepared to go all out and get multiple original albums. This worked well for some artists that I wasn’t overly keen on. The relative randomness of the ‘digging’ process led to many new artist discoveries, simply through browsing and taking a gamble on something that looked intriguing. ‘Digging’ is easier in brick‑and‑mortar shops than online. Although the latter works, it is definitely much less enjoyable. We need to support our mainstream and independent record shops or they will be lost forever (as in the case of Virgin Megastores, Tower Records and many others). We almost lost the HMV chain in the UK, which would have been disastrous for high street music retail. Artist gap‑filling is a never ending expedition with untold treasures to be uncovered beyond the famous big names. Along with the household headliners, there is a multitude of lesser and unknown artists producing some fantastic music. An open mind unlocks entire vistas begging to be perused.

I soon realised that my personal favourite artists are actually few and far between, many of which have had long, consistent careers. During any artist’s long‑term output, there would inevitably be good, average and poor albums. Picking out the wheat from the chaff became an integral part of my newfound preoccupation.

Surprisingly, there are some very famous artists that simply do not resonate with me, including (believe it or not) respected giants like The Beatles and The Who. Yup. Heretical I know. I have tried over and over to get into them but without success.

There are many lesser known artists that I really like at the moment and only time will tell whether they create any sort of lasting legacy. I came across many great artists that I hadn’t even heard of, many with surprisingly extensive back catalogues. They are all out there, just waiting to be found. I realised that artist gap‑filling was the simplest way to stretch one’s listening goal posts. And, thus, the search goes on.

“For me, to turn people on to new music, on to things that are going on in the world, is important.” Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe (1958‑)


Release gap-filling

One logical method was to fill obvious gaps in some of the existing artists’ back catalogues or the solo careers by members of established bands. I would have some releases but not others, generally through an essentially arbitrary process, rather than any sort of systematic approach. Some additions were credible releases, while with others, there turned out to be an obvious reason why they weren’t there in the first place. Oops. Other avenues to explore in addition to studio albums include live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, dubs, remixes and various artist DJ mixes. This process wasn’t intended to be comprehensive – some releases simply weren’t/aren’t available, some have been long discontinued while others were obviously a waste of space anyway. Some albums were originally on limited release and have subsequently become rare and valuable. I know that there are plenty of collectors out there prepared to pay vast sums for some of these one‑offs. I’m not in that game and can’t afford to be. There are still plenty of missing pieces but broadly speaking the main bases have (possibly) been covered.

It would be all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘completism’, i.e. getting absolutely everything released by an artist. Given how prolific some artists are, completism would be a venture all unto itself. Frank Zappa has released over 50 studio albums, Brian Eno over 65, Johnny Cash over 75, Lee Perry over 80, Tangerine Dream over 100, and Willie Nelson over 130, not including live albums, EPs, singles, compilations, videos and bootlegs. From now on, release gap‑filling will be a case of diminishing returns, as the gaps decrease along with the overall quality of content.

One notable trend during the coronavirus pandemic was a proliferation of live music releases. Artists couldn’t get out on tour and many couldn’t access recording studios, so record labels scoured existing unreleased resources as a pragmatic stop gap during the lockdowns. Some of these live concert recordings are OK and many would normally be regarded as superfluous under ordinary circumstances. However, when needs must. One silver lining to arise out of the so‑called ‘Chinese Virus’ plague has been the rate and quality of subsequent studio releases once the ‘new normal’ was established. And, thus, the search goes on.

“I look forward to the future – and going into the studio to make new music.” Diana Ross (1944‑)


Record label gap‑filling

Some collectors also go for label gap‑filling but that’s a step too far for me, although there are some great independent labels worth giving a shout out to, such as Ninja Tune, Italians Do It Better, PIAS, Sub‑Pop, XL‑Recording, Jamaican Recordings, 4AD, Bella Union, Pressure Sounds, On‑U Sound, Ariwa Sounds and Hyperdub Records. Beyond the major corporations, there are thousands of record labels out there, so chasing artists and releases starting with a record label is neither quick nor easy. If it wasn’t for the small independent labels, though, we would be subject to commercially driven mainstream mediocrity. However, the method of looking at artists belonging to a certain label can prove promising for finding ‘new’ artists, which can then lead directly onto gap‑filling of their previous works.

“John Peel made his reputation with his radio show and his record label, Dandelion, by championing the underdog.” Jimmy Page (1944‑)


Musical discovery

There is much to be said for and against ‘taking a punt’ on something with which one is unfamiliar. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but there is always some sense of eager anticipation involved in lucky dips. This intentionally random exercise can lead onto other artists, and so on, basically ad infinitum. Due to the finite number of listening hours in any given day, week, month, year, this means that some music can only be listened to once or twice, while others warrant repeated auditions. Buying one‑off listens is not really very productive but it happens. One day, they can be re‑used by going to someone who might appreciate them more than I do. Often, genuine appreciation or enjoyment can only be gained by listening multiple times, especially with more experimental, leftfield or avant‑garde music.

“What motivates us is always new music.” Nuno Bettencourt (1966‑)

While physical media has been a main source of content for at least the last 40 years, this is rapidly changing. According to Spotify in 2021, over 60,000 tracks are uploaded to their platform every day. One, perhaps, might wonder about the depth of quality behind such figures. I know I do but then again, I’m a sceptic. There is no shortage of music to discover and no hope of listening to even a tiny fraction of it all. Spotify is also the platform that boasts the most effective method of curated music discovery. Even so, there is still a lot of inherent chance to finding something that will stay with you over the years. One might think that genuinely new discoveries would be infrequent, especially as time goes on. Far from it in practice.

Just one example, I recently came across late Canadian composer, Mort Garson (1924‑2008), renowned for his album, ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’ (1976), tag lined, ‘warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them’. When looking more into him and his music, I felt that, somehow, I should have been more aware of him before now. There is plenty of info on him on the hinterwebby thingummy but our meandering paths had not crossed before now. This sort of experience, which many readers who are familiar with Garson will probably snicker at my evident naivety. Such experiences are annoyingly common.

“I actually spend as much time listening to new music as to old. Probably more. I just try to get something out of it all.” Mark Knopfler (1949‑)

So, after all that preparatory exposition, you might well be wondering, just who the heck has been ‘discovered’? Here are just a few artists that I came across during the last 3 years. Some of which readers may know, some not. I might, though, challenge anyone to tick them all off so as to expose, pour scorn and ridicule my raw ignorance for what it is, sheer witlessness. Time to position the currency where my oral cavity is (lol!). The following list covers any genre and is in alphabetical‑ish order (Note: These are indicative only and should not be regarded as recommendations)…

*Shels, 100 Gecs, 2814, 9 Lazy 9, A.M.P. Studio, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Agnes Obel, AK/DK, Aggrolites, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Album Leaf, Arms And Sleepers, Atoms For Peace, Autechre, Be, Benis Cletin, Bent, Big Thief, Blue In Tokio, The Burning Of Rome, Burnt Friedman, Cave In, Chezidek, Clark, Cloud Control, Craven Faults, Creation Rebel, Deadbeat, Deptford Goth, Desire, Devics, Dirty Loops, Divination, Dubkasm, Dynamic Syncopation, Ekoplekz, Ethel Cain, Fink, Flanger, Fragile State, Gallows, George Faith, Girls In Synthesis, Glass Candy, Goblin Cock, Helium, Hint, How To Dress Well, Hybrid, I. Benjahman, The Irresistible Force, Ital Tek, King Creosote, Konx‑Om‑Pax, Labradford, Laurel Halo, Lemonade, Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza, Loop Guru, LoveTrio, Machinedrum, Male Bonding, Man With No Name, Martyn, Midnight Juggernauts, My Sleeping Karma, ott, Plastikman, PreCog, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Psychonauts, Pure Bathing Culture, Purity Ring, The Qemists, Rakoon, Red House Painters, Rhombus, RJD2, Romare, Scrapper Blackwell, SkyTwoHigh, Sleep Token, The Slew, Sentre, Some Girls, Sparklehorse, StarOfAsh, Steve Roach, Suckle, Sunda Arc, Sundara Karma, Sunmonx, Swayzak, Symmetry, The Syncope Threshold, T e l e p a t h, Temu, Trembling Blue Stars, The Vacant Lots, Vessels, Wooden Shjips, Yellowcard and Yppah.

… plus many, many, many more. Phew! Some amazing, some good, some interesting, a few less so, etc. One may wonder how many of these artists – regardless of how ‘good’ they are – may attain the superstar status of, say, another Rolling Stones or The Beatles from the ‘good old days’. Not many, I’ll wager. And, thus, the search goes on.

“The times, they are a‑changin’” Bob Dylan (1941‑).

Live Music

Physical media

From the beginning of recording and playback in 1877 (although there were earlier experiments dating back to 1857), with Thomas Edison’s phonogram, first through wax cylinders and then shellac discs, followed by vinyl discs with the advent of the gramophone, people have been collecting music. For decades, vinyl was really the only practical medium for collectors. Collecting became more popular by the late 1970s with magazines dedicated to the hobby and suggesting values for some rarer releases. Magnetic recording technology added to, rather than replaced, vinyl and became popular with reel‑to‑reel, eight track (remember that?) and audio cassettes.

Portable music was made possible for the masses by the Sony Walkman (TPS‑L2), introduced in 1979, using the then‑ubiquitous analogue compact cassette. Perhaps the most significant portent for the demise of physical media was the introduction of the Apple iPod way back in 2001, sadly now no longer made, which led into the convenient access to music on the go, now with today’s smart phones.

Digital music, mainly through the introduction of digital music Compact Discs (CDs) in 1982 led to a revolution in collecting. CD sales peaked in 2000 at over 2.5 billion worldwide accounting for 91% of the market. By 2020 sales had fallen 95% and accounted for only 5% of global sales. However, CD sales increased again in 2021, although it is too early to predict a revival. The introduction of downloads and streaming has significantly impacted CD sales, precipitating a dramatic decline in physical album sales, as more and more consumers switched to digital streaming services.

Some alternative digital formats arrived in the wake of CD but didn’t survive for long, including Sony’s Mini Disc and DAT (Digital Audio Tape), as well as Philips’ DCC (Digital Compact Cassette). HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) and SACD (Super Audio CD) were promising but ultimately failed to supersede CD.

By the 1990s, I had disposed of my collection of then‑seemingly redundant vinyl LPs and singles (and my turntable) and embarked on collecting CDs, starting off with replacing what I had on vinyl and then adding new content over time. Ditching vinyl was something I might have regretted, but don’t. Vinyl represents nostalgia to me and I’m not going back. It is neither practical, desirable nor possible to embark on such a regressive approach now. At the time of writing, my music hoard of CDs comprises well over 6,000 releases by over 2,500 artists. This conglomeration has recently been organised into over 50 crates packed to the gills with the little silver discs. That equates to around 85,000 tracks on iTunes and counting. I don’t know whether this is a lot or not, with all things being relative. Currently, CD remains my main medium of choice. I predict that CDs will not become totally extinct and will experience a resurgance at some point.

The advent of CD was a catalyst to the long‑running analogue versus digital debate. For what it’s worth, my view is the debate is not about encoding, it’s about something far more subjective. Vinyl reproduction flatters music in a way that digital doesn’t and that appeals to us. Digital is technically superior but not as warm and cuddly as vinyl. Simples. Fans of analogue still swear that digital is a poor representation of real music. Fans of digital swear that analogue (and even digital CD) is outmoded and obsolete. That’s a lot of swearing. Streaming has added further fuel for opposing viewpoints with the compressed versus lossless argument. The truth is, does it really matter? As long as we enjoy the music, that’s what counts, isn’t it? Focus on the content, not the carrier. If we have a preference, make the most of it. I do think that the audiophile press is somewhat hypocritical in only going along with the latest tech after having criticised it before it became commercially established. That way, we all keep buying new kit. That is a personal opinion. Ain’t hindsight great?

“The digital world is so convenient and nice, but just playing back a vinyl record is a much warmer, hotter, more present feeling.” Steve Miller (1943‑)

Physical Media (credit: Andre-Moura)

Music streaming

A brief recap of developments may be in order, so a short diversion first. Let us rush past the short‑lived phenomenon of downloads, which have largely been superseded by streaming (which includes off‑line listening). The storage problem associated with physical media has led to the next revolution in listening, which is to dispense with physical media altogether and access music on remote servers held in huge data centres somewhere. This marks a watershed where the listener no longer owns a tangible product but only purchases the right to listen to it. You cannot easily donate tracks to charity or sell purchased music on to other people. Mixtapes? A thing of the past. How unromantic. All this is, to me, a major drawback. I like having something tangible that I can pick up, look at, read the liner notes, view the artwork and so on. Somehow, the old‑school ownership of a physical item is something I value. Streaming just seems like an ephemeral audition of someone else’s music, rather than something personal, bestowed by genuine ownership. Is this simply a transitional symptom? Probably, maybe.

Although streaming was introduced in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until the launch of Napster in 1999, using the new compressed MP3 digital format and exploiting new Internet‑based Broadband services, that downloads and streaming became widely popular. The licensed subscription music service Spotify was launched in 2008, rising from the ashes of the flirtatious fleeting dalliance with illegal downloads. Once again, the industry ‘big boys’ have found a way to re‑assert their dominance over us. Digital streaming now accounts for more than 80% of global music industry revenues.

The Internet and the major music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, etc.) have facilitated exploratory listening greatly while, at the same time, enabling artists to gain exposure in a way that they couldn’t previously through the traditional studio/record label system. Streaming generally can be on demand, through curated playlists or via Internet radio stations. All are valuable resources for the curious listener. The streaming platforms often state that they have 100,000,000 (100m) or more tracks available to customers. In practice, this is both a mind‑boggling and meaningless figure. There is such a thing as too much choice. It also gives some sense of scale, although it may call into question the balance between volume and quality. Suddenly, my meagre 85,000 tracks seems somewhat miniscule in comparison. I do, however, find it a sign of progress when more than 50 crates of CDs can be stored on an SSD (Solid State Disc) that’s less than half the size of a cigarette packet (remember those too?).

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” John Cage (1912‑1992)

Another problem exposed by streaming is that there is now plenty of material that is not distributed or sold on physical media at all and is only available via the Internet. Streaming‑only releases are essentially simpler and cheaper than managing traditional physical distribution channels. It also pushes new customers towards expensive streaming subscriptions whereby they earn money whether they are used or not. Talk about milking a cash cow! This online‑only approach affects some genres more than others but it means that, in order to continue with this ambitious side project of mine, streaming has become a necessary additional resource. In effect, physical and virtual music has to co‑exist; being an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ approach. For info, after much deliberation, CRAVE Guitars subscribes to Apple Music.

Some streaming services provide high definition listening, such as Tidal, and they charge a premium for it. Others, such as Spotify are content to go for volume at low definition. The lesson to take from this is that streaming services are not all alike despite peddling similar wares to punters.

“You pays your money and take your choice” A British lexicographic irregular that first appeared in print in Punch magazine in 1846

Does streamed high definition music (i.e. better than CD quality) make a difference to most listeners? Big question. Well, apparently, not really. The evidence suggests that most average (i.e. non‑industry) people cannot tell the difference in blind listening tests conducted under ‘normal’ conditions. Trained listeners can, allegedly, differentiate formats but “If there’s any discernible difference, it’s so subtle and so slight, you’d have to be somebody who’s been in the business for decades like me to hear it.” (recording and mixing engineer, Prince Charles Alexander, Berklee Online study, 2019). A case of fidelity vs artistry vs money, always good for an argument. Why on Earth spoil music listening by teaching people to identify comparative digital encoding anomalies when they are so small as to be meaningless? Spotify’s strategic positioning seems to agree, while Tidal doesn’t. People who go down the high definition route are, perhaps, hedging their bets. If they have the best, it doesn’t matter whether they can hear a difference or not. No doubt there is some audiophile snobbery lurking in there too. For the sake of throwing my two penny worth into the ring, I can neither tell the difference nor can I be bothered to waste my time trying to spoil the enjoyment that music brings by attempting to do so. Time for some good ol’ fashioned snake oil to leech the contents from your bank account?

Does streaming stop me ‘digging’ for used CDs? NO. Does it stop me buying new CDs? NO. Does it encourage me to buy more CDs? Actually, YES. I still prefer to purchase and store music on CD, while recognising the inevitability of embracing the dark side of streaming culture. On the basis that vinyl and cassette have seen a popular resurgence, CD is not going away anytime soon. In practice, and probably being totally hypocritical in doing so, I tend to rip music from CD on iTunes and then stream (or rather cast) it to my music system. I know that this practice probably makes little sense but, for me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the physical media and the convenience of digital storage. Which leads neatly onto…


CRAVE Guitars’ ‘music room’

If you read my October 2023 article, ‘Return to and from Obscurity’, you will know of the sad loss of ‘mi media naranja’ (my better half) due to the vile and relentless ravages of cancer. Initially crestfallen, once accepting the loss, I set about repurposing the small ‘dining room’ which had been my wife’s bedroom into a dedicated ‘music room’, used for noodling on vintage guitars and listening to recorded music. NO TV or clock allowed! Having previously lost our home and the vast majority of our belongings (another story altogether!), I had to rebuild a hi‑fi from scratch which, in itself, was quite an exciting experience, along with uniquely decorating the room to provide a suitable listening/playing environment. It took a year of painful sacrifices involving the sale of some beloved A/V gear (I’m also a film & TV buff) to raise funds and some lengthy (re)searching for used ‘bargains’. I fully acknowledge that this indulgence seems an excess of a luxury, given everything else but other things had to be compromised to enable it. My choice.

The ‘music room’ is used every day for music listening. For those who are interested in the techy side of things, the main hi‑fi system comprises:

  • Naim Uniti Core music server with 2TB SSD storage
  • Naim ND5 XS2 music streamer
  • Naim CD5 Si CD player
  • Bryston BP17 pre-amplifier
  • Bryston 4BSST power amplifier
  • PMC Twenty.24 floor standing speakers
CRAVE Guitars Music Room

While this is neither a high‑end system nor a budget system, it has been carefully selected to meet the need for critical and enjoyable listening of both physical and streamed music (and within budget). My 500 or so most preferred CDs are immediately to hand in the room, as well as being stored in lossless digital form on the music server, thereby also making them available throughout the house via Wi-Fi (in due course). It’s certainly more than good enough for my tired, aging ears. Being pragmatic, the electronics are, after all, only a means to an end, which is to stimulate an emotional response through music.

At this point, you may be wondering whether I actually listen to all that music. Fair question. Well, yes, is the answer. There wouldn’t be much point in writing about it if I didn’t experience the results of my labours. While I try very hard, there may be the odd track here or there that gets shunted down a listening list but I would hope that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Heck, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

“Don’t tell me baby you gotta go, I got the hifi high and the lights down low” from, ‘I Need Your Love Tonight‘ (1959) by Elvis Presley (1935‑1977)


Personal top 20 ‘desert island’ albums

Depending on mood, I do go back to long‑term favourites, simply for the comfort and familiarity of a ‘known quantity’. Like chatting with an old friend. At the outset, I said this wasn’t about compiling any sort of ‘best albums of the last 75 years’. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some albums for which I hold a special affection and which have been part of the hoard for many years (so not ‘new’). Here are 20 of them, all pretty well known mainstream releases, and which I feel have stood the test of time. Regular readers will see no surprises here. This is very much a personal list, chosen at the time of writing – it would undoubtedly be different on different days/weeks/months. Some entries hold special meaning and are therefore highly evocative.

I call this my ‘desert island’ security list. That is, if I could only have 20 albums as a castaway, what would they be? Perhaps, more accurately, it could also be called ‘top 20 memories’ or ’20 comfort classics’. Now how’s all that for wistful nostalgia? For what it’s worth, here is today’s list:

  1. The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)
  4. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971)
  5. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
  6. Steve Hillage – L (1976)
  7. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980)
  8. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1977)
  9. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
  10. Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  11. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! (live) (1975)
  12. Deep Purple – Made In Japan (live) (1972)
  13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (2013)
  14. Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
  15. Massive Attack – 100th Window (2003)
  16. David Bowie – Let’s Dance (1983)
  17. Burial – Untrue (2007)
  18. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975)
  19. John Lee Hooker – Boom Boom (1993)
  20. Beck – Sea Change (2002)

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


The future

OK, that’s the past, so now let’s take a brief, casual look at what may happen into the near future. While vinyl is doing remarkably well and CD is showing possible signs of life, it is clear that streaming is the future until something better comes along. It is certainly in the interests of the music industry to retain tight control over their valuable assets, although many artists say that the practice is detrimental to their income. However, this actually means little to the consumer. Better returns for the companies and artists simply mean higher prices for the public who have no say in the matter. The reality is that the few rich get much richer and the many poor get much poorer; sadly the dysfunctional norm of the modern capitalist world.

The commercial interests of multinational companies like Sony BMG, Universal, EMI and Warner Brothers rule their respective roosts. Interestingly, the major corporations don’t own the streaming companies, unlike in the parallel dimension of film and TV where the studios control all levels of vertical integration.

Mega‑artists with mega‑egos to match like Taylor Swift, Madonna, Adele, Jay‑Z/Beyoncé, U2, KISS, Dr. Dre, Timberlake and Ed Sheeran, along with many other big names in the lofty reaches of the higher socioeconomic hierarchy are laughing hysterically all the way to their already mega‑well‑stocked tax‑free offshore bank accounts. The industry ‘big four’ major record labels and powerful business artists together make up a resilient ‘pyramid of power’, that will continue to dominate the economics of the music biz for many years to come. Sadly, your ordinary talented hard working musicians don’t attract such filthy lucre. When push comes to shove, it’s all about the money. T’was ever thus, or more accurately…

“Oh! Ever thus from childhood’s hour” from the poem, ‘The Fire Worshippers’ (1817) by Irish writer and poet, Thomas Moore (1779‑1852)

Perhaps more worrying for creative artists and for many music enthusiasts is that the focus is clearly moving away from coherent album releases and more towards the production of single tracks out of context of other material by the same artist. By that statement, I don’t mean a rejuvenation of chart singles, which have long ceased to mean anything. The evidence shows that people are streaming individual songs, rather than a collection of tracks that would historically have made up a cohesive LP. Just look at the streaming stats of albums on any digital online platform and the predominance of maybe one or two tracks over the rest is unmistakeable. There is a feedback loop that encourages artists to change the way they make music and which goes on to influence curated playlists, radio coverage and, ultimately, sales, then repeat. The modern equivalent of the old‑fashioned radio playlist.

In 2016, it was reported that album releases were plummeting while EPs and single tracks were skyrocketing. Will we ever see (or, rather, hear) any more all‑time classic albums like ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Rumours’ or ‘Thriller’? Only time will tell. Will the way that music is created, distributed and accessed mark the death knell of the ‘album’ as we know it? Highly likely, but not just yet. The album may, like many things, see a revival. We’ll just have to wait and see (if we live long enough). Personally, I grew up with the antiquated concept of the album or LP, so it retains a certain sensibility but, then again, I am destined for premature oblivion myself, so what the heck do I know?

The topical buzz around Artificial Intelligence (AI) will inevitably play its part in music creation with virtual artists and AI composed tracks. It’s already here and can only evolve from here on. AI isn’t new, its roots go back to 1956 and the American Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. AI generative music goes back to the mid‑1990s. Is AI a threat? The jury is currently out. Thankfully, if AI is used for music, literature and art, it won’t be used to annihilate mankind (except, perhaps, through technological mediocrity). The ultimate demise of humans is up to humans, directly or indirectly, at least for now. Who needs doomsday generative AI when we all have to endure the antics of egregious corrupt despots like Putin, Xi, Kim and too many others of their insane immoral ilk? Don’t you just love mankind’s determined destiny of denial and doom? I digress (again).

“If we don’t end the war, war will end us.” H.G. Wells (1866‑1946)

One certainty is that music will survive in its manifold forms. One hopes that tired and clichéd genres like the current vapid world of commercial pop and dance music since the new millennium will rejuvenate into something more interesting at some point. Conversely, let us also hope that the more dynamic genres don’t descend to the deplorable depths of hideous homogeneity.

Musicians will proliferate. Music will proliferate. The way we access music will change. Whatever happens, change is inevitable and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves and how we adapt. Music as an essential component of the human condition will prevail in one form or another as long as humans exist. Music is, after all, a phenomenon unique to the human race. Thank goodness for that. And, thus, the search goes on.

“When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, ‘I hate rap or techno’ I rush to it.” George Clinton (1941‑)


Amateur musicology?

I do not pretend to be some sort of self‑appointed authority on contemporary music. My main obsession is still vintage guitars and vintage guitar gear. Perhaps, though, my passion for music predated my addiction to guitars. Over the decades my love of modern music does, I believe, provide a reasonable insight into the science as well as art of music, with a little alchemy thrown in for good measure.

Strictly speaking, musicology is the analysis and study of music. Musicology belongs to the humanities and social sciences, although some music research also belongs to the fields of psychology, sociology, acoustics, neurology, anthropology and computer science.

Musicology covers three general disciplines; music history, new musicology (the cultural study of music) and ethnomusicology (the study of music in its cultural context). For the life of me, I can’t really (be bothered to) differentiate between the last two of those.

Clearly, I cannot compete with professional experts in the field and my research methods are hardly scholarly. I am, however, happy to be an amateur sleuth, as it allows for significant enjoyment. Music should be overwhelmingly pleasurable, rather than playing second fiddle to methodical and clinical academic enquiry. Again, my choice.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

In addition, and hopefully obviously to readers by now, I also play music (very badly it must sadly be said). I wouldn’t hoard vintage guitars unless I could actually conjure up something vaguely creative and emotional out of them. Perhaps interestingly, I don’t play other people’s music; I much prefer to ‘do my own thing’ for better or worse. Usually the latter.

I am incessantly amazed at what I don’t know. I know that shouldn’t be the case, but society tends to prejudge ignorance as a weakness and expertise as a virtue. What others regard as the blatantly obvious is utterly oblivious to me until I encounter it. However, isn’t that what exploration and discovery is all about?

If we accept that “Music is the universal language of mankind” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), one can only trust that exploration is the means by which we enhance and articulate our own individual musical linguistic skills.

Musicology may not be quite the right word for my approach towards modern music but I sure can’t think of a better one. Musicology Lite perhaps? Deluded dilettante? Possibly. Biased? Definitely. We all have our own opinions, right? And, thus, the search goes on.

“Music is the strongest form of magic.” Marilyn Manson (1969‑)


Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll

Musicology suggests an interest in music psychology, which is how music affects the cognitive functions of the human system. Building on some of my opinionated comments last month, here’s a thought for the day. Let us remember that music carries with it enormous power to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Music can boost serotonin, dopamine, endorphin and oxytocin levels that work on the pleasure receptors of the brain. Put simply, these magic substances can act as effective natural anti‑depressants and can help to improve both mood and behaviour. All in all, mostly good stuff then. As we all know, music, can also irritate the heck out of us sometimes, so remember to love what you love.

Now here’s an interesting diversion into music cultural history. All three human activities, sex, drugs and music directly affect the pleasure centres of the brain, so there is something scientific behind the old rockers’ adage, ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ after all. While some suggest the phrase came from Ian Dury’s 1977 single, its roots derive from a much earlier hendiatris, ‘wine, women and song’, emanating from Germany in the 1770s, although there is some debate as to who actually coined it. Many scholars attribute its origins date back even further to theologian, Martin Luther.

“Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang, der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang. (Who not loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long).” Martin Luther (1483‑1546)

The first modern use of the phrase was printed in a LIFE magazine article that dates from 1969, “The counter culture has its sacraments in sex, drugs and rock.” In 1971, The Spectator magazine printed, “Not for nothing is the youth culture characterised by sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” Ian Dury certainly made the most of it.


CRAVE Guitars ‘Record of the Month’

Once again, as this is a bit of an outlier in the overall scheme of CRAVE Guitars’ articles, I cannot leave without at least mentioning one of those albums that warrants repeat listening (for me). While last month, I was clinging onto sultry summer with dub reggae, this month, with the rapid decline into grim winter, I’m going for something a little more contentedly contemplative.

Biosphere – Microgravity (2015 reissue of the 1991 studio album with additional tracks). Biosphere is electronica artist, Geir Jenssen (1962‑) from Tromsø, Troms, Norway. The 16 tracks fall broadly into the ambient, ambient techno, ambient house, field recording and progressive electronica genres. Microgravity was Biosphere’s debut studio album. Laidback ambient grooves are a wonderful way to escape and transport one’s consciousness into an otherworldly, serene dimension, great for relaxation, stress relief and focus. It is also great for testing the hi‑fi.

“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die” from the play, ‘Twelfth Night’ (c.1601/1602) by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Tailpiece

Well that’s another monthly article done and dusted. Number 75 to be precise since I started writing CRAVE Guitars’ articles way back in November 2014. It’s come a long way.

I am genuinely grateful to be in the position whereby I am able freely to undertake such projects as this one. The author is acutely aware of the extreme difficulties faced by innocents around the globe.

The pursuit of new stuff is unlikely to abate now that it has begun in earnest. Is there anything I regret uncovering? Nope. I try hard not to regret anything; I would rather use any missteps along the way as a learning experience. Are there any guilty pleasures that have been adopted? Probably, but now isn’t the time or place for shaming my deviant musical proclivities! Surprises? Plenty. Pleasure? A mixed bag. Top tips? A few. Anticipation? Always.

What is most encouraging is that there is an almost unlimited wealth of awesome, incredible music out there waiting to be discovered if you want to look hard enough. Enjoy!

The plan is to get back to more CRAVE Guitars core raison d’être for the next article. However, we all know what happens to “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” from the poem, ‘To a Mouse’ (1785) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759‑1796), so no promises. OK? Thanks for reading.

Peace, love, truth and guitar music be with you always. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Material possessions feed the vanity of the ego, while music nourishes the spirit and sustains the soul”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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September 2023 – Adventures in Ambient: Music of Another Dimension

Prelude

In the last article (August 2023), I explored the alluring realm of dub reggae, as one of my musical passions. This month, as we race headlong into autumn with its cooler, darker evenings, I’d like to explore another musical genre close to my heart, ambient electronica. There seems to be a great deal of consensus about where ambient came from while, at the same time, a great deal of disagreement about what it is today, let alone where it is going. While this may sound inherently contradictory, the convoluted world of ambient music is quite fascinating, at least to me. Unlike reggae, which had a defined geographical origin – the small island of Jamaica in the Caribbean – ambient has a completely different set of roots. Also, while dub reggae and ambient seem entirely discrete, there are some crossovers.

Once again, like dub reggae, the ambient musical landscape is not really guitar‑based. It is essentially one of three things, acoustic – mainly classical – instruments, the sounds of the natural and built world all around us, and electronic sounds, primarily but not exclusively synthesizers.

As with all previous articles, this is not intended to present any sort of definitive academic analysis, it is purely my interpretation of ambient music, past and current, as I see (or rather hear) it. There are a lot of blurred overlaps and permeable boundaries here, so I am certain that some readers will disagree vehemently with my version of the story. That is their prerogative and this is my article, so I’m sticking to my biased version. This is also only the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ with lots more to discover.

No AI has been used in researching and writing this article. All images used are royalty free courtesy of Pixaby and Wikimedia Commons.

So, get comfy, chill and absorb yourself into the mesmerising universe of ambient music for a while.


Defining ambient

Perhaps a good starting point is to understand what the solitary word ‘ambient’ actually means, both in non‑musical and musical contexts.

Literally, ambient is an adjective meaning ‘of the surrounding area or environment’, ‘existing or present on all sides’ or ‘enveloping or completely surrounding’. As a noun, it means ‘an encompassing environment or atmosphere’. In this article we are not talking about ambient temperatures or ambient pressures, although these may affect sound vibrations in the environment. We are also not talking ambient light, although this may affect mood and temperament.

Defining ambient sound

Ambient sound is the total of all background or surrounding noises that exist in every direction, in any immediate surroundings, as measured by sound pressure level (SPL – expressed in decibels). Decibel levels are important because they provide information to the brain on how quiet or loud a sound is in relative terms. Human ears and brains are designed to detect slight variations in SPL in stereo (binaural hearing), which help us determine from which direction a sound originates. Basically, ambient sound is the total of what you can hear in the present moment, wherever you are.

Ambient sound is always present, even if it is at very low levels. Humans cannot tolerate near‑0dB for long. 0dB is unobtainable under normal conditions. Experiments have shown that people who are deprived of ambient sound can quickly become unsettled or disoriented because humans rely on ambient sound to locate themselves within their environment. The dissociation of sight and sound is inherently problematic for us. The quietest place on Earth is an anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, USA. It is so quiet that the longest anybody has been able to experience it is just 45 minutes.

The simple fact is that there is always some ambient sound present in our lives. These ever‑present characteristics play a part in ambient music compositions.

Defining ambient music

Ambient music is a term that means, ‘a genre of instrumental music that focuses on patterns of sound rather than typical melodic form and is used to promote a certain atmosphere or state of mind’. Another definition is ‘incidental music intended to serve as an unobtrusive accompaniment to other activities and characterised by quiet and repetitive instrumental phrases’.

So far, so what? Useful background info but it doesn’t really mean much on its own. So let’s delve a bit deeper.


A brief pre‑history of ambient music

There is a significant amount of information on the hinterwebby thingummy about the history of the genre, so this is a brief retelling of the essential elements, starting in France, then Germany before crossing the Atlantic to America and then back to the UK. These unfolding events were probably all ahead‑of‑their‑time and in the vanguard of experimental art.

Let us begin by going all the way back to 1917. French composer Erik Satie (1866‑1925) used Dadaist‑inspired explorations to invent what he called musique d’ameublement (‘furniture music’ or, more literally, ‘furnishing music’), music played by live musicians and designed to be unconsciously experienced rather than consciously listened to. Satie described his compositions as music that could be performed at a function to create a background atmosphere for the function, rather than being the prime focus of it. In Satie’s words, his music would, “… be part of the noises of the environment”.

Satie’s use of repeated short compositions is said to have influenced ‘minimal music’ from 1960s onwards, particularly the experimental avant‑garde music of composer John Cage. Satie is also regarded as an essential forerunner to modern ambient music and a key influence on British artist, Brian Eno.

During the 1940s, Frenchman Pierre Schaeffer (1910‑1995) who was, amongst other things, a composer, engineer and musicologist took a different approach. Schaeffer experimented with recording sound, then processing the signals to create an abstract sound collage. The resulting sounds and tones were unrecognisable from the originating source material. Schaeffer used musical instruments, vocals, recorded environmental ‘sound objects’ and electronic sound synthesis. This type of music composition became known as musique concrète (concrete music).

Prolific and controversial German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928‑2007) was a pioneer in electronic music. Stockhausen’s electronic music compositions comprised abstract noise collages created through the use of tape loops, oscillators and recorded sounds. He also specialised in ground breaking ‘spatial music’, using multiple sources to locate sounds within a three dimensional space (an early form of surround sound). Stockhausen created one of the first examples of purely electronic music using sine wave generators and filters, called ‘Studie I’ (1953). In 1954, he pushed the boundaries of classical music using acoustic instruments augmented by electronic sounds. The same year, he published the first fully electronic music score. Stockhausen, the so‑called ‘father of electronic music’, was an important figure who rejected conventions and heavily influenced multiple genres outside classical music, including jazz, pop and rock decades later.

Muzak is a type of background music created by American inventor George Owen Squier in 1934. Known commonly as elevator music (or lift music in the UK), it became used predominantly in public spaces, retail stores and other venues. The word muzak has become embedded in the public consciousness as synonymous with all types of generic and inconspicuous background music. Muzak was particularly prominent during the 1960s and 1970s. Muzak has been a registered trademark of Muzak LLC since 1954. Ambient by stealth?

From the 1950s, particularly in Germany, elektronische musik (electronic music) took precedence over previous forms such as musique concrète. The term ‘elektronische musik’ was first used by German composer and musicologist Herbert Eimert in 1952 to describe music created only by the use of electronic instruments and technology. As the genre developed, elements of musique concrète were incorporated into electronic music. Natural environmental recordings combined with music resurfaced later as a popular element of new age music. German electronic music heavily influenced krautrock, an experimental rock genre that emerged out of West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s with bands like Can and Neu!.

American composer John Cage was another influential figure in post‑war avant‑garde music including electroacoustic music. He had been experimenting with studio electronics since the late 1930s. In 1952, Cage ‘performed’ his now‑famous composition, 4′33″. The piece is not, as many believe, silence; it is the intentional ‘absence of deliberate sound’. The musicians do nothing but be on the stage with instruments. For the aforementioned duration of the piece, the audience is encouraged simply to listen to and experience the ambient sounds in the auditorium around them.

Minimal music is a form of art music that, as its name suggests, uses a very limited array of components to produce a composition. Minimal can apply to the instruments used, the sounds/tones produced, as well as the studio processes employed. Minimalism may comprise continuous drones, pulses or repetitive phrases. Minimalism emerged in New York in the late 1960s with American composers such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young. It has been suggested that minimalism was one influence behind experimental rock band The Velvet Underground during the 1960s and, much later, on electronic dance music (EDM) sub‑genres such as minimal techno. In 1990, British electronica duo The Orb used a sample from Steve Reich’s work on their hit single, ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’.

At this point, it is worth making quick mention of cinematic music, a.k.a. film scores or original soundtracks (OSTs). The first music to accompany film goes back to the earliest part of the 20th Century if not further, although its use really came into its own, ironically, with the advent of talking pictures in 1927. Cinematic music is composed specifically as a background to fit well with what is happening on screen by creating a certain atmosphere. Many classic theme music pieces would simply not exist without the films for which they were created. Some of the best cinematic music is an integral part of the audio‑visual experience, rather than the music being consciously listened to in isolation. The best soundtracks are equally good pieces of music in their own right and the art form has become highly respected (and profitable). John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Vangelis, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hans Zimmer are some of the principal cinematic music composers.

In the field of television, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, set up in 1958, stands out for its experimental work in electronic incidental sound design and music for radio and TV. Key members of the unit included Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and David Cain.


A brief history of electronic sound synthesis

It is probably true to say that synthesizers changed the world of music forever. Here’s a short resume of how that change came about. Warning! This is the techy bit.

Analogue synthesizers – The word synthesizer was first used by RCA in 1956, although it has widely been used to refer to electronic musical instruments from the early 20th Century onwards. Early electronic analogue sound synthesizers were developed in the 1920s and included the Theremin, invented by Leon Theremin in Russia in 1920, the Ondes Martenot, invented by Maurice Martenot in France in 1928 and the Trautnium, invented by Friedrich Trautwein in Germany in 1929.

There are basically only three parts to an analogue synthesizer; one or more oscillators to produce the sound, filters to change the sound, and voltage‑controlled amplifiers to adjust the volume of the sound. In addition, envelope generators are frequently used to change the behaviour of the sound (commonly referred to as ADSR – attack, sustain, delay, release).

Another major development in electronic sound synthesis was by American engineer Robert Moog (1934‑2005) who invented the first commercially available analogue synthesizer, the Moog Modular in 1964. The first fully integrated synthesizer, including the keyboard, was the Minimoog released in 1970. Moog developed his products in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic musical instruments.

Moog Synthesizer

Samplers – A sampler is an electronic device that captures, records and plays back sections of the recordings. The first example was the Chamberlin, invented by American Harry Chamberlin in 1946. The British Mellotron, introduced in 1963, was perhaps the first famous electro‑mechanical instrument used to play back tape recorded sound samples.

Sequencers – A key factor in making music synthesizers usable was the introduction of the programmable sequencer to program and play back multi‑part arrangements. The first example was probably the analogue Buchla 100 synthesizer in 1964. More importantly, Moog introduced the Moog Modular Sequencer Module – the 960 Sequential Controller in 1968.

As synthesizers became more complex, additional features were added, such as arpeggiators that automatically play a sequence of notes based on a chord or scale, and a range of effects used to process the sound even further.

Digital synthesizers – The first digital synthesizer was made by Synclavier in 1977, while the first commercially successful model was made by Yamaha in 1983. The first production polyphonic synthesizer, able to play chords, was the analogue Oberheim Polyphonic Synthesizer, designed by Tom Oberheim, produced from 1975 to 1979. Yamaha, however, may disagree, citing their GX‑1 ‘Dream Machine’. These were followed shortly thereafter by the Polymoog. Another first was the programmable analogue Prophet 5 made by Sequential circuits in 1978. The culmination of these inventions was the introduction of the Fairlight CMI (standing for ‘Computer Musical Instrument’) in 1979, the first polyphonic digital synthesizer, sampler and sequencer.

Finally, polyphonic digital sound synthesis was here to stay, as was the studio recording technology able to exploit it. Miles away from ambient while owing a debt to it, Donna Summer’s massive disco hit single, ‘I Feel Love’ (1977), written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, was seen as a milestone and “a rejection of the intellectualization of the synthesizer in favour of pure pleasure”. It did, however, herald sound synthesis to the popular market. The phenomenal boom in synthpop during the 1980s, leading to the EDM boom of the 1990s, was the tangible result of lengthy electronic music development.

MIDI – MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a powerful industry standard protocol introduced in 1983 that enables wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers, and audio devices to communicate. MIDI has become essential for synchronizing, playing, editing, and recording music.

These, and many other tools, were a valuable resource for the new generation of experimental composers and musicians. Everything was pretty much now in place.


A brief history of ambient music

Up to this point it is probably fair to say that elements of ambient music’s predecessors existed, and indeed thrived, on the periphery of the popular music of their time, rather than being front and centre of the mainstream. During the 1960s, that was about to change, albeit relatively slowly.

One interpretation of ambient music is that it is a style of calm, often electronic instrumental music with no discernible rhythm or beat, used to create or enhance mood or atmosphere. Ambient music emphasises tone and textural layers of sound that focus on the actual sounds being produced rather than the traditional musical form in which those sounds would normally reside. As such, ambient music may well intentionally eschew formal structured composition, harmony, melody and metre.

While now commonplace, ambient music, at least in the past, broke the rules of what we understand as familiar music or song content. Ambient music is not limited by accepted tropes of how it is produced, making use of acoustic and electronic musical instruments, unorthodox implements used as instruments, environmental sound recordings and sometimes vocals. A large proportion of ambient music is instrumental, not requiring narrative arrangement through either sung lyrics or spoken words.

One characteristic of ambient music since the 1990s has been the ubiquitous use of looping, creating repeated sections of sound, initially using tape and most commonly through digital effects. Another key trait has been the use of modern digital reverb and delay techniques to provide a sense of space, disconnection and otherworldliness.

One key element of ambient music is the way it can reward equally both passive and active listening. The listener can either focus on the content or allow ‘cognitive drift’ to occur, which can encourage a sense of calm, introspection or contemplation, meditation or as an aid to sleep.

While ambient music is a self‑contained genre, it does not stand alone; it has been incorporated into, or fused with, many other musical genres. This fact, in part, contributes to the debate about what ambient music actually means today and why it has become successful both artistically and commercially.

At last, getting to the point now… Ambient music as we now (think) we know it emerged in various forms during the 1960s and 1970s, largely thanks to the commercial availability of synthesizers. The album that is widely regarded as the watershed that brought ambient music to wider attention was, ‘Ambient 1: Music For Airports’ (1978) by British musician, producer and artist Brian Eno. This studio album also established the term ‘ambient music’ in the public mind set. Eno, either solo or in collaboration with other artists, released many subsequent ambient works, further defining the genre. By the early 1980s, the ‘new’ genre had become recognised and widely accepted. Eno has been oft‑quoted that “ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”.

In 1995, Brian Eno used the term ‘generative music’ to describe any music created by a computer system that is ever‑different, non‑repeating and always changing. Eno has frequently used generative ambient music as a background for visual art installations, thereby creating an immersive audio visual experience. There are now a number of autonomous ambient music generators available on the Internet, such as Generative.fm, that provide completely unique compositions that never end, never repeat and last as long as the listener wants them to. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into music is likely to expand the scope of generative music considerably.

A discrete subset of the genre is Japanese ambient pioneered by artists such as Hiroshi Yoshimura, Haruomi Hosono, Midori Takada, Osamu Sato and Susumu Yokota during the 1980s. The offshoot aligned with the Japanese concept of ‘wa’, meaning harmony and serenity. Japanese ambient was an expression of the deep cultural appreciation for nature, an aesthetic preference towards minimalism, and traditional values of maintaining peace.

Ambient has heavily influenced many sub‑genres of downtempo dance music, including ambient house, ambient techno, ambient dub, trip‑hop, nu‑jazz, new age, chillwave and deep house. Ambient has undoubtedly come a very long way from its avant‑garde artsy origins. Ambient was now cool and it was here to stay.

In recent years, ambient music has continued to evolve and expand. Some contemporary artists have incorporated elements of jazz, classical music, and other genres into their work, while others have experimented with new digital technologies such as AI and virtual or augmented reality to create new experiences. Improvisation and extemporisation have become integral elements of many ambient compositions.

Overall, ambient music has remained a vibrant and innovative genre that continues to explore the limits of what is possible in music. Perhaps, the essence of ambient music continues to flourish at the margins, requiring some effort to discover as the means of dissemination moves away from traditional record companies, labels, distributors and physical media. The Internet and streaming services may become the only means to access these esoteric future forms.

Ambient music’s experimental aspirations, though, have been an on‑going thorn in its side, which seems particularly hard to expunge. Partly because of its eclectic roots, many regard the lofty art & culture baggage of ambient as self‑absorbed, arrogant, sanctimonious, pompous and pretentious – or just plain dull and boring. Brian Eno in particular has attracted considerable scorn for refusing to conform to populist ideals and short‑term fads. The fact that he is not fazed by such clichéd criticisms and follows his own path regardless, encourages his opinionated detractors even further.

A predilection for ambient music is a choice, not a requisite and it doesn’t carry any cache amongst some imaginary elitist intellectual cultural community. It is, though, not for everyone, with many seeing ambient as a tedious interminable din. Indeed, if anything has been learned through the decades about ambient music is that its appeal is, at least partially, subliminal, nurturing our subconscious need for enlightened contemplation and therefore beyond our ability to control whether we appreciate it or not. Discuss…

Influential artists that have dabbled in ambient music either in part or whole include (in no particular order) Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, William Basinski, Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Pauline Oliveros, Cluster, Biosphere, Harold Budd, John Hassell, Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Terry Riley, William Orbit, Four Tet, Steve Hillage, Stars Of The Lid, Bonobo, Mark McGuire, Ash Ra Tempel, Alice Coltrane, Jon Hopkins, Edgar Froese, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Caretaker, Laurie Speigel, Tycho, GAS, Boards Of Canada, Burial, Fripp & Eno, Slowdive, Air, Julianna Barwick, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Ben Chatwin, Richard Norris, Luke Abbott, The Cinematic Orchestra, Daniel Avery, Darshan Ambient, The Gentleman Losers, Ibizarre, A.M.P. Studio, Orbient, Nacho Sotomayor, Sigur Rós, Johnny Jewel, Bicep, Marconi Union, Memory Tapes, Neon Indian, Com Truise, The Orb, The KLF, Divination, Lawrence English and The Irresistible Force.


A brief history of other music genres related to (but not) ambient music

New age music –New age music emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by a variety of styles including classical music, jazz, world music, religious music, folk and rock. New age music often explores arcane folklore, ancient traditions, ethnic groupings, astrology, mythology, mysticism, spiritualism, fantasy and even the occult. Lacking any precise definition, it is often seen as an umbrella for many different and often divergent styles. Ambient and new‑age music are two distinct genres albeit with some overlap between them.

Starting with the similarities… New age music is a genre of music characterised by its soothing and relaxing qualities. It often features acoustic instruments such as flutes, harps, guitars and pianos, traditional Asian or African instruments as well as nature recordings and synthesizers. New‑age music is often used for relaxation, contemplation, yoga, massage, stress relief and anxiety management. As background music, it is used to create a calm, serene, peaceful atmosphere for other activities.

… and some key differences… Ambient music tends to be more experimental and abstract than new‑age music, with a greater emphasis on soundscapes and textures rather than rhythm, melody or harmony. New age music tends to be more melodic, structured and more easily accessible than ambient music.

Overall, both ambient and new age music are genres designed to create a sense of serenity in the listener (the ends). However, they go about achieving this goal in different ways (the means).

New age music has habitually been ridiculed (erroneously) for being part of hippie culture, with acolytes that embraced new age beliefs being called ‘zippies’. From the 1990s. Zippies were in favour of new age principles such as social change, environmentalism, and alternative lifestyles while also being influenced by rave culture, cyberculture, and psychedelic drugs.

New Age Travellers are a loose grouping of people primarily in the United Kingdom generally adopting new age beliefs along with the counter culture movement of the late 1960s. Their nomadic lifestyle often brought them into conflict with static communities and the authorities.

Prominent new age artists include Enigma, Enya, Deep Forest, Clannad, Gregorian, Phil Thornton, Patrick Kelly, Peter Gabriel, Bernward Koch, Paul Winter, Grouper, All About Eve and William Ackerman.

Nature recordings – Ambient nature sounds or, technically, field recordings are a popular sub‑genre of ambient music that feature environmental recordings such as the sounds of water, animals, thunderstorms, wind and even fire. The origins of combining natural sounds with musical compositions can be traced back to the early 20th century. Field recording is regarded by many as a genre in its own right, with or without music.

Field Recording

The use of field recordings in music became more widespread in the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of portable recording equipment and with digital recording from the 1980s. Musicians such as John Cage and Dan Gibson began using natural or built environmental sounds into their compositions.

The use of field recording in ambient music can be traced back to Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’, which featured recordings of airport terminal announcements and other environmental sounds. Since then, many ambient artists have incorporated field recordings to create captivating soundscapes that blur the line between music and environmental sound.

Some popular ambient nature sound artists include David Dunn, Chris Watson, Dan Gibson, Diane Hope, Lawrence English, Biosphere and Francisco López.

Downtempo and chillout music – Ambient music did not burst onto the scene overnight and, at least initially, it did not attract significant commercial success. With the popularity of EDM and the domination of house and techno in nightclubs, ambient experienced a mini‑revival towards the late 1980s with sub‑genres including ambient house, ambient trance, ambient techno and ambient dub. During the dance‑dominated 1990s, ambient music became trendy as an after‑party ‘comedown’ with the advent of ‘chillout rooms’; spaces within clubs that served as venues for a relaxing alternative to the high‑energy ‘rave rooms’.

Chillout is a form of downtempo music (or vice versa) characterised by relaxed rhythms, mellow beats, laid back grooves and atmospheric soundscapes intended to induce a tranquil mood – fertile ground for ambient music to proliferate. Chillout is heavily derived from EDM, but typically at slower tempos and with sonic palettes often reminiscent of ambient, electronic‑styled new age, progressive electronic and even elements of instrumental hip hop, dub, deep house and breakbeat.

However, neither chillout nor downtempo come under the definition of ambient, due to their prominent use of structure and rhythm. Sunset beach bars, restaurant venues and cult dance clubs in Ibiza in the 1990s jumped onto the ambient/downtempo/chillout bandwagon as an escape from the more intense side of life and a counterpoint to the hectic rave and acid house scenes of the time. In the UK, the Bristol trip hop scene also capitalised on the chillout boom.

The chillout zeitgeist during the late 1990s was partly due to a proliferation of commercial chillout compilation albums from record labels such as Ministry of Sound, Café del Mar, Café Mambo, Beyond Records, Kompakt Records and Mercury Records. Mainstreaming ultimately motivated underground producers to move away from chillout into other more adventurous leftfield ventures. By the early‑mid 2000s, popularity of chillout music faded heavily. However, it would see a revival in the 2010s and 2020s (so far), which aimed to recapture the spirit of earlier forms of the genre.

Ambient and downtempo/chillout and are not interchangeable, although the boundaries between them are often unclear. Downtempo and chillout would go on a different path to influence subsequent genres like psybient, psychedelic trance, chillwave, lounge, post rock, lo‑fi hip hop, hypnagogic pop and nu‑jazz.

Prominent downtempo and chillout artists include The KLF, The Orb, Thievery Corporation, Deep Dive Corp, East India Youth, The Album Leaf, Nightmares on Wax, Falco, Robert Miles, Morcheeba, Bowery Electric, Mr. Scruff, Tosca, Hallucinogen and Ultramarine.

Trip Hop – Trip hop is a genre of electronic music that emerged from downtempo/chillout in the early 1990s. Trip hop is characterized by its use of hip hop beats, samples, and dense atmospheric soundscapes, fusing influences from jazz, soul, funk, reggae, dub and R&B. Like other forms of electronic music, trip hop uses structure, melody and beats, differentiating it from ambient. The term trip hop was first used in an article in Mixmag magazine in 1994 about American artist and producer DJ Shadow. Trip hop music was popularised mainly by artists from Bristol in the UK such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky. Trip hop further influenced genres like instrumental hip hop and UK garage.

Other artists that have made use of trip hop leanings include Sneaker Pimps, Aim, Howie B, The Dining Rooms, FKA Twigs, Glass Animals, Kosheen, Martina Topley‑Bird, Poliça, Smoke City, 9Lazy9, Bomb The Bass, Coldcut, Morcheeba, Pretty Lights, DJ Shadow, DJ Food, DJ Vadim, Funki Porcini, Gorillaz and London Grammar.

Electronica – Electronica is a massively broad term for music that uses electronic instrumentation and sound manipulation technology as the primary means of production. As such, it is a catch‑all for music that doesn’t slot easily into existing sub‑genres. In its widest sense, electronica is pervasive, directly or indirectly, in much of modern contemporary music. There is, therefore no point in defining it or attempting to establish its scope here.

Since the 1960s, electronica artists have both influenced and taken influence from many other music genres. The commercial breakthrough of electronic music occurred with the advent and subsequent domination of synthpop, Europop and Eurodance in the 1970s. This was followed by EDM sub‑genres such as house, techno and electro from the 1980s onward. The burst in electronic creativity was fuelled by a self‑perpetuating feedback loop, pushing things further in the popular mainstream as well as in the margins that continues to this day.

Some prominent artists under the diverse panoply of electronica include (again in no particular order) Clara Rockmore, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Röyksopp, Gary Numan, Japan, David Sylvian, Natural Snow Buildings, Global Communication, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Orbital, Underworld, The Human League, Visage, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Ultravox, Rick Wakeman, Jean‑Michel Jarre, Skrillex, Leftfield, Herbie Hancock, Electronic, Deadmau5, Fred Again.., Sven Väth, Major Lazer, Armin van Buuren, Sasha, Thom Yorke, Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP), Daft Punk, Four Tet, Floating Points, Flying Lotus, Hot Chip, Pet Shop Boys, Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, Giorgio Moroder, M83, Goldfrapp, Amon Tobin, Carl Cox, Crystal Castles, Infected Mushroom, Groove Armada, Eat Static, LCD Soundsystem, Faithless, Disclosure, System 7, 777, Erasure, Yazoo, Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz, Heaven 17, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD), Tears For Fears, Monaco, Bronski Beat, Vince Clarke, Eurhythmics, Thompson Twins, Yello, Squarepusher, Machinedrum, Pendulum, Romare, Calvin Harris, Apollo 440, Ladytron, MØ, Flume, Public Service Broadcasting, Solar Fields, The Grid, X‑Press 2, Arms And Sleepers, Caribou and ATB.


A brief history of ambient electronica (and related) artists

OK, so we’ve looked at some of the genres that have led up to the current day and the prevailing view of ambient music in context. Now, it’s time to take a brief look at some key artists involved along the way, whether they could strictly be considered proponents of ambient music or not. Here are some of the most prominent.

Tomita – Isao Tomita (1932‑2016) was a Japanese composer, regarded as one of the pioneers of electronic music and space music, and as one of the most famous producers of analogue synthesizer arrangements. Tomita is known for his electronic versions and adaptations of familiar classical music pieces as well as futuristic science‑fiction themes and trance‑like rhythms. Tomita received four Grammy Award nominations for his studio album based on music by classical composer Claude Debussy, ‘Snowflakes Are Dancing’ (1974). He also famously adapted Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ (1976).

Wendy Carlos – Wendy Carlos (1939‑) is an American musician and composer born as Walter Carlos and transitioning to female gender in 1972. She is known for her pioneering electronic music and film scores. Carlos studied physics and music at Brown University before studying music composition at Columbia University in New York City. She helped in the development of Robert Moog’s first commercially available synthesizer. Carlos’ breakout release was Grammy Award‑winning ‘Switched‑On Bach’ (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed entirely on synthesizer. Carlos went on to release further synthesized classical music adaptations, as well as experimental and ambient electronic music. She composed film scores for three major studio films, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971), ‘The Shining’ (1980), and ‘Tron’ (1982).

Tangerine Dream – Tangerine Dream is a German band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese (1944‑2015). The best‑known incarnation of the group was the mid‑1970s trio of Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann. Tangerine Dream is considered a pioneer in electronic, ambient and space music, a.k.a. kosmische musik (‘cosmic music’). Tangerine Dream were key members of the so‑called Berlin School of electronic music. Despite having released over one hundred albums over the years, they are best known for their use of synthesizers and sequencers, including milestone albums, Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975). Tangerine Dream has also composed over sixty film soundtracks as well as the score for the video game Grand Theft Auto V. However, it is their mid‑1970s material that profoundly influenced the development of electronic music styles such as ambient, new age and EDM.

Klaus Schulze – German electronic music composer and musician Klaus Schulze (1947‑2022) is considered one of the pioneers of electronic music since the late 1960s. Schulze was an early member of the band Tangerine Dream before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1970. Schulze had a prolific career, releasing over sixty studio albums. Schulze’s music is known for its long, repetitive sequences and its use of analogue synthesizers. His early work was influenced by the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s, while his later work was more experimental and ambient. Schulze’s music has been used in films such as ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

Brian Eno – English musician, composer, producer and artist Brian Eno (1948‑) has become synonymous with contemporary ambient music, pioneering and contributing to the ambient, electronica and minimalist drone genres. He started out in experimental rock, glam rock, art pop and art rock as former keyboard player with Roxy Music. Along with his extensive solo career, Eno has also collaborated on many side projects with other artists including Harold Budd, David Bowie, David Byrne, Fred Again.., Jon Hopkins and Cluster. Many of his collaborations explored beyond the scope of purist ambient music. He has also been prominent behind the studio desk producing many artists including John Cale, David Bowie, Jon Hassell, Laraaji, Talking Heads, Ultravox, Devo, U2, Coldplay, Daniel Lanois, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, Slowdive, James, Kevin Shields and Damon Albarn. In addition, Eno has composed a number of film scores. If that wasn’t enough, Eno has also worked prolifically in other media, including audio visual installations, art installations, film and as an author. As mentioned above, Eno pioneered the introduction and growth of generative music. A little known fact is that Eno also composed the six‑second music snip that accompanied the start‑up of the Windows 95 computer operating system, known as ‘The Microsoft Sound’. Love him or loathe him, Eno’s legacy is probably as far reaching as it is incalculable.

Brian Eno (courtesy of Cosciansky)

Kratwerk – German electronic band Kraftwerk was founded in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Kraftwerk is widely regarded as an innovator and pioneer of electronic music and was one of the first successful acts to popularise and commercialise the genre. The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s before adopting electronic instruments for which they are best known, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Their massive hit single and album, ‘Autobahn’ (1974) cemented their reputation. Kraftwerk inspired many artists including David Bowie, Joy Division, New Order, Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem.

Jean‑Michel Jarre – Jean‑Michel Jarre (1948‑) is a French composer, musician and record producer. He is widely regarded as an innovator in electronic, ambient, new age and synthpop music. His breakout studio album, ‘Oxygene’ (1977) has become an electronica classic, selling over 18 million copies worldwide. Jarre’s musical style builds on the work of Tangerine Dream and adds a bit of populist French va‑va‑voom. He is famous for organising extravagant outdoor events involving laser light shows, visual projections and pyrotechnics to accompany his stage music. One of his concerts in Moscow, Russia in 1997 holds the world record for the largest audience for a single outdoor event, estimated at 3.5 million people.

The Orb – The Orb is an English electronic music group founded in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty. The duo began as ambient and dub DJs based in London before making the move into music production. The Orb is well known for their psychedelic ambient space sound. Over the years, The Orb has developed a cult following among clubbers ‘coming down’ from drug‑induced highs and, as such, their music became popular in club chillout rooms. Their influential debut studio album ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ (1991) established the UK’s underground ambient house trend. The Orb’s second album, ‘U.F.Orb’ (1992) confirmed the band’s popularity and ensured their longevity. The Orb was influenced heavily by predecessors, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. The Orb has maintained their signature science fiction aesthetic throughout their prolific career.

Amorphous Androgynous – British electronic music duo Amorphous Androgynous and its better known alter ego, The Future Sound of London (FSOL), was founded by Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans in 1988. The duo’s music is characterized by its psychedelic, ambient, and experimental sound. They acted as a bridge between the underground and well‑established electronic artists and has been influential in the development of electronic music genres such as ambient house, ambient dub and trip hop. They have released several albums, including ‘Tales of Ephidrina’ (1993) and ‘Lifeforms’ (1994).

Orbital – Orbital is an English electronic music duo founded by brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll in 1989. The band has had on‑off periods of activity, breaking up and reforming on more than one occasion through the years. The band’s name is taken from the M25, London’s orbital motorway, which was key to the early (illegal) rave scene and (legal) acid house scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orbital’s involvement with dance music has led to its strong reputation as a live band. They have mixed ambient sounds along with techno, trance, breakbeat and electronic rock styles. They have also been hugely influential in the development of modern electronic sub‑genres such as glitch, wonky and Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), as well as EDM.

The Chemical Brothers ‑ English electronic music duo The Chemical Brothers, originally known as The Dust Brothers, was formed in 1989 by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons in Manchester, UK. Along with peers, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, they were pioneers in bringing the big beat, techno, house and EDM to popularity. Their breakout studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ (1997) rapidly became a rave classic. Like Orbital, they have become regular headliners on the festival and arena circuits. While their music is far from ambient, the origins are still evident and their enduring influence has also been widespread.


Contemporary music genres related to ambient

Here we are now, well into the 3rd decade of the 21st Century, so what position does ambient occupy now? Has it stagnated, frozen in aspic? Is it languishing in some obscure genre limbo? Or is it still evolving either on its own terms or in other ways? Let’s look at where ambient influences have led us and which may give a clue to where it might be going in the future. Here are eight of the most important modern‑day ambient spin‑offs.

Drone – Drone is a music genre that plays on long, sustained tones or repeated single notes. Unlike other genres that use drones as a component, drone music puts drones at the forefront, removing most melody and rhythm. As such, it bears many similarities to ambient. Drone music explores the changing timbre of individual sounds over time. For electronic drone, this is often achieved by slight fluctuations in the drone’s pitch, tone and amplitude.

The origins of drone, whether electronic or classical, are found in traditional music from across the world and date back to the 1940s with ‘Monotone Silence Symphony’ (1949) by Yves Klein. Drone developed through minimal music and through rock. Drone has seen a resurgence in the 2020s. Drone music has expanded to influence countless other genres, including ambient, EDM, drone metal and post‑rock.

Progressive Electronic – Progressive music in its widest sense generally attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with a specific genre of music. It also places emphasis on creating a sense of progression or development throughout a piece of music. Layered soundscapes, intricate changes in rhythm, a wide range of sound effects and textures are commonly used. Improvisation is also a key characteristic of progressive electronic music, as many musicians use improvisation to create new and inventive sounds rather than relying on pre‑recorded samples or synthesizer presets. Another important aspect is the use of lengthy, extended compositions, with tracks frequently having multiple sections and mood changes. Basically, progressive electronic covers a large proportion of electronic music from the late 1960s to the current day, including post rock. Is it a genre in itself? Make up your own mind.

Vaporwave – Vaporwave emerged in the early 2010s and is characterised by its use of synthesizers, slowed‑down samples and a great deal of studio manipulation including time shifting and cutting up of sound clips, then applying reverb, echo and other studio effects. The advent of computer‑based digital audio workstations (DAWs), such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Abelton and Cubase, greatly aided production and the Internet provided the means of distribution through platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

Vaporwave got its name from ‘vaporware’, a term applied to computer hardware or software which is announced by a developer well in advance of release, but which then fails to emerge.

At first, vaporwave was a nostalgic reflection of the sounds of the 1980s and 1990s, drawing from popular music, contemporary R&B, smooth jazz and muzak, as well as from consumer culture, corporate logos, films, radio broadcasts and television commercials. Vaporwave has been described as a form of ‘post‑Internet’ electronic musical movement that reflects the fragmented and disorienting experience of living in the digital age.

The release of ‘Eccojams Vol. 1’ (2010) by Daniel Lopatin, under one of his aliases Chuck Person, is widely regarded as the foundation of vaporwave as a genre. The debut was followed ‘Floral Shoppe’ by Macintosh Plus and ‘Far Side Virtual’ by James Ferraro (both 2011), bringing greater visibility to vaporwave and its associated aesthetics. Despite this, vaporwave remains niche with tracks not readily available on physical media such as CDs or vinyl.

Like ‘pure’ ambient, vaporwave shuns structure and rhythm. The use of looping, glitching, pitch‑bending, panning, and echoing sound samples came to define the sound of vaporwave, giving the patchwork sound a hazy, surreal, dreamy and atmospheric quality with a focus on hyperreality. The vapor movement alludes to a disconnection or separation from reality presented through its original form.

In addition, vaporwave gave birth to a distinct aesthetic based on subcultures like cyberpunk, seapunk, manga and anime. Artist names, album titles and track listings often used uncommon symbols and Japanese script. In conjunction with the heavily manipulated and often intentionally degraded sound of vaporwave music, much of the genre’s artwork featured low‑grade image distortion or digital artefacts, bringing the limitations and flaws of past technology and positioning it within the broader post‑internet artistic landscape. The integration of the visual and the music elements can be interpreted as a criticism of consumer capitalism and hi‑tech culture.

Dreampunk – Dreampunk is an evolution of Vaporwave, also emerging in the mid‑2010s. Dreampunk artists wanting to experiment with more minimal and atmospheric compositions while, at the same time, distancing themselves from the nostalgic restrictions of the 1980s. The Internet record label, Dream Catalogue, helped popularize dreampunk within the vaporwave community as well as further afield.

The abstract, hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes and repetitive structure of vaporwave is perhaps closer to ambient music, although the presence of rhythm differentiated it from its predecessor. This contributes to the dreamlike ethereal sound for which the genre is known. Dreampunk artists tend to seek anonymity, with many using several Internet aliases to create a sense of mystique around their music, hiding behind the aesthetic, often utilizing abstracted imagery of cityscapes, neon‑lit night scenes and incorporating futuristic dystopian and cyberpunk themes. Like vaporwave, dreampunk also uses Japanese scripts to further mystify their image. Classic dystopian and cyberpunk films such as ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995) also influenced and inspired the music genre. Both vaporwave and dreampunk continue to thrive in the underground.

Ambient, morphed through the lens of vaporwave and dreampunk, heavily influenced other genres such as hypnagogic pop, chillwave, VHS pop, witch house and slushwave.

Some popular vaporwave and dreampunk artists include Blue In Tokio, Fishmans, T e l e p a t h (テレパシー能力者), 2 8 1 4, Windows96, SkyTwoHigh and Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza.

Chillwave – Chillwave, a.k.a. glo‑fi, is an Internet genre that originated predominantly from the United States circa 2009. Chillwave, like vaporwave, looked back to the aesthetics and musical styles of the 1980s and 1990s, intentionally evoking a sense of nostalgic reflection. Chillwave melded analogue instruments with modern recording technologies and techniques to create a hazy dreamlike atmosphere. Chillwave appropriated elements of synthpop, funk, downtempo, EDM and alternative/indie genres like indie pop, neo‑psychedelia and synthwave.

Chillwave, vaporwave and dreampunk led to a great deal of fusion and crossover material, blurring the differences between them. Chillwave declined in popularity by the start of the 2020s but like many other genres, the end of chillwave may have been greatly exaggerated. Expect it to come back to the fore in due course. Chillwave’s influence would go on to play a part in genres such as cloud rap, alternative R&B, future bass, synthwave, ethereal wave and bedroom pop.

Prominent chillwave artists include Toro y Moi, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, Flume, Com Truise, Tycho, Panda Bear, Lemon Jelly and Nite Jewel.

Intelligent Dance Music and its spin offs, glitch and wonky – Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) is a genre of electronic music that emerged in the early 1990s as a derivative (and rejection) of EDM. It is characterized by complex rhythms, intricate melodies, and a focus on sound design and experimentation. IDM artists often use unconventional time signatures, polyrhythms, glitches and de‑tuned sounds to create a unique listening experience. The genre is also known for its use of ambient textures and atmospheres, which can create a vague or otherworldly feel. IDM has been influential in the development of other electronic music genres such as ambient techno, and intelligent techno.

Some of the most well‑known IDM (and glitch/wonky) artists include Aphex Twin, Four Tet, Daniel Avery, Actress, Floating Points, Machinedrum, Moderat, Oneohtrix Point Never, Boards Of Canada, Mouse On Mars, Flying Lotus, LFO, Clark, Luke Vibert, Autechre and Squarepusher.

Dream pop – Deriving more from structured alternative and indie rock rather than ambient, dream pop uses reverb‑laden guitars, effects‑rich vocals, and dense studio production, to create a psychedelic, spacious, ethereal and surreal sound, albeit with a de‑emphasized beat accompanied by quiet, breathy harmonised vocals to elevate the music from its origins.

Dream pop is commonly fused with other genres such as shoegaze and noise pop, although dream pop does not solely depend on ‘walls of sound’, heavily distorted guitar layers or feedback. Dream pop relies heavily on modulation effects such as chorus, tremolo, vibrato, delay and reverb, to create mesmerising sonic textures. Dream pop bands often employ synthesizer layers to add atmosphere and lush soundscapes. Influences include slow core, post rock and trip hop.

In a similar way to shoegaze, vocals focus on melody and timbre, rather than lyricism. It is not uncommon for dream pop groups to have multiple vocalists to make good use of harmony and ‘instrumental’ vocals.

Prominent dream pop artists include Warpaint, 2:54, Lanterns of the Lake, Beach House, Cigarettes After Sex, The xx, Bat For Lashes, Low, Chromatics, Spiritualized, Julee Cruise, Broadcast, Zero 7, Phantogram, Yo La Tengo, Cocteau Twins, Dévics, Esben And The Witch, Pure Bathing Culture, School Of Seven Bells, His Name Is Alive, How To Dress Well, Lush, London Grammar and Mazzy Star.

Ambient dub – Ambient dub fuses ambient music with dub electronica. Ambient dub is a chillout fusion of ambient, dub reggae and future dub, featuring the atmosphere of the former and the Jamaican‑style basslines, percussion, and psychedelic production techniques of the latter. The name of the genre was coined by record label Beyond Records with a series of compilation albums of the same name, starting with, ‘Ambient Dub Volume 1: The Big Chill’ (1992). Many of the prominent artists within the genre also perform or mix in elements of dub techno, dubstep or ambient techno, which has led to some confusion over ambient dub’s actual sound. While the lines are indistinct between such electronic genres, ambient dub can genuinely be discerned by its denser atmospheres, a heavier use of reverb and/or delay, and an emphasis on bass akin to traditional dub, as well as reggae rhythms.

Notable ambient dub artists include: The Dub Syndicate, Bill Laswell, Dreadzone, Higher Intelligence Agency, The Orb, Ott, Loop Guru, Transglobal Underground, Jon Hopkins, Jah Wobble, Mad Professor, Burnt Friedman, Deadbeat, The Bug, Solar Quest, Ladytron and Banco de Gaia.

Dark ambient – before we leave, it’s worth a quick mention about dark ambient, a.k.a. ambient industrial. While most ambient music creates a peaceful, welcoming and safe place, dark ambient is intended to disturb. Dark ambient emerged as a post‑industrial counterpoint to the wider ambient landscape. It is characterised by an ominous, brooding, eerie, sinister and overbearingly gloomy atmosphere, often with discordant overtones, dissonant timbres and lengthy drones. Dark ambient often crops up in film scores intended to unsettle the audience and create a sense of disorientation or suspense.

Dark ambient artists include Deathprod, Agalloch, David Lynch, Throbbing Gristle, Angelo Badalamenti, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, William Basinski, Blut Aus Nord, Mortiis, Cabaret Voltaire, Dolorian, NON, Controlled Bleeding, Earth, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sunn O))) and Steven Wilson.

STOP! Enough already! I hear you cry. We are beginning to go down a bit of a proverbial rabbit hole here, so the short list that follows suggests other sub‑genres heavily influenced by ambient and its derivatives. These sub‑genres include black ambient, ritual ambient, space ambient, space music, ambient Americana, ambient house, ambient techno, ambient trance, psybient, psydub, minimalism, modern classical, ambient industrial, tribal ambient, pop ambient, dubstep and turntable music. Phew!


Key ambient+ albums:

As with my previous article on dub reggae, it would be remiss not to mention some of the key albums that have impressed over the years. Here are some predictable and some very unpredictable selections to showcase the vast expanse of electronic ambient music as it is today. As this article has hopefully shown, ambient isn’t a clearly defined pigeon hole with unbreakable rules but rather a constantly changing complex and diverse approach to experimental soundscapes. Hence this ‘top 20’ collection is more like ‘ambient+’ (as I call it; remember, you read it here first!), intended to demonstrate the ecosystem’s multiplicity. Another ‘desert island disc’ compendium to daydream about. Again, it was a difficult decision‑making process with many excellent works that didn’t make this particular cut. These albums are all classified as contemporary, i.e. 1975 to the current day.

  1. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‑92 (1993) and Vol. II (1994). Two seminal albums in the ambient genre that feature a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds. It is known for its dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes and has been described as ‘a journey through a strange and beautiful world’.
  2. Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978). Basically, the one that started it all. Essential listening for devotees of the ambient music genre. A starting point for the many great ambient works that followed and an entrée into Eno’s many other ambient works.
  3. Tangerine Dream – Rubycon (1975). Along with its predecessor, ‘Phaedra’ (1974), the pair stand out from the band’s extensive canon. The band had stopped using traditional instruments in its compositions and focused on analogue synthesizers and sequencers. Truly remarkable.
  4. Max Richter – Sleep (2015). Almost 8½ hours of sweet lilting lullaby, a transcendent, cinematic, post‑minimalist ambient album of gentle music intended to be experienced as much as it is to be listened to, awake or asleep (or, interestingly, in between – a phenomenon known as ‘eyelid movies’; what the mind conjures up when one is in the transitional state of near sleep).
  5. GAS – Pop (2000). A comforting, immersive experience and a lesson in how to make electronica sound organic and engrossing. Transcendent and transformative. A lysergic trip for your ears.
  6. Fripp & Eno – Evening Star (1975). Combining the talents of Brian Eno and Crimson King guitarist Robert Fripp. Good to see guitar making a contribution to ambient music.
  7. Four Tet – Rounds (2003). Not really ambient, more IDM and glitch. However, a disarmingly elegant stripped back intimate album. Perhaps, Kieran Hebdan’s landmark album.
  8. Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998). Focusing on concepts of childhood nostalgia, created by the use of obscure samples and masterly manipulated layers of sound. The album has become rather essential listening along with ‘The Campfire Headphase’ (2005) and ‘Geogaddi (2002).
  9. Bonobo – Black Sands (2010). Lush, sumptuous and beguiling. Not ambient in a true sense but a great example of downtempo electronica from Simon Green. Also worth a listen is, ‘The North Borders’ (2013). Both also have excellent remix albums.
  10. The KLF – Chill Out (1990). A classic ambient album that features a mix of samples and original music. It’s known for its dreamy, atmospheric soundscapes and has been described as ‘a road movie in music form’.
  11. Stars Of The Lid – Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid (2001). An album that features long, slow‑moving pieces that are built around drones and other ambient textures.
  12. Chromatics – Night Drive (2001) – More ambient pop, dream pop and synthwave than pure ambient. Chromatics’ ethereal style was featured by David Lynch in his surreal TV series, ‘Twin Peaks’.
  13. Burial – Untrue (2007). Enigmatic London‑based dubstep artist burst onto the scene with an album that is stark, blurred, eerie, tender and hauntingly evocative. A breath taking and inimitable event.
  14. William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops I‑IV (2002‑2003). Four albums that feature loops of decaying tape recordings. The music is haunting and melancholic, and has been described as ‘a meditation on loss and decay’. Dedicated to the victims of 9/11. Tape music entropy as it happens, captured for posterity.
  15. Tim Hecker – Radio Amor (2003). An album that features a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, including guitar and piano. It’s known for its dense, layered soundscapes and has been described as ‘a beautiful, immersive experience’.
  16. Banco de Gaia – Last Train To Lhasa (1995). Along with its predecessor, ‘Maya’ (1994), it shows the approach of Toby Marks to progressive ambient electronica. Again, not really ambient but hugely influenced by it.
  17. Thievery Corporation – The Richest Man In Babylon (2000). Along with its remix EP, ‘Babylon Rewound’ (2004) it takes other influences including reggae and dub and brought it into the downtempo chillout world.
  18. The Higher Intelligence Agency – Freefloater (1995). British artist Bobby Bird started off running experimental electronic music nights in Birmingham. Ambient techno meets ambient dub meets ambient. Also worth a listen is, ‘Colourform’ (2010).
  19. Lindsheaven Virtual Plaza & SkyTwoHigh – Imaginary Pathways (2021). The final Internet album by Brazilian musician and producer, Cesar Alexandre before his untimely death due to covid. More dreampunk, ambient techno and downtempo with a hint of vaporwave rather than ambient. Blissful.
  20. The Gentleman Losers – The Gentleman Losers (2006). Finnish brothers that take a mix of ambient, post rock, lo‑fi, dreamlike slowcore and even a hint of Americana and blend it into a strange place where one isn’t certain of what is light and what is dark.
20 Ambient+ Studio Albums

In addition, referring back to ubiquitous compilation albums of the 1990s, one of the most significant events was ‘Ambient Dub Volumes 1‑4’ by various artists (1992‑1995) – A series of ambient dub compilation albums from Beyond Records that announced ambient dub to the world. The last of the four isn’t quite up to the first three but best seen as a whole. Another name check is for the annual ‘Pop Ambient’ compilations (2001‑) curated by Wolfgang Voigt, the man behind Kompakt Records and his nom de guerre GAS (see #5 above).


The future of ambient and ambient‑related music

The legacy of ambient music in all its facets has had a major impact on pretty much everything we listen to, even if we aren’t always aware of it. The question is, where is it going?

Ambient has exhibited somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2020s. Part of this renewed interest may be because of what is called multi‑sensory branding, where media events attempt to evoke memories through stimulation of all the senses. Another reason may be the rediscovery of obscure Japanese ambient music, as well as an interest in previously experimental, niche or underground music now garnering mainstream recognition. Streaming services make accessing unconventional music much easier. In addition, the growth of interest in mindfulness and mental health & wellbeing as a ‘cure’ for stress and anxiety caused by an increasingly frenetic and unpredictable world has reinforced the search for aids to relaxation, introspection and contemplation.

One thing we’ve learnt from this escapade is that ambient and ambient+ (or whatever else you want to call it) has been pushing the boundaries ever since the start of the 20th Century. If nothing else, it will continue to explore the outer limits while influencing the mainstream.

Probably the most significant tool in the future of ambient electronica won’t even involve human beings or actual instruments! AI will make significant inroads into generative music. Ultimately, though, this is likely to be a bit of a creative dead end. The drawback of AI is that it can only learn from what has come before it, it lacks the imagination and inventiveness of the human mind. At some point, AI generated ambient will become stale and derivative and human creativity will, once again be needed to bring spontaneity and unpredictability back to front and centre of music. Go People!

Given the inherent limitations of traditional musical instruments, electronic music may, arguably, have the greatest potential for innovation and creativity. One can only imagine the possibilities yet to be explored.

While many critics view electronica as soulless, cold and inert, it is sure to develop the ability to elicit more organic, fluid emotional responses. Many artists are looking backwards to analogue instruments and production techniques to add warmth and to create beauty out of its inherent imperfections.

Genre developments can only surprise once before they become part of the historical mosaic. One possible future is that ambient reaches a point where it becomes sterile and disposable. One might envisage it derided in the way that elevator muzak has become. Arguably, a proportion of current‑day throwaway popular music is already demonstrating that bleak possibility with anything new ultimately being short‑lived around the periphery before being subsumed into universal, amorphous homogeneity.

How we will be listening to music is another factor. If music becomes more clichéd, contrived and derivative, it will become more and more dismissible, fading into the background environment. However, isn’t that exactly what Erik Satie intentionally started with back in 1917?

For some, like the author, ambient resonates with the psyche on both a subconscious and conscious level. Others, meanwhile, may find the genre melancholic or even highly irritating. Ultimately, like all music preferences, it is partly a deliberate decision and partly predetermined in some obscure way.

Personally, I have confidence that people who appreciate ‘real’ music and have a passion for creating and performing it that will perpetuate this idiosyncratic form of music into a healthy future. Once again, discuss…


Tailpiece

So… there you have it. Another lengthy (apologies) delve into a relatively narrow niche of the wondrous world of music. Back to the real world, sadly. I cannot write about things that I don’t have some sort of fascination with. Having said that, these ambient+ genres are not exclusive listening. However, they can be just the ticket when one feels like some chillaxing, escaping from reality or as an antidote to insomnia.

Why do I dig ambient and electronic ambient+ music? It just resonates with me, It creates a welcoming oasis of contemplative calm away from a crazily intense ‘real’ world and it is somewhere to go that isn’t, well, here. Nothing profound, transcendent or conceited. See you in The Matrix soon.

I have no idea what’s up next, so it will come as much of a surprise to me as it will to you. Thoughts on a postcard please.

Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “If you could literally have the world, what, exactly, would you do with it?”

© 2023 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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February 2020 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part XI

Introduction

Welcome back once again dear musical masochists. Well… here we are – finally – almost at the end of the very long linear tunnel. The ordeal is nearly over! Along the way, I hope our factual passage through time has been an enlightening and entertaining experience. Chronologically (bar the first 2 months of 2020), the long ‘Story of Modern Music’ has caught up‑to‑date. By the end of this article the facts and events covering more than three‑and‑a‑half centuries will have been laid bar for all to see. It isn’t, however, the culmination of this series of articles, as there will be a fair bit of dilly‑dallying to do to give justice to the material and to complete a coherent narrative.

If you would like to (re)visit the first 10 parts (and over 350 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

The Story of Modern Music Part XI 2010-2019

As the ‘teenies’ are fresh in our collective memories, one has to think hard about what might be regarded as standout ‘classic albums’ that will stand the test of time. Simply the act of interrogating recent history and coming up with nada is a concern. Yes there were some big selling albums from popular commercial artists but they don’t really stand up to scrutiny when compared with watershed releases of the past. Perhaps we haven’t yet had sufficient time to reflect but one would have thought that something important would stick out from the random melange.

It is hard to believe that it was the early 1990s when game changing albums like Nirvana’s ‘Never Mind’ and Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’, both landed in 1991 and Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous debut struck home in 1992. Since that time? With hindsight, perhaps controversially, not a great deal. Readers will no doubt have their favourite albums from the noughties and teenies but there were no multi‑platinum multi‑million sellers outside the pop mainstream that came out of the blue. and certainly no ground‑breaking important epics such as ‘Tubular Bells’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Rumours’ or ‘Thriller’, to mention just four more classic albums that went on to sell in colossal quantities and helped to define the zeitgeist. It isn’t just about numbers and money, it’s about the value of artistic creativity. Where were the musical milestones to have significant global social and cultural impact? To-date, this levelling (lowering?) of the playing field seems to have resulted from benign prosperity and social disengagement. It seems as though, whereas the youthful tortured angst of previous decades has been quelled, to be replaced with pseudo entitled vacuous celebrity‑induced cupidity and malaise. Discuss…

One sad observation of the 2010s is the number of legendary musical artists who passed on during the decade. Many had featured in previous articles for other reasons and had their last entries in this one. Their valuable legacy has helped to shape the musical landscape that we enjoy and their influential music will endure well into the future, even though they are no longer with us. At the time of writing, we can only speculate about who might have been born in the teenies that will become future legends. Watch this space.

Historical Context 2010-2019

After the economic meltdown that started in the latter part of the 2000s, the ‘teenies’ were characterised by enduring global economic recession, which adversely affected most countries. Depression exposed the ugly and inhumane economic inequality that was exacerbated by extreme avarice, arrogance and hubris further polarising the wealth gap between richest and poorest. A resurgence of east/west Cold War political tensions was intensified by the errant behaviour of maverick states such as communist North Korea and Islamic Iran, as well as a bitter trade war between America and China. Misplaced ideological posturing drove extremist terrorism, which disregarded national borders and reached unprecedented levels through devastating atrocities in many countries. Escalating regional conflict in the Middle East continued to affect international relations, trade and mobility. Unparalleled economic and humanitarian migration reached new levels and became a major refugee problem for developed‑world countries. Technologically, an insatiable appetite for Internet use led to an equally huge increase in the uptake of social media and online commerce. Driverless and electric vehicles became the focus of major tech corporations. Global concerns increased over action required to reduce CO2 emissions and extreme weather events. The equalities of LGBTQ+ communities gained widespread international recognition and forced irreversible social and cultural change in many societies.

Year

Global Events

2010

Many anti‑government protests rose up across the Middle East, widely known as the Arab Spring.

 

A massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti in the Caribbean Sea, killing somewhere between 100,000 and 316,000 people.

 

The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig run by BP exploded, causing an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. It is, to date, the largest marine oil spill in the history of the oil industry with over 210 million gallons discharged into the Gulf.

 

The world’s tallest building to‑date, the Burj Khalifa opened in Dubai, standing at 829.8m (2,722ft).

 

Controversial non-profit political organisation Wikileaks, under the control of editor‑in‑chief Julian Assange, began releasing substantial amounts of American classified information from whistle‑blowers into the public domain, thereby compromising national and international security.

 

The culturally popular American post-apocalyptic AMC television series, ‘The Walking Dead’, based on the zombie comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard was first broadcast.

2011

The leader of the Islamic terrorist group al‑Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed by American Special Forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

 

The Syrian Civil War started following Arab Spring protests against the Syrian government. Conflict escalated after protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s removal were brutally suppressed. The ensuing political and military vacuum led to territorial gains by the so‑called Islamic State in the Middle East and particularly in Syria.

 

Japan was devastated by a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that killed over 15,000 people. The Great East Japan Earthquake was the 4th strongest on historical record. The tsunami caused a major nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The estimated economic cost was in the region of $235bn USD.

 

NASA’s aging Space Shuttle fleet was retired from service after 30 years, 5 operational vehicles, 135 missions and 2 fatal accidents costing 14 lives.

 

The world’s human population exceeded 7 billion for the first time, highlighting serious concerns about the sustainability of uncontrolled population growth.

2012

The largest ever Atlantic storm, Category 3 Hurricane Sandy, devastated the north eastern United States, killing over 230 people and causing nearly $70bn of damage.

 

The existence of the elusive so‑called ‘god particle’, the Higgs Boson sub‑atomic unit was finally confirmed by experiments conducted at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

 

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 60th Anniversary of her accession to the British throne.

2013

Two Islamic terrorists from Chechnya detonated 2 bombs during the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts, USA, killing 3 and injuring 264.

 

The largest outbreak of the Ebola virus in history reached epidemic proportions in Western Africa and lasted until 2016, resulting in a conservative estimate of more than 11,000 deaths.

2014

The so‑called Islamic State (ISIS) took military control of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq.

 

The new World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower, was completed in New York, becoming the tallest building in the U.S. at 1,776 feet (541m), 13 years after the original World Trade Center twin towers were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

2016

The United Kingdom held a one‑off national referendum to determine whether to remain part of or to leave the European Union (EU). The UK had become a member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. The referendum result was a majority desire to leave the EU. The UK was the first country to leave the union since the EEC was formed in 1957. The process of leaving, often referred to as ‘Brexit’, was completed in 2020.

 

HM Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing Queen Victoria (1819‑1901), who had reigned for 63 years and 7 months.

2017

Businessman and Republican politician Donald Trump became the 45th president of the U.S.A.

 

The UK triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, initiating the Brexit process that led to the UK leaving the EU after 47 years of membership.

 

American president Donald Trump announced the U.S. government’s intention to withdraw unilaterally from the Paris Climate Agreement.

2018

The longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st Century took place, lasting approximately 1 hour and 43 minutes.

 

Canada legalised the sale and use of cannabis, only the 2nd country to do so, Uruguay being the first.

2019

A catastrophic fire broke out in the roof of medieval Roman Catholic Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in France, destroying much of the building’s roof, spire and upper walls.

 

The final stronghold of the so‑called Islamic State in Al-Baghuz Fawqani, Syria, was liberated.

 

Violent protests and civil unrest occurred in Hong Kong, ignited by controversial Chinese legislation that allegedly undermined the region’s autonomy and civil liberties.

 

Activists belonging to Extinction Rebellion, a global movement created to use direct non‑violent civil disobedience to force governments to react positively towards the threat of climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological collapse, caused widespread disruption in major cities worldwide.

Musical Genre Development 2010-2019

Sadly, during the 2010s there were no recent new genres or emergent significant sub‑genres, and little sign of any on the horizon. It is a struggle to identify any hugely influential genre developments during the ‘teenies’. Yes, there were ventures, projects, collaborations, experiments and side lines including, for instance dubstep and grime but, let’s be honest, these aren’t really new; they are simply variations on past themes that were re‑established for wider audiences. However, modern music has shown an incredible tenacity to rejuvenate and reinvent itself, especially when it appears to be entering the doldrums. One can only watch and wait to see what happens from here on in. Let’s start with some of the nuances during the 2010s.

Female pop mega‑artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and even Lana Del Rey have become very powerful, successful multi‑millionaires predominantly focusing their considerable resources on commercially lucrative target audiences. These industry pillars have become renowned as much for their business acumen as their musical prowess. New artist, Billie Eilish looks set to continue this trend into the 2020s. The token male artist in this bracket is probably Ed Sheeran.

The indie movement continued to grow from strength to strength into the 2010s broadening the diversity of indie and keeping it fresh by fusing with other styles such as folk, blues, rock, punk, roots, garage and Americana. Notable indie artists of the teenies include (in no particular order); Courtney Barnett, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, The War On Drugs, Band Of Skulls, The National, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Fleet Foxes, Real Estate, Feist, Tame Impala, Parquet Courts, Kurt Vile, Girls, Courteeners, Daughter, Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes, Haim, Father John Misty, Ariel Pink, Sheerwater, Foals, Two Door Cinema Club, Villagers, EMA, The Horrors, The Kills, The Low Anthem, Royal Blood, Rival Sons, The Vaccines, Alt‑J, The XX, Wolf Alice, The Dead Weather, The Twilight Sad, Cage The Elephant, London Grammar, Savages, Band Of Skulls, Warpaint, Slaves, Wolf Alice, Bat For Lashes, K.T. Tunstall, Cigarettes After Sex, Blood Red Shoes, Real Estate and Dry the River among a multitude of others.

While clearly a niche subgenre of the fading mainstream Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and related genres and closely related to ambient, downtempo, progressive electronic, darkwave, glitch and chillwave, Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) flourished, building on the shoulders of pioneers such as The Orb, Future Sound of London, Orbital and Aphex Twin. IDM and related artists pushed the boundaries of esoteric syncopated, and stripped down electronica to new, often indulgent extremes. Under the broadest definition, some IDM artists include; Four Tet, Boards of Canada, Caribou, Crystal Castles, Neon Indian, Jon Hopkins, Bonobo, Burial, Flying Lotus, Memory Tapes, Apparat, Toro y Moi, James Blake, Oneohtrix Point Never, Com Truise, Autechre, Mouse On Mars and Squarepusher.

In the late 20th Century, modern jazz had newfound credibility in the fusion years of the 1970s, with artists like John McLaughlin, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, Al Di Meola, Utopia and Weather Report, followed by other virtuoso instrumentalists like Larry Coryell, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour during the 1980s. Move forward in time to the 21st Century and jazz experienced a stunning rejuvenation, often referred to as nu‑jazz or jazztronica, eschewing old-style constraints and fusing jazz elements with electronic music ranging from the traditional to the experimental. While growing on the popularity in the 2000s of artists like St. Germain, Mr. Scruff, Joss Stone and Jamie Cullum, nu‑jazz really came into its own in the 2010s. Nu‑jazz artists embraced hip‑hop, electronica, dance, reggae, electro‑swing and many other forms to create something vital and engaging, including artists such as Snarky Puppy, The Cinematic Orchestra, Floating Points, GoGo Penguin, Thundercat, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Comet Is Coming, The Correspondents and Mammal Hands.

Musical Facts 2010-2019

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

11

January

2010

American indie rock band Vampire Weekend released their 2nd studio album, ‘Contra’.

8

February

2010

English trip-hop group, Massive Attack released their 5th studio album, ‘Heligoland’ in the UK.

17

February

2010

Northern Irish indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club released their debut studio album, ‘Tourist History’.

10

March

2010

Welsh guitarist and member of progressive rock band Man, Micky Jones died of cancer in Swansea at the age of 63.

15

March

2010

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2010’, including ABBA, Genesis, The Hollies, Jimmy Cliff, The Stooges and David Geffen.

28

March

2010

Highly influential American jazz guitarist Herb Ellis died of Alzheimer’s disease in Los Angeles, California at the age of 88.

13

April

2010

Experimental virtuoso English rock guitarist, Jeff Beck released his 10th solo album, ‘Emotion And Commotion’ in the UK.

18

May

2010

American blues/rock duo The Black Keys released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Brothers’.

25

June

2010

Canadian rock band, Rush, received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 6752 Hollywood Boulevard.

9

July

2010

English indie rock group Bombay Bicycle Club released their understated acoustic 2nd studio album, ‘Flaws’.

25

October

2010

American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift released her commercially successful 3rd studio album, ‘Speak Now’.

16

November

2010

After many years of negotiation, The Beatles’ back catalogue was finally made available on Apple’s iTunes music platform.

17

December

2010

American rock singer, songwriter and musician, Captain Beefheart (real name Don Van Vliet) died from complications resulting from multiple sclerosis in a hospital in Arcata, California at the age of 69.

22

December

2010

The famous zebra crossing at Abbey Road, London, just outside Abbey Road Studios and featured on The Beatles’ classic titular 1969 album cover, was Grade II Listed by English Heritage.

24

January

2011

English pop singer, Adele released her massive commercial 2nd studio album, ‘21’.

30

January

2011

Legendary English composer of classic film and television scores, John Barry died of a heart attack in New York at the age of 77.

6

February

2011

Irish blues/rock guitarist and singer, Gary Moore died from a heart attack in Malaga, Spain at the age of 58.

14

February

2011

English alternative/indie rock singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, P.J. Harvey released her award‑winning 8th studio album, ‘Let England Shake’.

14

March

2011

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2011’, including Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Tom Waits and Leon Russell.

2

June

2011

Canadian country singer Shania Twain received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6270 Hollywood Boulevard.

6

June

2011

English indie rock band, Arctic Monkeys released their 4th studio album, ‘Suck It and See’.

23

July

2011

English singer and songwriter, Amy Winehouse died from an alcohol overdose in Camden, London at the age of 27.

7

August

2011

American bass player and key member of Johnny Cash’s backing band, the Tennessee Two, Marshall Grant died in Jonesboro, Arkansas at the age of 83.

16

August

2011

American indie rock band The War On Drugs released their breakout 2nd studio album, ‘Slave Ambient’.

7

September

2011

On what would have been his 75th birthday, American rock ‘n’ roll singer Buddy Holly received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 North Vine Street.

5

October

2011

Accomplished Scottish acoustic folk guitarist Bert Jansch died after a long battle with lung cancer in London at the age of 67.

4

December

2011

American blues guitarist, singer and member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Hubert Sumlin died from heart failure in Wayne, New Jersey at the age of 80.

16

December

2011

American blues/rock duo The Black Keys released their classic 7th studio album, ‘El Camino’.

20

January

2012

Legendary American multi-genre singer, Etta James died of leukaemia in hospital in Riverside, California at the age of 73.

31

January

2012

American singer and songwriter, Lana Del Rey released her breakout 2nd studio album, ‘Born To Die’.

9

February

2012

English bass guitarist and former member of The Beatles, Paul McCartney received a solo star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 North Vine Street.

6

February

2012

Scottish indie rock band The Twilight Sad released their underrated 3rd studio album, ‘No One Can Ever Know’.

11

February

2012

American soul/pop singer, producer and actress, Whitney Houston died from drug misuse and accidental drowning at the Hilton hotel in Beverley Hills, California at the age of 48.

29

February

2012

English singer and member of media pop band The Monkees, Davy Jones died from a heart attack in Florida at the age of 66.

5

April

2012

English innovator, entrepreneur, businessman and founder of iconic Marshall amplifiers, ‘The Father of Loud’, Jim Marshall OBE, died from cancer in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire at the age of 88.

14

April

2012

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2012’, including The Beastie Boys, Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Small Faces/The Faces, Freddie King and Tom Dowd.

16

April

2012

English indie rock band Spiritualized released their 7th studio album, ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’.

10

July

2012

English-American guitarist Slash (a.k.a. Saul Hudson) received a solo star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard.

31

August

2012

Northern Irish indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club released their 2nd studio album, ‘Beacon’.

2

October

2012

Highly acclaimed English session guitarist ‘Big Jim’ Sullivan died of complications from heart disease and diabetes in Billingshurst, West Sussex at the age of 71.

10

January

2013

Swiss founder and manager of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival since 1967, Claude Nobs, died in Lausanne at the age of 76.

18

February

2013

Alternative rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their outstanding reflective 15th studio album, ‘Push the Sky Away’.

6

March

2013

English blues/rock guitarist and singer, Alvin Lee died of complications following surgery in Estepona, Spain at the age of 68.

18

April

2013

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2013’, including Heart, Albert King, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Rush and Donna Summer.

20

May

2013

American keyboard player with, and co-founder of, The Doors, Ray Manzarek died from bile duct cancer in Rosenheim, Germany at the age of 74.

3

June

2013

American rock band Queens Of The Stone Age released their 6th studio album ‘…Like Clockwork’.

26

July

2013

Reclusive and influential American blues/rock guitarist, singer and songwriter, J.J. Cale died from a heart attack in La Jolla, California at the age of 74.

9

September

2013

English indie rock band, Arctic Monkeys released their 5th studio album, ‘AM’.

27

October

2013

Legendary American singer, songwriter, guitarist, member of the Velvet Underground and successful solo artist, Lou Reed died of liver disease at his home in New York at the age of 71.

4

November

2013

American singer and cultural icon, Janis Joplin received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6752 Hollywood Boulevard.

3

January

2014

American singer and guitarist, Phil Everly, half of the vocal harmony duo The Everly Brothers, died of lung disease in Burbank, California at the age of 74.

25

February

2014

Spanish virtuoso flamenco guitarist and composer, Paco de Lucía died from a heart attack while on holiday in Playa del Carmen, Mexico at the age of 66.

18

March

2014

American indie rock band The War On Drugs released their 3rd studio album, ‘Lost In The Dream’.

10

April

2014

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2014’, including KISS, Nirvana, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Linda Rondstadt and Hall & Oates.

17

June

2014

American singer and songwriter, Lana Del Rey released her 3rd studio album, ‘Ultraviolence’.

16

July

2014

Renowned American blues/rock guitarist, Johnny Winter died from emphysema and pneumonia near Zurich, Switzerland, at the age of 70.

25

October

2014

Scottish bass guitarist with blues/rock super group Cream, Jack Bruce died of liver disease in Suffolk, England at the age of 71.

27

October

2014

American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift released her commercially successful 5th studio album, ‘1989’.

13

March

2015

Australian guitarist, singer, songwriter, poet and co‑founder of psychedelic rock bands Soft Machine and Gong, Daevid Allen died from cancer in Australia at the age of 77.

30

March

2015

English dance/rock band The Prodigy released their 6th studio album, ‘The Day Is My Enemy’.

14

May

2015

Legendary blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer, B.B. King died from a stroke caused by type 2 diabetes in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 89.

21

May

2015

American bass guitarist Louis Johnson of funk band Brothers Johnson died from internal bleeding in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 60.

30

May

2015

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2015’, including Green Day, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Ringo Starr, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Bill Withers.

27

June

2015

English bass guitarist with progressive band Yes, Chris Squire died from leukaemia in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 67.

11

September

2015

English indie rock band The Libertines released their highly anticipated 3rd studio album, ‘Anthems for Doomed Youth’.

10

November

2015

American musician, songwriter, arranger and record producer Allen Toussaint died of a heart attack while on tour in Madrid, Spain at the age of 77.

13

November

2015

Islamic terrorists attacked a concert where American rock band Eagles of Death Metal were performing at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, France. A total of 89 innocent people lost their lives.

4

December

2015

A commemorative statue of The Beatles was unveiled in their home city of Liverpool, 50 years after their last gig there.

28

December

2015

English singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, founder and front man of rock band Motörhead, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, died of cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 70.

8

January

2016

Iconic English singer, David Bowie released his final studio album, ‘Blackstar’, on his 69th birthday, just 2 days before his untimely death.

10

January

2016

Chameleonic English singer, rock legend, actor and cultural icon, David Bowie died from liver cancer at his apartment in New York City at the age of 69.

18

January

2016

Highly regarded American singer, songwriter and guitarist with country rock band Eagles, Glenn Frey died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis in New York City at age of 67.

4

February

2016

Northern Irish singer Sir Van Morrison OBE was knighted by Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, London, UK for services to the music industry and tourism.

13

February

2016

Four members of English indie band Viola Beach and their manager were tragically killed in a car accident in Södertälje, Sweden.

8

March

2016

Legendary English record producer, Sir George Martin CBE, known by many as the ‘Fifth Beatle’, died at his home in Wiltshire at the age of 90.

11

March

2016

English keyboard player with progressive rock group Nice and a founding member of super group Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), Keith Emerson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Santa Monica California at the age of 71.

6

April

2016

American country singer and guitarist Merle Haggard died on his birthday as a result of complications from pneumonia at his home in Palo Cedro, California at the age of 79.

8

April

2016

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2016’, including Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple, Steve Miller and NWA.

21

April

2016

American singer, guitarist, producer and actor, Prince died from an accidental drug overdose of the pain killer fentanyl at his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota at the age of 57.

21

April

2016

Influential American blues/rock guitarist Lonnie Mack died of natural causes in hospital near his home in Smithville Tennessee at the age of 74.

10

June

2016

British pop/rock singer and songwriter Sir Rod Stewart CBE was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to music and charity.

28

June

2016

American singer Elvis Presley’s main guitarist in the early rock ‘n’ roll years, Scotty Moore died in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 84.

15

July

2016

English virtuoso rock guitarist Jeff Beck released his fascinating change-of-direction 11th studio album, ‘Loud Hailer’.

9

September

2016

Alternative rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their desperately melancholic 16th studio album, ‘Skeleton Tree’.

13

October

2016

Legendary American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bob Dylan was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm, Sweden. He skipped the official awards ceremony and delivered his acceptance lecture in April 2017.

21

October

2016

Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist, Leonard Cohen released his elegiac final studio album, ‘You Want It Darker’.

7

November

2016

Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and guitarist, Leonard Cohen died after a fall at his home in Los Angeles, California at the age of 82.

13

November

2016

Legendary American musician and songwriter, Leon Russell died in his sleep at his home in Mount Juliet, Tennessee at the age of 74.

2

December

2016

English rock band Rolling Stones released their great back-to-basics blues/rock studio album, ‘Blue & Lonesome’ in the UK.

7

December

2016

English bass guitarist, singer, songwriter and founding member of progressive rock bands King Crimson and ELP, as well as a solo artist, Greg Lake died from cancer in London at the age of 69.

24

December

2016

English guitarist with pop/rock band Status Quo, Rick Parfitt died from sepsis caused by a shoulder infection in hospital in Marbella, Spain at the age of 68.

25

December

2016

English singer, songwriter and member of pop band Wham!, George Michael died of heart failure at his home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire at the age of 53.

31

January

2017

Welsh guitarist and regular on-off member of the progressive jam rock bands Man and Iceberg, as well as a solo artist, Deke Leonard died at the age of 72.

4

February

2017

English heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath performed their final live concert of their ‘The End’ tour at the NEC Arena in their home city of Birmingham, UK.

19

February

2017

Influential American virtuoso jazz fusion guitarist, Larry Coryell died of heart failure in New York City at the age of 73.

16

March

2017

English singer and member of pop/rock band The Kinks, Sir Ray Davies CBE received a knighthood from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, London, UK for his service to the arts.

18

March

2017

Legendary American rock ‘n’ roll singer, songwriter and guitarist Chuck Berry died of a reported cardiac arrest at his home in Wentzville, Missouri at the age of 90.

7

April

2017

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2017’, including ELO, Joan Baez, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes.

15

April

2017

Influential virtuoso English jazz/rock fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth died from heart disease at his home in Vista, California at the age of 70.

18

May

2017

American singer, songwriter and front man of hard rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, Chris Cornell committed suicide in his hotel room in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 52.

27

May

2017

American musician and co-founder of The Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman died from a heart attack in Richmond Hall, Georgia at the age of 69.

8

August

2017

American country singer and guitarist, Glen Campbell died of Alzheimer’s disease in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 81.

25

August

2017

American indie rock band The War On Drugs released their 4th studio album, ‘A Deeper Understanding’.

3

September

2017

American guitarist and bass guitarist, songwriter and co‑founder of rock band Steely Dan, Walter Becker died from oesophageal cancer at his home in Manhattan, New York at the age of 67.

2

October

2017

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Tom Petty died of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers at his home in Santa Monica, California at the age of 66.

18

November

2017

Scottish-born guitarist and co-founder of Australian rock band AC/DC, Malcom Young died following a long battle with dementia in Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales at the age of 64.

10

January

2018

English guitarist and one-time member of the rock band Motörhead, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke died from pneumonia in hospital in London at the age of 67.

9

March

2018

After 66 years, the UK weekly music magazine The New Musical Express (a.k.a. NME) published its final printed copy, signalling the end of an era in British music press.

9

March

2018

British indie rock band Editors released their 6th studio album, ‘Violence’.

20

March

2018

English drummer and former member of The Beatles, Sir Richard Starkey (a.k.a. Ringo Starr) MBE was knighted by HRH Prince William at Buckingham Palace, London, UK.

14

April

2018

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2018’, including Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, Moody Blues, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

8

June

2018

English guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of Anglo-American rock group Fleetwood Mac from 1968 to 1972, Danny Kirwan died from pneumonia in London at the age of 68.

2

July

2018

Scottish bass guitarist and founding member of 1970s pop group The Bay City Rollers, Alan Longmuir died in Larbert, Scotland, following an illness while on holiday in Mexico at the age of 70.

16

August

2018

Legendary American singer, songwriter and the ‘Queen of Soul’, Aretha Franklin died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 76.

22

August

2018

American guitarist and bass guitarist with southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ed King died following a battle with cancer at his home in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 68.

22

September

2018

English guitarist and singer, best known as half of London duo Chas & Dave and as a session musician, Chas Hodges died from organ failure following treatment for cancer at the age of 74.

29

September

2018

Great American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, Otis Rush died from complications resulting from a stroke in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 83.

16

March

2019

Influential American guitarist, ‘the king of surf guitar’, Dick Dale died of heart failure in hospital in Loma Linda, California at the age of 81.

17

March

2019

Irish guitarist and member of heavy rock bands Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, Bernie Tormé died of pneumonia in London, England at the age of 66.

29

March

2019

The American Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted its ‘Class of 2019’, including The Cure, Def Leppard, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, Roxy Music and The Zombies.

29

March

2019

Emerging American indie/pop singer and songwriter Billie Eilish released her phenomenally successful debut album, ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’.

30

April

2019

English guitarist and co-founder of jazz/funk band Level 42, Boon Gould died at his home in Dorset at the age of 64.

13

May

2019

American singer and Hollywood actress Doris Day died of pneumonia in Carmel Valley Village, California at the age of 97.

30

May

2019

Cypriot/Canadian jazz/blues singer, songwriter, guitarist and actor Leon Redbone died following complications from dementia in hospice care in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA at the age of 69.

31

May

2019

Pioneering American guitarist, singer and songwriter with psychedelic rock band 13th Floor Elevators Roky Erickson died in Austin Texas at the age of 71.

6

June

2019

Great American singer, songwriter, pianist and occasional guitarist Dr John died of a heart attack in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 77.

20

June

2019

English guitarist and former member of Pink Floyd, David Gilmour auctioned 120 of his guitars in New York, raising nearly £17m to help fight climate change. His famous Black Strat sold for £3.1m.

30

August

2019

American singer and songwriter, Lana Del Rey released her standout 6th studio album, ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ (a.k.a. ‘NFR!’).

6

October

2019

Legendary English drummer and co-founder of the rock bands Cream, Blind Faith and Baker Gurvitz Army, as well as solo artist, Ginger Baker died in hospital after a long illness in Canterbury, Kent at the age of 80.

Tailpiece

So, finally, that’s the major part of the extensive adventure now covered. Along the way, way more than 100 additional facts have been squeezed into the timeline, so somewhere around 1,700 music‑related facts. That doesn’t include the hundreds of ‘Historical Context’ facts that I think brought some of the more obscure musical events to life.

Undoubtedly, over time, more ideas and data will expand the long list of factoids further. Fortunately, these supplemental incidences won’t be lost, as they will appear on CRAVE Guitars’ quotidian ‘Musical Facts Of The Day’, which are posted daily on Twitter and Facebook.

The next article… or two… or three… will be wrapping up the voluminous subject matter in a way that I hope provides adequate closure to the lengthy journey. As there are no more decades to cover, the next episode will take a different look at what has already been covered. Intrigued by what the next slice of exposition might comprise? I hope so. Come back and find out.

In the meantime, I will be continuing my personal quest to bring you ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric’ Guitar heritage for your entertainment (?!?!). This chore inevitably means the routine business of accumulating and appreciating some hopefully interesting old guitar gear. Hey, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it and, quite frankly, I ain’t complainin’. Much. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “The purpose of art, to stimulate an emotional reaction, regardless of what that reaction is.”

© 2020 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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November 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part IX

Introduction

Welcome to the end of the 20th Century. Not actually, of course, that was 20 years ago now. I mean, in the ‘Story of Modern Music’, having covered almost 350 years so far, welcomes you to the very end of the century that really transformed mankind’s potential and bestowed opportunities hitherto unforeseen and unthought‑of, including musically.

If you would like to (re)visit any of the first eight chapters of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

I did think of trying to compress the last three decades into a single article and then thought better of it on the grounds that doing so might diminish the impact of the period within the overall picture. So, just for now, the millennial years will have to wait. The result is that the 1990s will have its own dedicated article, although it will be a slightly more diminutive read compared to the previous five decades/articles.

The Story of Modern Music Part IX 1990-1999

It is quite tricky to pinpoint exactly what the ‘90s meant to music devotees. It seemed to depend where you lived, your age and, perhaps, what socio‑economic ‘class’ you belonged to. Whether it was grunge, alternative, Britpop or dance music that floated your boat, there was a new and exciting scene to associate with and belong to. The psychological attachment to a musical style was important to many, especially young people who were looking for some structure to life while the old order of social and political systems seemed to be disintegrating around them. Although not quite as disobedient and defiant as previous musical archetypes, there was still an underlying seething resentment of ‘the man’, which various groups saw as attempting to control their chosen form of exuberant self‑expression. In a sense, they were tapping into the anger of the marginalised.

With previous decades, it was notable that births of familiar artists outnumbered deaths, while the ‘90s saw that trend beginning to reverse. Many future artists that may well achieve sustained fame may have been born in the ‘90s but not yet discovered, while the stars of previous eras are getting, let’s be honest, a bit long in the tooth.

Similarly, it is becoming difficult to distinguish what definitive musical gems will rise from the seeming homogeneity of releases to become revered as ‘classic’ in years to come. Arguably, the 1990s marked the last vestiges of milestone singles and albums. From then on, listening habits began to change fundamentally and that, in turn, changed the way we regard significance, at least through the traditional lens of sales figures.

Historical Context 1990-1999

Some commentators called the 1990s as the ‘best decade’, although that clearly depended on your circumstances and point of view! The dawn of the 1990s experienced widespread international political restructuring, especially in Eastern Europe following the end of the Cold War and the fracturing of the communist Eastern Bloc. The 1990s also saw the growth in environmental consciousness based on dire scientific predictions about global warming and climate change. Ironically, scaremongering about ‘greenhouse gases’ led to an expansion of ‘green’ industries in developed countries. Similarly, many commentators observed signs of societal dysfunctionality, leading to prescient dystopian novels such as ‘Generation X’ by Douglas Coupland (1991), ‘Random Acts Of Senseless Violence’ by Jack Womack (1992), and ‘Prozac Nation’ by Elizabeth Wurtzel (1994). The wealth gap between the haves and have‑nots was striking; a morally unjustifiable trend that would only worsen from the 1990s onwards. The increase in the pace of technological change in post‑industrial countries fuelled the migration towards ‘digitocracies’ and resulted in manufacturing being outsourced to low‑cost developing countries on a massive scale. A period of unprecedented growth in the use of the Internet fuelled unsustainable speculation in the value of high‑tech companies, known broadly as the ‘dot‑com bubble’, a phenomenon that was bound to burst, which it ultimately did. Many companies that had become reliant on IT during the decade were fearful of the impact of Y2K on computer systems that were not prepared for the turn of the millennium.

Year

Global Events

1990

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of soviet communism, East and West Germany were reunited as the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

Political internee and equal rights campaigner, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years. His return to freedom effectively marked the end of apartheid in South Africa.

 

The ground breaking American cult TV series Twin Peaks burst onto screens. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and starring Kyle MacLachlan. It is considered a landmark in television drama.

 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, named after American astronomer Edwin Hubble, was launched into low Earth orbit. The telescope was designed to look into deep space.

 

The first Middle East Gulf War started after Iraq invaded and annexed neighbouring Kuwait. A U.S.‑led coalition of 35 countries responded with Operation Desert Storm resulting in a coalition victory.

1991

Communist rule of the soviet USSR ended, resulting in a break up into a number of separate countries. The dismantling of the communist state effectively ended the 45‑year old Cold War between Russia and America.

 

British computer scientist and engineer, Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project, effectively launching the Internet, initially to research institutions and then to the general public.

1992

The infamous Los Angeles riots took place after 4 LAPD officers were acquitted of using excessive force in the arrest of African-American Rodney King the previous year. The incident had been videotaped and broadcast widely on TV, sparking renewed civil rights activism.

 

Founded in 1918, Central European country Yugoslavia descended into bitter civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a devastating military conflict that lasted until 1995.

1993

Democrat politician Bill Clinton became the 42nd president of the U.S.A.

 

Another massive American cult TV series, The X-Files was first broadcast, created by Chris Carter and starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

 

The European Union (EU) succeeded the European Economic Community (EEC) when 12 countries signed the Maastricht Treaty, signalling a process of closer political and economic union.

1994

The trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico came into effect.

 

Anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician Nelson Mandela was elected as president of South Africa. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.

 

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) declared a cease fire in Northern Ireland, paving the way for de‑armament and the subsequent peace process.

 

The 38Km (23.5mile) Channel Tunnel rail link beneath the English Channel from Folkestone in England to Calais in France was opened for business.

1995

The phenomenally successful multi‑national online auction and e‑commerce website eBay was launched, founded by entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar and based in San Jose, California.

 

Former professional American footballer O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the double murder of former wife Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The criminal trial, held in Los Angeles, was widely broadcast on TV.

1996

Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell by using nuclear transfer in Scotland, UK. Dolly died in 2003 at the age of 6.

 

Heir to the British throne, Prince Charles was formally divorced from Diana, Princess of Wales in London.

1997

The British crown colony of Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China after 156 years of British rule.

 

Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, France at the age of 36. Her lover, Egyptian socialite Dodi Fayed, was also killed in the crash, sparking many conspiracy theories.

 

Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and humanitarian missionary Mother Teresa died of a heart attack in Rome at the age of 87.

 

The Pacific Rim countries were hit by the major Asian Financial Crisis, starting in Thailand and spreading rapidly across east and southeast Asia, resulting in an international financial contagion that threatened a severe worldwide economic meltdown.

1998

The male virility drug Sildenafil, commonly known as Viagra, became available for use in America. It was originally discovered by pharmaceutical company Pfizer as a treatment for heart‑related chest pain.

 

The Internet search engine Google Search was launched. It is the most widely used search engine on the World Wide Web, with over 90% market share in 2019, handling more than 5 billion searches per day.

 

Multinational technology giant, Apple Inc. launched the highly successful iMac computer.

 

The multilateral Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast by the Republic of Ireland and Britain as part of the on-going Northern Ireland peace process.

 

The first module of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched into low Earth orbit. The ISS has served as a multinational microgravity research laboratory.

1999

The Euro became the official single currency for the majority of European Union (EU) countries, known commonly as the Eurozone. The security of the Euro is overseen by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.

 

Politician, Vladimir Putin became President of Russian Federation, succeeding former president, Boris Yeltsin.

Musical Genre Development 1990-1999

The 1990s was a decade of sometimes dysfunctional music set against a background of major political change and social polarisation/alienation.

One phenomenon of the 1990s that isn’t genre‑specific but which built on the perennial success of pop music was the ‘boy band’ and its all‑girl equivalent. Artists included Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, *NSYNC, Take That, Westlife, All Saints, S Club 7, Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. The record company ‘manufactured’ bands didn’t have it all their own way; solo pop music artists were also highly successful during the 1990s, including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore.

American heavy metal saw a resurgence including bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Pantera achieving massive popularity. Meanwhile, British heavy metal was also prospering with NWOBHM bands such as Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

Hip‑hop became increasingly divisive, inciting gang warfare, gun violence and drug use, fuelling rivalry between east and west coast artists, and resulting in a number of high profile deaths including Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

The English ‘Manchester movement’ (or ‘Madchester’ as it was often called) was strong in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. The scene centred on venues like the Haçienda nightclub in Manchester, run by post‑punk band New Order and led by local bands such as Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and The Charlatans, although the latter were actually based in the west midlands. The music isn’t necessarily a genre per se, it was more of a loose social and cultural grouping that also encompassed fashion, art and media. The OTT craziness of the Manchester scene was faithfully represented in the film ’24 Hour Party People’, made in 2002, directed by Michael Winterbottom. Other artists associated with the vital hotpot based around the UK’s North West were The Verve, Inspiral Carpets and James, as well as Scottish band Primal Scream. The Manchester ‘baggy’ zeitgeist would be important in the growth of the drug‑fuelled rave scene later in the decade.

A fusing of genres led to the emergence of trip hop as a discrete genre that grew from its roots in Bristol, UK and was pioneered by artists like Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Morcheeba and Sneaker Pimps. Sometimes referred to as ‘downtempo’, it is typified by taking electronica, hip‑hop, house, funk, dub, soul and psychedelia and creating something altogether different and fresh. While its roots were clearly experimental and atmospheric, trip hop was influential in that it led to other popular mainstream forms that became subsumed in the electronic dance craze (see below) of the 1990s and early 2000s, including breakbeat, bigbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, IDM, dubstep and acid jazz. Like the Manchester movement, trip hop was very much a UK‑led genre, which had little mainstream success in the U.S.

Like punk before it, alternative rock and its counterpart, experimental noise rock, is a musical genre that railed against the major record corporations that ran the music business and the mainstream pop and rock products they marketed. Independent producers and record labels that existed outside the studio system were very much part of an active underground movement, particularly in America, and this is where a number of bands came to public attention at the start of the 1990s. Compared to the mainstream, alternative artists found it relatively difficult to garner wide audience appeal, so word of mouth, radio and record releases were the way that the message got out. The alternative moniker is more of an umbrella term relating to artists’ status in the system, rather than having definitive identifiable genre characteristics. Notable alternative artists include Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies. Before they signed to a major label, R.E.M. were seen as alternative and this started a broadening of the definition that included other major artists such as Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age, Radiohead and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The start of the new millennium saw other alternative rock artists emerge including The Strokes, Interpol and The Rapture, extending and ensuring alternative rock’s destiny into the 21st Century.

Grunge is a specific genre of music that developed in the Pacific North West of the United States and more specifically its epicentre in and around Seattle in Washington State. Like alternative/noise rock, grunge was an underground movement centred on an independent record label, in this case, Sub Pop records based in Seattle. Grunge is influenced by punk, metal and alternative styles resulting in something altogether different from all of them. Grunge is characterised by slow, raw arrangements and a distinctly distorted lo‑fi sound. Compositions often followed a quiet‑loud‑quiet structure. Lyrics tended to be downbeat, melancholic, anti‑consumerist and often depraved with a focus on cultural alienation and social isolation. While all of the following rejected the term ‘grunge’ as defining their music, especially after signing to major labels, the early pioneers of Seattle’s grunge scene included Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and Alice In Chains. The core grunge scene had largely fizzled out and diversified by the end of the 20th Century. A revival of the grunge ethic evolved in the 2010s to include artists like Courtney Barnett, Wolf Alice and Yuck.

Britpop was essentially an upbeat and positive British reaction to the dark and depressing American grunge scene. The music and its cultural background (nicknamed ‘Cool Britannia’) lasted approximately from 1993‑1997 before fizzling out. The major bands of the Britpop period included the ‘big four’; Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede. Collectively they expanded popularity to include other artists such as Supergrass, Cast, The Lightning Seeds, Sleeper and Elastica. The so‑called ‘Battle of Britpop’ between Oasis and Blur around 1995 was a media‑fuelled highlight catching the public’s imagination at the time. Britpop was important for influencing many quintessentially British bands that came along for the ride including Coldplay, Travis, Feeder, Stereophonics, Elbow, Snow Patrol and Keane. Further influences included Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys in the 2000s.

Dance music (in this context, Electronic Dance Music – EDM) was a phenomenon that had its roots in the late 1980s but exploded in the early 1990s and lasted well into the 2000s. Dance music comprises largely electronically produced progressive dance music intended for use at nightclubs, festivals and (often illegal) raves by DJs who mixed and re‑mixed heavy beats through loud PA systems to audience rapture. In fact, many record labels and DJs became far more celebrated than the musical artists they played in their DJ sets. The predominant sub‑genres of dance music include house, techno, trance, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep, although these only represent the tip of the dance sub‑genre iceberg. Dance beats generally comprise programmed synthesizers, samplers and drum machines to produce buoyant, insistent 4/4 dance rhythms. Dance music also became synonymous with recreational drug use such as ecstasy (MDMA) as well as party holiday destinations such as Ibiza and Mykonos islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the famous artists of the dance scene include The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Underworld, Orbital, KLF, The Shamen, The Future Sound of London, 808 State, Groove Armada, Aphex Twin, Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk. Later artists built on the foundation, include Pendulum, SBTRKT and Skream. DJs became pivotal in promoting the dance craze and became famous in their own right, including Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Pete Tong, Paul Van Dyk and Armin van Buuren. There are many sub‑genres of dance including acid house, IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), ambient, breakbeat, downtempo, jungle and UK garage, all ensuring that dance music remains up‑to‑date and relevant in the 21st Century.

Musical Facts 1990-1999

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

23

January

1990

American guitarist and co-founder of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allen Collins died from pneumonia in Jacksonville, Florida at the age of 37.

8

February

1990

American country and rock & roll singer and songwriter, Del Shannon committed suicide as a result of depression at his home in California at the age of 55.

18

February

1990

English singer Freddie Mercury made his final public appearance with other members of pop/rock band Queen at the Brit Awards ceremony, held in London.

20

March

1990

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their career-defining classic 7th studio album, ‘Violator’ in the UK.

26

March

1990

Northern Irish blues/rock guitarist, Gary Moore released his classic studio album, ‘Still Got The Blues’.

3

April

1990

Highly acclaimed Grammy award winning American jazz singer Sarah Vaughan died from cancer at her home in Hidden Hills, California at the age of 66.

10

April

1990

American East Coast rappers Public Enemy released their politically charged 3rd studio album, ‘Fear of a Black Planet’.

16

April

1990

Indie rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their 6th studio album, ‘The Good Son’.

26

June

1990

Prolific American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their successful and significant 6th studio album, ‘Goo’.

24

July

1990

American heavy metal rock band Pantera released their classic 5th studio album ‘Cowboys From Hell’.

21

August

1990

Legendary American blues guitarist and singer B.B. King received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6771 Hollywood Boulevard.

27

August

1990

American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others died tragically in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin at the age of 35.

31

August

1990

The funeral service of American blues/rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan took place at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.

3

September

1990

English heavy metal rock band Judas Priest released their 12th studio album, ‘Painkiller’.

21

September

1990

American thrash metal rock band Megadeth released their superb classic 4th studio album, ‘Rust In Peace’.

6

October

1990

American Heavy metal band Metallica began recording their massive studio album ‘Metallica’ (aka the ‘black album’) in Los Angeles, California.

9

October

1990

American thrash metal band, Slayer, released their mega 5th studio album, ‘Seasons In The Abyss’.

29

October

1990

Legendary award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

8

January

1991

English guitarist and songwriter, Steve Clark of hard rock band Def Leppard died of alcohol poisoning at his home in London, at the age of 30.

15

February

1991

Successful English pop singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer, and actor Ed Sheeran was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

21

March

1991

Legendary American inventor and founder of Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, Leo Fender died from Parkinson’s disease in Fullerton, California at the age of 81.

8

April

1991

English trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack, released their successful debut studio album, ‘Blue Lines’ in the UK, including the dance anthem, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’.

20

April

1991

English guitarist and front man of rock bands Small Faces and Humble Pie, Steve Marriott died in a house fire at his home in Essex at the age of 44.

23

April

1991

American guitarist, singer and songwriter with New York Dolls, Jonny Thunders died in mysterious circumstances in a hotel room in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 38.

30

July

1991

American heavy metal rock band Metallica released their massively successful single ‘Enter Sandman’.

12

August

1991

American heavy metal band Metallica released their career-defining 5th studio album, ‘Metallica’, often referred to as ‘the black album’.

27

August

1991

American alternative rock band from Seattle, the home of grunge rock pioneers, Pearl Jam burst onto the scene with the release of their astonishing platinum-selling debut studio album, ‘Ten’.

10

September

1991

American grunge rock pioneers Nirvana released their ‘90s anthem for disaffected youth, the near perfect hit single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

17

September

1991

American hard rock band, Guns n’ Roses, released their 3rd and 4th studio albums ‘Use Your Illusion’ parts I & II on the same day in the U.S.

23

September

1991

Scottish alternative rock band, Primal Scream released their massive 3rd studio album, ‘Screamadelica’.

24

September

1991

American grunge rock pioneers Nirvana released their career-defining classic 2nd studio album ‘Never Mind’ in the U.S. Well over 30 million copies have been sold so far.

24

September

1991

American alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers released their 5th studio album, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, produced by Rick Rubin.

28

September

1991

American jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis died of complications from a stroke, pneumonia, and respiratory failure in a hospital in Santa Monica, California at the age of 65.

14

November

1991

Legendary American guitarist and singer Jimi Hendrix received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6627 Hollywood Boulevard.

18

November

1991

Massive Irish rock band, U2, released their storming 7th studio album, ‘Achtung Baby’ in the UK.

24

November

1991

English singer with pop/rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury died of pneumonia resulting from AIDS at his home in London at the age of 45.

15

January

1992

Rock band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and country music legend, Johnny Cash were both inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

29

January

1992

Influential American blues singer, songwriter, upright bass player and guitarist, Willie Dixon died of heart failure in Burbank, California at the age of 76.

21

February

1992

American heavy metal rock band Pantera released their classic 6th studio album ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’.

31

March

1992

English heavy metal rock band Def Leppard released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Adrenalize’.

20

April

1992

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their upbeat, commercial 10th studio album, ‘Wish’.

21

April

1992

American rap rockers, Beastie Boys, released their 3rd studio album, ‘Check Your Head’.

27

April

1992

Indie rock giants, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their great 7th album, ‘Henry’s Dream’.

9

May

1992

American guitarist, singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen made his live American TV network debut on ‘Saturday Night Live’ with show host Tom Hanks.

21

July

1992

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their cult, cool, classic 8th studio album, ‘Dirty’.

29

September

1992

American alternative rock band Alice In Chains released their sophomore studio album, ‘Dirt’.

6

October

1992

American rock band R.E.M. released their classic top‑selling studio album, ‘Automatic For The People’.

3

November

1992

American rock band Bon Jovi released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Keep The Faith’.

10

November

1992

American rock band Rage Against The Machine released their outstanding and career defining eponymous debut album ‘Rage Against The Machine’.

9

December

1992

Although not officially announced until January 1993, English bass guitarist Bill Wyman left The Rolling Stones.

21

December

1992

Legendary American blues guitarist, Albert King died from a heart attack at his home in Memphis Tennessee at the age of 69, just 2 days after his last concert.

6

January

1993

English bass guitarist Bill Wyman officially announced that he was leaving The Rolling Stones after more than 3 decades with the band.

23

March

1993

English alternative/electronic rock band Depeche Mode released their 8th studio album, ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ in the UK.

20

April

1993

Emerging English alternative rock band Radiohead released their debut album, ‘Pablo Honey’ in the UK.

29

April

1993

English session guitarist, songwriter and producer who played extensively with David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars among others, Mick Ronson died from liver cancer in London at the age of 46.

23

August

1993

English new romantic band Duran Duran received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1770 Vine Street.

21

September

1993

American alternative grunge rock band, Nirvana released their 3rd and final studio album, ‘In Utero’.

19

October

1993

American rock band Pearl Jam released their major 2nd studio album, ‘Vs.’.

9

November

1993

American East Coast rappers Wu-Tang Clan released their incendiary debut studio album, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’.

19

November

1993

American grunge rock band Nirvana recorded their classic live acoustic concert and album, ‘MTV Unplugged In New York’ at Sony Music Studios.

23

November

1993

American rock band, Guns N’ Roses, released their 5th studio album, ‘The Spaghetti Incident?’

24

November

1993

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist, nicknamed The ‘Master of the Telecaster’ and ‘The Ice Man’, Albert Collins died from lung cancer at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 61.

4

December

1993

Non-conformist American guitarist and composer extraordinaire, Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 52.

1

February

1994

American pop punk rock band Green Day released their breakthrough 3rd studio album, ‘Dookie’.

1

March

1994

American grunge band Nirvana played their last ever live concert, interrupted by a power cut, in Munich, Germany.

1

March

1994

American alternative rock artist, Beck released his 3rd studio album, ‘Mellow Gold’.

8

March

1994

American alternative rock band, Nine Inch Nails released their career-peak 2nd studio album, ‘The Downward Spiral’.

5

April

1994

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and member of grunge rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain died from a self‑inflicted shotgun wound in Seattle, Washington at the age of 27.

19

April

1994

Alternative rock band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their classic, career-defining 8th studio album, ‘Let Love In’.

26

April

1994

American country music legend Johnny Cash embarked on a whole new period of his career with the release of his classic studio album, ‘American Recordings’.

27

April

1994

The famous San Francisco music venue the Fillmore reopened its doors at 1805 Geary Boulevard. It had been closed since 1989 after being damaged in an earthquake.

23

May

1994

Influential American virtuoso jazz guitarist, Joe Pass died from liver cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age 65.

24

May

1994

American rappers, Beastie Boys, released their classic 4th studio album, ‘Ill Communication’ in the U.S.

14

July

1994

English rave band The Prodigy released their breakout 2nd studio album ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’.

22

August

1994

Pioneering English trip-hop band, Portishead released their ground breaking debut studio album, ‘Dummy’.

23

August

1994

Acclaimed American singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Buckley released his first and only studio album, ‘Grace’. A modern classic.

26

September

1994

English trip-hop outfit, Massive Attack, released their great sophomore studio album, ‘Protection’ in the UK.

4

October

1994

Versatile American ‘redneck jazz’ guitarist Danny Gatton died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds at his home in Newburg, Maryland at the age of 49.

1

November

1994

American grunge band Nirvana released their impressive award-winning live album, ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’, 6 months after Kurt Cobain’s death.

5

December

1994

English indie rock group The Stone Roses released their sophomore studio album, ‘Second Coming’.

13

March

1995

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their breakout 2nd studio album, ‘The Bends’ in the UK.

13

June

1995

Canadian singer, songwriter, musician and producer Alanis Morissette released her classic 3rd studio album, ‘Jagged Little Pill’.

14

June

1995

Renowned Irish blues/rock guitarist Rory Gallagher died of MRSA following liver failure caused by medication and alcohol in London at the age of 47.

9

August

1995

American guitarist Jerry Garcia of psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead died from a heart attack while at a rehabilitation centre in California at the age of 53.

2

September

1995

12 years after it was founded, America’s homage to contemporary music, the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio and was celebrated with an all-star concert.

26

September

1995

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their great 10th studio album, ‘Washing Machine’.

2

October

1995

Australian artists, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue released the haunting and elegiac duet single ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’.

7

November

1995

American alternative rock band Alice In Chains released their eponymous 3rd studio album, ‘Alice In Chains’.

21

November

1995

American rock legend, Bruce Springsteen released his 11th studio album, ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’.

17

January

1996

Music greats, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground were all inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

5

February

1996

Australian alternative rockers, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their dark 9th studio album, ‘Murder Ballads’.

16

April

1996

American alternative rock group Rage Against The Machine released their sophomore studio album, ‘Evil Empire’.

17

May

1996

American blues, soul and funk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson died of a heart attack after collapsing on stage in Yokohama, Japan at the age of 61.

15

June

1996

Legendary American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald died of complications from diabetes in Beverley Hills, California, at the age of 79.

18

June

1996

American alternative rock artist, Beck, released his classic, top-selling 5th studio album, ‘Odelay’.

17

July

1996

English bass guitarist with R&B band The Animals and Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler died of an aneurism in Newcastle, at the age of 57.

10

September

1996

American alt-rock group R.E.M. released their classic 10th studio album, ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi’.

13

September

1996

American rapper Tupac Shakur died of gunshot wounds following a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada at the age of 25.

19

September

1996

American jazz guitarist George Benson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7055 Hollywood Boulevard.

31

October

1996

English/American guitarist Slash announced that he was leaving rock band Guns N’ Roses after a relationship breakdown with the group’s lead singer Axl Rose.

2

November

1996

Sublime American singer and guitarist, known as ‘the songbird’, Eva Cassidy died from cancer in Bowie, Maryland at the age of 33.

10

January

1997

American soul legend James Brown received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street.

12

February

1997

English singer and songwriter David Bowie received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.

4

March

1997

Alternative rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their classic 10th studio album, ‘The Boatman’s Call’.

9

March

1997

American rapper Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.) was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California at the age of 24.

11

March

1997

English former member of The Beatles, Paul McCartney was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, London.

7

April

1997

British dance/electronica/big beat duo, The Chemical Brothers, released their massive studio album, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ in the UK.

14

April

1997

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their classic 9th studio album, ‘Ultra’ in the UK.

29

May

1997

Renowned American singer, songwriter and guitarist Jeff Buckley died tragically from accidental drowning in Wolf River Harbor, Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 30.

4

June

1997

English bass guitarist and founder of rock band Small Faces, Ronnie Lane died from pneumonia resulting from multiple sclerosis in Trinidad, Colorado at the age of 51.

16

June

1997

English alternative rock band Radiohead released their top-selling 3rd studio album, ‘OK Computer’ in the UK.

30

June

1997

British rave band, Prodigy, released their massive zeitgeist‑defining 3rd studio album, ‘The Fat Of The Land’ in the UK.

22

August

1997

German industrial metal rock band Rammstein released their massive 2nd studio album, ‘Sensucht’ (translated crudely as ‘Desire’).

11

September

1997

American blues legend John Lee Hooker received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

30

September

1997

English trip-hop band, Portishead released their eponymous sophomore album, ‘Portishead’ in the UK.

12

October

1997

American folk singer, songwriter and guitarist John Denver died tragically in plane crash in Monterey Bay, California, at the age of 53.

19

October

1997

American guitarist, best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Glen Buxton, died of complications from pneumonia in a hospital in Mason City, Iowa at the age of 49.

10

November

1997

Highly-regarded American session guitarist and one of the most recorded musicians in popular music history, Tommy Tedesco died of lung cancer in Northridge, California at the age of 67.

22

November

1997

Australian singer and front man of the rock band INXS, Michael Hutchence committed suicide in Sydney, Australia at the age of 37.

19

January

1998

American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Carl Perkins died from throat cancer in Jackson-Madison County Hospital, Tennessee, at the age of 65.

30

January

1998

English pop singer and songwriter Sir Elton John received his knighthood from Her Majesty The Queen.

19

February

1998

Legendary American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7060 Hollywood Boulevard.

20

April

1998

English trip-hop outfit, Massive Attack, released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘Mezzanine’ in the UK.

14

May

1998

American singer and actor, Frank Sinatra died from a heart attack at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at the age of 82.

6

July

1998

Legendary American singer, guitarist and actor, nicknamed the ‘King of the Cowboys’, Roy Rogers died of heart failure in Apple Valley, California at the age of 86.

25

July

1998

American virtuoso jazz guitarist, Tal Farlow died of oesophageal cancer in New York City at the age of 77.

17

August

1998

Mexican-American guitar legend Carlos Santana received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

15

September

1998

American heavy metal rock artist, Marilyn Manson released his massively successful classic 3rd studio album, ‘Mechanical Animals’.

24

September

1998

American icon and rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

1

October

1998

American guitarist, singer and songwriter and founder of rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.

2

October

1998

American country & western ‘singing cowboy’ Gene Autry died of lymphoma at his home in Studio City, California at the age of 91.

6

October

1998

American rock band Queens Of The Stone Age (QOTSA) released their self-titled debut album, ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’.

13

October

1998

The Crossroads Centre in Antigua, founded by English blues/rock guitarist and singer Eric Clapton, opened its doors to help clients with drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

3

November

1998

American alternative rock singer, songwriter, musician and producer, Beck, released his 6th studio album, ‘Mutations’, the follow up to the massive ‘Odelay’.

29

November

1998

American jazz pioneer of the 7-string guitar, George Van Eps, died of pneumonia in Newport Beach, California at the age of 85.

25

December

1998

English pop/rock band, The Beatles, received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

30

December

1998

American surf rock band The Beach Boys received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

15

March

1999

Legendary American singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

28

April

1999

American rock band Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7018 Hollywood Boulevard.

17

May

1999

Award-winning American singer, songwriter, guitarist, electronica musician and producer Moby released his mega-successful 5th studio album, ‘Play’.

15

June

1999

After a long break, American Latin rock band Santana released their highly successful 17th studio album, ‘Supernatural’.

16

June

1999

English rock singer, drummer and member of progressive rock band Genesis, Phil Collins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard.

24

June

1999

English blues/rock guitarist, Eric Clapton auctioned many of his guitars in New York City. The proceeds were used in support of the Crossroads Centre he founded in Antigua as a residential treatment centre for alcohol and chemical dependencies.

11

August

1999

American rock band KISS received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.

7

September

1999

American virtuoso guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Steve Vai released his astonishing 5th studio album, ‘The Ultra Zone’.

2

November

1999

American alternative rock band Rage Against The Machine released their 3rd studio album, ‘The Battle Of Los Angeles’ in the UK.

23

November

1999

American alternative rock artist, Beck, released his adventurous 7th studio album, ‘Midnite Vultures’.

17

December

1999

American smooth jazz, funk and soul saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. died of a heart attack in New York City at the age of 56.

26

December

1999

Highly acclaimed American soul singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Curtis Mayfield, died from complications of diabetes in a hospital in Roswell, Georgia at the age of 57.

Tailpiece

The 1990s was certainly a strange decade both musically and culturally, notably as a segue to the 21st Century. While it seems very recent, it is actually receding into long‑term memory, thereby affecting our perceptions of what it meant to us at the time. Still to come, the new millennium is temptingly beckoning and it will prove as frustrating as it was liberating.

Now… we have a minor problemo. I was hoping to conclude this series of articles conveniently in December at the very end of the current decade. However, there are still one, two or maybe even three articles still to write before we are done. December 2019’s article will therefore, ceteris paribus, interrupt the sequence in that it will cover a summary of 2019 through the eyes of CRAVE Guitars, meaning that the ‘History of Modern Music’ will resume early in 2020, all being well. This series has been a gargantuan task thus far, so perhaps a short break in proceedings won’t do any harm. Heaven knows what will follow after it has been concluded though. Looking into the crystal ball of the future is largely futile, so I’ll have to start thinking hard about the ‘next big thing’ very soon. However, that can wait for next year/decade. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “It is a moral travesty that, if you have got everything, you think you can get away with anything.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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October 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part VIII

Introduction

Hello and welcome to the 8th article in this particular magnum opus of modern music history. I hope by now, you know the way this works, so I won’t say much more, other than welcome to the 1980s. If not by the start of the ‘80s, at least by the end of the decade, most readers will likely have some experience of living through the many events documented here, although I cannot assume that to be the case. I hope you have some fond memories of the time – personally, I can’t believe how long ago it was, as it seems like almost yesterday to me.

As always, if you would like to (re)visit any or all of the first seven parts (and well over 375 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Once again, although notably shorter than the last four articles, this month is dedicated to a single decade, if only to ensure that it is given sufficient focus.

The Story of Modern Music Part VIII 1980-1989

While arguably not quite hitting the heady heights of the previous three decades, the 1980s (or simply, ‘the eighties’) still had much to relate both about the human condition and musical variety. The 1980s were notable for many catchy, sing‑along‑able chart choons and the emergence of commercial pop videos, along with accompanying fashion trends. One personal observation is that, perhaps, there were the first real signs of divergence between what was happening culturally and the music being produced. Interdependence between society and its music were still there but, maybe, not quite as strongly intertwined as previously.

Historical Context 1980-1989

The 1980s were sometimes called the ‘greed decade’ or the ‘old school days’. There was a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez‑faire capitalism, allied to a western post-industrial move to supply side economic policies. This shift had a destabilizing effect on international trade that led to many developing countries being faced by crippling debt crises. Following the 1970s’ oil crisis, crude oil was in over supply, resulting in a glut during the 1980s. The start of the 1980s saw widespread economic recession and damaging labour disputes that hit the less well‑off disproportionately hard. Downturn was followed by a period of rapid capitalist growth towards the end of the decade. Increased economic prosperity facilitated the ‘yuppie’ boom, epitomised by hot hatchback/sports cars, wine bars and early ‘brick’ mobile phones, accompanied by an insatiable appetite for designer fashion. Western society’s affluence further polarised the wealth divide between rich and poor. Fervent materialism and a status driven desire for exposure acted as a catalyst for the start of the vapid public fascination with the ‘celebrity’ phenomenon and subsequent emergence of banal reality TV ‘entertainment’. Fundamental industrial restructuring took place in the developed world that migrated many countries away from traditional manufacturing towards economies based on IT, finance, tourism and service sectors. A rapid growth in digital technology and consumerism began that would change how people would live, work and play forever, including the advent of the ‘information superhighway’ that we now call the Internet. During the 1980s, the world’s population grew at the fastest rate yet, causing heightened fears about unsustainable human expansion and its impact on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Year

Global Events

1980

The massively popular maze video game Pac-Man was released by Japanese software company Namco.

 

The bitter war between Middle East neighbours Iran and Iraq began, which would last until 1988.

 

American volcano Mount St. Helens in Washington State erupted violently killing 57 people and causing widespread damage.

 

Former actor and Republican politician Ronald Reagan was elected to become the 40th President of the U.S.A.

1981

American President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded by attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr. in Washington D.C.

 

An assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II took place in Vatican City, when he was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca.

 

The IBM 5150 Personal Computer, commonly known as the IBM PC was introduced, soon establishing it as an industry standard.

 

American actress Jane Fonda published her hugely successful book, ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout’, which spawned multiple videos and an album.

 

NASA’s Space Shuttle programme began with the first launch of the Earth orbiter Columbia.

 

Heir to the British throne, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

 

The retrovirus that causes HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) was identified. The life‑threatening condition spread rapidly, becoming a global public health threat and causing widespread hysteria.

1982

King Henry VIII’s Tudor warship and flagship of the British Navy, the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545 during a battle against the French, was raised from the bed of the Solent off the south coast of England.

 

Britain defeated Argentina to regain control of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, following an unprompted Argentinian invasion and occupation.

1983

American telecommunications company Motorola introduced the first mobile telephones to North America.

 

The final episode of the Korean War‑set comedy drama ‘M*A*S*H’ was broadcast, achieving the record for most watched television episode to‑date.

1984

English policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in the Libyan Embassy in London, prompting an 11‑day siege of the embassy resulting in Libyan citizens being expelled and diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya being severed.

 

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, at her residence in New Delhi.

 

American network TV aired the first episodes of crime drama series Miami Vice, produced by Michael Mann for NBC. It was notable for its ground breaking amalgamation of music and visuals. The show ran until 1989.

1985

Politician Mikhail Gorbachev became Russian Premiere and began leading major political and social reform across the USSR.

 

Technology company, Microsoft released the first version of its PC‑based Windows operating system.

 

Acclaimed American screenwriter, director and producer John Hughes released, ‘The Breakfast Club’, followed up a year later by ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Pretty In Pink’.

 

The shipwreck of the ocean liner RMS Titanic was discovered in the North Atlantic Ocean, 73 years after it sank in 1912 following a collision with an iceberg.

1986

The American Space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

 

The nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, Russia suffered a catastrophic meltdown, causing global pollution and resulting in devastating radioactive environmental damage.

 

The Soviet Union’s Mir project became the first modular manned space station in low Earth orbit. It was used predominantly as a scientific research laboratory. Mir broke up on re‑entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2001.

1987

The animated American family comedy, The Simpsons, first appeared on American television as a series of shorts.

 

The film ‘Wall Street’ was released, typifying the zeitgeist of the 1980s and its ‘greed is good’ power of money mentality, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen.

 

The antidepressant medication Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, was approved for use in the U.S.A.

1988

A Pan-Am 747 airliner exploded as a result of a Libyan terrorist bomb, which caused the plane to crash into the village of Lockerbie in Scotland, killing a total of 270 people.

1989

Republican politician George H.W. Bush became the 41st President of the U.S.A.

 

The pro‑democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, Beijing was brutally crushed by Communist Chinese authorities, resulting in many deaths and widespread international criticism over the state’s human rights violations.

 

Russian military forces pulled out of Afghanistan 10 years after invading the country.

 

Significant environmental pollution occurred when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska, spilling nearly 11 million gallons (37,000 metric tonnes) of crude oil into the coastal waters.

 

The Berlin Wall in Germany, built in 1961 to divide the city and prevent movement between east and west, was demolished, marking massive political change in Europe, including in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Rumania.

 

British computer scientist and engineer, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, now known as the Internet, while he was employed at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland.

Musical Genre Development 1980-1989

After the creative revolutions of the 1950s (rock ‘n’ roll), 1960s (rock and pop) and the 1970s (heavy metal, punk, reggae, disco, rap), the 1980s was largely a decade of reflection, consolidation, cross‑fertilisation and diversification. In short, quite a lot happened but, conversely, there was not a lot that was genuinely new in musical genre subversion. Pop was, erm, as popular as ever with artists such as Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, New Kids on the Block, Wham!, New Edition and Kylie Minogue.

Punk rock’s implosion left a vacuum that needed to be filled and the answer came in post‑punk diversity at the beginning of the 1980s. New wave is associated with the birth of MTV and the music video phase and was seen as a more commercial sub‑genre of post‑punk performed by artists such as Blondie, Talking Heads, Devo, The Cars, The Police, Jam, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Ian Dury, Adam & The Ants, New Model Army, The Fall, Echo & The Bunnymen, and the Pretenders. Also deriving from post‑punk and encompassing a number of different styles was the new romantic sub‑genre heavily influenced by glam rock from the early 1970s, as exemplified by bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Thompson Twins and Eurythmics. Synth pop also came and went in the post‑punk period of the early‑mid 1980s with electronica‑driven artists like Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Japan, Human League, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) and Ultravox. These highly produced music fads dominated the charts before beginning to decline by the mid‑1980s, followed by a revival of guitar‑driven music, often harking back to previous decades.

World and new age music became popular during the 1980s after being heavily promoted by record companies, even though neither has its roots in the decade. World music (not to be confused with third world music) isn’t really a genre but rather a broad marketing categorisation for a very wide and diverse range of traditional and contemporary music from around the globe including western music that doesn’t fall easily within more clearly defined genres. It also covers music that fuses ethnic influences from other genres to create something different. The umbrella term may also be used to promote niche music that was potentially under threat from music’s big business. Since 1987, World Music Day has become an annual celebration of the global music scene. Two of the leading artists associated with world music are African bands Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Savuka. Western artists such as Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel have embraced world music, fusing it with their own material. New age music is another loose marketing category for music that aims to promote positive mental wellbeing, spirituality and meditation. It is also used to complement physical activities such as yoga and massage. It has also been used to enhance inspiration and to manage stress. New age music is often acoustic or electronic and predominantly ambient (i.e. not having an obvious beat, rhythm or structure), regularly instrumental and minimalist or comprising recorded sound effects from nature. Popular western new age artists include Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Klaus Schulze, Enya, Enigma and Clannad. Both world and new age music have influenced numerous subsequent musical ventures and projects.

Other established genres experienced revivals during the 1980s. For instance, hip hop’s ‘golden era’ spawned a plethora of artists, including LL Cool J, Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Jazz also made a concerted comeback of sorts starting in the ‘70s and continuing into the ‘80s with jazz/rock fusion artists like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Pat Metheny. Partly driven by MTV and ubiquitous pop videos, the 1980s saw the rise of success of mega­‑pop stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lionel Ritchie, Billy Joel, Prince and Whitney Houston. Heavy metal saw a 1980s resurgence that lasted well into the 1990s including artists like, Pantera, Queensrÿche, Extreme, Marilyn Manson and Danzig, while Iron Maiden led the charge of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) genre along with Def Leppard and Judas Priest. Nu‑metal pioneers began to appear at the very end of the decade including, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind and Linkin Park.

Musical Facts 1980-1989

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

3

January

1980

American lo-fi indie/rock singer, songwriter, guitarist, former member of indie rock band The War On Drugs and successful solo artist, Kurt Vile was born in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

26

January

1980

American guitarist, singer and songwriter Prince made his first U.S. television appearance on the show ‘American Bandstand’.

19

February

1980

Scottish singer with Australian hard rock band AC/DC, Bon Scott died from acute alcohol poisoning in a friend’s car in London at the age of 33.

14

March

1980

Renowned American music producer Quincy Jones received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

14

April

1980

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their storming debut studio album, the self-titled ‘Iron Maiden’ in the UK.

22

April

1980

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their 2nd studio album, ‘Seventeen Seconds’ in the UK.

23

April

1980

English heavy metal band Judas Priest released their classic 6th studio album, ‘British Steel’.

2

May

1980

English alternative post-punk rock band Joy Division played their final live gig with singer Ian Curtis, two weeks before he committed suicide.

18

May

1980

English singer, songwriter and driving force behind post‑punk rock band Joy Division, Ian Curtis was found hanged at this home in Macclesfield, Cheshire at the age of 23.

7

July

1980

English hard rock band Led Zeppelin played their final live concert with John Bonham as drummer in Berlin, Germany.

10

July

1980

Jamaican reggae giants, Bob Marley & The Wailers released their final studio album before Marley’s untimely death, ‘Uprising’.

18

July

1980

English post-punk rock band Joy Division released their classic sophomore studio album, ‘Closer’.

25

July

1980

Australian heavy rock band, AC/DC, released their career-redefining 7th studio album, ‘Back In Black’.

12

September

1980

English rock singer and songwriter David Bowie released his standout studio album, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ in the UK.

20

September

1980

English heavy metal singer and ex-member of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his debut solo studio album, ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ in the UK.

23

September

1980

Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley made his final live concert performance in Pennsylvania, USA, during which he collapsed on stage.

25

September

1980

English drummer with rock band Led Zeppelin, John Bonham, died tragically of alcohol-induced asphyxia in Clewer, Berkshire at the age of 32.

3

October

1980

English post-punk rock band The Police released their 3rd studio album, ‘Zenyattà Mondatta’ in the UK.

8

October

1980

American alternative rock band Talking Heads released their exceptional career-best studio album produced by Brian Eno, ‘Remain In Light’.

10

October

1980

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his 5th studio album, ‘The River’.

20

October

1980

Emerging Irish rock band, U2 released their debut studio album, ‘Boy’, to critical acclaim in the UK.

8

November

1980

English rock band Motörhead, released their massive 5th studio album, ‘Ace Of Spades’ in the UK.

8

December

1980

English former member of The Beatles, John Lennon was murdered by gunman Mark Chapman outside the Dakota hotel in New York City at the age of 40.

12

December

1980

English punk rock band, The Clash released their follow up to the epic ‘London Calling’ with their even more ambitious 4th studio triple album, ‘Sandinista!’.

15

December

1980

English guitarist, singer and songwriter with rock band Kasabian, Sergio Pizzorno was born in Newton Abbot, Devon.

16

January

1981

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and founding member of indie/alternative rock band The Strokes, Nick Valensi was born in New York City.

2

February

1981

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their sophomore studio album, ‘Killers’ in the UK.

9

February

1981

American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, Bill Haley, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, died at his home in Harlingen, Texas at the age of 55.

15

February

1981

American blues/rock guitarist Mike Bloomfield died from an accidental drug overdose and was found in his car in San Francisco, California at the age of 37.

4

April

1981

UK pop group Bucks Fizz won the 26th Eurovision Song Contest with, ‘Making Your Mind Up’.

14

April

1981

Legendary English indie rock band, The Cure released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘Faith’ in the UK.

11

May

1981

Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and guitarist, Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley died from cancer in Miami, Florida at the age of 36.

21

May

1981

Rastafarian reggae legend Bob Marley received a state funeral in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica.

6

June

1981

The very first issue of weekly heavy metal music magazine ‘KERRANG!’ was published, featuring AC/DC on the front cover.

1

August

1981

Revolutionary 24 hour music video channel, MTV (Music Television), broadcast for the very first time in the USA at 12:01am Eastern Time, introduced by creator John Lack with, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”

8

October

1981

English post-punk rock band Joy Division released their 3rd and final studio album, ‘Still’.

7

November

1981

English singer and former member of heavy metal rock band Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his sophomore solo studio album, ‘Diary of a Madman’.

30

January

1982

Legendary American country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Sam ‘Lightnin’’ Hopkins died from cancer in Houston, Texas at the age of 69.

14

March

1982

American thrash metal band, Metallica performed their debut live concert at Radio City, Anaheim, California, taglined, ‘Metalus Maximus’.

19

March

1982

American heavy metal guitarist Randy Rhoads, best known as member of Ozzy Osbourne’s band died tragically in a plane crash in Leesburg, Florida at the age of 25.

22

March

1982

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their 3rd studio album, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ in the UK.

3

May

1982

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their dark and brooding masterpiece 4th studio album, ‘Pornography’ in the UK.

6

May

1982

American singer and actress, Diana Ross received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.

14

May

1982

English punk rock legends, The Clash released their 5th and penultimate studio album, ‘Combat Rock’ in the UK.

16

June

1982

English guitarist, songwriter and founding member of The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott died of drug‑related heart failure in London at the age of 25.

14

July

1982

English heavy metal rock band Judas Priest released their classic 8th studio album, ‘Screaming for Vengeance’.

17

August

1982

Company executives from Philips, Sony and Polygram announced the pressing of the first commercial digital Compact Disc (CD).

20

September

1982

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his 6th studio album, the often‑overlooked haunting and elegiac, ‘Nebraska’.

1

October

1982

Technology giant, Sony released the first ever digital Compact Disc (CD) player, the CDP-101, to the eager public in Japan.

27

October

1982

Legendary American singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Prince, released his top-selling 5th studio album, ‘1999’.

5

November

1982

UK TV broadcaster Channel 4 aired its edgy music and lifestyle programme, ‘The Tube’ for the first time. Presenters included Jools Holland and the late Paula Yates. The show ran for 5 series until April 1987.

30

November

1982

American singer, Michael Jackson released his career‑defining mega‑hit 6th studio album, ‘Thriller’. It is estimated that sales have well‑exceeded 50 million copies worldwide.

11

December

1982

English punk rock and mod revival band, The Jam played their final live concert in Brighton, UK before splitting up for good.

29

December

1982

The Jamaican Post Office released a set of postage stamps commemorating the life and music of reggae legend Bob Marley.

18

January

1983

English guitarist, singer and member of indie pop duo The Ting Tings, Katie White was born in Lowton, Greater Mancester.

28

February

1983

Irish mega-rock band U2 released their highly acclaimed chart-topping gold 3rd studio album, ‘War’.

2

March

1983

The digital Compact Disc (CD) was launched in Europe and America by Philips, Sony and Polygram, 7 months after it had debuted in Japan.

23

March

1983

American Texas blues/rock giants ZZ Top released their massive 7th studio album, the classic, ‘Eliminator’.

14

April

1983

English rock singer David Bowie released his 15th and perhaps most commercial studio album, the great Nile Rodgers‑produced, ‘Let’s Dance’.

30

April

1983

Renowned American Chicago blues guitarist, Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) died from a heart attack at his home in Westmont, Illinois at the age of 70.

16

May

1983

Pioneering English heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden released their massively successful 4th studio album, ‘Piece Of Mind’.

23

May

1983

Jamaican reggae legends Bob Marley & The Wailers released their studio album, ‘Confrontation’ posthumously, after Bob Marley’s death in 1981.

12

June

1983

Influential American blues slide guitarist and singer J.B. Hutto died from cancer in Harvey, Illinois at the age of 57.

13

June

1983

Emerging American blues/rock guitarist and singer, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their debut studio album, ‘Texas Flood’.

25

July

1983

Up-and-coming American thrash metal band Metallica released their standout debut studio album, ‘Kill ‘Em All’.

20

October

1983

American country music guitarist Merle Travis died of a heart attack at his home in Tahlequah, Oklahoma at the age of 65.

10

November

1983

English singer, songwriter and one-time member of punk rock band Generation X, Billy Idol released his highly popular 2nd studio album, ‘Rebel Yell’.

15

November

1983

English singer and former member of heavy metal rock band Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his 3rd solo studio album, ‘Bark At The Moon’ in the UK.

2

December

1983

Music television channel MTV aired the full 14-minute pop video to Michael Jackson’s massive hit single, ‘Thriller’ for the first time.

1

January

1984

Widely regarded as the founding father of British Blues, guitarist and broadcaster Alexis Korner died of lung cancer in London at the age of 55.

21

January

1984

American rock band Bon Jovi released their debut studio album, the self-titled ‘Bon Jovi’ in the U.S.

1

April

1984

American soul singer Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father in Los Angeles, California at the age of 44.

26

April

1984

Eleven years after the famous original Cavern Club in Liverpool, UK was demolished in 1973, it was rebuilt and the new venue opened its doors.

4

May

1984

The classic music rock/mock/documentary film about the experiences of an English rock band, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, directed by Rob Reiner, was released in the UK.

15

May

1984

American blues rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 2nd studio album, ‘Couldn’t Stand the Weather’.

19

May

1984

American southern rock band ZZ Top released their hit single, ‘Legs’ with the B-Side ‘Bad Girl’, both from their career‑defining album, ‘Eliminator’.

21

May

1984

Emerging indie rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their impressive debut album, ‘From Her to Eternity’.

4

June

1984

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his massive 7th studio album, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’.

14

June

1984

American country singer Dolly Parton received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.

25

June

1984

Legendary flamboyant American musician Prince released the massive original soundtrack album for the film, ‘Purple Rain’.

30

July

1984

American thrash metal rock band Metallica released their sophomore studio album, ‘Ride The Lightning’.

3

September

1984

English heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Powerslave’ in the UK.

16

September

1984

Talented Georgian/British singer, songwriter and guitarist Katie Melua was born in Kutaisi, Georgia.

24

September

1984

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 4th studio album, ‘Some Great Reward’ in the UK.

27

September

1984

Canadian pop-punk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Avril Lavigne was born in Ontario.

1

October

1984

Irish rock band U2 released their classic 4th studio album, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ in the UK.

20

November

1984

American pop singer, Michael Jackson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard.

3

December

1984

Assembled super group Band Aid released their massive Christmas charity single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ in response to the famine in Ethiopia.

15

December

1984

Charity super group, Band Aid entered the UK singles chart at number 1 with their song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ in aid of Ethiopian famine victims.

22

January

1985

Australian guitarist, famous for working with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson, Orianthi Panagaris was born in Adelaide, South Australia.

13

May

1985

English rock band Dire Straits released their massive hit 5th studio album, ‘Brothers In Arms’.

4

June

1985

American guitarist with heavy rock band Black Stone Cherry, Chris Robertson was born in Kentucky.

29

June

1985

English rock singers David Bowie and Mick Jagger recorded their version of the classic Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ soul hit, ‘Dancing In The Street’ in support of the Live Aid charity.

13

July

1985

Two Live Aid fundraising concerts took place in London and Philadelphia to benefit the plight of Ethiopian famine victims.

30

September

1985

American blues/rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 3rd studio album, ‘Soul to Soul’.

9

October

1985

Japanese artist Yoko Ono dedicated the Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City’s Central Park to her late husband, John Lennon on what would have been his 45th birthday.

28

October

1985

American Texas blues/rock trio, ZZ Top released their 9th studio album, ‘Afterburner’, the follow up to their massive 1983 hit, ‘Eliminator’.

30

October

1985

American thrash metal masters Anthrax released their career classic 2nd studio album, ‘Spreading The Disease’.

4

January

1986

Irish bass guitarist with rock band Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott died of complications due to septicaemia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK, at the age of 36.

6

January

1986

English singer, songwriter and guitarist of indie/rock bands Arctic Monkeys and The Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner was born in Sheffield.

3

March

1986

American heavy metal band Metallica released their 3rd studio album, the last with Cliff Burton playing bass guitar in the line-up, ‘Master Of Puppets’.

14

March

1986

The classic film inspired by the mythology surrounding blues guitarist Robert Johnson, directed by Walter Hill, ‘Crossroads’ was released in the USA.

17

March

1986

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 5th studio album, ‘Black Celebration’ in the UK.

19

May

1986

English singer, songwriter and former member of progressive rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel released his commercially successful 5th solo studio album, ‘So’.

20

July

1986

The feature film ‘Sid And Nancy’ focusing on the tragic lives of Sex Pistols’ bass guitarist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen premiered in London. The film was directed by Alex Cox and starred Gary Oldman.

25

August

1986

American singer and songwriter Paul Simon released his classic 7th solo studio album, ‘Graceland’.

28

August

1986

American pop singer, Tina Turner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 North Vine Street.

27

September

1986

American bass guitarist and songwriter with thrash metal rock band Metallica, Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a tour coach crash in Dörarp, Sweden at the age of 24.

29

September

1986

English heavy metal band Iron Maiden released their 6th studio album, ‘Somewhere In Time’ in the UK.

7

October

1986

American thrash metal band Slayer released their huge genre classic 3rd studio album, ‘Reign In Blood’.

15

November

1986

American hip-hop group from NYC, Beastie Boys, released their debut studio album, ‘Licensed To Ill’, including their massive hit single, ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’.

2

December

1986

Supremely talented Australian bass guitarist and singer, Tal Wilkenfeld was born in Sydney.

21

January

1987

American soul legend Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

22

February

1987

American pop artist and manager of experimental rock band Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol died following gall bladder surgery in New York at the age of 58.

9

March

1987

Irish rock band U2 released their 5th studio album, the massive ‘The Joshua Tree’ in the UK.

22

March

1987

American thrash metal masters Anthrax released their career classic 3rd studio album, ‘Among The Living’.

30

March

1987

Diminutive American singer, songwriter and guitarist Prince released his ambitious, epic change of direction 9th studio album, ‘Sign ☮ The Times’.

2

April

1987

Highly acclaimed American jazz drummer Buddy Rich died from respiratory and heart failure following treatment for a brain tumour in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69.

5

May

1987

English indie rock icons The Cure released their lip‑smacking 7th studio double album, ‘Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me’ in the UK.

2

June

1987

Virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia died from a heart attack in Madrid at the age of 94.

14

July

1987

American rock group The Steve Miller Band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

21

July

1987

American hard rock band, Guns N’ Roses released their storming debut studio album, ‘Appetite For Destruction’.

3

August

1987

English heavy metal rock band Def Leppard released their best-selling classic 4th studio album, ‘Hysteria’.

25

August

1987

American singer and songwriter Michael Jackson released his 7th solo studio album, ‘Bad’, as a follow up to his massive 1982 LP, ‘Thriller’.

11

September

1987

Jamaican reggae artist Peter Tosh was shot dead along with two others by a gang of three armed robbers at his home in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 42.

12

September

1987

English alternative rock singer and songwriter Morrissey left his band, The Smiths to pursue a successful solo music career.

21

September

1987

American bass guitarist and member of jazz fusion band Weather Report from 1976-1981, the inimitable Jaco Pastorius died from injuries following an altercation at a club in Wilton Manors, Florida at the age of 35.

28

September

1987

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 6th studio album, ‘Music For The Masses’ in the UK.

8

October

1987

Legendary American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Chuck Berry received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1777 North Vine Street.

15

October

1987

American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Joe Satriani released his classic 2nd studio album, ‘Surfing With The Alien’.

1

December

1987

Puerto Rican guitarist and singer, Jose Feliciano received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6541 Hollywood Boulevard.

31

December

1987

After 17 years and 445 episodes, British TV broadcaster, the BBC aired the final edition of contemporary music show, ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.

20

January

1988

Legendary English pop/rock band The Beatles were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

11

April

1988

English heavy metal band Iron Maiden released their 7th studio album, ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’.

5

May

1988

Highly successful English singer and songwriter Adele MBE was born in London.

5

July

1988

American thrash metal rock band, Slayer, released their mega hit 4th studio album, ‘South Of Heaven’.

14

August

1988

American blues/rock guitarist Roy Buchanan was found hanged (a disputed suicide) in a jail cell after he was arrested for public intoxication in Fairfax, Virginia at the age of 48.

25

August

1988

American heavy metal rock band Metallica released their classic 4th studio album, ‘… And Justice For All’.

19

September

1988

Alternative rock band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their highly acclaimed 5th studio album, ‘Tender Prey’.

30

September

1988

English former member of The Beatles, John Lennon received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

10

October

1988

Irish rock band U2 released their classic 6th studio album (and complementary ‘rockumentary’ film), ‘Rattle and Hum’ in the UK.

18

October

1988

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their landmark 6th studio album, ‘Daydream Nation’.

19

October

1988

Legendary American delta blues guitarist and singer, Son House died of cancer of the larynx in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 86.

6

December

1988

American singer, songwriter and musician, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack in Hendersonville, Tennessee at the age of 52.

18

January

1989

Music greats, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Otis Redding and others were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2

May

1989

English indie rock group The Stone Roses released their eponymous debut studio album, ‘The Stone Roses’.

2

May

1989

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their near‑perfect career-defining 8th studio album, ‘Disintegration’ in the UK.

29

May

1989

American guitarist, John Cipollina of rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service died of alpha‑1 antitrypsin deficiency in San Francisco at the age of 45.

1

June

1989

Underground American grunge band, Nirvana released their debut studio album, ‘Bleach’ to an unsuspecting public.

6

June

1989

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist and singer, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 4th and final studio album before SRV’s tragic death, ‘In Step’.

15

July

1989

English progressive rock band Pink Floyd performed a live concert on a floating stage at Venice, Italy, watched by over 200,000 people.

25

July

1989

American rap rock band, Beastie Boys released their classic sophomore studio album, ‘Paul’s Boutique’.

12

September

1989

English virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Jeff Beck released his impressive 6th studio album ‘Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop’ in the UK.

26

November

1989

British pop/rock band, Squeeze performed in concert for the very first broadcast of ‘MTV Unplugged’ in the US.

13

December

1989

One of the best‑selling artists of all time, American country/pop singer and songwriter Taylor Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Tailpiece

Well that’s the eighties for you in a (sizeable) nutshell. We are now getting much closer to the end of the story (at least as far as I am able to document it) and the new millennium beckons tantalisingly out of reach. However, before that, we will fill in the gap with the 1990s next month. Will it be a Brave New World or just more of the same? To discover the facts behind the memories, please return here next month for some more manic music history. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Never trust your memories but cherish the good ones regardless”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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October 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VIII

Welcome to what is, for now at least, the final part in this series of articles on the history of the world’s most popular musical instrument.

If you wish to recap on any or all of the previous seven posts before starting with this one, the whole ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, can be accessed here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

Having pretty much reached the present day, all that remains is to summarise where we are now and to take a somewhat flippant and imaginative look ahead. The ‘current day’ is a tricky subject, as ‘now’ is at best ephemeral. The future, on the other hand, can only ever be guesswork, even if it can be informed by the past. Perhaps the best way to predict the future is to help to create it, so that means that what happens to the next chapter of the guitar is in our hands. Can we be trusted to behave as responsible guardians of the guitar’s destiny? As Mahatma Gandhi (1869‑1948) said, “The future depends on what we do in the present”. This suggests that what will happen is not predetermined and individually or collectively, we can take action to shape the future.

There are not many images again supporting this article so, apologies to those who like pictures to speak a thousand words. Anyway, without further ado, on with the last part of the chronicle…

The guitar has come a very long way in the last 3,500 years or a road slightly less travelled in the preceding 350 years depending on whose version of the facts you want to believe. The story has finally reached that pivotal moment that lies between the past, which is, on the whole, pretty well documented and the future, which of course isn’t. There is much to be played for and the stakes are certainly high.

It is hopefully of little surprise that the future of the acoustic and electric guitar, as well as all its derivatives and distant relations, is probably well‑assured, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether it survives in the (very) long term or not, the world’s favourite musical instrument is undeniably going to be a hard act to follow, let alone surpass.

As with many industrial and technological revolutions, predictions have proved variable in terms of accuracy. As time passes, change tends to accelerate in both pace and scope. While progress may be inexorable, there is an unseen ‘force’ that tends to counteract unbridled advances and which acts as a bit of a restraint. That set of reins is the very human tendency to hold onto what is familiar while resisting change until it is either inescapable or desirable. This natural ‘drag’ effect has laid waste to many grand ideas and great inventions. Numerous well‑marketed ‘next big things’ have fallen at the hurdle of persuading the general public to take up something new or unfamiliar, especially if one’s respected peers haven’t bitten the bullet of early adoption either. Mankind’s flawed history is littered with countless failed marvels. This phenomenon isn’t, I hasten to add, just a trait of idiosyncratic musicians; it appears to be a fundamental characteristic of the human condition.

Anyway, as usual, I digress. It is time to get back to the point which is basically that whatever you read from here on has absolutely no basis whatsoever in fact and is highly likely to be extremely wrong! My consolation is that few people will regard it as portent or look back to judge its accuracy in a century’s time. There is nothing genuinely prescient here in the vein of Da Vinci or Nostradamus. Apologies if you were hoping for more in the way of a profound visionary insight. Unfortunately, my stock of that ran out last week.

General indicators of change

It is fair to suggest that popular music is often representative of, and in turn is dependent on, broader social, cultural and political movements, and guitars follow in their footsteps. Whether we like it or not, music is integral to our everyday lives, so it is not surprising that it is also inherently powerfully evocative. As a result, it can dramatically affect the way we identify with past events.

One of the key factors that drove guitar evolution has been the trends in popular music, so perhaps musical trends may provide a much generalised hint at parallel guitar developments. Let’s start by considering the (very simplistic) genre movements and the types of instrument used over the last century.  Starting with the post‑classical era, there was jazz (Gibson archtops) and blues (National & Dobro resonators) in the 1930s and 1940s, country and rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s (Gretsch & Gibson hollowbodies), pop and rock in the 1960s (Fenders and Rickenbackers), progressive and heavy metal (Gibson solid bodies) and then punk (pawn shop guitars) and hair metal (pointy super Strats) in the 1970s. Then we get to the guitar doldrums of electronica, new age and rap in the 1980s, followed by revitalised guitar music of alternative, grunge in the 1990s, and indie (retro guitars) nu‑metal (PRS) and dance in the 2000s, etc. I struggle to think of a musical genre that so far defines the 2010s or perhaps many distinctive guitars to go with them. So there is some kind of link going on here. Google has attempted to map the progression of musical genres from 1950 to the current day (take from it what you will).

The type of guitars de jour used by famous musicians, including artist associations, during these epochs often reflected the style of contemporary music they played and these have largely been well covered in previous parts of the story. Just think of Chet Atkins with his Gretsch 6120, Buddy Holly with his Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster, The Beatles with their Rickenbacker 300s, or Jimmy Page with his Gibson Les Paul Standard and EDS-1275 double neck. The various interconnections are manifold and too many to mention here, and many have been captured in photographs to become iconic in the annals of rock history.

Cinema and television music regularly use key songs to catapult us back in space and time without the need for narrative exposition to describe what’s happening. Just think about classic movies such as American Graffiti, Stand By Me, Almost Famous, Saturday Night Fever, The Breakfast Club or 8 Mile among many, many others. Those random examples don’t include the numerous biopics (e.g. Sid & Nancy, Walk The Line, The Doors) and musicals (e.g. West Side Story, Grease) or original scores (e.g. Paris Texas) that use familiar, memorable and/or popular music to transport us to another ‘reality’. Then there are the one‑offs like the mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap. TV programmes also picked up the strategy for domestic viewing since the 1960s and often featured manufactured artists such as The Monkees or The Archies. The lists of relevant examples are endless. Music is used to draw the viewer into the director’s vision of a certain bygone era. Many of the sound tracks of our lives rely heavily on evocative (guitar) music to manipulate us emotionally and, more importantly, intentionally.

The way that environmental factors affect local communities may spark a genre direction that is then promulgated more widely. For example, one could point to the rise of electric blues in Chicago, soul in Detroit, Mersey beat in Liverpool, punk in New York and London, rap in Los Angeles/Philadelphia, or grunge in Seattle, etc. What we cannot predict is what or where any future musical revolutions (if any) may emerge, from where, and what step‑change responses guitar builders may then make.

As with many other aspects of our 21st Century lives, the nature of music, how it is made, distributed and accessed suggests that anything genuinely ‘new’ will find it much harder to stand out from the mainstream. What is already there will continue in some form and anything new will simply be added to it, often at the margins of existing genres, hence the proliferation of sub‑genres, e.g. thrash or nu-metal in rock; house and techno in dance; raga and dancehall in reggae; dubstep and grime in urban music, etc. One only has to compare and contrast the mind boggling varieties of heavy metal music and then consider how they continuously diverge, converge and cross‑fertilise in order to keep it fresh and vibrant.

While some technological change may be more predictable, social change and the music that characterises it is certainly more unpredictable. When one looks at something as specific and tangible as the guitar, it becomes increasingly risky to anticipate with any certainty what change may occur over an extended period of time, say the next century or so.

One view is that we are powerless and don’t need to think about it, as what will be, will be. Another is that we wait passively and be subject to what transpires with little or no influence over it. A third way may be not to accept the status quo and take positive action to stimulate change, which can happen in oddly random ways. Being of an opinionated sort, I tend to fall into the latter camp. Apologies, that probably actually doesn’t help much!

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the guitar’s supremacy is likely to lie in the digital revolution that really started to make an impression in the 1970s and 1980s. Part of the reason for the guitar’s seemingly unassailable success has been that it is a hugely expressive and flexible instrument, which actually makes its nuances extremely difficult to replicate in a world constructed entirely of binary 0s and 1s. We shall see whether digital advances can fully overcome the difficulties in recreating the subtleties provided by a very analogue instrument in the hands of discriminating (and generally quite conservative) musicians.

The evidence so far suggests that digital is making ever increasing inroads into the analogue guitar’s dominance and the discernible gap between analogue and digital output is decreasing all the time. How long will it be before even the most ardent luddites finally admit that they can’t really tell the difference (despite what they may say outwardly)? However, it isn’t just the sound of guitars that appeals to guitarists; it is also the feel and the look of them that matters, as well as how they allow musicians to communicate with each other in unspoken ways.

New generations of guitarists, however, may be looking for something very different from their predecessors.  What form will ‘the shape of things to come’ take? Will it be all hyper‑modernistic and crammed with tech and flashing lights and built from materials we cannot yet imagine, or will it be the same old bits of tree wood crafted into the familiar shapes of Telecasters, Stratocasters, Precisions, Les Pauls, ES‑335s and SGs that we covet today? Only time will tell how things pan out and it will be for future authors to use the convenient assistance of hindsight to determine and document what path the history of the guitar takes from here on.

Looking and learning from the past, one might simply extrapolate forward. Future guitarists may well be like their ancestors and pragmatically seek to mix the best of the past with the best of what’s to come, regardless of whether it is analogue or digital. My personal prediction is a typically ambiguous ‘sit on the fence’ one, in that guitars will probably become increasingly hybrid if they are to keep ahead of other comparable instruments. Let’s face it, there are not really any threats` to the guitar’s dominant popularity at the time of writing and it has always been a continuously evolving instrument, so it would be of little surprise if this were to continue. While the 1980’s temporary trend for synth and electronica attempted to eradicate guitar music in the minds of popular listeners, the guitar has proved very resilient and difficult to displace.

Since the 1970s, the guitar has been used to trigger digital electronics. However, while both signal tracking and polyphony still present problems, these barriers are gradually being overcome. There have been several attempts to introduce effective guitar synths over the years but they have really been analogue or digital filters activated by either an ordinary guitar pickup or by discrete signals from a hexaphonic pickup. Hex pickups, which output a separate signal for each string, were often added to an existing guitar and used to transform it into a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller while still able to be used as an ordinary guitar. MIDI was a standard specification published in August 1983 by Japanese electronics giant Roland and American synthesizer company Sequential Circuits, and is commonly used to control electronic audio equipment. While attempting to revolutionise guitar music, Roland’s excursions into guitar synths since the 1980s have still relied on a standard guitar as its starting point.

Other Japanese companies specialising in electronics have also experimented with MIDI control of external synthesis engines, for instance guitars from Casio (DG20) and Yamaha (EZ-EG). It seems incredible to think that these early electronic instruments are now being considered as ‘vintage’. Today, there are now plenty of guitars on the market with MIDI capability built in. Technology has moved on and the fundamental concepts of a digital source are now ripe for being reinvestigation and improvement.

Other pioneering companies such as Line 6, now owned by another Japanese giant Yamaha, introduced their ground breaking digital modelling preamp (the Pod) and digital modelling guitar (the Variax) to indicate the direction in which development might go. Line 6’s philosophy inspired and influenced subsequent successful products such as the Kemper Profiler and the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-FX. Computer control of complex parameters, presets, firmware and downloads are commonplace for amps and effects in the 2010s and we can certainly expect this trend not only to become de facto but also to become a requirement in the near future, so a laptop at live gigs is already almost a necessity to keep your rig running smoothly – not a comfort zone for many analogue technophobe musos.

Guitar making cannot stand still and neither should it. Even the companies with a century or more of history, such as Gibson, Gretsch and Martin, have to keep moving forward or risk being overtaken. However, the tightrope of appealing to customers who appreciate the heritage is also key to the future success of long‑established manufacturers. Newer, smaller companies, though, are not constrained by the time capsule factor.

It is probably safe to say that the future is likely to be a practical symbiosis of both the familiar to satisfy the conservative traditionalists and the whizzy new gizmos to appeal to the technologically savvy experimentalists and neophytes… just as it always has been if fact. Even Gibson has been toying with the addition of digital features into its guitars, including the Les Paul HD.6X Pro and the Firebird X models. Intriguingly, Fender and other major brands have yet to declare their hands. It will be the fine balance between the opposing forces that will enable lasting incremental change, via ‘chimera’ guitars, rather than a number of fundamental radical shifts. That eventuality could prove a bit boring though, don’t you think? However, sadly, it also seems to mirror the way that modern popular music is going as well?

Leaps of unadulterated conjecture:

This next section is pure fantasy and should not be relied on as authentic in any way. It came from an idea that it can sometimes be fun to imagine what things might be like in some near or distant future. One hopes, though, that what follows doesn’t come to represent some form of self‑fulfilling prophecy.

It may be that the guitar itself could become superseded by something completely different from what musicians (rather than video game players) use today. Could it be possible that something along the lines of the PlayStation ‘Guitar Hero’ controller may someday make inroads into real instruments to create real music? I would anticipate that the majority of guitarists would sincerely hope not.

There are already some very modernistic looking instruments out there, such as the HTG Hyper Touch and the Misa Kitara (note the use of the Greek name kitara from Part I of this long story). Are these all‑electronic ‘guitars’ the sorts of instruments that will replace our beloved classic designs and become de rigeur in the near future? Alternatively, perhaps the electric guitar could somehow morph into some form of fully digital instrument via the route of hybridisation. As a logical conclusion, is the ‘Digital Guitar’ with analogue playability a holy grail and, if so, for whom? Here are some current digital guitar innovations from the 2010s…

So… suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and take a tentative look ahead to the scary world of AIs, AAs, AVs and AM (spoiler alert – these acronyms may seem familiar but in this context, they don’t mean what you think they mean today). You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Read on…

10 years’ hence (c.2028):

Analogue vs digital – Digital technologies will be used increasingly to enhance the analogue signal chain rather than usurp it completely. We have already seen many examples of this appearing in effects and amps, so there isn’t really any clever insight in mentioning it. Digital control of analogue signals is already becoming commonplace especially in delay and modulation effects where digital manipulation gives much more precise control over what happens in the analogue domain.

It remains unpopular to sample the original signal through an analogue to digital converter (ADC), mess around with it and then put it back through a digital to analogue converter (DAC) to turn it back into a signal for further processing. Many purists say that the act of conversion using today’s chips taints the original signal. It will be a while longer before we make that bold step of a fully digital signal chain from fingers to ears but it is getting ever closer. It will happen but possibly not by 2028, mainly because of the difficulty in engineering effective fully digital instruments and loudspeakers.

Research will continue to develop a truly digital guitar ‘pickup’ that could compare to current electromagnetic pickups and provide the first step to more complex processing in the future. Digital modelling using DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chips will continue to improve and will become almost indistinguishable from analogue electronics in effects, amps and digital audio workstations (DAWs). There will be a hardcore fan base that remains wedded to the old school stuff for many, many years to come. The guitar itself is highly unlikely to become fully digital in the next 10 years, if only because there are far too many dogmatic people invested in preserving the status quo. Auto‑Tune for the guitar anyone?

Guitar Making – In the near future, it is highly unlikely that wood will be superseded by any other material as the primary input for the majority of guitars. Wood has proved over millennia to be a very flexible, durable renewable material. Let’s face it, it can also look wonderful. One major advantage of wood is that it contributes towards the organic tone and touch of an individual musical instrument. Many alternative materials have been used in the construction of guitars since at least the 1920s, including plastics, metals, carbon fibre and a wide variety of composites. To‑date, though, wood has prevailed in terms of structural integrity allied to inherent musicality. What will change, though, is the shift away from the use of endangered exotic hardwood species such as rosewood, ebony and even mahogany to more sustainable species. For instance Pau Ferro (Libidibia Ferrea, a.k.a Bolivian rosewood) is rapidly replacing the CITES‑restricted rosewood (varieties of the genus Dalbergia) as a popular fingerboard material. Quite how fussy musicians will accept unfamiliar wood substitutes, will be determined in due course. What is clear is that guitarists really have no choice but to go with the ecologically acceptable flow in the long‑term.

Like their classical musical counterparts, the guitar itself (whether acoustic or electric) will remain very much a natural instrument for a good few years yet. The guitar will still be supremely popular and will be making great music all over the world. Guitars will be made by a broad range of entities from one man band local custom luthiers up to multinational mass manufacturers. Competition, particularly from China, will be a threat to many established western companies until their economic bubble bursts, which it eventually will at some point.

Recorded music – The vast majority of recorded guitar music will be produced on digital equipment with a few retro studios still using analogue equipment including valve preamps and tape machines. The relative accessibility of convenient digital recording equipment will continue to provide openings for all sorts of artists from the home musician to the professional mega bands using famous dedicated studio facilities such as the famous Abbey Road Studio in London. Recorded music will be increasingly distributed and accessed online, although legacy formats will maintain a solid niche popularity.

Live music – Live music will continue to grow in popularity to become the cornerstone for many successful artists, provided that they do not price themselves out of live appearances and that over‑zealous regulations don’t stop large live events from taking place. PA and monitoring systems will continue to improve significantly and sound pressure levels at venues will be severely restricted, removing some of the visceral excitement of the live music experience.

30 years’ hence (c.2048):

Analogue vs digital – Digital will be the primary domain in which music will be made, recorded, distributed and accessed. The guitar will remain analogue, although it is likely that the entire chain from the pickup onwards will be predominantly digital. However, as with current classical instruments and music, there will still be an important place for traditional analogue guitars. Amps and effects are likely to be almost totally digital. Successors to the analogue electromagnetic pickup and the loudspeaker will be introduced to a point that digital sound will be common if not universal. ‘Old fashioned’ guitars will remain very popular and will experience regular revivals and rejuvenations, even if the overall battle will be won by the digital technologies of the 2040s. New digital connectors will proliferate, as the currently ubiquitous USB port will long since have been superseded, and the jack pug/socket will be purely of vintage interest.

Guitar making – Most of the large manufacturers will be producing some sort of digital instrument as the norm, even if the vital interaction between fingers and strings will remain as it is now. All guitar tone woods will be derived from sustainable sources by strict regulation and use of rare species tightly controlled (outside the unavoidable black market). The use of alternative materials will be in full swing, reducing the reliance on today’s natural materials. New guitars will be built to be recyclable. Automated manufacturing will be the norm and the demand for traditionally made guitars will be catered for by numerous specialist guitar builders. Pure wooden analogue guitars will be vintage only and regarded with the same respect as classical instruments are now. Guitar development will be relegated to refinements around the margins, rather than core revolutions. Hybrid instruments will be fighting a rear‑guard action, with digital beginning to win the final battle. Competition to the guitar will continue but will not succeed… yet.

Recorded music – Digital will almost totally dominate recorded music production, distribution and access. Diehard analogue fans will be regarded as geeks and nerds. Vinyl albums will, however still persevere… just.

Live music – Like recorded music, live music will be, apart from the musicians themselves, almost universally digital. ‘Loud’ live music will be a thing of the distant past. Music venues will begin to disappear as discrete locations, with personalised performance content delivered direct to the individual.

50 years’ hence (c.2068):

Analogue vs digital – Analogue guitar music will be like classical music is today, a popular, niche and a largely historic pastime. All other aspects will be digital.

Guitar making – Standardisation and construction will be largely prescribed. Hybridisation will just about have peaked and on its way out. The majority of guitar production will move towards making AIs (Artificial Instruments). The focus will be on the technical facets of music making, rather than subjective, emotive ones. Guitars as we know them now will be of heritage interest.

Recorded music – Music will be manufactured in the digital domain with just a few maverick analogue‑obsessed musicians beavering away in the minority. The vast majority of contemporary recorded music will be created electronically, with few outmoded musical instruments as we know them now being used. Many artists will be AAs (Artificial Artists), rather than by artistically inclined human beings – the latter will concentrate on performing historic pieces from the golden heyday of guitar music.

Live music – There will no longer be a need to travel to a discrete venue where music is performed in person to a collective audience. ‘Live’ music will be created in computers, customised to an individual’s tastes and accessed in the home, in a domain known as an AV (Artificial Venue) giving the sight, sound and feel of a venue.

100+ years’ hence (c.2120):

Analogue vs digital – Analogue guitar music will be an historic vocation and largely a lifestyle pastime. All other aspects of ‘modern’ music will be entirely digital. Some authentic old‑style music will be recreated on historic instruments for research purposes, rather than as entertainment.

Guitar making – Even the last few old‑school luthiers will be migrating to alternative materials, automation and digital electronics. Hybrid instruments will be seen as a thing of the past. AIs will be commonplace and there won’t be a need for human musicians to learn the art or skills needed to make any type of contemporary music.

Recorded music – Popular music will be artificially created without the need for accomplished musicians. Music will be constantly morphing on a second‑by‑second basis, known as AM (Artificial Music).

Live music – Performance capture will be produced electronically and experienced direct by the listener’s visual and audio receptors, bypassing the unreliable eyes and ears altogether. Finally, the digital signal path from computerised source to the recipient’s brain will be complete and will require no human intervention whatsoever.

Alternative Reality

Or… in some alternative, perhaps more desirable dimension, the unwritten future could well be pretty much as it is today, with new generations doing just what we do now, rocking to good old electric guitar music. To many guitarists, the tactile and synergetic relationship between musician and his/her guitar in full flow with other musicians is unbreakable and simply cannot be usurped by some dystopian digital future scape.

One trusts that there will always be a place for creative artisans and a desire or the musically minded to enjoy the fruits of their vision for the guitar of the future. It is encouraging that many well‑known guitar makers are actually stepping back in time in order to move forward. This isn’t the paradox that it may first seem. Savvy guitar builders are investigating in great depth what made great guitars great in the first place and identifying what musicians actually want from their instruments today. Much of this current R&D is leading to a number of findings that indicate that what was important 100 and 200 years ago (and probably longer) is still important today but with modern consistency and reliability.

Perhaps the past masters did get it largely right in the first place and that is why their products, new or vintage, are still desirable artefacts today. While traditional manufacturers like C.F. Martin use modern production methods for some parts of the building process, they are also still using tools and equipment employed by successive cohorts of luthiers, as well as relying on many of the basic techniques and skills refined and passed down from one generation to the next. Most of the top flight guitar builders also work very hard to ensure long-term supplies of precious tone woods to make into future guitars. This focus on the best‑of‑the‑best perhaps suggests that guitars may well remain, for the large part, relatively familiar in 10, 30, 50 and 100 years from now but with improvements to the detail. Perhaps it takes that bold flight of fancy to realise that we already have what we and future generations of musicians actually need. Owning inspiring guitars inspires guitar playing and results in inspiring guitar music.

There really is no point in speculating any further ahead. The likelihood is that, even with advances in medical technology, most if not all of us reading this in 2018 will not be around to see anything beyond c.2020. The guitar is dead, long live the guitar. The passage of father time will inform just how accurate these flights of fantasy (or descents into nightmare) really are. Clearly, the further one looks into the future, the less precise any predictions become. Welcome to tomorrow’s very scary ‘brave new world’.

I, for one, am certainly not laying any bets. I’d like to think that there is something about our very personal instruments that will endure for many decades, if not centuries. If we lose that quintessential ‘something special’ about making guitars that make guitarists that make music, it will all have been for nothing. Watch this space.

Conclusion

So, that’s it. The long‑running and on‑going story of the guitar has finally reached a logical stopping off point, at least for now… However, it not the end of the story by any means. Somewhat disappointingly, the denouement to ‘A Potted History of the Guitar’ series seems to be a bit more of a whimper than some almighty bang. After so much history and so much personal investment in researching it, it seems a bit of a let‑down to leave the guitar’s evolution ‘hanging’ without some sort of definitive resolution to the script and with the various loose ends neatly tied up. Nevertheless, remember that this is not a fictional piece and let us not forget that this is definitely not the epilogue.

‘They’ say that a picture speaks a thousand words. So, to sum up the 3,500‑year, 8‑part journey in a single image that tells the story of the guitar from its origins to the possible near future, here is a fitting 27‑picture montage that possibly speaks approximately 50,000 words. Basically, I could have saved 9 months of my life and just posted this one composite picture. That, I guess, is one of the benefits of hindsight. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the expedition with me and that, like me, you have learned a little something about the guitar along the way. You wanted a potted history of the guitar? Well, how about…

From this point in time onwards is the start of the future and, whatever happens next. It will be fascinating to experience the on‑going next instalment of the long story and to observe with trepidation and excitement what is to unfold. Let us try to make it a bright and positive outcome for everyone who loves The Guitar and Great Guitar Music. Thank you for reading. Enjoy the future, whatever it holds for us guitar aficionados.

End of Part VIII and the end of this series

Now… I need a break from the relentless rigmarole of the research and write routine, which has, for the best part of a year (or more), been on top of everything else. As mentioned previously, at some point, I might adapt the eight separate ‘Guitar History’ parts into a more coherent and accessible feature set on the CRAVE Guitars’ web site.

Very shortly, I will try and start to prepare for 2019’s (hopefully slightly less) epic partner piece to this year’s gargantuan opener. For the rest of this year, it is back to opinionated hum‑drum ‘normality’ with stand‑alone observations of a more topical and transient nature.

One thing I have noticed is that I haven’t been playing enough guitar in recent months, hardly any at all in fact, which is deplorable. So perhaps now that this particular endeavour is over for now, it’s time to practice what I preach, pick up a lovely vintage guitar and plink away for a bit of cathartic enjoyment. At least, in doing so within the context of the past, I now have an enhanced appreciation of the history that led to it coming into my hands and why it is so important to conserve the heritage for that future. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Let’s be honest, the future is all we really have and it is the only thing we can do anything about”

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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April 2017 – How Much Music Theory Do You Need To Play Guitar?

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

While CRAVE Guitars’ relocation hullabaloo is taking place in the background, here’s a guitar‑related topic which made me think a bit (again).

Recent articles have thrown up what I think are some interesting questions that have then triggered further thoughts. There have been topics around guitar motivations, personal preferences, diverse musical choices and inspirational guitarists that have produced standout musical experiences. Then there was the recent topic about the science and social psychology of music and why/how it affects us in the way it does. These tomes have explored why we may be drawn towards things we consciously or unconsciously like? This article is a bit different although, in some ways, it is also a logical extension of some of those preceding threads. So… to what extent do guitarists need formal musical training?

This particular topic was triggered by a well-worn bit of clichéd guitar humour, “This is called sheet music. You can show it to a lead guitarist to make them stop playing” (see above). Very funny – ha-ha! However, as is my wont, this got me thinking. The joke is, sadly, poignant and I can personally relate to it. There has been a long-running debate as to whether guitarists must learn music theory and whether it enhances or detracts from their ability to enjoy playing or to be a successful working musician. So in the interests of being provocative, I thought I’d throw my tuppence-worth in. The language of music, in my naïve way of thinking, should be liberating, not inhibiting. If anyone has an effective antidote to the following, I would be keen for a prescription and to take my medicine.

The beauty of learning to play the guitar is that, unlike many other instrumental disciplines, proficiency in theoretical musical concepts is not a prerequisite or a necessity (thankfully!). An analogy may be that one does not need to be a linguistic expert in order to deliver grammatically appropriate prose (but it helps). For instance, in order to have fun on our favourite instrument, do you need to memorise and regurgitate the notes that make up the obscure jazz chord, F#7b10b13 (it does exist, honest) or trot out the notes in Lydian Augmented scale in Bb without working it out? NB. I can’t! (NB. for info, Bb, C, D, E, F#, G, A, Bb). However, I accede to the principle that a basic understanding of where all the notes are and how they generally relate to each other is probably helpful.

A newbie can pick up a modest guitar and, within a relatively short space of time, standard tuning and a few simple chords gain reasonable access to a very diverse range of modern music. Think how many great tunes over the past 50 years have been based around the open A, C, D, E and G major chords. A bit more work gives you B and F, and therefore access to many major and minor barre chords all the way up the neck. Diatonic ‘power chords’ are easy to learn and 7th (both major and minor) variations expand things substantially.

Basic rhythm can be picked up by moving between these chords. Applying these fundamentals to, for example, 12-bar blues based around the I, IV and V chord pattern is a relatively straightforward starter-for-ten. Start with 4/4 tempo and take it from there, perhaps adding a bit of ‘swing’ or ‘boogie’ to make it more interesting. Some guitarists spend their entire lives perfecting their craft around these elementary concepts without ever needing to make life complicated. As the legendary American folk singer/songwriter and guitarist, Woody Guthrie said, Anyone who used more than three chords is just showing off”. One could argue that, if it was good enough for him (and everyone who followed in his footsteps)…

Playing strong rhythm guitar is an essential skill in its own right and some guitarists never need to exhibit flashy pyrotechnical displays of digital dexterity to ply their trade. Don’t underestimate the skills of solid accompaniment to musical structure. Without it, there would be no ‘groove’. Sometimes, less really is more.

Learning scales is a bit more involved but the common pentatonic scale (major and minor) again covers a lot of ground without having to understand all the intervening notes. Add in a few ‘blue’ notes and, all of a sudden, you’re a guitar prodigy with aspirations to be the next Jimi Hendrix! This immediate accessibility can also prove to be a drawback, as many guitarists will then ‘hit the wall’ that prevents them from progressing. This is where the complexity of chords, scales and keys can get both intimidating and exciting, depending on your proclivity for the medium and your learning style. Sadly for me, the bait of genuine understanding is disappointingly just beyond my meagre grasp.

First confession – I really, really struggle with music theory. I have tried very hard, honestly I have. I am not stupid but attempting, as I have done on many occasions since I picked up my first guitar as a teenager, to learn the complex language of music has proved to be an insurmountable barrier. I don’t know why, either, which is irritating – perhaps it’s just the way my sad brain works. It gets to the point that I either glaze over and switch off, or I become so frustrated that it alienates me from the one thing that I enjoy doing, which is actually playing music (albeit badly). Either way, I end up giving up (again) and repeated failures simply reinforce the fallibility. It has now got to the point that I don’t even bother trying.

The poor man’s equivalent of notation is ‘guitar tab’, which attempts to provide a half‑way house for those that fear to tread the path and ‘5-bar gate’ of genuine manuscript. This should help, you’d think. However, it has now got to the point that attempting to wade through guitar tab isn’t worth the effort if I can’t nail it quickly. As I get older, my attention span reduces, compounded with the feeling that there is something better to do than struggle. Reading magazines doesn’t help, as the descriptive narrative uses all-or-nothing jargon that often loses me before I start. The Internet is often unreliable and contradictory to the point of increasing confusion, rather than diminishing it. Videos don’t help, as one can’t stop and ask questions, seek clarification or go off at tangents to explore interesting dead ends.

Second confession – I also lack natural musical talent. I don’t have the intrinsic feel and ear for music that many people seem to have without even trying. Many guitarists have incredible instinctive ability that they don’t seem to have to work hard to learn the mechanics. Some incredible guitarists have both the talent and theoretical ability and that, to me, is just not fair. I have genuine admiration for such talented, knowledgeable people and I can respect the hard work they must have put in to achieve it. So… why doesn’t it work for me?

Ultimately that old adage of ‘life is too short’ prevails and I get back to playing within my limitations. I am not afraid of hard work, as long as it serves some sort of positive outcome and in some way adds value to the investment in time and energy. When something becomes a chore with no guarantee that it will make me a better guitar player, then it becomes an obstacle in its own right. I know I’m missing out but the concepts cannot seem to penetrate my intellect and ignite an epiphany. I wish I could read music and memorize the theory but I think I must accept that I just can’t. Admitting defeat is an anathema to me, so I just can’t win. This is where egotistical narcissism and delusional hubris meets crippling self-doubt and pervasive inadequacy. Ouch!

I hasten to add that this is not a position borne out of snobbishness, defiance or indolence. I would dearly like to be able to demonstrate consummate musical skills. However, it just isn’t worth inflicting a masochistic doctrine disproportionate to the perceived derived gratification.

Third confession – I am self-taught and that imposes many petty constraints, perhaps the most obvious being that it has allowed me to pick and choose what one learns (including the inevitable bad habits) and what one doesn’t. I haven’t been formally educated in the guitar, whether it be by some form of passive learning (which generally falls into the ‘can’t be arsed’ category), or interactively with either peers or a seasoned guitar teacher. While I know that I must surely benefit from the latter, I have an ingrained irrational prejudice with this as well. Even if a teacher knows a lot more than I do, particularly regarding theory, I have the feeling that they are just another frustrated guitar wannabee that never made it and the most they could ever teach me would be to be as unsuccessful as they are (i.e. those who can’t… teach). I acknowledge this is a blatant fallacy but it is a practical issue for me, especially if I’m giving up good time and money to invest in my personal learning. There are numerous excellent tutors out there who could probably inspire me but they are geographically and economically beyond my reach. Perhaps when I ‘retire’, it may provide an opportunity to take lessons and improve my knowledge and experience. However, I must accept that it is too little too late to become the guitar god that I deceived myself into believing I could become in my early teens.

I used to play in bands and playing with others is stretching and challenging, both positively and negatively. Being naturally inclined to misanthropy, finding that person or group of people that have the mutually beneficial ‘fit’ is typically difficult. The depressing result is that I currently play in splendid isolation, which is far from ideal, but at least it avoids the inevitable social compromises of ‘playing well with others’. Again, I recognise that my behaviour is self-indulgent, self-limiting and unproductive. Maybe I should set myself a target to play in a band again, just to prove to myself that I can still do it. Then what?

The outcome is that I am caught in that horrible trap where, despite my best efforts, I am neither technically proficient nor naturally talented. It is frustrating that I have known the basics for decades but cannot seem to progress sufficiently to acquire genuine expertise in my chosen instrument. However, I enjoy playing even though, like most guitarists, I regularly get stuck in a rut. Where do I go from here and how do I improve significantly? Ideally, I would like someone to help inspire even a moment of greatness from my admittedly rather mundane approach towards guitar music, I would be keen to explore what may be possible. I realise that this requires some form of direct call-to-action on my part to make it happen; it won’t magically fall into my lap. If I don’t do something, I guess I’ll end up noodling my life away without ever feeling fulfilled, without realising any latent potential, and therefore impeding any possible mastery of the instrument. Unrequited aspiration strikes again.

Another issue for me is my mercurial musical tastes. I pity any guitar tutor who tries to adapt to my predilection at any one time. Like my musical listening tastes, one minute I want to experiment with blues and the next moment, it’s metal, then funk, then reggae, then rock, then jazz, folk, prog, rock ‘n’ roll, fusion, psychedelic, indie, ambient, pop, country, etc. It’s a bit ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. You get the idea. I do draw the line at learning classical guitar though – there are just too many prescribed ‘rules’ involved (another fallacy and one that I just can’t be bothered to controvert!).

One of the other things that guitar is great at is the ease with which it can adopt alternative tunings (try and do that with a piano!). As you might guess, I struggle with chords and scales in ‘standard’ 6-string EADGBE tuning. My poor little brain shudders at the likelihood of having to internalise chord inversions and scale modes for multiple tunings. Never mind adding in physical differences associated with, for instance, 7 (or more) strings, baritones, tenors, harps, banjos, ukuleles, etc. As A.A. Milne wrote about Winnie-the-Pooh, “I am a bear of very little brain…”.

Thankfully, we guitarists also aren’t constrained by 12 fixed notes like many other instruments. Frets help precision most of the time, especially with chords. In addition, we can also bend notes and add vibrato (again, try that with a piano!). This can be taken even further by using a bottleneck or slide. While there are few fretless guitars (Vigier being the most obvious proponent), we’ve had fretless basses since well before the advent of the electric bass guitar. Many of these characteristics make the guitar one of the most expressive and flexible of musical instruments in existence.

While theory is good at articulating tempo, it isn’t very good at describing timbre and tone let alone touch and feel, which are the Holy Grail for many guitarists. The guitarist’s eternal quest for ‘tone’, i.e. the sound we construct in our heads, as opposed to what we hear when the sound comes out of a speaker at the end of the signal chain, is perhaps a topic for another time.

I hinted at the start of this article that theory can inhibit creativity and innovation as it can tend to constrain ones mental ability to experiment outside the fixed tenets. A lot of ground breaking guitar music over the last half century has been created by people without enough theoretical knowledge about what’s ‘right’, which enabled them to break the rules and come up with something new, which then becomes incorporated into the ever‑expanding ‘norm’ over time. The counter argument is that musicians cannot really escape the confines of ignorance without understanding what rules they might be seeking to break, and then providing them with the appropriate tools with which to break them. The more (or less) you know, the better equipped you are for challenging the boundaries. I remain agnostic on this particular subject, principally because I am not informed enough to comment objectively.

I also hinted at the relationship between theory and ‘success’. Arguably, the best, most prolific and longstanding credible guitarists have a workmanlike mix of theory and talent. As an example, session musicians in particular would struggle without being able to sight‑read sheet music and rapidly adapt their playing style to suit the context. Without having to think about what they are ‘reading’, experienced professional musicians can be liberated to add something of themselves to the mix. This playing beyond the conscious is the basis of Zen guitar, a quasi-religious state of being. Equally, classical guitarists really need to be able to stick closely to what the original composer intended (i.e. no improvisational freedom), so rudimental theory is essential. To many singer/songwriters though, just creating something that ‘sounds right’ is more important than comprehending which notes make it so and why. I tend to fall into the latter category, appreciating some combinations of notes without fitting them into some predetermined harmonic or melodic framework. I know it sounds good but not necessarily why it should do so.

A number of songwriting ‘manuals’ I’ve seen over the years often instruct readers about uniform song structure. While I agree that experience of the past should provide indicators as to what works and what doesn’t, sticking to a formula-driven structural solution to songwriting can produce music that can be anodyne and sterile. I guess that a conformist approach is helpful to begin with but rigid adherence to the rubrics may ultimately result in stagnation. Think what would happen if every song followed the same unbending pattern with little variation. The accepted wisdom is sound, as long as it provides for (and encourages) an antithetical approach as well. Creative rebellion can be a healthy reaction to standardisation and convention. Musically and culturally, it’s called rock ‘n’ roll! When Marlon Brando in ‘The Wild One’ (1953 film) was asked, what are you rebelling against?” he replied sublimely with, ‘whadda you got?”.

The mathematics of music can be fascinating, suggesting that music taps into something quite fundamental about the laws determining how our physical universe works. Musical appreciation may be the result not just of stylistic considerations and the prevailing cultural context but also by things beyond our comprehension. Perhaps this explains why many religious faiths use music to enhance the spiritual connection between the physical plane and the heavens. Since the days of Plato in ancient Greece, the theory of music has been built on fundamental scientific principles. They also understood that the mathematical framework of musical theory provides a basis for human expression through music. Why do humans experience the unique compulsive need to create and perform music at all? That’s another question altogether. “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato (c.428-348BCE)

Scientifically, the sound that we hear and our brains interpret is simply the result of vibrating air molecules and frequency is simply the rate at which those air molecules vibrate. The character of the instruments we hear is essentially the type of waveform created by those vibrations.

Getting technical for a moment, human hearing realistically only works in the range 20Hz‑20MHz and often less, especially as we age (losing about 1KHz per decade of our lives). A standard-tuned electric guitar has a fundamental frequency range of only around 80Hz-1200Hz (excluding harmonics – see below) – around 4 octaves. NB. an increase of 1 octave doubles the frequency. In comparison, a bass guitar covers approximately 60Hz-1000Hz and the human voice generally ranges between c.80Hz-260Hz (both genders). Drums range roughly between 60Hz-2KHz and cymbals between 8KHz-16KHz. As a consequence, we humans fit all our music within this limited audio spectrum.

Most musical tempos range between 40 beats per minute (BPM) technically described as Largo, up to 200BPM, called Presto. Blues and rock vary between about 80BPM and 120 BPM (Andante to Allegretto). Dance music varies between 120-160BPM (Allegro to Molto Allegro). There are, of course, many, many exceptions to these very rough indicators. It is amazing what we can create within these boundaries.

Pitch, rhythm and tempo are also essentially based on mathematical principles and resonate (sic!) unconsciously with something visceral and primitive in our physical makeup. Scientists have often referred to mathematics as music for the intellect. Perhaps the key relationship between science, mathematics and music could be a subject for another time (I need to do some more research first!).

In conclusion, and to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article, you don’t need any formal training to start playing guitar and to get plenty of enjoyment from it. A modicum of conceptual knowledge can certainly help to get more from the playing experience and can open up all sorts of musical possibilities. Extensive theoretical understanding is certainly not a bad thing and can provide opportunities that otherwise might be closed to the purely practical musician. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual and what they feel they need to know to get what they want out of playing the world’s most popular instrument. Music, like life, isn’t an all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all state. To end on a profound (and pretentious) note, knowledge is a continuum and we are all somewhere along the path between ignorance at one extreme and enlightenment at the other. I wouldn’t assume that everyone aspires to the latter, but, speaking personally, I would like to be a bit nearer to it than I am at the moment.

On that note, all things considered, I’m off to plink my planks again, albeit amateurishly and in blissful ignorance. It is my catharsis for the soul and partial therapy for the world’s many ailments. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Twelve little notes. So many combinations. Not enough time.”

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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