Magazine article The Spectator

Shocking Moments

Magazine article The Spectator

Shocking Moments

Article excerpt

Olden but golden

Frank Sinatra wasn't exactly overjoyed about the arrival of rock and roll. `Rock 'n' Roll smells phoney and false,' he raged in 1957. `It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons ... and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration and sly, lewd - in fact, plain dirty - lyrics, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth. It is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has ever been my misfortune to hear.'

Intemperance like this usually tells us more about the speaker than his subject. What I hear in Sinatra's words is fear. At the most basic level, fear about his own continued success and reputation, but also fear of the incomprehensible. When you remember that he had recorded the sublimely sophisticated Songs for Swingin' Lovers the year before this remark, and was to release that great late-night album Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely the year after, one can readily understand why he found rock and roll barbaric. And yet for some unfathomable reason, delinquent, sideburned youth was going mad for it.

When I first came across Sinatra's outburst I thought it was sad that such a great singer couldn't appreciate at least the freshness and energy of the new music. After pondering a moment, however, I realised that I feel exactly the same way about rap as Francis Albert felt about rock. Reading about the antics of So Solid Crew, or listening to the vile misogyny and violence of Dr Dre, I've been forced to accept that at 47 there are some areas of popular music I want nothing to do with. At both boy bands and gangsta rap, this old fart draws the line.

It's hard to appreciate now just how thrillingly shocking rock and roll was when it first arrived in the mid Fifties, but I've just hit upon a delightful way of re-creating that first fine careless rapture. Seek out the cheapo double-CD Back to the Fifties (Rajon) which comes with a brilliantly simple statement of intent. `During the time when Rock & Roll was shaking pelvises and alarming concerned parents everywhere, these songs were considered safe for teens' explains the admirably dry onesentence liner note.

The numbers transport us back to a world of delicious innocence and unthreatening schmaltz, the America of mom's apple-pie and white picket fences. …

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