There is a story told about post-war popular music: first it was shocking, then it was subversive, and now it is respectable. We can include a real princess in this tale, Princess Michael of Kent, who remarked: ‘Dreary, conventional people looked at the pop industry in a different way after Live Aid. It has got a different image now’ (Daily Mail 28 June 1986). It is a familiar story, but is it a true one?
Certainly, public perceptions of pop have changed. We only have to compare the virtual canonization of Bob Geldof and the sanctification of Band Aid with the time, thirty years earlier, when rock music was a cause of outrage and moral indignation. Then, church leaders, politicians and other guardians of public morality argued that young people would be corrupted by listening to Elvis Presley or Bill Haley.
This neatly rounded story, however, only reveals a partial truth. Despite the warm afterglow of Live Aid, pop stars have not been fully embraced by the moral guardians. The same tabloids that had called for a Nobel peace prize for Geldof were later to persecute Elton John and Boy George for their alleged sexual and other habits. When the US rappers, the Beastie Boys, threatened to bring a 20-foot inflatable penis (part of their stage show) to Britain in 1987, they managed to inspire a familiar outburst of tabloid panic. The Daily Mirror claimed that the Home Secretary was going to ban them. (He didn’t.) Albert Goldman’s prurient biography of John Lennon served only to reinforce doubts about the acceptability of rock musicians. And then, in 1988-9, the popular press and (less popular) politicians discover the acid house party. As thousands of young people gather in fields, warehouses and deserted airfields all over Britain to have a good