"Underground" is a common expression - then and now. But what is underground music? Underground papers? I am going to put on my thinking cap here. If you are seriously bored already, please jump direct to my amazingly subjective musicians Index!
In my humble opinion we are referring to works of musicians and journalists that:
not merely created for financial gain,
are created without consideration for the values of political and commercial authorities
are created without being adjusted to written and unwritten rules of the respective trade
therefore have problems getting attention and space in the utterly commercial trade of records and newspapers.
("Wot? said Edward Drone")
Sorry Edward, I'll get off that orange crate in a minute.
People talked about "underground music" radio programs. What they referred to seemed to be radio programs featuring uninterrupted album cuts - or even the uninterrupted broadcasting of a complete record album (a dream for home tapers). And NO singles.
That's what it was to me, really. An enthusiastic D.J. giving some credibility to the radio station in the eyes (and ears) of the youth.
So called underground music was said to be played a.o. by the prominent
and knowledgeable radio d.j. John Peel, first in the program "The Perfumed Garden" on a pirate radio station, then on the BBC. He championed many bands
he loved, among others The Misunderstood.
Simon Frith, U.K. reporter for "Creem" magazine, wrote in Jan. '73 about John Peel:
"For years he's provided the only radio chance to hear something besides a hit single (hence his Melody Maker poll wins) and even now that progressive rock has made it (11 hours a week on the BBC, 2 hours a night on Luxemberg) he's still the only dj capable of surprise."
Even super commercial Radio Luxembourg (Wonderful Radio 208) played what they called underground music, particularly d.j. Dave "Kid" Jensen on his "Kid Jensen's Dimensions". A two-hour show every night of the week. Beamed all over the world - having enormous impact.
Kid Jensen was from Canada originally. Said he had a schizophrenic taste in music and liked to place soft Joni Michell beside John Lee Hooker or Jimi Hendrix. Of U.K. artists he liked Yes, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash. Lots of music from the CHARISMA label. Genesis, Lindisfarne, Van Der Graaf Generator... All according to interview in Beat Instrumental Jan. '72. Great - but do we consider these artists underground?
So getting down to the basics: what albums deserved the label "underground"? The Ventures recorded an album of instrumental versions of hits from Steppenwolf, The Cream and other heavies. It was called "Underground Fire". Comments unnecessary.
I guess somebody would shout Edgar Broughton.
But still: Underground music, to an outsider (I am aware of that, Edward!), seemed to mean: l-o-n-g album cuts, lots of instrumental passages, l-o-n-g hair and a lightshow simulating an L.S.D. kick. Now: that's what I love! No problem. But I cannot consider it to be underground that easily. These criterias do - in my opinion - apply to many bands earning piles of money.
I'll have to put on my thinking cap once again, methinks.
The music business was the engine-room of the underground, the source of the finance. You didn't need a lot of money to live in those days, but you needed some. The great thing about the music business was that there was always some cash floating about. So IT was financed by record company advertising. UFO provided employment . . .Well - that was certainly one reason of existence for the music biz!
( Steve Sparks in Green's "Days in the Life" - from "The Quotable Sixties" - link below.)
Time for a heavy quote (we're talking culture here, remember!) from Marsha Rowe: "Introduction to the Spare Rib Reader" of 1982. Borrowed from the engrossing Web Page "The Quotable Sixties" (link below).
"The newspapers and magazines that spouted up as part of the youth culture of the sixties included IT, OZ and Frendz, all based in London. Their production was made possible by the technical development of offset litho printing, which did not entail expensive metal blocks for photo and type. Offset litho also meant that designers had more free play in layout. Colour could spread over margins, pictures could be stuck down at odd angles, and the page could be assembled so that print and colour superimposed upon each other, the psychedelic result resplendent with the excitement of experimenting with symbols, words and technique.
The visual effect of Oz magazine especially was often spectacular, like a cubist painting done by a surrealist, an attempt to deny the dimensions of the flat page, not by the single viewpoint realism of a photograph, but by simultaneously representing as many different perspectives as possible. It was a graphic exploration of the youth-culture aesthetic, the expansion of consciousness, affirming the power of the imagination, and posing the validity of subjective experience against establishment values. The underground press offered an alternative outlet, a more authentic voice for the concerns and mood of the youth movement than the mass media. The editorial content was eclectic, covering ecology, sexuality, communal living, drugs, music, Third World politics, food, health, mysticism, psychology amongst others.
Germaine Greer described the free-wheeling inclinations and interests of the underground in the July issue of OZ in 1969: "The political character of the underground is still amorphous, because it is principally a clamour for freedom to move, to test alternative forms of existence to find if they were practicable, and if they were more gratifying, more creative, more positive, than mere endurance under the system". These aspirations were given shape in the music of the sixties, which drew on a host of sources: folk, blues, soul, jazz, country & western, rock & roll. The music, at small events, or combined with 'happenings', or at enormous festivals which drew thousands of young people together, integrated the counter-culture more than any other single element, and also revealed its emphasis. The cultural radicalism had energy and vision but it was also a dream world, dependent on the prosperous, consumerist society it criticized."
The Quotable Sixties