"The Two Underdogs", Pt. VII


LPS, FM, Arena Rock and Inflation==Re-segregation

The rise of the LP and FM parallels the rise in inflation. [56] Inflation was not much of an issue during the heyday of the single, but by the time of Sly’s last major hit in 1974, “the 1967 dollar” wasn’t what it used to be, and it has never been since. When LPS were good, they were often great, but when they were bad the consumer felt more ripped because of the cost in money and time. By the mid 1970s, the relatively autonomous single that wasn’t already part of an album had disappeared, in blatant disregard of consumer demand. Single sales remained steady, but now they were subordinate to the LP. Without the mode of the single to keep them in check, albums became flabbier as they proliferated, but the RIAA labels’ profits grew exponentially: even as national record labels forced their artists to put out music less frequently.

Songs stayed on charts longer because less music was played. Songs lasted longer; fewer became hits for longer periods of time. Less one-hit wonders, and instrumentals were played (as there was now less talk on music radio). Suddenly, this week’s #1 song didn’t mean that much anymore, and lazily hung around the top ten awhile longer as the request line became a “do not enter” sign. [57] Radio took less chances, was slower to respond to its listeners. Formats fragmented; the center could not hold. Even if Top 40 stations still existed in name, the niche-market stations had stronger signals and bigger advertising budgets.

FM didn’t overtake AM in listenership in North America until 1978; and the decline of the single from 1972 to 1985 was so protracted that many didn’t understand that AM, Top-40 radio, the 45RPM, and even the non-material concept of the single, were being killed. Technological standards now froze out some of the most vital music, as a form of “market censorship.” Commercial FM and AM increasingly played less new music, especially music by new artists.

If mid century rock and roll was, as Steven Taylor writes, “people’s response to the post-depression, post world-war drive to hyper-production, hyper-consumption economy,” by the late 1970s, the balance between production and consumption was thrown out of whack, so the “backbeat” of rock and roll was no longer tolerated neither as labor itself, nor as something that could be harnessed as a soundtrack of “labor.”

Slicker “laid back” songs were imposed. Even the most rocking bands, debatably more fierce than before (Zeppelin, Sabbath, etc.), seemed colder and more distant. [58] All this was designed to mimic, justify, naturalize and even help effect the increased alienation of labor and re-segregation required by “post-industrialization.” [59] By 1974, this Fillmore-ization had trickled up to main streets in White America. Since downtowns were dying, colleges and public universities were relocated to “riot proof” campuses, pedestrian comparison-shopping was relegated to well-policed suburban malls; dancehalls were subject to curfews and crackdowns.

Since local businesses were being undersold by carpet-bagging colonizing chain stores that didn’t even carry records anymore, there was significantly less advertising revenue for locally owned radio stations. Sly, like many mega-stars who rose up through the older, more democratic system, saw what was happening to the business and the culture, but like the family watching the wrecking ball destroy downtown in Gary Adelstein’s Reading 1974: Portrait of a City, was helpless to do anything about it. Still, from the perspective of 40 years later, it’s amazing that one could turn on national TV, and witness Sly join Mohammed Ali in lobbying a congressman to “take your face and your complexion to the white-house, and tell them to repay the black people for all the work that they’ve done.” [60]

Yet, as David Zirin points out, “As America’s ruling class smashed some sections of the Black Power movement and accommodated others, Ali himself was ‘both smashed and accommodated: “Ali’s almost complete incapacitation and consequent isolation coincided with the downturn in the freedom struggle in the mid to late 70s.” The same could be said for Sly and many others. “all of the healers have been killed, or sent away…” as Gil Scott Heron sang in “Winter In America.” 6 years later we had fallen off the calendar: “it’s 1980 and there ain’t no way back to 1974, much less 1969.” The big takeover had begun, but then so did the heyday of college radio.

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