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From Skins to Teenyboppers

The writing had been on the wall for two or three years. Bernard Davies, writing in a British weekly magazine at the time noticed, whilst sitting with a group of kids in a Northern pub watching Top Of The Pops on TV, that those on the screen bore no resemblance to those he was sitting with. 'Young people', he concluded, 'are not mostly angry and assertive, but apathetic and inactive . . . far from challenging the world around them, they seem personally and socially incarcerated; their talents are consistently underrated, their visions constricted, their personal modes of expression stifled'. At the time he wrote this, the best-selling record in Britain was 'Something In The Air' by Thunderclap Newman: the message of this song ('We've got to get it together sooner or later, because the revolution's here') was, by the time it was released, a ludicrous anachronism. The dream, as John Lennon realized a year later, was over.

What had happened? Why was it that in 1965 simply every kid bought the Beatles and the Stones records, and yet four years later the culture was as rigidly divided as it had ever been?

The answer is complex: it had something to do with students, it had something to do with hippies, and it had something to do with dope. From '1966 onwards, the major groups switched their focal point from London to the American West Coast - 'where it was at' was no longer Swinging London, but San Francisco. 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and 'We Love You' marked the time of the move. Rock had become introspective, intellectual, dope-oriented, mystical and - the cruncher - incomprehensible to a large part of the old Beatles/Stones fan club audience. There was no messing about with 'She Loves You' or, in a different way, 'Satisfaction', but in their place what was anyone to make of:

'Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see . . . '

The feeling of revulsion was slow to build up, but it did so relentlessly and persistently through 1968 and the early part of 1969. Rock & roll, the young people's music, was becoming university music, leaving behind it the old Mod audience of the mid-'60s: the gaps were getting to be quite unbridgeable. Gradually. the symbols of the new, heavier rock were becoming objects of hatred - and these symbols were the hippie image of long hair, kaftans, mysticism, pacifism and intellectualism.

The divisions that were opening up were the old class divisions: 'Jimmy', age 17 from Bethnal Green in East London, talked to a reporter from the pop press and was asked about hippies: 'I hate hairies . . . it's all that talk about love and peace and all those clothes. They're flash. I mean, I work for my pay so I pay for them on the dole. Most of them have posh accents and they all went to public school anyway'. Jimmy identified himself as a Skinhead - the Skinheads were the first positive reaction on the part of working class kids to the middle-class takeover of rock & roll, a music that a few years earlier had seemingly wiped out such old fashioned class divisions.

Realistic Problems

And, in a way, even though his generalizations are a little hazy, Jimmy and his mates were right. It was all very well sitting on some university campus smoking dope and being together and spreading the word around the student body, but it completely missed the point as far as the young working-class kids were concerned. Their problems were glaringly realistic; rooted in deprived home environments and boring jobs to look forward to. They still felt the tensions of a divided society, and these tensions were not met by dreaming about panaceas like Woodstock, or listen to sensitive dirges from Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Their problems were simply dismissed, and relegated to the realms of the 'uncool'. It was time to make their presence felt, and they did so in 1969.

Chris Welch, writing in the pop press, was one of the first writers to notice the new phenomenon, even if his standpoint was unsympathetic:

'It is a curious thing that whenever... a pillar of our Bewildered Society wants to cast stones... they instantly start burbling about LONG-HAIRED louts/ yobs/hippies/students etc... Yet anybody who has ventured on the streets... will instinctively know that they have nothing to fear from the long-haired youth who merely wants to turn on in peace to his favourite band and chick. The sight of cropped heads and the sound of heavy boots entering the midnight Wimpy bar or dance hall is the real cause for sinking feelings in the pit of the stomach'.

Welch identified the new breed as 'Mods', which wasn't a bad description in the pre-'Skinhead' days, for, no doubt about it, their origins were the same as the Mods of 1963-64. But, whereas the Mod had been at one with rock music, his younger brother or sister was left out in the cold. The cropped hair and the turned up Levis, the braces and the Dr. Martens steel-capped boots became the obligatory uniform for the 1969 version of the Mod- a uniform that was quite clearly a reaction against 'hippie gear'.

The hairstyle gave the kids their new name -'Skinhead' - and the boots the new message - 'aggro' - an abbreviation of aggravation. The braces, though no doubt unconsciously, marked them out as a working-class group. In every way, their image and their attitudes were in direct opposition to the middle-class student drop-out, who filled the scapegoat role in the early Skinhead days as the rocker had filled it for their elder brothers. Musically, the Skinheads had next to nowhere to turn. Like the Mods they wanted music to dance to, or to 'clomp' to: they had no room for the liberated free-expressionism of the hippies' 'dancing'. Dave Hill, of Slade, noted: ''Skinheads don't move their feet when they dance, they stamp them up and down and make one helluva racket. The more noise they can make, the better."

Putting it crudely, the Skinheads wanted to be noticed, and this involved noise, brashness, violence and bovver. Motown was the only mainstream pop that had any appeal, and the 'Chartbuster' albums were snapped up by the Skins. But Motown's identity wasn't as clearly defined as they wanted their music to be - they thus latched themselves onto Reggae, the updated version of Ska and Blue Beat pioneered by the Rastafarians in Kingston, Jamaica. 'The Israelites', the first major Reggae seller, was an obvious Rastafarian record, with its vision of Babylon and the lost people trapped within its boundary.

Blue Beat had enjoyed a short burst of popularity with the Mods in 1964, but the much greater success of Reggae with the Skins was probably due to the increasing liaison between young West Indians - especially in Birmingham and certain London districts - and the young whites. In many of the Skinhead gangs, West Indians were prime movers: all racism was channelled into the anti-Pakistani area - where there was virtually no integration.

British Groups

There was, of course, the additional factor that no British groups were catering for their musical needs. whereas the Mods had had the Stones, the Animals and the Beatles in the early days, and the Small Faces and the Who later on.

Reggae, then, served the purpose, but it was still very distanced from the Skins after all, it was basically West Indian music. The Skins/Reggae combination was crucial for the development of rock for it meant, ultimately, that the Skins became alienated from rock. Even well into the '70s, only Slade have maintained any real Skinhead connections, and even they were forced to change their appearance radically in order to gain acceptance as a rock & roll band. The net result was a net loss for rock, since the Skins have thrown up just the one major rock group, whereas the Mods produced dozens.

In a way, the position of London has had a major influence on all of this. The Mod looked up to London, it was the centre of his world. The Skinhead, on the other hand, reacted against what London had become, and the Stones' Hyde Park concert in 1969 became a prime target for the Skins simply because it represented a hippie stronghold. Of course there were Skins in London, but the Skinhead phenomenon was far more diversified than the world of the Mods. Noddy Holder, Slade's lead singer, had this to say:

'' People back home (Walsall, in the Midlands) gave us the Skinhead thing because we were living at home and London was far removed from us. All our mates were dressed like that and they didn't want to see us come on stage in velvet suits. They wanted to see us dressed how they were dressed and playing what they wanted to hear."

Noddy Holder, Slade

Noddy didn't know what was going on in London, and his mates didn't even care about what was going on there - the '64 " Mod would have been thunderstruck, all the Faces having made their way to the Capital.

The provincialism of the Skins was emphasized by something else: rock had been the heart of the Mods' world, with all the major fashion changes coming from it but, for the Skins, their fathers' pastime of football was far more important. Their passions were wrapped up in the game, and, when they switched from boots and braces to the smoother Crombies and Trevira suits in the winter of 1970 71, it was obligatory for the Skin to show his allegiance by having the badge of his local team sewn on to his jacket.

This intense local patriotism was taken down as far as street level: Noddy Holder, whilst being a fan of his local football club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, was also a member of the Beachdale Gang, restricted to those living on one particular housing estate in Walsall. This pattern was repeated nationwide - in the North, in Grimsby. as another example. the local populace was intrigued by the painting of BHM on so many walls around the football ground area. The letters, it later transpired, referred to the Beacon Hill Mob. These area gangs gathered together for the specific purpose of defending their territory, and woe betide any stray groups of aliens who happened upon somebody else's land. The wars, for a year or more. were total.

Small Clubs

All of this petty gangsterism would seem to have little connection with the world of pop, and yet its ultimate effects have been traumatic. The Skins' divorce from the pop world coincided with the dearth of live appearances in small clubs, that area which had been the especial domain of the Mods. In many ways, the position regarding live appearances afterwards reverted to the pre-Beatles situation. For the non-progressive fan, and this takes in most working-class kids from 12 to 16, the only live connection with pop then became the large cinema or hall. Just as Cliff Richard and the Shadows had toured this circuit in the early '60s, so too did Slade and David Bowie in the early '70s. The wheel, so badly buckled by the emergence of the Mod groups in the mid '60s, had gone full circle.

All this has led.directly to the creation of the teenyboppers. (Girls from 10 or 1 1, to 15 or 16, have always provided the backbone of pop's audience, ever since Elvis displaced the film stars as an idol in 1957. In the British Beat Boom of the mid '60s the nature of this idolatry was changed: true, the Beatles were heroes in the traditional sense, but their successors - the Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds and the Small Faces-clearly weren't. And the nature of the Beatles as 'stars' changed during their first two or three years at the top. They changed the idea of 'stardom' by being so clearly 'ordinary' and, through their club performances, obtainable in more ways than one. This closeness led to the obvious realization that the 'stars' were just like the kids at school - no better, no worse, just pretty good musicians.

Spiritually Fat

But, since 1968-69, this circuit has been broken. The old stars grew spiritually fat after their American successes, and the new stars - in all likelihood due to the Skins' break with rock - have simply not emerged to fill their places in the local clubs. Again, Slade are the only exception to this argument - other top-sellers of the ' 70s have been refugees from the previous generation, in particular Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

And so there is an action-replay generation of young girls mooning over distant stars, retreating into the womb of the teenage idol, preferably remote and unattainable, necessarily pretty-looking and young, hopefully innocent and good to his Mom. These new, conformist people then, who attract the name teeny or weenybopper in the media, simply love the glamour of it all, They dream of Donny Osmond who s 15; or they swap pix of David Cassidy, who's 24. but looks 14. In a way it's all very sad. Ask them about the Beatles, and they just about remember ask them about the Stones and they shudder like their mothers shudder ask them about Dylan and they'll tell you something about the kids' TV programme the Magic Roundabout with its puppet character Dillon. The mind goes back to poor old John Lennon fighting the revolution in New York. In 1972, he gave a concert there: he walked on stage, and announced, cheerfully optimistic as ever: ''OK, so Flower Power failed, well then, let's start again . . . " Ask the teenyweeny about Flower Power, and the answer most probably comes as a pretty blank look. And as for John Lennon, well he's just some nutter who sleeps a lot. ''A pretty face," John sang, ''may last a year or two."

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