“People sometimes ask why a serious, well-educated, intellectual fellow such as me wastes his time and enthusiasm on the most insignificant passing trends and the most contrived, trashy music he can find. And I don’t know what to say. I just can’t get into George Harrison, Seals & Crofts or even Van Morrison and the Band. I like that stuff, but it simply doesn’t excite me the way, say, Bobby Sherman or David Peel do. I must be sick.”
– Greg Shaw, review of Slayed, Creem, April 1973
5 thoughts on “Pop as a Sickness”
It’s so odd to me how George Harrison was still thought A list in 1973 (#1 single and album, I know, but still).
True, though I think that’s a fairly retrospective view, maybe? Ringo aside, probably, I’m guessing that the solo Beatles were granted a lot of leniency for a lot of years among a lot of people — but I honestly don’t know. (Nowadays, Harrison’s hits from the period don’t seem at all far removed from other stuff on the radio, though maybe Bobby Sherman’s a bit of a stretch–“My Sweet Lord” is no “Easy Come, Easy Go,” that’s for sure.) What’s even odder, though, now that you mention it: Shaw placing Seals & Crofts in such esteemed company. That’s bizarre. Were critics enthusing over them? (Richard Riegel could probably help with this one; he was never exactly their biggest fan: https://rockcritics.com/2013/03/26/from-the-archives-richard-riegel-2001/)
Having David Peel on the other side of the divide initially seemed just as odd to me as placing Seals & Crofts alongside the Band. I’ve got a David Peel song I love (“Lower East Side”), but basically he was a weird bohemian folk-novelty. Wikipedia calls him proto-punk, Christgau gave one of his albums an E, and I’d probably put him alongside Wild Man Fischer before Bobby Sherman. Today they’d be reversed: Seals & Crofts would be perceived as the lightweight K-Tel/Midnight Special/Have a Nice Day pop act, while Peel would only be rediscovered, if at all, through a specialty blog or offbeat reissue.
Re-reading, though, Shaw’s distinction makes sense. He’s talking about his preference for trash more than pop, and Peel was definitely that (and Seals & Crofts definitely weren’t).
In really important news, “Little Woman” and “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” all over “Easy Come, Easy Go.”
Yes, Scott, your crepuscular critic here. Having lived and written in those primordial times, I don’t think pop-vs.-rock was that much of an issue yet in 1973 — I believe that dichotomy dates from the disco-vs.-rock conflicts of a few years later. What Greg Shaw is talking about above is the dialectic between the FM-played respectable album rock of the time (later to be known as “classic rock”) and outsider music of all sorts, often considered “trashy,” as Phil notes, by the mandarins at Rolling Stone and the radio stations. Seals & Croft didn’t have much if any critical cachet, even then, but they got played often on those respectable FM stations, along with Van Morrison, the Band, and George Harrison, by those same stations that wouldn’t touch Bobby Sherman (because “teenyboppers” liked him) or David Peel (who was “weird” for his own sake, without essaying weirdness-as-elitism the way the FM-accepted Frank Zappa did.) Greg Shaw is citing his excitement about the music of Sherman and Peel to introduce his comparable affection for Slade, whose cutprice-glitter-metal aesthetic would have been VERY threatening to fans of the Band or George Harrison in 1973.
Radio — of course. That makes so much sense now. It’s easy to forget in 2014 how big a part of the story it once was.