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A realisation that has laid dormant inside me for a serious number of years now is that what I am principally attracted to in music is melody. It is the thing that does it for me. Contained inside the melody of a song you can somehow imagine your greatest ambitions, the deepest melancholy or the bluest ever sky. Music just stimulates these intense feelings for me, although it usually works best when combined with a matching lyric.

More often than not, some kind of context will contribute significantly to this emotional effect; for instance if I know that the Go-Betweens are from sunny Brisbane, then there is a reason that I am reminded of girls on sandy beaches and land-rovers cruising across the Australian outback when I hear them. The same thing happens when listening to Richard Hawley in the knowledge that he hails from the steel and mill city of Sheffield, England; I remember the time and place which this music represents. It will happen also with Edith Piaf; in fact the list of artists is inexhaustible.

This is an interesting point: because of this context that music is naturally placed in, some genres or even just a short musical hook, can only remind you of one place, culture or situation. For example when I listen to reggae I will normally be reminded of something like the hot sun shining down on a Jamaican bazaar, or Rastafarians with dreadlocks perhaps.  Melody has one the most important parts to play in the structure of this musical experience. Some types of melody were created distinctly by movements or groups of people, such as the Chicago blues tradition, and before that in Africa or the major chord structure of the bass hooks featured in most reggae songs. When you hear these melodies, you are instantly emotionally and intellectually transported to a place, and like life itself it can be a dark or a beautiful place – think Scott Walker vs. Leonard Cohen.

Although most casual fans of music are indeed susceptible to melody the most in song (it is after all what the chart music manufacturers aim for), I would argue that they have a bad definition of what melody really means. Melody doesn’t just mean the same four to eight bars of notes recurring in succession. Melody, for me, consists of a rounded, engaging tune with a theme, which works best when it is not an oft-used one. The content of chart music usually consists of a simple but ‘catchy’ keyboard lick, with a 4/4 time dance-track imposed over the top. Alas, some people think that melody is tantamount to cheesiness, but it isn’t necessarily; besides, I am often unashamedly attracted to the sensibility of cheesiness in music. Manic Street Preachers are certainly able to channel this, as did Frank Zappa, albeit ironically most of the time. Decent melody outside of the pop charts is much more interesting than this and engrains itself in the musical world and delightfully in the head of the listener.

There were of course times when I was slightly ashamed to appreciate the melodic factor in music, mainly due to the pressure of music-loving friends. Those were friends that would only have time for Tool, Bullet for My Valentine, Cradle of Filth etc. Now I know why Nirvana was always my favourite heavy rock band. I don’t care anymore to feel shame admitting that I am attracted to a lovely melody in song for the reasons above than pretend to like or understand those from which it is conspicuously absent. I would like to look more into the components of music and their effects and need to look at the copy of Musicophilia I somehow acquired by Oliver Sacks and I also understand that Edward Said wrote a great deal on music. Meanwhile, I’ll leave this here with a great melody I’ve been digging the last week or so:

‘Made A List’ is the second single released by Dingus Khan on Giant Haystacks records last month, the only band to come out of Manningtree; or, various rooms in Manningtree Town.

Dingus Khan is a band name which admittedly gives away no hint of the type of spectacle the ensemble really is. It tells nothing of the warm melodies, the jauntiness of their pop sensibility or the thrashing drum-track which accompanies a considerable proportion of their live show. This partly works well as the band has an ironic sense of humility, their music interlocked with their personalities which makes a refreshingly entertaining change in the midst of any pop/rock line-up on offer.

For a newcomer to the band there must be several first impressions aroused. The lyric writers of the band certainly can’t have steady jobs and have a lot of free weekends (subject matter covered could only be done so this being the case), they don’t clothes shop at high street chains all that often, consume a considerable amount of soft drugs and if you didn’t know any better, believe the lead singer has had his heart broken a few times laughing at himself in the process. Some of these are true. In all probability, it’s the last part which draws the younger crowd in with a modern and humorous take on romantic issues of old, as well as the props and funky outfits which don their live gigs. Common reactions to these shows seem to be empathy for their musical cause, and a desire to join the cult.

Also largely down to these ever-dynamic gigs over the past year is the reason they have become so big as of late. A home gig in Colchester recently was sandwiched between appearances at Reading and Leeds and their first UK tour is coming up towards the end of this year. Watching them now, it makes sense to know that their latest single ‘Made a List’ was recorded about a year ago, before the addition of certain vocal lines, that one extra drummer and benefitting from help in the studio with the violin. This great last addition moves them one step closer to Arcade Fire or British Sea Power than The Pixies, all with a great noisy ending.

The new single is quite melodic with a singer-songwriter feel, quite different to the fast-paced ‘Knifey Spoony’ from March, which a cynical analysis could reveal as an industry ploy (the softer second single) – but this band are all indie, on the side-lines of any kind of ‘industry’ and with a local, one-off manager. To denote the song an anthem would be to indulge in the exaggerated, clichéd, overused dialect of the pop rock reviewer, but the chanting climax of Made a List does qualify it as their humble anthem, with the audience engrossed in a mass sing-along finale. By the end of the tune, we are enjoined to partake in this over and over, and there’s that thought again: musical empathy!

An amusing music video filmed locally, featuring a cast of characters accompanies the single. The next thing from Dingus Khan seems to be their album, which will be one to look out for in 2013. At the moment, you get the impression they can’t quite believe their luck…their outer circle of friends usually aren’t so surprised. In the meantime – listen and expect big things!

Picture the scene: it is the middle of 1969 and famous Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono are staging one of their many ‘bed-in’s’ for peace from a hotel room somewhere in Montreal, or Holland. Lennon, becoming ever more outlandish in his peace protests since the release of Revolution the year before, is apparently leading a generation of angry, young, idealistic voices against the culmination of wars in the first half of the twentieth century, currently Vietnam.

Emotive, drastic, forceful words are flying in the face of the media from a man who has at this point been one of the most famous people in the world for the last 7 years (featuring many quotes which will survive the natural weathering of time far longer than one might’ve thought), but one shall stick out: ‘if everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace’. Less than ten years later, Lennon and Ono are of course living in their million dollar luxury flats in uptown New York where he easily managed to ignore the issue of his personal wealth and laugh off Orwellian socialism whilst continuing to oscillate his mantra of peace and love  – the same scene where the Beatle met his pointless, untimely demise. But these acts confirmed Lennon as a member of the 60’s peace movements along with his rock star colleagues.

The mentality of free love culminated in Woodstock some months after John and Yoko’s protest, highlighted by the cynical spectacle of Jimi Hendrix performing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to an audience of mostly young draft-dodgers rather than any serious candidates for political protest (this can more or less be confirmed by reading audience accounts online at the dedicated Woodstock website). This was a spectacle which actually ended in a dirty field full of plastic bags, polluted water and all other imaginable by-products of hippies going without adequate cleaning facilities, toilets, food and free space for a week. As they all retreated home, it somehow signified the end of the 60’s counterculture movement.

It is an interesting question to pose, whether there is any long-standing significant impact of the sexual revolution and free love propaganda of the 1960’s.  Politically, it was certainly a revolutionary period – from JFK to Malcolm X, communism in Cuba and Prague, the war in Vietnam, the Parisian student revolts (the latter group subsequently becoming famous as the Soixante-Huitard’s, the sixty-eighter’s who encapsulated the defying spirit of their political ambition).  The free love zeitgeist may have helped move a generation of baby-boomers closer to their libertarian ideal in a few ways, but perhaps shouldn’t have been the primary catalyst.

The sexual revolution of the time basically coincided with new forms of birth control, empowerment of women through feminism, the gay movement and in Britain, at least, the introduction of the abortion act in 1967. It is tactful to suggest that sexual and hormonal energy which would have otherwise been discharged in a furore of violence or more destructive impulses at the issues of the 1950’s and 60’s – unequal society, the Cold War an development of nuclear technology, superficial politics etc. – was instead spent on flower power, pretty music and lots of lovemaking. Introducing drugs to the scene helps one see further the unhelpful distractions and the blaringly obvious dichotomy between preach and practice which permeated the lives of pseudo-revolutionaries. What was the real revolution?

Happily to us, it seems that the so-called ‘protest’ music of the 1960’s (Dylan, Joan Baez, The Beatles) also coincided with the defining issues of the day, but noticeably all American fodder; the civil rights movement and Dr. King, Vietnam, Haight- Ashbury, etc. There are for example, no Jimi Hendrix tunes about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The plight of Guevara only became world-widely celebrated decades after his work, somewhat ironically through the form of his imprinted face on t-shirts, posters and all other items of cheap consumerism. The 2003 film The Dreamers documenting the May 1968 student riots in Paris makes use of such rock and roll music for precisely what it was: a pleasing soundtrack. Allusions to The Stones and all bands portraying the hippy ideal were characteristically unpopular a decade later, best shown in The Clash’s 1977:

No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones,

in 1977.

Punk in America and Britain was the perfect antithesis of flower power in the late 70’s which only showed how much the music current despised the failed utopian dream. One wonders how the veterans of the era and the more politically minded took to their futile occupations of lying on lawns with tea and hash ten years previously… with stale nostalgia at best?

The culmination of events in the world that decade, mainly political, gave birth to the largest united shift of consciousness since the War and this means something. One therefore wonders what became of the free love legacy. The deaths of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy only signified that extremism still existed. The Nixon years in the White House in the 1970’s and the neglect of the Labour Party in Britain showed that politics was game as ever, with the Vietnam ending on its own accord – such events becoming illuminated through those rose-tinted spectacles of hindsight and past reflection. This is not to diminish the excitement of the time for say, a young journalist learning the trade of politics in real time in Israel writing on the Holy Land dispute, or the authoritarian regime in Portugal, or the rallying powers of Castro in Cuba; things which culminated long after the fads of the counterculture had worn off.  A brilliant account of this time and these activities is available in the rousing memoir of Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22. Taking in such events and pushing for a sense of moral duty on the streets must be the defining spirit of the late 1960’s.

So this is the legacy those of the time rightfully will remember. Having started with Mr. Lennon, we can certainly finish up with him. In 1970 Lennon released John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band amidst a haze of prog-rock nonsense and the premature deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The final line of the most poignant song on the record summed up the feeling of the time, at least only for the hundreds of thousands of crying hippies at the disbanding of the Beatles: the dream is over. I wonder if there could have been a better timing.