Hello, Let's visit the history of music and some of it's changing moods and diversity over the ages, so come with me on a little journey down the road of:
We will start at the turn of the century in the USA where a new sound bought much excitement to the world from the man who started the music revolution the great Buddy Bolden
Whether or not the cornetist Buddy Bolden invented jazz (Jelly Roll Morton is one of the best known other claimants to the title), he certainly created the enduring archetype of the jazz musician as doomed romantic hero when he suffered a mental breakdown in 1907, at the age of 30, and spent his remaining years in a Louisiana asylum. The tantalisingly poignant twist to the tale of the idiom's first celebrated individual musician is that no one knows what he sounded like, since he ceased musical activity 10 years before the first jazz recording was made – although some contemporaries alleged that his playing was in fact captured on a wax cylinder but never unearthed. Born in New Orleans in 1877, Bolden is said to have worked as a barber but was leading his own band at dances and parties in the city by the age of 18. Photographs show that by 1905 the lineup of his ensemble – cornet, trombone, two clarinets, guitar and double bass – approximated the classic instrumentation of later traditional jazz bands. Louis Armstrong, who heard him at first hand, remarked many years later that Miles Davis's plaintive tone reminded him of Bolden, which calls into question the famous claim that his playing was powerful enough to be heard across "14 miles on a clear night". But once committed to the state mental institution, he never re-emerged. He died in 1931 and was buried in a pauper's grave.
In 1912, the 18-year-old Bessie Smith had an audition with the Stokes troupe, a travelling African-American company. She was hired as a dancer, because the company already had a powerful singer in Gertrude "Ma" Rainey. Rainey, perhaps the most significant female blues singer of the first generation, was also one of
the first African-American women to record. She had her own sound, a mix of an almost operatic power and the rough, moaning style drawn from early black folk music. Rainey taught the talented teenager Smith stagecraft and confidence and she went on to become the most acclaimed jazz/blues singer of her generation.
Louis Armstrong bought his first cornet at a New Orleans pawnshop, when he was 15 years old. The instrument cost $10, and was "all bent up, holes knocked in the bell". Nevertheless it was the instrument with which he would take the first significant steps towards becoming the fons et origo of jazz improvisation: not just the first of the music's major solo voices, emerging loud and clear and unmistakably individual from the collective polyphony of early New Orleans jazz, but the figure who first revealed the inherent nobility of an idiom born in the humblest of material circumstances.
The child of an absent father and a mother who left him to be brought up by his grandmother and by various friends, Armstrong endured great poverty. He learned to live on the streets until, in his early teens, various misdemeanours – probably not including the famous but apparently apocryphal story about the firing of a pistol in the street on New Year's Eve – led a juvenile court to sentence him to an indeterminate stay in the Colored Waifs' Home. Here, homeless black children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and "garden work".
He had already sung in a barbershop quartet, and six months after his arrival he was invited to join the home's brass band, quickly graduating from the tambourine via the bass drum and the alto horn to the bugle, and thence to the cornet. When he left, in 1915, it was with the rudiments of the technique that would eventually give him, in the fine words of one biographer, James Lincoln Collier, "that beautiful attack – sharp and clean as a razor cut – and a rich and utterly firm sound, as solid as a bar of brass". But he also left the home without an instrument. Living in his mother's house on Perdido Street in the black section of the Storyville neighbourhood, making a living by delivering coal, milk and newspapers, he would have heard the bands playing the new form of music – a bouillabaisse of ragtime, French quadrilles, work songs, hymns and marches – in the local "tonks", which merged the functions of bars, dancehalls, grocery stalls and bordellos. Borrowing a cornet, the teenager in short trousers became a regular deputy when bands found themselves short-handed. Having acquired his own horn, he began to play regular engagements for a dollar a night, also taking part in the street parades that were a regular feature of New Orleans life, while driving the coal cart during the day and unloading bananas to earn extra cash. He was still in his teens when, in a pivotal encounter in the history of jazz, he met Joe "King" Oliver, an older man then generally reckoned to be the city's finest cornetist, and the leader of an excellent band. A stern, sometimes difficult character, Oliver nevertheless became one of a series of strong men who would take on a quasi-paternal role in Armstrong's life and career. After Oliver moved to Chicago in 1921, in search of larger audiences in a town thriving with industry, he called Armstrong to join him in his Creole Jazz Band. The unfettered expressionism of the younger man's approach made a striking contrast with the more austere style of his leader, and Armstrong was on his way to stardom.
His own recordings were soon making an impact. West End Blues, cut in 1928, opened with a rivetingly imaginative unaccompanied introduction that seemed like a fanfare to an entire new world. Like the rest of the great Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, it showed what richness could be obtained from the combination of a superlative soloist with like-minded colleagues. Weather Bird, a duet recorded in the same year with the pianist Earl Hines, opened up the possibility of jazz as intimate conversation. The big band recordings made in Los Angeles at the start of the 30s represented an artful approach to the popular music of the era.
In time Armstrong's smiling face and that gravelly voice would become as much of a signature as the glorious trumpet solos, and Hello Dolly and What a Wonderful World, which maintained only the most tenuous relationship to the music he had pioneered, were international hits. He was anointed the international ambassador of America's first cultural gift to the world, acclaimed and embraced by kings and presidents – although not, for a while in the militant 60s, by younger musicians who deplored his crowd-pleasing instincts. He died of heart failure on 6 July 1971, a month short of his 70th birthday, universally mourned.
Jazz had been evolving for almost a decade before it was recorded – and a white New Orleans band called the Original Dixieland Jazz Band beat all the superior Southland black bands to it.
The ODJB were a raucous but lively five-piece influenced by the sound of Louis Armstrong mentor King Oliver's New Orleans groups. In 1917, following a successful New York run, the band
cut tracks in the Victor studios that sold massively and launched a global jazz craze.
In September 1918, German-American Otto K E Heinemann, manager of the US office of the German Odeon records, decided, given events in Europe, that it might be wise to start a US-based record label. He called it OKeH (its name derived from the initials of his name), and it sold popular songs and dance numbers as well as recordings in Yiddish and other languages for the US's new immigrant communities. The first recording of vocal blues by an African-American artist followed two years later, with vaudeville singer Mamie Smith's record Crazy Blues selling more than a million copies in less than a year, uncovering a previously unimagined market for "race" records.
On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in January 1924, Haile Selassie witnessed a marching band of Armenian refugees, all survivors of the Ottoman genocide. Moved by their plight and impressed by their music, he invited all 40 of them to become his state band in Addis Ababa. Over the next 50 years, countless Ethiopian bands followed the same line-up and forged a stately brand of jazz-funk, fostering unique talents such as Mulatu Astatke, Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayehu Eshete.
The first performance of George Gershwin's concerto Rhapsody in Blue was given by Paul Whiteman's orchestra with the composer on piano at New York's Aeolian Hall on 12 February 1924, as part of a concert titled An Experiment in Modern Music, and marked the first significant partial rapprochement between jazz and classical music. Gershwin was not a jazz musician; his music is not jazz, but his inherent sensitivity to African-American music allowed him to create music that was intelligently and rewardingly coloured by its textures and tonalities.
In 1932, a musician called Gage Brewer began performing on one of the first electrically amplified Hawaiian guitars. The idea soon appealed to guitarists rendered almost inaudible in big swing bands, but six years passed before a jazz guitarist, George Barnes, first recorded on a Spanish instrument with magnetic pick-ups in 1938. The next year 23-year-old guitarist Charlie Christian joined Benny Goodman's hit-making big band playing the ground-breaking Gibson ES-150. Christian's stunning solos were phrased like sax lines, making the guitar a front-line jazz instrument. In 1940, Christian joined the coterie that created bebop, but he died of TB aged only 25.
In 1932, a young, blind pianist from Ohio called Art Tatum was invited to what his biographer called "the welcoming committee from hell" when he arrived in New York. The reigning kings of jazz piano, including Fats Waller, invited him to a club session to let him know who was boss, but Tatum blew them all away. European emigre classical pianists, from Sergei Rachmaninov to Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein, were among the fans of a virtuoso who could throw off improvised pieces as complex and orchestral in scope as the most advanced classical piano compositions. Though Tatum wasn't a bebop player, his fast improvising over complex harmonies influenced Charlie Parker. Tatum's astonishing unaccompanied recordings made in the 50s still stun listeners today.
In 1937, Nat King Cole and his trio started a residency at the Sewanee Inn, an LA nightclub. Cole was a sprightly pianist who, at this point, had not sung professionally, but legend has it that a big-spending client drunkenly badgered him to sing. Cole reluctantly acquiesced with a version of Sweet Lorraine, showcasing a honey-smooth baritone that would overshadow his pianistic skills. Since then plenty of talented instrumentalists – from Sarah Vaughan to Diana Krall, from Chet Baker to Jamie Cullum – have become better known as reluctant vocalists.
12 October 1944
On 12 October 1944, Frank Sinatra opened his third season at New York's Paramount theatre. It was Columbus Day, a public holiday, and the bobby-soxers turned out in force. The famed New York photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig) was there with his camera and notebook, capturing the scene in hyperventilated prose.
"Oh! Oh! Frankie," he began, mimicking the girls' ululations. "The line in front of the Paramount theatre on Broadway starts forming at midnight. By four in the morning, there are over 500 girls … they wear bobby sox (of course), bow ties (the same as Frankie wears) and have photos of Sinatra pinned to their dresses …
"Then the great moment arrived. Sinatra appeared on stage ... hysterical shouts of 'Frankie ... Frankie'; you've heard the squeals on the radio when he sings. Multiply that by about a thousand times and you get an idea of the deafening noise."
For Weegee, this was another example of the human extremities that he documented with his instinct for the climatic moments in New York life: what he didn't mention was the fact that, after each performance, the Paramount was drenched in urine.
Like Rudolph Valentino's funeral in 1926, or The Wizard of Oz opening in 1939, the Columbus Day riot was a generation-defining media event acted out on Manhattan's streets: during the day some 30,000 frenzied bobby-soxers swarmed over Times Square in an exhilarated display of girl power.
The New Republic editor Bruce Bliven called it "a phenomenon of mass hysteria that is only seen two or three times in a century. You need to go back not merely to Lindbergh [Charles Lindbergh's first flight] and Valentino to understand it, but to the dance madness that overtook some German villages in the middle ages, or to the Children's Crusade." What was new was the power that one singer held, heralded by mass screaming, and the advent of the teenager as a social ideal. Sinatra was the first modern pop star.
Sinatra's fame had been steadily building. His breakthrough came in his first Paramount season in December 1942, when the theatre erupted with "five thousand kids stamping, yelling, screaming, applauding". These scenes only intensified during his return in May 1943. The mania overtook the hype: his press agents remembered hiring "girls to scream when he sexily rolled a note. But we needn't have. The dozen girls we hired to scream and swoon did exactly as we told them. But hundreds more we didn't hire screamed even louder. It was wild, crazy, completely out of control."
Although nearly 29 by October 1944, Sinatra was slightly built, nervous and youthful: "It was the war years," he later said, "there was a great loneliness. I was the boy in every corner drugstore, the boy who had gone to war."
In concert, he seduced his young audience. His bright blue eyes raked the crowd, singling out individuals so that he appeared to be singing for them alone, just one in a crowd of thousands. Matched to the ethereal kitsch of slow ballads such as Embraceable You, "The Voice" – as Sinatra was known – cast a spell that suspended time.
Sinatra's rise was unstoppable, for he filled a deep need. Bliven thought that the bobby-soxers at the Paramount "found in him, for all his youthfulness, something of a father image. And beyond that, he represents a dream of what they themselves might conceivably do or become."
In the mid-40s, Sinatra became a national figure of controversy and criticism. He was blamed for making young people lose "control of their emotions", and was attacked for being out of uniform: because of an injury, he had been ruled unfit for duty in 1943.
Yet his status was confirmed in September 1944 when he went to the White House and met the president. Franklin Roosevelt had already made public statements linking American politics with its popular music, but this meeting was a shrewdly taken opportunity to reaffirm that adolescents were a vital part of American society.
The Columbus Day riots coincided with the invention of the teenage market. In September 1944, the magazine Seventeen was launched, which declared to its primarily female readers: "you are the bosses of the business". It was an immediate success, selling half a million copies. Seventeen offered a non-patronising approach that struck a chord, and it focused Americans on the barely recognised purchasing power of adolescents: estimated at $750m (£465m).
The hysteria that surrounded Sinatra in October 1944 came at a crux time in the history of America and its youth. It reaffirmed the collective power of young women, and how they have always been central to pop.
Elvis Presley was a world-renowned American singer and actor. He had become an iconic figure in popular culture and is often referred to as The King of Rock and Roll.Elvis Presley: Childhood
Elvis was born to Vernon Elvis Presley and Gladys Love Presley and raised in the house that his father built in Tupelo. Elvis was an identical twin, but his brother was stillborn.
When Vernon was jailed for altering a cheque, Gladys and Elvis were forced out of the family home and had to live with relatives.
Elvis Presley made his first public performance in October 1945, when he sang at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, Elvis stood on a chair in order to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's 'Old Shep'. On his 11th birthday, he was given his first guitar.
Elvis was a fan of Mississippi Slim's radio show and was influenced by the likes of Bob Wills, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Roy Acuff.
The Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1948 and Presley would practice guitar along with Johnny Burnette (a rockabilly pioneer), another tenant in his block. When he earned enough money from his job at Loew State Theater, he would dress himself in clothes from Lansky Brothers on Beale Street
Bill Haley's 1955 single Rock Around the Clock is generally credited as the record that popularised rock across the world, but it wasn't the first rock record. In fact, that title is hotly disputed, with contenders including Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Strange Things Happening Every Day (1944), and Roy Brown's Good Rockin' Tonight (1947). But the song that is usually recognised as the first true rock'n'roller is Rocket 88, recorded by Mississippi-born saxophonist/vocalist Jackie Brenston.
A bawdy swing/blues concoction with a raunchy sax break, it hymned a particular model of Oldsmobile and threw sexual innuendo into the mix with lines such as "Everybody likes my Rocket 88/Baby, we'll ride in style". Where would a million future garage bands have been without it?
In February 1955, the music that would become known as rock'n'roll was still latent. Bill Haley and the Comets were in the pop top 20 with Dim, Dim the Lights. Elvis Presley had recently released his third Sun Records single, Milkcow Blues Boogie. Fats Domino was nearing breakthrough. It was there, in the clubs, on the jukeboxes, and on the R&B charts, but it was not yet named.
During that month, several men – and one woman in her mid-20s – were in a New Orleans studio trying to make a record. Producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell knew the singer, the 22-year-old Little Richard (AKA Richard Wayne Penniman), was a star, but the music wasn't happening. Richard had already been through two record labels, RCA and Peacock. Time was running out.
After five so-so songs, they took a lunch break. Richard took over the piano and started hamming it up, pounding out his forte riff. As he later told his biographer, Charles White: "One song which would really tear the house down was Tutti Frutti. The lyrics were kind of vulgar: 'Tutti Frutti good booty – if it don't fit, don't force it/You can grease it, make it easy …'"
Richard was well aware of the song's risque connotations. Fascinated by all kinds of sex and – by his own account – a compulsive voyeur, he had immersed himself in the subterranean gay world of his native deep south, meeting along his travels legendary characters such as the eldritch rocker Esquerita (Steven Reeder) and the female impersonator Bobby Marchan.
Blackwell spotted a hit, and a record that finally caught the lightning- rod personality of the singer. The lyrics, however, were impossible: a flamboyant gay performer singing about anal sex was too much. He enlisted Dorothy La Bostrie, who was attending the session to watch Richard recording one of her songs, to write some new words on the spot. They then nailed it in three takes.
Released in October as Little Richard's debut on Speciality Records, Tutti Frutti – with its sensational and often disputed catchphrase, "Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom" – made the US pop top 20 in early 1956, surviving even the sales lost to Pat Boone's anodyne cover version. (The thought of the whiter-than-white Boone singing a song with these connotations is exquisitely ironic.)
Covered by Elvis Presley, Tutti Frutti catapulted Richard into the front rank of the new movement. Over the next four years, he released a sequence of explosive records that were hits both in the US and the UK: Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, Slippin' and Slidin', Lucille, Jenny Jenny, Keep A-knockin', Good Golly Miss Molly, Ooh My Soul – all holy writs of rock'n'roll.
In the UK, Richard was massive, partly thanks to his appearance in The Girl Can't Help It (1956) – the greatest rock'n'roll film ever – which he stole with his pompadour and his manic commitment to the big bad beat. Even after he temporarily quit pop music to become a preacher, in October 1957, his records still made the charts for a couple of years: Baby Face, Kansas City.
In retrospect, all the great founding rockers were extraordinary characters, but Richard was one of the wildest of them all. Jerry Lee Lewis might have been a force of nature, Gene Vincent a contorted street punk, but Richard combined camp, androgyny and the toughest, most monomaniac rock into a look, a feel and a sound that would have a massive influence in the decades to come.
In the early 60s, Richard – who had returned to the devil's music – toured with both the Beatles and the Stones. In 1962, he taught Paul McCartney his trademark holler, and McCartney repaid the debt with two of the Beatles' most ferocious covers, Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! and Long Tall Sally – the song that closed their last-ever public live show in August 1966.
Richard's influence is immense and can be felt in performers as diverse as John Lennon, Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John and Jimi Hendrix – the latter played with him during 1965 and cut a record that year, I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me. Through Hendrix, there is the influence on performers such as Prince, among many others.
Now approaching his 80th birthday, Little Richard has seen his innovations become part of the mainstream. All the major stars – including Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson – that have made androgyny andflamboyance part of their appeal owe him a debt. He embodies the original promise of rock: that the marginal, the weird and the outcast should have their place in the sun.
5 June 1956
'Elvis the Pelvis' on The Milton Berle Show. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features
This wasn't Elvis's first TV appearance – six months earlier he'd featured on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show on CBS – but his performance on The Milton Berle Show was the one that saw him christened "Elvis the Pelvis".
The kid from Mississippi was already a star in the south, but in front of an audience at NBC studios in Hollywood, he introduced himself to a wider world, singing I Want You, I Need You, I Love You before slowing the tempo down for his cover of Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog, gyrating his hips outrageously. Jack Gould of the New York Times wrote "Mr Presley has no discernible singing ability", while John Crosby of the New York Herald Tribune called Elvis "unspeakably untalented and vulgar". Religious groups added their condemnation, and the next time that Elvis appeared on television – on The Steve Allen Show later that month – he was forced to wear a tuxedo and sing that same song to a dog, named Sherman. Such was the emasculatory power of the pop process, but the damage had been done....
3 February 1959Buddy Holly was very important to Britain; he was almost single-handedly respons ible for the sound and look of the Mersey groups. He was a new kind of hero, and he packed an indecent amount into his 22 years. For a start, he didn't look like a pop star, lacking the Hollywood gloss or weirdness of his contemporaries. In spite of this, he was defiant and narcissistic – he wanted the world and, pretty much, he got it. His group, the Crickets, was entirely self-contained; the vim of the three-piece on That'll Be the Day, Oh Boy, Rave On and Maybe Baby encouraged shy, bespectacled UK kids to dream of their own DIY pop. He was starting to move into an orchestrated sound and had already mastered the mixing desk when he died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. That death – he was the first big rock star to die young – came to be a symbol of unfulfilled promise, remembered as "the day the music died" thanks to Don McLean's American Pie. And the widespread grief over the plane wreck in the snow finds its echo every time an other generation loses one of its musical heroes.
Left to right: Pete Best, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe - posed, group shot, at Hamburg Funfair. Picture by Astrid Kirchherr Photograph: Astrid Kirchherr - K & K/Redferns
In October 1960, a German student took five young Britons to a Hamburg fairground for a photoshoot. Astrid Kirchherr had only just met the Beatles through her friend Klaus Voormann. She was determined to find common ground through the language barrier.
Many of the negatives are now lost but one group shot remains: caught in a grid of metal, the Beatles stand and sit in a line. Dressed in leather, jeans and boots, they could be a street gang, were it not for the sharp intelligence of their faces. They're not sleazy deadbeats but existentialist heroes.
In Kirchherr's photograph, the Beatles came into focus for the first time. It came at a crucial historical moment when black American music, as played by Britons, came up against the continental avant garde aesthetics embodied by Kirchherr and her friends.
That triangulation resulted in the beginning of pop modernism. The next year Stuart Sutcliffe, and then John Lennon and Paul McCartney, swept forward their 50s' rocker haircut into the pilzen kopf (mushroom head) style, and the western world soon followed.
The US postal service might not seem like the most romantic of subjects for a pop record, but Motown could inject magic into any situation. The Marvelettes's debut single, Please Mr Postman – later covered by the Beatles and the Carpenters – described the high anxiety that comes with any teen love affair and gave Motown its first US No 1, only a year after Berry Gordy had merged his Tamla and Motown labels and changed the group's name from the Marvels to the Marvelettes. It was no fluke – during the next decade the Detroit label scored dozens of top 10 hits, thanks to the likes of Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye. And while the Marvelettes never reached No 1 again, they notched up two further US top 10 hits (Playboy and Don't Mess With Bill in 1962 and 66 respectively), though neither captured the trials of adolescence quite like the fervent Please Me Postman.
The advert asked for "four insane guys aged 17-21". The Monkees' music was supposed to be besides the point – Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones were hired for their acting ability rather than their musicianship and didn't play on their early releases. Not that this mattered: at first because their producers hired great songwriters, later because the band turned out to be more talented than anyone expected.
They certainly weren't the first manufactured pop act, but they inadvertently wrote the manufactured pop act script and played it out in public – the initial rush of fame, the accusations of flimsiness, the struggle for creative control and credibility in their own right. And the coda: that ultimately if the records are good, no one will really care who did or didn't create them.
In 1966, the Beatles toured the far east. The Japanese started to form bands that adopted the same line-up – drums, bass, lead guitar and a John Lennon figure doubling up on rhythm guitar and keyboards – all squeezed into tight suits singing three-part vocal harmonies. The genre, known as group sounds, would inspire countless garage rock curios, with 45s by the Tigers and the Tempters now selling for three-figure sums.
15-17 August 1969
Just as the Glastonbury festival doesn't actually take place in Glastonbury, Woodstock didn't happen in Woodstock, either. The festival in Bethel, New York, took its name from a small town 43 miles away, where musicians such as Bob Dylan, the Band and Van Morrison began to congregate in the late 60s, as hippies left the cities.
The idea was to stage an Aquarian gathering of the tribes. The reality involved semi-amateur promoters, ticketless hordes, rain, mud, no toilets, an outbreak of hepatitis and food shortages. On the scale of one to Altamont, of course, the carnage at Woodstock was small beer. As the acrid notes of Jimi Hendrix's deconstruction of the Star Spangled Banner faded, and the sun rose and the dust cleared, the lows were swiftly forgotten. Half a million people managed to enjoy an impressive cross-section of the bands of the era and go skinny dipping in a lake without anyone, seemingly, even having their best purple flares nicked. The financial reality? Warner Brothers bailed out the documentary of the festival, which in turn bailed out the organisers, who ended up $1.4m (£865,000) in debt.
In the words of Motown founder Berry Gordy, the Jackson 5 were “the last big stars to come rolling off my assembly line.” After performing for much of the decade in and around their native Indiana, the Jackson 5 found their way to Detroit’s hitmaking Motown Records at the tail end of the Sixties. Led by a pre-teen Michael Jackson — who was joined by brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie — the Jackson 5 were young, fresh and full of energy. As Billboard magazine noted, “The five young brothers were the symbol of a new era at Motown.”
10 April 1970
Rock groups had split before, and no one bar their fans really cared. But the parting of the Beatles? This was the first time four musicians deciding to work separately became worldwide news, treated almost as a death.
The end itself, though, was distinctly anticlimactic. George Harrison was actually the first of the Fab Four to walk, back in 1968. He was coaxed back into the fold, only for John Lennon to quit in the autumn of 1969. A pact of stony silence in the face of the public was agreed, allowing for the release of the Beatles' Abbey Road album in September 1969 and the continuation of other works in progress. The four individual Beatles drifted yet further apart, with an increasingly estranged McCartney retreating as far as rural Scotland.
The White Album, released in November 1968, had already felt like the work of four distinct creatives, rather than the world's most unassailable musical force. The gold-plated songwriting partnership of Lennon/McCartney had become unworkable, as the influence of new romantic partners, inchoate business affairs, power struggles and the turn of the decade all came to bear on a Liverpudlian quartet who had turned rock music from a frivolous teenage pursuit into serious cultural capital.
It fell to McCartney to wield the axe almost accidentally in the spring of 1970. The other three had requested that McCartney delay the release of his debut solo album, to avoid a clash with Let It Be, the Beatles' forthcoming album and film. Incensed, McCartney issued a snarky Q&A communique whose negative content about the Beatles' future made the front page of the Daily Mirror on Friday 10 April, 1970. "Paul quits the Beatles," the Mirror concluded.
McCartney's parting shot was heard around the world. The Beatles were no more, banjaxed by the usual worldly ills of ego and greed. The demise of the Beatles – the band that were arguably as big as Jesus – was felt as a global loss. And their parting offered proof of one of rock's great inalienable truths: the whole of a group is greater than the sum of its parts.
McCartney was instantly vilified. His solo album and its follow-up, Ram (1971), were viciously panned by critics, who only began to soften their stance with the arrival of Wings's Band On the Run in 1973. To this day, McCartney remains a zealous defender of his post-Beatles oeuvre. Having arguably instigated the restlessness that was the undoing of the Beatles, John Lennon needed therapy to recover from the end of his teenage band. The ensuing album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, dealt in challenging and unambiguous terms with Lennon's troubled childhood. Unlike McCartney's efforts, it was embraced by fans and critics alike. In Imagine (1971), he created one of the few post-Beatles songs that endures in the same way as the band's own songs do. And the only rock news bigger and more final than the end of the Beatles was, of course, the death of Lennon in 1980. Ringo Starr, meanwhile, settled into the role of rock's court jester, drinking in LA with Keith Moon, before sobering up to become the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine.
In the 40 years since McCartney's act of high dudgeon, it's perhaps George Harrison who has emerged from the Beatles with the most gravitas. Harrison's triple album of 1970, All Things Must Pass, made good on the promise of his burgeoning songwriting on the White Album and Abbey Road; it functioned as a kind of repository for grief as mourners bought it in their thousands. Of all the Beatles, he had been the most receptive to the sounds and ideas of the Indian subcontinent, fusing them with sounds of the US deep south: Krishna in league with the sweet Lord. His Concert For Bangla Desh in 1971 was the forerunner of Live Aid and every major rock tin rattle since.
The end of the Beatles had, in some way, codified the failure of the dream of an entire generation – that music and its fans could wrest control away from the ancien regime and set a new agenda. The band who had sung All You Need Is Love to a global TV audience of an estimated 400 million people had, when push came to shove, feet of clay. A team from CBS News, arriving at the Beatles' Apple HQ at the time of McCartney's departure in 1970, said the Beatles' split was "an event so momentous that historians may one day view it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire". It was more important than that.
The precise identity of the first rapper is likely
to remain forever shrouded, but DJ Hollywood has a strong claim. A Harlem DJ who by t
he mid-70s had drifted downtown to play disco sets to a mainstream crowd, he would accompany
his mixes with brief rhymes. While other DJs had spoken over records, Hollywood did so to the rhythm of the beat and claimed inspiration from Isaac Hayes's Black Moses for his style, which would both encourage the crowd and touch on more romantic themes...
Abba win the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo', Brighton, Britain, 1974
In April 1974, Abba won the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo and the world fell for the Swedish band's charms, the song turning into a global hit. But their future success was far from certain: to the public, they looked like classic Euro one-hit-wonders.
But Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus had a trump card. Holed up in Stockholm in August 74, they'd written SOS – its title the work of manager Stig Anderson. It wasn't their next single; instead they chose to release So Long, which crawled to No 91 in the UK. Next they put out I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do – to which Radio 1 said: No, you don't, giving it little airplay, and it limped to No 38. But in September 1975, SOS was released and Abba were back with a bang, reaching No 6 in the UK, with Mamma Mia next, topping the charts. The band hit their stride and went on to become the fourth bestselling pop act in the history of recorded music.
Not only was SOS a rarity because the title and the band's name were both palindromes, its influence was far-reaching. John Lennon and Pete Townshend declared themselves fans – and a short while later, a band called the Sex Pistols seemed to borrow its riff for the introduction to a snappy track of theirs called Pretty Vacant.
August 16, 1977
Elvis died on August 16, 1977 in the bathroom at Graceland. After being found on the bathroom floor, Elvis was rushed to the hospital where he was officially pronounced dead.
The coroner recorded the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia. While true in the strictest sense (cardiac arrhythmia basically means that the heart was beating irregularly and in this case, finally stopped), the attending physicians deliberately omitted the fact that what had apparently caused Elvis' heart to beat irregularly and then stop was an overdose of prescription drugs. These drugs included codeine, Valium, morphine, and Demorol, to name a few. After this information was revealed, Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, had the complete autopsy
report sealed. It will remain sealed until 2027, fifty years after The King's death.
Because of the controversy surrounding the autopsy as well as a few other questionable circumstances, some people believe that
Elvis Presley is still alive or at least, that he didn't actually die in 1977. While I don't believe that Elvis is still alive, it is an interesting idea to explore. You can read more about the theory here. Assuming you do believe that Elvis died in 1977, though, you can actually visit his grave site at Graceland.
Released on 16 December 1977, Saturday Night Fever was the film that broke disco in both senses: it popularised and developed the form at the same time as it froze a vibrant and creative subculture. Saturday Night Fever made disco ubiquitous in 1978. It became a fad – with the inevitable backlash.
The statistics tell the story. The film took more than $3m in the first weekend, eventually going on to gross in the region of $237m; it became the fourth highest grossing movie of 1977. The soundtrack album included six US No 1s and it topped the charts for 24 weeks in the US, 18 weeks in the UK.
In fact, disco had been building for several years. In his ground-breaking September 1973 Rolling Stone story, Vince Aletti traced its origins in the underground return of the discotheque, "where the hardcore dance crowd – blacks, Latinos, gays – was. But in the last year they've returned, not only as a rapidly spreading social phenomenon ... (via juice bars, after-hours clubs, private lofts open on weekends to members only, floating groups of party givers who take over the ballrooms of old hotels from midnight to dawn), but as a strong influence on the music people listen to and buy."
Disco began in after-hours clubs such as the Loft and the Tenth Floor. In these clubs, DJs mixed an aural collage of sound effects, Latin, Motown, funk, European music and even English obscurities by the Glitter Band and Babe Ruth. By 1974, disco had already made a splash in the marketplace with two consecutive No 1s by the Hues Corporation (Rock the Boat) and George McCrae (Rock Your Baby).
During 1975 and 1976, disco grew into a major force in the US, with chart-toppers from Van McCoy, the Bee Gees, and KC and the Sunshine Band. But these were followed by genre-defining hits such as Johnnie Taylor's Disco Lady and novelties like Disco Duck by Rick Dees and His Cast Of Idiots. As the expression of a minority subculture, it also featured openly gay performers such as Sir Monti Rock III – the voice/MC of Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes – and Valentino, whose I Was Born This Way was the first record by a gay artist to be openly promoted as such.
During that period, disco began to feature a pronounced European influence, with the productions of Giorgio Moroder and Boris Midney. As Vince Aletti noted in his Record World column for 6 November 1976: "The disco market is not a throwaway, second-class market; it's probably one of the most serious and technically sophisticated groups of record buyers and players there is."
The following year, 1977, saw the full electronic impact of Donna Summer's I Feel Love and Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express. It also saw the emergence of the Village People, a band put together as a cartoon, almost, of contemporary gay lifestyles – an index of increasing gay confidence, if not actual militancy.
Within this context, Saturday Night Fever represents a re-heterosexualising of dance culture. Based on the 1975 story by Nik Cohn, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, the film follows the adventures of the definitely macho Tony (John Travolta). In one scene, where he sneers threateningly at two obviously gay men, the film's exclusive sexual politics is made clear: the antithesis of the original inclusivity of disco culture.
In the short term, of course, Saturday Night Fever did not kill disco. It contained some great records in the soundtrack, and also popularised the form across the globe. Indeed, 1978 saw some fantastic records by Chic (Le Freak), by Karen Young (Hot Shot), and by Sylvester (You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)). There was a crossover between disco and rock with the Rolling Stones' Miss You and eventually between disco and new wave with Blondie's genre-breaking Heart of Glass.
But disco had become so ubiquitous, such a catch-all marketing term – fostering bad records by the likes of Frank Sinatra – that it had become a media cliche and was ripe for a backlash. This was epitomised by the Disco Demolition Night that was held in July 1979 at Comiskey Park stadium in Chicago, where a DJ presided over the destruction of thousands of disco records.
Disco didn't die. It went underground in the early 80s, re-emerging as Chicago house and Detroit techno. It also went straight into the white avant garde in the same period. During the 21st century it has made a big comeback in the form of cosmic disco, nu disco et al, and has also acquired the respect that it should have had at the time.
Disco gave new life to the perennial human desire to dance, and turned it into an art form where the DJ was a new kind of high priest: as Aletti wrote, "there's no question that a real DJ can shape a night of music with his personality, style and spirit, magically turning a string of records into a spontaneous symphony".
Hip-hop had planted roots on the west coast by the early 80s but it was stylistically in hock to the east coast. When Ice T released Body Rock he was already 25. His rapping style is straight New York, short sing-song rhymes in the style of Kurtis Blow. The B-side, Killers, is more interesting; the style is the same, but the content different – short violent parables both fantastical and offering social commentary. The seeds are planted of a new style of rap.
Technically, Detroit techno was born down the road in suburban Belleville, where chief architects Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson met in high school. By 1985, Atkins had his own label, Metroplex. If Motown had been aspirational, then Metroplex, and the Transmat and KMS labels set up by May and Saunderson, were the sound of a future snatched away by industrial collapse. Kraftwerk, George Clinton and 80s synth-pop were influences but the melancholy undertow was all Detroit.
13 July 1985
Like so many televised concerts, it looked better on the telly than it did live. But I didn't find that out until the following day. Returning home from Live Aid, I was relieved to find three E240 VHS cassettes – excitably Letrasetted a week previously – on the kitchen table. Beside them was a note from my cool, art-school older brother with "You owe me one" written on it. At 2am, he had already gone to sleep, but in the video recorder there was a fourth tape running. In Philadelphia, the US leg of Live Aid was still happening. Later that day, filling in between the ad breaks, Whistle Test presenters introduced the video to U2's The Unforgettable Fire, making specific reference to the group's apparently game-changing earlier performance at Wembley Stadium in London.
Was it really that good? From my vantage point on the pitch, near the halfway line, it was hard to tell. All we knew was that, during Bad, Bono was gone for an awfully long time, while the rest of his group acted as the musical equivalent of a plane circling the airspace near Heathrow awaiting permission to land. It was only the following day, when I watched it back, that I realised what seemed to have happened. It had taken Bono far longer to pull out a fan from the audience than he might have expected – extending their performance of Bad by five minutes and forcing them to jettison their final planned song Pride (In the Name of Love). Twenty years later, the Sun tracked down that fan and reported that he had saved her life. "The crowd surged," Kal Khalique claimed, "and I was suffocating – then I saw Bono."
Did Bono really save Khalique's life? Would there have been a fatality that day had Bono not miraculously seen her face across the ravine of security and cameramen that separated the stage from the crowd? It doesn't really matter. Khalique's recollection and Bono's actions speak volumes about the success of U2's Live Aid performance: the rock messiah in waiting looking for one messianic act to perform; and his fan's belief that she was the recipient of that act.
In fact, Bono had long made a habit of pulling girls out of the audience and dancing with them. It seems very unlikely that Bono hadn't planned to do the same thing at a show where this one powerful moment of personal interaction would be beamed live on television sets around the world. The artists who "won" Live Aid that day were those who understood that – charitable intentions notwithstanding – this was also an opportunity that mustn't be screwed up. Queen's 20-minute greatest hits set was so incredible that, the following summer, they played Wembley Stadium all by themselves. By contrast, the Who seemed utterly diminished by their own shambolic performance.
Ironically, U2 also left the stage thinking they had blown their big moment. "We were really depressed," said The Edge. "Bono … felt it had been kind of clumsy and that generally the whole thing hadn't lifted up." In the stadium, there was definitely an element of that. But that didn't matter – because on TV, Live Aid was the first time that Bono seemed to us as he had always wanted to seem. Extending Bad merely magnified its sense of import, a sense of import that Bono ratcheted further by dropping fragments of jukebox classics – Ruby Tuesday, Walk on the Wild Side, Sympathy For the Devil – into the song.
How well did it work? Watching in her American hotel room, Joan Baez – who had never previously heard U2 – wrote down her amazement at what she was seeing. "This young man … is expressing himself with such tenderness it is enough to break my heart. He calls to the audience. They call back … He is directing a choir. They are the choir … I can't recall ever having seen anything like it in my life … Out of the hours of Live Aid that I saw by the end of the day, the high point was witnessing the magic of U2. They moved me as nothing else moved me."
In the ensuing decades, the video footage of that performance has almost entirely superseded my memory of being there. I look at it and I'm as moved as Joan Baez was. U2's performance represented a paradigm shift. With the right performance, a young band in the ascendant could vault themselves into the pantheon of the greats. To do it well, though, is a fine art.
Standing in Hyde Park 20 years later, at Live 8, that never seemed more apparent than it did watching Razorlight's Johnny Borrell pacing the stage like a deranged laboratory rat, declaiming, "All you need is love – John Lennon said that; music can change the world – Bono said that; sign the fucking petition – I said that." Also performing that day, U2 turned in a performance that was, in its way, as powerful as their Live Aid display. A burst of Unchained Melody, a beautifully understated reading of One, and this time, it was every bit as good as it was on the telly.
Following their No 1 smash with Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round, the recently conjoined trio of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman were able to fit out their own studio, and pop's new producers followed up with huge hits for Bananarama, Rick Astley and Mel and Kim. But the act most associated with SAW was an antipodean soap actress of whom Waterman had never heard when a mate asked if he'd produce her as a favour.
In his own telling of the story, Waterman forgot the appointment, and when told he had to rush to the outfit's HQ in south London because she had a plane to catch, he said to Mike Stock: "She should be so lucky." Quick as a flash came: "Great, that'll do: 'I should be so lucky.' Can we write some lyrics?" Over the next half hour, the duo used their fax machine to swap ideas and then Kylie entered the studio. It was a perfect example of the trio's pop take on Hi-NRG, a knack that led them to being branded "Schlock, Aimless and Waterdown" by the Guardian and that helped them sell 40m records over the next two years.
It's easy to forget that, pre-Bobby Brown and drugs, Whitney Houston was once a record-breaking artist, not just an early sign of pop's imminent annexation by all things R&B but an old-fashioned diva, too. It was in her DNA, of course (Aretha Franklin is her godmother, Dionne Warwick her aunt). By the time her second album, Whitney, was stripped of singles, she'd managed seven consecutive US No 1s (three came from her debut) – one more than the Beatles. It was a long way down from there.
20 June 1988
Brown's second solo album, Don't Be Cruel, not only served as a springboard to mainstream success, it also cemented his standing as the R&B superstar of his day. My Prerogative was the standout track, a global top 10 hit and US No 1, thanks to its unmistakable new jack swing drum beat. From this point, Brown's personal life began to overshadow his career, and so began his evolution into his most famous role: the incorrigible ex-husband of Whitney Houston.
He was hailed as a hip-hop Elvis, the bequiffed white guy taking black music mainstream – but Vanilla Ice was destined for a footnote in hip-hop history. More important was that his Ice Ice Baby, and MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This, proved that rap could work as pop. Detractors had a field day – 3rd Bass
brilliantly lampooned them both on Pop Goes the Weasel – but pop rap was here to stay
February 1993"WANTED: R. U. 18-23 with the ability to sing/dance? R U streetwise, outgoing, ambitious, and dedicated? Heart Management Ltd are a widely successful music industry management consortium currently forming a choreographed, singing/dancing, all-female pop act for a recording deal. Open audition."
This ad, which appeared in Catrade paper the Stage in February 1993, produced the biggest pop phenomenon of the 90s, the Spice Girls. It was answered by Victoria Adams, Geri Halliwell, Emma Bunton (a replacement for the original line-up's Michelle Stephenson), Mel Brown and Mel Chisholm, who beat 400 other outgoing hopefuls to become Posh, Ginger, Baby, Scary and Sporty. By the time they were done, they had sold 75m records, become a cultural phenomenon and endowed a generation of schoolgirls with a rallying cry: "girl power". While they may have left behind few classic tunes, they were unique, as shown by the failure of dozens of subsequent girl groups to achieve even a fraction of their success.
Heart Management's decision to start a girl group was a bold move: the received wisdom in the UK pop world in the early 90s was that girls didn't sell. It was boybands, such as Take That, who filled the charts, and the idea of launching a female pop group was counterintuitive, because who would buy their records? Girls were the primary pop audience, and surely they wouldn't be interested. But Heart – run by father and son team Bob and Chris Herbert – saw it the other way around: who wouldn't like a group of sparky young women with opinions and a bit of flair – especially when the only female competition was the likes of vapid R&B stylists Eternal?
The Herberts' instincts proved correct, but they weren't around to enjoy the fruits of having anticipated the zeitgeist – by the time the Spice Girls' debut single, Wannabe, reached No 1 in July 1996 (and stayed there for seven weeks), they were history, having been sacked over their plan to have the band dress alike and sing cover versions. The Spice Girls then signed with Simon Fuller's 19 Management, which turned out to be a true meeting of minds, given Fuller's entrepreneurial zeal and the band's willingness to do anything it took to make themselves a global brand. Victoria Adams would later admit that "right from the beginning, I said I wanted to be bigger than Persil Automatic".
The long list of endorsements brokered by Fuller, from Polaroid cameras to Impulse body spray, was a first for a British pop group, in terms of both income generated and the naked greed it seemed to bespeak. Eventually, in one of their few displays of true girl power, the band parted company with Fuller, too, and ran their affairs without an official manager until their final album in 2000.
The Spice formula was simple: the band's ordinariness was played up – they were presented as cartoon girls next door, making the most of what they had. Each was given a nickname and an image, helping fans to identify with one or another of them, and their choice of Wannabe as their first single was even cannier: it was about the importance of putting friendships before romantic relationships, a message guaranteed to appeal to the prepubescents who comprised a large part of their audience. They were assertive, wisecracking and feminine, and the girl power slogan snappily tied the whole package together.
Part of the reason the media couldn't get enough of them was that they were great copy. They said and did whatever came to mind – or certainly seemed to. If Fuller was pulling their strings, he didn't stop them from making thoughtless proclamations such as Halliwell's: "We Spice Girls are true Thatcherites. Thatcher was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology, girl power." They also managed to get all the headlines (and handily ally themselves with Cool Britannia) at the 1997 Brit awards when Halliwell wore a microscopic Union Jack dress, which became a defining image of the decade.
The Thatcher comment, and antics like Halliwell pinching the Prince of Wales's bottom, encouraged critics to see them as hopelessly superficial, but such behaviour also demonstrated to young female fans the pleasure of not toeing the line. If their mildly transgressive side hadn't been so thoroughly outweighed in the end by more shallow values, they could have been real feminist icons.
By the time they called it a day, after the relative failure of their third album (it only reached number two) in 2000, they were an anachronism. But they were such a powerful force in the lives of so many teens that when they temporarily reunited for a tour in 2007-08, the dates sold out immediately.
Much like rock'n'roll, hip-hop at its birth was an essentially new form of music. Also like rock'n'roll, the music was quickly codified into a canon. By the early 90s, there was already an old and a new school (or skool) while what came to be known as the golden age (roughly '87-'90) was a touchstone. Meanwhile, another creative flourish was taking place in hip-hop's birthplace.In November 1993, two soon to be seminal albums emerged from the boroughs of New York. They were Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the debut from the Wu-Tang Clan, and A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. The Wu-Tang were a Staten Island collective with a fixation for kung fu movies and a scuzzy, adroit aesthetic, the RZA's sparse production matched by the intricate lyrical performances of the group's nine MCs. Midnight Marauders was the Queens-based Tribe's third album, a work of jazz influences and classic hip-hop beats that combined the braggadocio of the golden age with the delicacy of the daisy age. The album's cover featured mug shots of 71 hip-hop luminaries; another sign that history was already in the minds of those making the music.
15 July 1997
Female MCs were ten a penny in the 90s, the most notable of whom were Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim. Both were attached to different crews, the Firm and Junior Mafia respectively, both rapped about sex and violence while wearing precious little. Then came a female rapper of a totally different calibre; with her lysergic raps and gigantic, multicoloured outfits, Missy Elliott was unlike any of her contemporaries. Her debut, Supa Dupa Fly, was more than just an instant smash hit – it helped set a precedent for experimentalism in hip-hop in the noughties
23 February 1999If hip-hop is the black CNN, then Eminem's debut single was the manifesto for the so-called "white trash" of middle America. Marshall M athers introduced his alter ego, Slim Shady, rapping about impregnating the Spice Girls. It was the sound of a delinquent with the same issues as his audience, and even after multimillion dollar success, he remained, as Snoop Dogg once said, the great white hope for many a disenfranchised fan.
5 October 2001
Simon Fuller had taken the Spice Girls to a new level of superstardom after taking over as their manager, but for his next trick, the pop svengali did something far more sinister: he reinvented the talent show contest for the modern age, and spawned with it Simon Cowell. Of course, Fuller had drawn heavily for inspiration on Popstars, the TV series that produced Hear'Say; and to begin with, Cowell just seemed like one of the gang, settling in cosily beside fellow judges Pete Waterman, Nicki Chapman and "Dr" Fox. But soon the show took on a momentum of its own, with the country captivated by the final showdown between Gareth Gates and Will Young. Cowell pushed hard for Gareth to win. It didn't happen; if only that should have augured well .....
28 April 2003
With the music business still suing fans for piracy, Apple steamed in and gave them what they've always wanted: instant access. Selling 25m tracks in 12 months and passing the 10bn mark before the end of the decade, iTunes' impact on labels, retailers and the album format is well documented. The upside for digital natives reared on instant gratification is not yet properly documented but, to paraphrase its original definition, what could be more pop than something so low cost, transient and mass produced?
18 May 2003
Hard as it is to imagine, there was a time when Beyoncé wasn't the biggest R&B artist on the planet. Then came Crazy in Love, the horns-heavy, boisterous lead single for her debut solo album, with the booty-shaking
video to match, and the former voice of the Destiny's Child Christmas album had clearly evolved into a force to be reckoned with. Eight years on and the song's prominence on dancefloors literally everywhere has only been usurped by Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). Also by Beyoncé.
Death of Michael Jackson
June 25, 2009
Michael Joe Jackson. Born, (1958-08-29) August 29, 1958. Gary, Indiana, U.S.. Died, June 25, 2009(2009-06-25) (aged 50)
Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, surrounded by barriers and covered with flowers, became a focal point for fans to express grief.
On June 25, 2009 American recording artist and entertainer Michael Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication after suffering a cardiac arrest at his home on North Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills neighborhood in Los Angeles. His personal physician, Conrad Murray, said he had found Jackson in his room, not breathing, but with a barely detectable pulse, and that he administered CPR on his bed to no avail. After a call was placed to 9-1-1 at 12:20 pm, Jackson was treated by paramedics at the scene, and was later pronounced dead at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
Most musicians see the pop world stretching out before them and they consider it as a long line with art at one end and cash at the other. They set a limit on how far in each direction they are prepared or able to go, and they get to work. In 2009, Lady Gaga decided that this world was not flat. In fact, from her vantage point orbiting pop, she could see the line between art and commerce bending round so that the two extremes of art and commerce met at the top. She stuck a flag in that spot at the top and called it Bad Romance.
Expectations were hardly low. In 2008, Poker Face and Just Dance had been hits around the world, and she'd already begun wearing gas masks and Kermit capes in interviews or simply to walk down the street, but Lady Gaga's fourth top 10 single marked the coronation of the download era's first pop superstar. It was also the song whose irresistible energy and success elevated Gaga to a level where Madonna comparisons became commonplace.
Written by the then 23-year-old Gaga on her tour bus in Norway and produced by long-term collaborator, Morocco-born, Sweden-raised RedOne, Bad Romance is a song about being in love with your best friend, as well as being perpetually drawn to the wrong people in general. If its message lacks the self-conscious aspirations of some of Gaga's current work such as Born This Way, the song's importance – as with most truly significant pop songs – is less about educating the world, more about brutal effectiveness as a piece of music. Also in the mix were fearsome beats, a clever second verse that references the work of Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho are all mentioned), a decadent, preposterous middle eight in which Gaga starts singing in French, some almost subliminal growls of "I want your bad romance", and a moment when the song collapses under its own weight, the silence pierced by an earsplitting howl of "WHHARRGHYOUBARROWMANCE!".
An earlier, demo version had leaked in the autumn of 2009. It was pretty good – it sounded a bit like Poker Face – but it lacked a certain something. That something turned out to be the kitchen sink, and by the time of the song's official debut at Alexander McQueen's Paris Fashion Week show in October, Bad Romance was firing on all cylinders. Even two years and several hundred listens later, the densely packed but crisp-sounding production continues to throw up new sounds and surprises.
The video director Francis Lawrence, who directed Hollywood blockbuster I Am Legend, constructed a four-minute parade of 12-inch footwear, razor blade sunglasses, Thriller-style dance moves, white latex suits and massive gyroscopes. It was also the first glimpse of Gaga's signature move as she contorted her hand into the shape of a claw, an easily copied gesture which subsequently became the focal point of the slightly overegged interaction between Gaga and her fanbase, whom she calls her Little Monsters.
Set in what seems to be a Russian bath house, the Bad Romance video told the story of women sold into sex slavery. Gaga is force-fed vodka by models, dances for prospective clients, who bid for her, then finally led to a bedroom which she duly sets on fire. By the end of the song, the anonymous man who has apparently "won" an evening with Lady Gaga is a smouldering skeleton while the singer herself is content to enjoy a post-arson cigarette by his side as pathetic sparks splutter from the tips of her bra.
When Lady Gaga arrived in the UK to promote the single with a performance on the X Factor she moved on from the kitchen sink, instead appearing with 10 dancers, all of them taking the stage while sat inside a 20ft bathtub. Dressed as a bat, she broke out of the song two thirds of the way through in order to perform an abstract version of the middle eight on the piano, but sat on a white toilet bowl rather than the usual stool. Both silly and euphoric, like the closing scene of the video, it added playful, comic touches to this extraordinary tune.
Eventually, Bad Romance managed 10m global sales and 360m YouTube views. Then there was the record-breaking US airplay, the Grammy win, the seven MTV VMAs and the No 1 in countless countries including the UK, where it hit the top spot twice.
The way was paved for Gaga's current success and cultural ubiquity: the album Born This Way sold more than 1m copies during its first week of release in the US, while in this country it replaced 21 by Adele – a pop star cast from a rather less complicated mould – at No 1. Some critics felt that the material on the new record – 17 tracks plus remixes on the special edition – was either not enough like Bad Romance or too much like Bad Romance. No matter: the four-minute blast that cemented her position as a megastar will stand for ever as the defining pop song of the digital age.