I had occasion to blog about David Hepworth a short while back, and didn’t think that I’d feel the need to repeat the exercise. At least not so soon, but then again, he’s been pumping books out to the tune of one a year since 2016, and I couldn’t really resist his latest, which is about the ‘golden age’ of the long-playing record, or LP. I don’t propose to get into an anorack debate about whether I agree about the dates of his proposed golden era, It’s from 1967 (Sgt. Peppers, basically, supposedly getting the whole shebang on the road) to 1982 (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, representing the apogee of the format, and the beginning of the end, at least until the vinyl resurrection of the 2000s). Nor to go into some very obvious omissions (Forever Changes being the one that rankled the most for me). What I want to do is briefly look at Hepworth’s influence, given that he is now nearly 70 years of age, and evidently feeling the need to put his ‘life in music’ into book form. Many of ‘em, what’s more, thanks to Bantam Press and people like me who buy the things.
It’s very good, by the way, and probably the one of his that I’ve enjoyed the most. It’s funny, witty, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and paints an accurate picture of the passion and absurdity involved in pursuing and getting hold of vinyl back in the Dark Ages of the sixties and seventies. I laughed out load at several points, as it bought back so many memories of the whole experience of living in the pre-digital age. But here’s the thing - you have to be around my age (seven years younger than Hepworth himself) to really ‘get it’, I would have thought. This isn’t meant to imply that anyone under 50 won’t be able to enjoy the book, as it is engaging and informative, but I would imagine that younger readers might wonder what all the fuss was about, just as it is nigh on impossible to conjure up just how crappy so many aspects of living in England were in those years. Obviously, they’re crappy now as well, but in a very different way. Looking at a punk retrospective on YouTube the other night just reminded me of how grim life could be then, and just how important music and the objects that held music were to us. I guess that a modern-day equivalent might be our attitudes to our mobile devices?
If there is such a thing as ‘Dad Rock’, symbolised for many by Paul Weller, well, here is ‘Dad Lit’. We have to remember that Hepworth co- hosted The Old Grey Whistle Test, with fellow publishing trend-maker Mark Ellen (the Paul McCartney lookalike), both of them probably chosen because they managed to appear like a breath of fresh air after Whispering Bob Harris. But given that the OGWT was kick-started by the great Richard Williams, the only way after Williams left was down. Only John Peel could adequately have replaced RW. Anyhow, both Hepworth and Ellen seem to have gone down in rock history for co-hosting Live Aid in 1985, for some reason. My wife was there on the day, and has commented that it was a bit like saying that you’d been at Woodstock - for most people who attended, they couldn’t see the groups properly, there was inadequate toilet and food facilities, and the whole event has been over-hyped ever since by people who weren’t even there. To be fair to Hepworth, he makes the same point (about Woodstock).
But the thing that Hepworth deserves to go down for (in history, that is, rather than to jail) is for being one of the principal creators of the idea of the ‘rock canon’ and, as part of this, the obsession with ‘lists’ of all kinds. He was also responsible for/involved in the creation of Q (the first of it’s sort, a sort of rock ‘glossie’,aimed at an ‘older’ audience than inkies like the NME), Mojo and The Word, and, by their influence, all of the other such publications that have monumentalised and set in aspic the ‘1000 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ type of thinking. Now, many people will say,”well, what’s wrong with that, exactly?”, and they would be completely entitled to. One response that I would offer is that this phenomenon of historicising popular music has partly led to ancient LPs being re-released by grasping record labels and re-sold to the public as expensive decorations for home and hearth, when really these artifacts should be as cheap as chips. I reckon that the record companies must have pinched themselves and thought their collective ship had come in, when they realised that young people were more than willing to shell out literally hundred of pounds for recordings that were made over fifty years ago. Over thirty notes for The White Album, even more for near-exact replicas of stuff by the likes of Zeppelin and Nick Drake. ‘Genuine’ old vinyl commands equally daft prices. I feel quite smug that I have kept my old vinyl, and it’s a bit like those who bought Victorian houses before they became fashionable, and can now cash in.
One (of many) good points that Hepworth makes is that LPs were actually expensive back in the day, and that, for the average 14-18 year old, say, the purchasing of one was a considerable challenge. I remember saving up for literally months to get hold of Hot Rats (I still have the price sticker on this, it cost forty shillings and eight old pence, i.e. two old pounds) and Ummagumma in 1970 (still have them, as well), and that they were priced by Reprise and Harvest Records respectively at the high end of their retail range (they were seen at the time as ‘luxury items’). It seems crazy to me that LPs are similarly priced today. But, as they say, “there’s no fool like an old fool”. Except when they’re young. And record companies are just as greedy as they were now as they were in 1970.