Tangent Sunset

The History of Conscious Music by Alex Cosper

Rock Moves On


Led Zeppelin were the most celebrated band of the electric blues rockers. They came up with a wide selection of new blues riff inventions. Their most celebrated song has been "Stairway To Heaven." When the album came out in 1971, no single was issued for "Stairway" but AM radio played it anyway. It was one of those rare instances when pop radio broke one of its most sacred rules. The song didn't fit the tightly-formatted top 40 radio of the day for several reasons, with the most obvious being that the song was over seven minutes long.

Another difference was that the song did not have a reoccuring chorus. It moved more like an epic story or even a classical piece, since it featured several distinct sections. It also had lengthy guitar solos, which were usually clipped out of pop radio. In other words, everything about "Stairway" fit the description of the final days of freeform as opposed to what was to follow. Yet, it was such a monumental recording that AM top 40 couldn't avoid it. Nevertheless, the image of the band steered more toward hard rock and so the band was stereotyped. Most of their music was actually either acoustic or very melodic and incorporated world sounds such as reggae in "D'Yer Mak'er" and Eastern sounds in "Kashmir."

One of the ironic turns of the seventies in music was the growing popular acceptance of the Southern political mindset. Canadian transplant to San Francisco Neil Young wrote about enlightenment in "Heart Of Gold" and then a slam on conservative politics in "Southern Man." The rebuttal came from Florida band Lynyrd Skynyrd in "Sweet Home Alabama," a song that directly criticized the Neil Young song. It also talked about not being bothered by Watergate, which implied that Nixon critics were just paranoid. Then again, it could also be taken that government corruption doesn't have to ruin one's day. It also praised the Alabama governor, who at the time was one time segregationist George Wallace. Back then such Southern Democrats sided with the conservatives against liberals and the counter-culture. The band made a progressive anti-gun statement, though, in "Saturday Night Special." Then, of course, they crafted the anthem of the free-spirited movement, "Free Bird." Overall, Southern rock seemed to be stereotyped as backwoods biker music.