Tangent Sunset

The History of Conscious Music by Alex Cosper

Messages From the Arena


Even though power chord stadium rock was being challenged by a group of musicians who attempted to be innovative with rock basics, some of the arena rockers stood out as more intelligent than others. Rush, for example, seemed a little more literate than the average arena rock band that was simply flaunting its celebrity status. Their song "Spirit Of Radio" uncovered the story behind how a song becomes a hit on the radio. The song reveals how payola compromises the sound of radio. About a year later the band had a huge radio hit with "Tom Sawyer," which was one of their most celebrated "people versus government" songs. The band issued several songs that made reference to greed and war as in "The Big Money" and "Manhattan Project." Many of their songs dealt with the advancement of civilization and modern themes as in "New World Man."

The icons and the consciousness of the sixties and seventies weren't quite over-with yet, as it turned out. Don Henley had written compelling songs for The Eagles and continued to have a string of message songs in the eighties. "Dirty Laundry" was a metaphor for bad news and provided a rip on television news anchors and their upbeat delivery of tragic events. "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" referred to how people were turning off their minds to what was going on in international affairs. "Boys Of Summer" talked about seeing "a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac," which was clearly a statement that the cosmic-driven hippies had turned into money-driven yuppies. The song reflected on the love generation and questioned its relevance after a few decades of penetrating the cultural landscape.

Henley grew even more political on the song "End Of The Innocence," which made references to the Reagan Administration and the idea that a materialistic-based society meant a drifting away from the spirit of human nature. Some of the other Eagles released a few conscious songs here and there. Joe Walsh put out a humorous commentary on how the youth of America had become addicted to video games in "Space Age Whiz Kids." He actually had a history of storyteller songs that included "Life's Been Good," a humorous look at the lifestyle of a reckless rock star. Glenn Frey did an entertaining underworld theme for the television series Miami Vice called "Smuggler's Blues."

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were also coming on as a stadium band, yet they stayed true to the rock ethic of meaningful lyrics, which they continued to crank out for many years to come. Petty appeared in several interviews knocking disco music and videos as he tried to keep the conscious rock ethic alive. His song "I Won't Back Down" became an anthem for forward moving organizations. For awhile it looked like Styx would be the band that would take conceptual music to the next level. They had done political songs in the seventies and put out Kilroy in 1983, which featured "Mr. Roboto," a rather ridiculous but creative sci-fi view of a robot-driven futuristic society. Alice Cooper also put out a unique sci-fi song in 1980 called "Clones." Alan Parsons Project balanced between pop and experimental, which gave them kind of a sci-fi sound as well as in "Eye In The Sky," in which painted the storyteller as omnipresent. An art rock supergroup appeared in the early eighties called Asia, who kept the Yes tradition of surreal album covers and melodic visionary songs such as "Sole Survivor."

Crosby, Stills & Nash squeezed out a few more conscious songs with "Wasted On The Way" being the standout that reflected on a maturing love generation. The Grateful Dead made an impressive comeback with state of awareness songs "Touch Of Grey," "Hell In A Bucket" and "Throwing Stones." Steve Winwood also pounded out a string of forward-thinking jazzy pop songs like "While You See A Chance," "Higher Love" and "Roll With It." Pink Floyd continued their hypnotic sound without Roger Waters on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason featuring "On The Turning Away." The Moody Blues had trance-like songs like "The Voice" on their 1981 album Long Distance Voyager then they shifted to a more pop flavored but still dreamy sound in later releases such as "Your Wildest Dreams."

Another art rock band, Yes, had a big hit with "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," which touched on the quest for enlightenment. Neil Young shook up MTV with his anti-video song "This Note's For You." The ghost of the 60s/70s culture returned through all these artists, but none sounded quite as mean and raw as CCR's John Fogerty in "Old Man Down The Road." This was surprising because many of the nostalgic artists came back softer, although some of it was refreshing such as the Beach Boys taking our minds away on a tropical adventure in "Kokomo."

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