|Roll Another Number: 1973|
I think I'll roll another number for the road
I feel able to get under any load
Though my feet aren't on the ground
I've been standing on the sound
Of some open-hearted people going down
Roll Another Number
by Neil Young
In 1973, Eric Clapton's version of Bob Marley's song, I Shot the Sheriff, introduced reggae to a world-wide, predominantly white audience whose musical palate had become more than somewhat slightly jaded. A couple of years later, Clapton also recorded what has become the definitive version of the JJ Cale song, Cocaine, a paean to the South American substance which increasingly became the rock 'n' rollers' drug of choice.
In the early seventies, Dylan had gone to ground and his nearest rival as a lyricist, Neil Young, was navel-gazing and grieving for lost friends like the Crazy Horse guitarist, Danny Whitten, who had become casualties of the drug culture. This introspective period came to an end in 1975, with Young's eighth album, Tonight's The Night, which is dedicated to Whitten and Bruce Berry, 'who lived and died for rock and roll'. Dropping the folksy sound and winsome persona of previous recordings such as After The Goldrush and Harvest, Tonight's The Night reaffirms Young's belief in the redemptive power of rock 'n' roll, but also in the consolation of marijuana, with such downbeat songs as Albuquerque and Roll Another Number (For The Road). Written around the same time, but not recorded until 1977, is Neil Young's agricultural anthem, Homegrown.
In the early Seventies, it seemed as if everyone had gone to California, at least in spirit, but the key figures who animated the Californian scene of the Sixties were gone. Janis Joplin, whose anguished wail had cut through the haze of peace and love, was dead. Pigpen was dying and the Grateful Dead sounded mournful without his earthy, bluesy influence. Having single-handedly invented the genre of Country Rock, Gram Parsons, the Grievous Angel, crash landed in 1973, leaving his musical legacy to the likes of The Eagles.
Throughout the early half of the 1970s, rock music became increasingly synonymous with bland boogie bands like The Doobie Brothers - 'doobie', snigger, being teen code for a joint - and by the smooth and mellow West Coast sound exemplified by Steve Miller who was, like, a total pot head. Signed by The Beatles' apple label, Miller's entire Band had been busted and deported from England in 1968 while recording their first album and, in 1973, the Miller Band had a huge hit with The Joker, in which song the singer was cast in the role of a laid-back player, a 'space cowboy', a 'gangster of love': "I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a midnight toker", croons Steve, "I sure don't want to hurt no one."
The other most marked tendency within rock was for 'progressive' musicians to produce LP records full of ever more ambitious, not to say pretentious pieces of music stretched far beyond the traditional three minute format of pop singles designed to be played on the radio.
Two of the biggest-selling records of the 1970s were The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, both released in 1973. The former is a sort of concept album, loosely about the pressures of being a high-earning star in the vulgar field of popular music, performed by a group who disdained the conventional marketing strategies of the music business and whose live shows were characterised by ever more elaborate visual effects. The latter is a quasi-orchestral fifty minute composition by a young, reclusive multi-instumentalist who was too shy to perform it live. Both records were designed to be listened to right through in a sitting and, as such, they provided the ideal soundtrack to many a pot smoking session held in school dormitories and college common rooms throughout the rest of the decade.
The biggest rock group of the seventies, however, was Led Zeppelin, renowned for excess in all areas. They played the heaviest music and took the hardest drugs in the most copious quantities and their audience was more liable to be bombed on downers and alcohol than floating on a cannabis cloud. The musicians themselves had certainly smoked enough pot: they'd even followed Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones to Morocco, to visit the Jajouka musicians of the Riff Mountains, who smoked kif and played their swirling, polyrhythmic music from dusk till dawn, an influence that has become more obvious since Jimmy Page and Robert Plant travelled to Marrakesh in 1994 to re-record several Zep anthems with local musicians, notably a joyous version of Kashmir.
But this a revisionist view of Led Zep, who are widely condemned as the progenators of Heavy Metal and the kind of portentous stadium rock perpertrated by boorish rock stars who've snorted so much cocaine that they're heading for platinum septums. As cocaine became the essential rock 'n' roll accessory in the 1970's, so rock music got tedious.