"Changes". Using music to explore post-war British youth culture


Essay, 2014
13 Pages, Grade: 75 (A)

Excerpt

Q. 'How significant is music to an understanding of youth culture in post-war Britain?'

'And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds,

Are immune to your consultations - they're quite aware of what they're going through...'

- David Bowie, 'Changes' [HunkyDory, 1971]

When the American director John Hughes chose to open the credits of his 1985 film The Breakfast Club with these lyrics taken from David Bowie's 1971 single 'Changes', his intention in doing so was to challenge the commonplace notions of youth plaguing 1980s teen-culture in America.[1] The film's troubled 'teenage' protagonists, exaggerated caricatures of rebellious youth who spend an entire Saturday detention within a school library in atonement for their individual delinquencies, begin their journey defined 'in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions' lavished upon them by their adult authorities.[2] Bowie's lyrics were applied to The Breakfast Club by Hughes in order to glamorize the notion of 'us versus them' and youth isolation within the cultural landscape of 1980s America. However, these lyrics can also be aptly applied to the much-discussed issue of 'youth culture' within the British post-war landscape. Although 'Changes' was not released until the early 1970s, its lyrics effectively capture the tone of the previous two decades in Britain; decades in the throes of social and political change, with a newly formed 'youth' group who were becoming increasingly aware of that fact. Following the arrival of rock n' roll in the late 1950s, British youths underwent a period of self-realisation in the 1960s as music, particularly rock n' roll, drove a wedge between teenagers and the 'parent culture', effectively isolating them into their own unique cultural island.[3] The primary ambition of this essay, therefore, will be to assess the change implemented by music during these post-war decades and whether it is possible to utilize music as a tool for effectively understanding youth culture and sub-cultures. Although each decade could be argued to embody its own distinct 'mood', effectively captured and echoed in its musical output, this essay will hone its energies primarily towards studying the late 1950s and early 1960s, in which a 'fizzy electrical storm' of a radiant post-war atmosphere was reflected and charged by its music.[4]

In-depth study into the mystified realms of youth culture and its various sub­fractions presents an extremely complex task. Whilst a number of youth-focused historians have approached this subject, an absolute definition surrounding the phrase 'youth culture' still remains predominantly hazy. However, despite engagement with the subject within a variety of different theoretical frameworks, the use of music as a tool for deconstructing and understanding various youth sub-cultural fractions has been largely marginalised in past writings on the subject.[5] Whilst some social historians such as Keith Gildart and Adrian Horn advocate the use of music and its various associations as a useful means of successfully examining British post-war youth culture, others have been equally antagonistic to the idea. One ofthe key reasons why music is viewed by historians such as F.G. Friedman as an effective means of studying cultural habits of the young is due to its unique association with youth. Writing in Youth and Society, Friedman notes that 'music - more perhaps than even drugs or the new awareness of youth in general - constitutes today the dividing line between young and old (across which communication does not seem possible).'[6] Friedman's sentiments are reflected within a modern study conducted in 2000 by Weinstein. Upon examining the influence of heavy metal music on its listeners, the study refers to the older generation of fans of this musical genre as 'wistful emigrants', before concluding that their age subsequently excludes them toward fully participating with a 'youthful' genre of music.[7] As these studies help illuminate, the medium of music and certain musical genres are embalmed with youthful properties which helps distinguish 'youth' as a sociocultural category, significantly distinct from older generations.[8] Andy Bennett is but one of the numerous social historians who identifies this link between youth and music, stating that 'since the mid-1950s, popular music has been primarily defined as 'youth' music.'[9] Assertions such as these can be supported by evidence that traces a rise of a distinctive teenage consumer market in the 1950s. In perhaps the most influential study of teenage spending patterns, Mark Abrams' The Teenage Consumer (1959) reveals not only were 'affluent' teens the predominant spending group within the British market, but also that their spending was concentrated in particular consumer markets.[10] Identifying a significant 44 per cent of teenage spending to lie concentrated within the music market, whether in purchasing records or record players, Abrams noted that these patterns illustrated the rise of 'distinctive teenage spending for distinctive teenage ends in a distinctive teenage world.'[11] However, in spite of statistical evidence such as Abrams' report, which identifies music as a pivotal source of interest for British youth in the 1950s, some historians continue to consciously trivialise its significance within the field of youth studies. Writing in Images of England Through Popular Music (2013), Keith Gildart remarks that despite popular music providing 'a daily soundtrack to a whole generation of English working-class youth in the home, the workplace, coffee bars, pubs, clubs, dance halls and theatres', its utility as a tool for examining youth culture has been largely overlooked by a number of academic historians.[12] Simon Frith concurs with this, stating that 'academic historians have not been drawn to the field of popular music' as an appropriate instrument for examining the development of youth culture over the past several decades.[13] A primary reason for this marginality within cultural studies is noted by Gildart, who asserts that the elitist education of many 'solidly middle-class academic historians' has led many of them to either 'neglect or belittle aspects of popular culture' as irrelevant.[14] However, Ian MacDonald strongly disagrees with this trivialisation. Whilst admitting the 1960s in Britain were ultimately the product of 'influences deeper than pop' (as both political and economic issues rose to a head in the later course of the decade), he nevertheless highlights the significance of music during this period, remarking that without the vital charge emitted by musicians such as The Beatles, the 'fizzy electrical storm', as described by Liverpool poet Brian Patten, 'might have hardly have sparked at all.[15]

In Images ofEngland, K. Gildart notes that several historians have often credited 1956 as 'the year when it begins' in Britain.[16] Although the roots of 'rock n' roll' can be traced backto 'folk' music in origin (rhythm and blues-derived musicfirst performed by African American artists such as Fats Domino), it was not until the arrival of white commercial artists such as Bill Haley and Elvis Presley that the beginning of a distinct 'teenage culture' began to unfold on British soil, accompanied by an exciting new soundtrack which reflected this development.[17] Whilst Adrian Horn dedicates a whole book to counteract the myth that British youths were subsequently Americanized during the 1950s and 1960s, he contends that one area in which American influence did successfully penetrate the British psyche is through music. When Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock' was released in Britain in 1956, it topped the British chart and sold over a million copies.[18] The song, whose lyrics essentially conveyed a message of youths having a good time, all of the time, indicated a distinct shift away from the parent culture.[19] Larry Birnbaum synonymises the release of 'Rock Around the Clock' with 'the moment rock n' roll exploded in the national consciousness, and also the moment when rock n' roll became firmly associated with youth rebellion.'[20] As the rise of this new genre was still largely misunderstood by the British parent culture, its introduction into Britain caused public concern, owed partially to a perceived connection between 'dangerous' rock n' roll music and juvenile delinquency.[21] Such negative perceptions of rock music were strengthened in part by Hollywood films such as The BlackboardJungle, which displayed images of 'wild, untamed rebel youth' accompanied by soundtracks of exciting and dangerous rock music.[22] The media also played a significant role in shaping these negative assumptions towards 'corrupting' rock music. When the film Rock Around the Clock was released in Britain, it marked the beginnings of a 'moral panic.'[23] Although a sociologist report conducted upon youth reactions to the film revealed that little trouble was caused in the majority of cinemas in which the film screened,

[...]


[1] Loukides, P. and Fuller, L.K. (eds.). Beyond the Stars: Themes and ideologies in American popular film. (Popular Press, 1996), p.30.

[2] Hughes, J. The Breakfast Club. Universal Pictures, 1985.

[3] Bennett, A. 'Still Talking About My Generation!: The Representation of Youth in Popular Music.' In Jamieson, P. and Romer, D. (eds.). The Changing Portrayal ofAdolescents in the Media Since 1950. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.60

[4] MacDonald, I. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. (London: Pimlico, 1998), p.1.

[5] Gildart, K. Images of England Through Popular Music: Class, Youth and Rock 'n' Roll, 1955-1976. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.5.

[6] Friedman, F.G. YouthAndSociety. (London:The MacMillan Press Ltd., 1971), p.20.

[7] Hodkinson, P. and Bennett, A. (eds.). Ageing and Youth Cultures: Music, Style and Identity. (Google eBook, 2013) (last accessed: 21/03/14), p.2.

[8] Bennett, A. 'Still Talking About My Generation!: The Representation of Youth in Popular Music.' In Jamieson, P. and Romer, D. (eds.). The Changing Portrayal ofAdolescents in the Media Since 1950. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.59.

[9] Ibid, p.59.

[10] Osgerby, B. Youth in Britain since 1945. (Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1998), p.24.

[11] Ibid, p.24.

[12] Gildart, K. Images of England Through Popular Music: Class, Youth and Rock 'n' Roll, 1955-1976. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.2.

[13] Ibid, p.6.

[14] Ibid, p.6.

[15] MacDonald, I. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. (London: Pimlico, 1998), p.1.

[16] Gildart, K. Images of England Through Popular Music: Class, Youth and Rock 'n' Roll, 1955-1976. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.14.

[17] Bennett, A. 'Still Talking About My Generation!: The Representation of Youth in Popular Music.' In Jamieson, P. and Romer, D. (eds.). The Changing Portrayal ofAdolescents in the Media Since 1950. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.60.

[18] Horn, A. Juke Box Britain: Americanisation and youth culture, 1945-60. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), p.78.

[19] Bennett, A. 'Still Talking About My Generation!: The Representation of Youth in Popular Music.' In Jamieson, P. and Romer, D. (eds.). The Changing Portrayal ofAdolescents in the Media Since 1950. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.61.

[20] Birnbaum, L. Before Elvis: The Prehistory ofRock n' Roll. (Rowman & Little, 2013), p.11.

[21] Horn, A. Juke Box Britain: Americanisation and youth culture, 1945-60. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), p.78.

[22] Ibid, p.78.

[23] Ibid, p.78.

Excerpt out of 13 pages

Details

Title
"Changes". Using music to explore post-war British youth culture
College
University of Strathclyde
Grade
75 (A)
Author
Year
2014
Pages
13
Catalog Number
V358719
ISBN (eBook)
9783668432987
ISBN (Book)
9783668432994
File size
423 KB
Language
English
Notes
This essay is about following question: "How significant is music to an understanding of youth culture in post-war Britain?"
Tags
Music, Youth Studies, Post-war, British History
Quote paper
Lindsey McIntosh (Author), 2014, "Changes". Using music to explore post-war British youth culture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/358719

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