Pop Beat; Mom, Dad, Can I Look at Your Old LPs?

Alternative Bands Find Sensory Relief in the Songs of '60s and '70s Pop Icons


Los Angeles Times Saturday April 1, 1995 Home Edition Calendar, Page 1 Type of Material: Column

If you grew up in the '70s, you heard two kinds of music: the kind you grooved to happily and the kind you rolled your eyes to in embarrassment. One was what poured out of your transistor radio--KC & the Sunshine Band, Sweet and Zeppelin. The other was what your parents subjected you to during long trips in the station wagon.

A bridge is forming, some 20 years later, over the chasm that divides those musical tastes. The kids who once disdained them are now reaching out to the songwriters and singers of the polyester age.

Alternative rock's hip Chicago trio Urge Overkill cites Neil Diamond as an influence. The "low-fi" Dutch band Bettie Serveert and Japan's kitschy Pizzicato Five are inspired by Burt Bacharach. Even arty dance bands like the Wolfgang Press and punk rock luminary Nick Cave talk of Tom Jones with the utmost respect.


"People like Bacharach and Neil will probably be surprised to know how many people are now inspired by them. It affected us as kids, it influences us now," says Blackie Onassis of Urge Overkill. His band's hallmarks: a fab fashion sense, loungy sound and its recent rendition of Diamond's "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" off the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack.

He goes on: "Their lyrics were poetic, opaque and arty, then on the other hand they were also common. They made everyday street language poetic."

Bacharach, who wrote '60s and '70s hits for such artists as Dionne Warwick and the Carpenters, is surprised and flattered by the attention from his new constituency. "I knew a little bit, but like with this interview, I'm finding out it's more than I thought," he says. "It makes me very happy. I appreciate being appreciated."

Why is this happening? It may reflect the maturation of the musically involved. Kids who were bombarded for most of their lives with noise and anti-melody are finding sensory relief in songs that go down smooth and easy.

"Perhaps people are going beyond the sound and are going back to the basic building block--the song," says Diamond, who is working on a new album. "The singer-songwriter tradition is where my music really comes from--it's the most fertile ground and people will always go back there. From Woody Guthrie to Leadbelly to Bob Dylan to Beck--a guy with a guitar and some wild ideas can cause a lot of trouble."

Bacharach, Diamond and their peers often were dismissed as little more than period pieces until such happening rock artists as Urge Overkill's Onassis, 27, found new flavors in the sugary AM diet.

"The more you get into songwriting, you realize how talented these people were," he says. "I see this as the return of the songwriter. It's happening pretty heavy now. A lot of people are going back to older music not because it's retro, but because it's great."

Carol van Dijk, 32, singer of Holland's Bettie Serveert, agrees. "For a long time I didn't buy any new records 'cause there was nothing I liked. I just bought older '60s music because they wrote songs back then. Somehow, that just got lost. But nowadays it's coming back. There's plenty of new stuff to buy. The song is coming back."

Referring to Bacharach's oeuvre , she said: "I love the concept of getting back to the songs. It always turned me on. I don't care how well a record is made, if there isn't a memorable melody or something to hook into, it shuts me down."

Such catchy tunes as Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and Diamond's "I Am . . . I Said" crept into the subconscious of today's twentysomethings via Mom and Dad's console stereos, and they apparently stuck.


Berend Dubbe, Bettie Serveert's drummer, grew up with parents who listened to Bacharach and Tony Bennett. "It seeped in without me even knowing it. It's really apparent in the records I buy nowadays. There's a couple of years that I hated that stuff, but around 29 or 30, you go toward it again. Now I'm a huge Bacharach and (lyricist Hal) David fan. I think it's such totally perfect music."

"Once you get past the kitsch factor and hit your late 20s, you actually hear lyrics for the first time in songs and realize what they're about," says Onassis, who was turned on to Neil Diamond's "Gold" album by his older brother. "But there had to be something from the beginning there you liked. It seems to be happening in other art forms, like 'Pulp Fiction'--a '90s film looking like the '70s. People are just trying to figure out what is the best."

Parental brainwashing and catchy hooks aside, Diamond sees a strong cultural parallel between his music and that of new alternative bands.

"In the '60s, people were coming from a very fresh new perspective on music, and that's what made the music of that era so special," he says. "I feel that the music of the '90s has that same spirit. They've rediscovered a flame that seemed to be extinguished in the intervening decades. Also in the '60s there was a tight connection between music and lifestyle and that seems to have been reborn with the alternative scene."

Those connections may be responsible for making the music of swinging songwriters appealing and cool to the cutting-edge bands of today.

"The generation before us found that stuff so totally taboo," Onassis says. "But they were waging war against the excess of all previous rock. Now that's passed, and there's people like us who don't feel it's as taboo.

"It's not so unheard of to listen to Neil Diamond in an artistic way, like looking at old sitcoms from the '70s and analyzing them. Beneath the level of trash and kitschiness, there's something rather profound. It makes you think: Maybe my parents weren't so square after all."

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1995.

ALI, LORRAINE, Pop Beat; Mom, Dad, Can I Look at Your Old LPs?; Alternative Bands Find Sensory Relief in the Songs of '60s and '70s Pop Icons; Home Edition., Los Angeles Times, 04-01-1995, pp F-1.