from The Observer

Keith Richards Is Wrong—Heavy Metal Is Not a ‘Great Joke’


Tales of horror based on the gruesome EC horror comics of the 1950's.Keith Richards protecting the black magic that keeps him alive. (Photo: Flikr Creative Commons)

By dismissing Black Sabbath and Metallica, a Rolling Stone reveals his distinct rock and roll philosophy

This past week in an interview with Jim Farber for the Daily News, Keith Richards made some ornery, old-guy cranky statements about the Beatles, Rap, and Heavy Metal. First of all, there’s no reason to waste any ink discussing what he said about Rap. His comments echo the thoughts of any senior citizen in a cop bar in Staten Island, and can be explained by indifference, lack of familiarity with the genre and generational confusion. No big deal. Seriously, I would assume any 72-year-old guy who claimed to “get” rap was just lying.

However, Richards’ comments about Black Sabbath and Metallica being “great jokes” are worth (far) deeper examination. This two-word slur is both completely unsurprising yet remarkably revealing.

To parse Richards’ comment, we have to go back to the dawn of British rock, and it’s spiral into diversity (and differing interpretations) in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Obviously, The Rolling Stones were a blues-based band. The Stones, the arguably superior Pretty Things, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (to name three) personify one branch of the early Britrock leviathan; this limb was almost completely devoted to interpreting Chicago and Delta blues in an amped up and English-accented fashion. Let’s call this Group A.

The other branch is, well, characterized by the more simplistic gory glory of the Kinks, the Who, and the Troggs. These groups certainly shared some of the same basic influences as Group A, but inflected it with lusty teenage primitivism fueled by barre chords. Significantly, although these Group B bands drew from Chicago blues and the straightforward I/IV/V forms of Chuck Berry, they did not draw from the Delta in any real way, which is why you virtually never hear an open-tuned slide part on records by any Group B band. To put it a little more simply, all these bands—the Stones faction and the Kinks faction—listened to Bo Diddley, but only the Group A branch integrated Robert Johnson and Elmore James into their work. This was on your SATs, right?

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