A fading shadow of the past

Steve Wright must be on holiday. It was Craig Charles on BBC Radio 2 for the half an hour during which I listened this afternoon.

Steve Wright has an “oldies” feature from three o’clock until half past three each weekday afternoon. Listeners are invited to send in a list of their thirty favourite songs from the past and the production team will choose a selection from that list. Steve Wright will then play the songs and tell listeners something about the person who has chosen them.

Craig Charles has a much more libertarian approach, he allows a listener to “takeover” the programme. People listening to the programme hear the voice of the person who has chosen the songs and the songs they have chosen.

It must have been the more liberal line that allowed the playing of the opening track during the takeover, it is hard to imagine it would have got past the producers’ filter for the usual programme. The opening notes of Pink Floyd’s “See Emily play” are unmistakable, the psychedelic influences that shaped the song are readily discernible in both the music and the lyrics. “See Emily play” is a song of a time of cultural and intellectual upheaval.

Having lived through the 1960s and the 1970s, the music of bands like Pink Floyd and that of the punk bands a decade later seemed to belong to different ages, different periods of history, different phases of popular culture. Looking back from a time that is forty years after punk and fifty years after psychedelic, it seems that they belong to a single age when music was the sound of unrest and social change. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols might recoil at the idea of being bracketed with the hippies, but both emerged from perceptions of music as something with the potential to be subversive and mind-changing.

The capacity for music to pose an intellectual challenge to government and society has faded. He is undoubtedly a very nice man, but the music of Ed Sheeran is not going to shake any pillars, nor is that played by any of his contemporaries. Music has become domesticated and individualised. There are singers who might attempt to use their lyrics, or their tunes, in a way that is subversive, but none among the more radically inclined has a sufficiently popular base to cause the unease experienced by more conservative people between 1967 and 1977.

“See Emily play” is an echo of a time when music had the power to change the world, it is from a past that is fading from the memory.

 

 

 

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