Monday, October 24, 2022

"One of my favorite coinages, or twists, which I think I only ever used on  my blog is 'common groove'  -  basically, I have this polemic that the best black music, whether it's funk or disco, tends to be the most commercially successful stuff. The cream rises. 

"Nowadays, because of all these obscurantist reissue labels, you have a generation of hipsters who have listened to all this objectively second or third division disco, funk, etc  - but have never actually listened to Rose Royce or Stevie Wonder or Chic or whoever - the stuff that got into the charts and that masses of people bought and listened to.  

"All that stuff is common groove because there's loads of vinyl copies lingering in the world, going dirt cheap - and full of wonderful music. You could probably pick up 7 albums worth of it for the price of one of these stupid obscurer-than-thou deluxe vinyl reissues. 

"It relates to the Retromania chapter on Northern Soul. That was the original 'rare groove,'  although they didn't use that term, they talked about rare soul. The Northern Soulies had a whole thing where they wouldn't play Motown because it was 'commercial' - all that meant though was that it was so indisputably good that ordinary people liked it and bought it!  The 'rare soul' was just as commercial in intent, it's just that it wasn't good enough to be commercially successful.

"Same applies to 'rare groove'. It's basically the failed stuff."


  1. Great point. But isn't the same true of all popular music? What 60s rock is better than the Beatles, Stones, Who, Hendrix? What hard rock is better than Zeppelin and Sabbath? Obviously there are Nuggets out there, just as there are some great Rare Groove tracks. And some bands - the Velvets, the Stooges - take a while to find their audience. But in general, unpopular music is unpopular for a reason.

    1. (Probably not only true for popular music, TBH. But I don't think there's a load of Rare Score hipsters out there who love Classical music but hate the mainstream commercial stuff like Mozart and Beethoven.)

  2. I think that's basically true in the 1960s and much of the 1970s. In the Sixties the only real "why did this not make the charts?" quandaries are Love and The Velvet Underground. Forever Changes did well in the UK I think but was a flop in the States. But both groups were success d'estime cases among the crits and cognoscenti

  3. Yeah I don't think it works in classical music, at least not until the great fissure of modernism - atonality, serialism, etc.

  4. 1. Love and the Velvets were both explainable in terms of why they were critical darlings but commercial disappointments - the former because they refused to tour; the second because Warhol and Paul Morrissey bungled their initial push (once the first single flopped, they basically lost interest, because they didn't know the music industry and didn't know how to promote them besides simply positioning them next to Warhol), and their second push circa Loaded was torpedoed by Reed leaving two months before it was released (after a summer-long residency at Max's that earned them glowing reviews and attention everywhere from the Times on down, and after Atlantic had already worked up a big campaign)

    2. Funny thing about the 'great fissure of modernism' - Schoenberg actually objected to that framing, in particular Mann's Doctor Faustus portraying him as an almighty wrecker of civilization, because he revered the Viennese tradition and simply saw himself as the next logical progression

  5. Was touring that important when it came to breaking groups in the 1960s? The Beatles were huge in America before they played a note on this continent. I think Love were confusing - the eeriness and darkness versus the MOR-y Bacharach-y arrangements. I wonder if they ever got a shot at the radio.

    The Velvets's non-success seems completely logical to me, no need to explain by promotional failings. It was too against the grain, for palates who'd just adjusted to the idea that these rock musicians, they can really really play - the arc of rock as it goes onward and upward into ever greater sophistication, whether it's Beatles, or Cream. VU are coming at things from a completely different angle, a more sophisticated idea of what 'sophistication' is...

    Yes you are right - Schoenberg saw himself as the inheritor and the next extension of the grand tradition, same as later on Stockhausen sees himself as a 20th Century Beethoven. The fissure is really in popular taste, or rather middle class taste - few will have stomach to accompany the modernist composers in their journey. They might stick around for Sibelius but otherwise it'll be the music's past that brings them into concert halls. .

  6. 'Was touring that important when it came to breaking groups in the 1960s?' Very - even the Beatles only hit the stratosphere here once they flew over in Feb 64. And for a band like Love that was, as you note, more than a little schizophrenic (the only singles of theirs that really charted, the revved-up Bacharach cover and Seven and Seven Is, seem to contradict each other as well as the albums they're on), refusing to play live and give some kind of physical representation people could grab onto was not smart from a business standpoint.

    The question of whether they ever got a shot at radio and your comments about the Velvets actually fit together, because the big split in late-60s music in America was really AM versus FM - the advent of freeform radio as a refuge from the Top 40 is an unsung factor in what allowed a 'popular underground' to happen in the first place. And I think that both Love and the Velvets were more supported by them than you would imagine (certainly, the latter were huge in Boston), but in a way that wouldn't necessarily register on a Billboard chart.

    My other comment is that, contrary to after the fact myth, the Velvets weren't outright flops - they were just mildly successful, in the same cultish way that the Mothers or the Dead were at the time (the Velvets' debut had sold 60k copies by the end of 69, which is only slightly less than how much the Dead's first three albums had sold collectively by then!) The issue was that given the level of push that Warhol had given them, they had expected to be launched into the top tier overnight - when they weren't, and a bunch of California bands supposedly 'took their spot' (which, being good black-clad New Yorkers, was adding insult to injury), that's where a lot of their bitterness came from


  "Popular culture is a contradiction in terms. If it's popular, it's not culture."   Vivienne Westwood