what was the san francisco sound?

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what was the san francisco sound?

Postby oldblue on Thu May 20, 2010 3:41 pm

what was in it that made it so or not
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby Susan Butcher on Thu May 20, 2010 9:58 pm

A city with a subterranean heritage, lefty folkniks, and chemical inspiration, in the aftermath of the British Invasion. An evangelical enthusiasm that didn't last very long.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby usedtobebabson on Fri May 21, 2010 7:44 am

Trying to differentiate it from the Greenwich Village Sound, who's culture gave us Hair and The Velvet Underground. All I can come up with is the San Francisco Sound was a bit earlier.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby oldblue on Fri May 21, 2010 9:01 am

usedtobebabson wrote:Trying to differentiate it from the Greenwich Village Sound, who's culture gave us Hair and The Velvet Underground. All I can come up with is the San Francisco Sound was a bit earlier.



i was looking more for comments on what was in the music or what the music was.

when i think of greenwich village, i think more of bob dylan and groups like the lovin' spoonful. i think broadway and the great hippie marketing caper gave us hair. the velevet underground was something else entirely.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby Susan Butcher on Fri May 21, 2010 10:25 am

Do the lyrics count? Or should we consider only the style of the music? I wouldn't want to separate them. Just as an example, I'd say the slightly strange quality of Jefferson Airplane's early records is mostly in the words. With Great Society, it's in the music as well.

Hmm. Maybe a "slightly strange quality" is essential to it.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby oldblue on Fri May 21, 2010 10:51 am

Susan Butcher wrote:Do the lyrics count? Or should we consider only the style of the music? I wouldn't want to separate them. Just as an example, I'd say the slightly strange quality of Jefferson Airplane's early records is mostly in the words. With Great Society, it's in the music as well.

Hmm. Maybe a "slightly strange quality" is essential to it.


how are the lyrics used, though? what (poetic) purpose do they serve?

apologies for the length (and these are my words except for the quotes)

Words and music were mutually dependent and symbiotically effective — the words had to be heard inside the music and the music had to be heard inside the words. They had to be heard together — as a whole. Rock lyrics simply are not meant to be read in the manner of linear — or printed — poetry and are noticeably weakened when read straight instead of sung. They exist in space and time and are meant to work with the other parts of the song — especially the melody — in order to create a totality of experience that moves one magically to a place beyond space and time. Ultimately the success of a lyricist depends not on whether he can write like Shakespeare, but on how well he is able to make word and melody evoke an emotion or convey a message.

As Jerry Garcia observed:

Songs are poetry, I guess, but it’s how a song works that’s most important, and that’s not always a function of what the content is, but the whole thing — the texture of it, the sound of it, the way it trips off the tongue, all that stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t have to mean anything and it can still evoke a great something. (Jackson 17)

The same was true of Dylan’s use of his voice as he strove to turn it into a musical instrument. Words would have meaning in their sounds as well as their definitions, and these sounds would contribute to the overall process of creating a certain state of mind in the listener and the performer alike. Singer Billy Joel said:

I always had a deep-seated suspicion that a lot of what Dylan was talking about wasn’t anything — it just sounded good. He was using words like a musician would use notes to create a certain sound. A guitar player would use a fuzz-box to get a distortion. It was still a guitar playing; it was just a distorted guitar. I think Dylan found the fuzz-boxes in the English language. I think a lot of it is nonsense. But a lot of creative, well-done nonsense. . .Dylan was musical in a lyrical way. (Wolliver 142-143)

In the liner notes to his Highway 61 Revisited album Dylan himself would say that: “The songs on this specific album are not so much songs as they are exercises in tonal breath control.” Such was the power of that “tonal breath control” that critic Paul Williams contended that “at Dylan’s moments of greatest power he plays the musicians with his voice; they are helpless but happy instruments.” (125)

Grace Slick also linked the way she sounded to conveying meaning:

I don’t think of myself as a singer. When I get out on stage, I become a musical instrument that just happens to have words coming out of it. If you want to translate the lyrics into an integral component of a song, you have to play the lyrics like an instrument. Sometimes you perform them for the meaning of the words, and other times you have to project them as sounds in reaction to the sounds of the other musicians, or match an intonation to the feeling of the lyric. (Rowes 52)

This quality is evident in Slick’s vocals on a live version of “Somebody to Love” on Jefferson Airplane’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head album. Her “emphases seem indifferent to the content (i.e., meaning) of the words. They seem to be just sounds to her and one doubts that their meaning occurs to her during the entire piece. Indeed, what is the meaning of lines such as “The garden flowers are dead/Your mind is full of bread”? Yet she sings these lines with apocalyptic passion.” (Baumeister)
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby starfire II on Fri May 21, 2010 2:52 pm

I think you've probably answered your own question regarding the lyrics, and I particularly agree with the first paragraph. I can think of only a handful of rock lyricists whose words are not reduced to utter rubbish outside the context of the song. I think music journalists place far too much emphasis on lyrics anyway, often looking for (or contriving) meanings that aren't there. Most of the time, songwriters are just looking for words that scan or rhyme, and quite often, there is no deeper meaning than that.
Mostly, I think journalists just focus on the lyrics because it's easier than trying to describe the music. Sorry to have moved away from the subject slightly, but this is a bit of a pet hate of mine.
Going back to the question, I just feel that the SF sound was arrived at through a confluence of things - music, drugs, people, environment and other factors - that just happened to fall together at the right time. Just fate, I guess.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby redrabid on Fri May 21, 2010 4:15 pm

But was there a San Francisco Sound? Did the San Francisco groups sound different compared to other groups in New York or Los Angeles. The Velvet Underground had a sound very unlike any of the SF groups. But the Doors might have come from SF instead of LA. The same goes for Love. Or the 13th Floor Elevators. So "psychedelic" is not enough to define the SF sound. Was there really one? Do you think Santana is part of the SF sound or Creedence Clearwater Revival? Problem is that most SF bands were rather mediocre musically but of course that doesn't say anything about their sound. To me it seems there is common "laissez faire" attitude to the music, a tendency to improvise that could be characteristic for the SF sound.
But it could also have been a hype, one of the first carefully orchestrated marketing campaigns for pop/rock music
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby Susan Butcher on Fri May 21, 2010 11:57 pm

I'd say that San Francisco rock music had its roots mostly in folk. Texas had a stronger blues influence. LA, more country and pop. But it's a matter of degree.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby usedtobebabson on Sat May 22, 2010 8:37 am

Then there were groups like Cream, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat and musicians like Donovan. All seemed rooted in folk, blues and jazz. Where most successful bands had their own unique sound, a part of that sound was the Eric Clapton like counter-culture sound, that was easily recognizable as the Hippie sound, which was common across all the music of that time period. The sound was mainly from guitars, or harmonicas and flutes and organs. I would venture that the San Francisco sound was early and and in the forefront of Counter-Culture.
I don't agree that Hair was a commercial venture. I just got the Original 1968 Hair CD and listened to it last night. I was floored, and I had seen the play 4 times back then. Totally. If Hair wasn't leading edge counter-culture, nothing was. One thing it wasn't, was the San Francisco sound though. Mike Lang refers to Woodstock as an "Aquarian" exposition. So maybe it's easier to define what is not the San Francisco sound, rather than, what it is.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby IneedaBonghit on Sat May 22, 2010 10:31 am

The sound was as it was in the 60's and still is. It' the sound of car and truck engines and their horns honking, Cable cars rattling down the tracks with their ever popular bell that goes "ting ting", people talking, and occasional street musician playing their tune. Rarely you can even hear the sound of buildings tumbling and people screaming during an earthquake.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby redrabid on Sat May 22, 2010 2:53 pm

All your reactions seem to affirm that there was not a San Francisco Sound. A movement maybe, a feeling of community, but that is it.
Hair to me (and to others, among which almost all critics at the time) seemed a complete cashing in on the latest musical fad. A MUSICAL, that most lightweight form of music ever invented, despised by anyone who thought that pop/rock music could be an alternative to commercial exploitation of popular music (aptly named "Underground"). Lousy songs in the Archies/Cowsills/Partridge Family vein, with toecurling embarrassing lyrics, that are a travesty of the original message.
But.
But, I am willing to admit that the lowest spark of the original fire may have been inspiring to you, Babson, and others."They" may try to convert an explosive message into a soothing one, by trying to exploit it "they" spread the fire.
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby oldblue on Sat May 22, 2010 6:45 pm

starfire II wrote:I think you've probably answered your own question regarding the lyrics, and I particularly agree with the first paragraph. I can think of only a handful of rock lyricists whose words are not reduced to utter rubbish outside the context of the song. I think music journalists place far too much emphasis on lyrics anyway, often looking for (or contriving) meanings that aren't there. Most of the time, songwriters are just looking for words that scan or rhyme, and quite often, there is no deeper meaning than that.
Mostly, I think journalists just focus on the lyrics because it's easier than trying to describe the music. Sorry to have moved away from the subject slightly, but this is a bit of a pet hate of mine.
Going back to the question, I just feel that the SF sound was arrived at through a confluence of things - music, drugs, people, environment and other factors - that just happened to fall together at the right time. Just fate, I guess.


i think there can be deep meaning in sound. remember poetry used to be recited out loud or sung. and part of what happened in the 60s was an attempt to reintegrate art/poetry into people's everyday lives.

i do think, as you do, that journalists/critics/professors tend to concentrate on the words cause that's what they do and it's hard to put an experiential reality into words.

fate may explain it's genesis but still what was it. i kind of believe it's all tied up in e=mc2
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby plasticfantastic on Sat May 22, 2010 6:52 pm

oldblue wrote:fate may explain it's genesis but still what was it. i kind of believe it's all tied up in e=mc2


Wait a second.... Energy equals the square of mass times the speed of light? How did the theory of relativity come into this? Sorry, did I miss something, because this thread seems to have lost me...
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Re: what was the san francisco sound?

Postby oldblue on Sat May 22, 2010 6:57 pm

redrabid wrote:All your reactions seem to affirm that there was not a San Francisco Sound. A movement maybe, a feeling of community, but that is it.
Hair to me (and to others, among which almost all critics at the time) seemed a complete cashing in on the latest musical fad. A MUSICAL, that most lightweight form of music ever invented, despised by anyone who thought that pop/rock music could be an alternative to commercial exploitation of popular music (aptly named "Underground"). Lousy songs in the Archies/Cowsills/Partridge Family vein, with toecurling embarrassing lyrics, that are a travesty of the original message.
But.
But, I am willing to admit that the lowest spark of the original fire may have been inspiring to you, Babson, and others."They" may try to convert an explosive message into a soothing one, by trying to exploit it "they" spread the fire.


just something in that guitar sound though.

what was the original "message"? I agree with you about hair.
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