If ageing rock bands told the truth in their songs for just one day, it might kick-start the next generation, argues columnist Mark Beaumont
“Just one look and I lose control,” wails David Coverdale, big hair flapping in the breeze from a wind machine he presumably has surgically embedded in his torso somewhere, “you make me rock, you make me roll.”
This week’s Mark, My Words is brought to you directly from 1981 or, as it’s better known these days, the second stage at Rock In Rio festival during Whitesnake’s performance. Yet the song Coverdale’s singing, ‘Hey You (You Make Me Rock)’, is brand new. Like, from 2019. Proof that, after 45 years as a rocket-loined lion of yowling shag metal, Coverdale is still terrified of sex.
They all are. Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Def Leppard – don’t be fooled by the wrench-filled codpieces and groupie counts equal to your daily steps, they’re all so testicle-shrivellingly petrified of intercourse that they dare not speak its name. Coverdale doesn’t want to “lose control” and “rock” after just one look at his latest object of desire, that would require a vast amount of conveniently on-hand wiring and amplification. He wants to fuck. Come on, Dave, it’s 2019, Peaches and Fleabag have happened, we can take it. You’re not gonna get within a wig’s breadth of the charts and the radio can play swears backwards now. Say what you mean, man.
Likewise, if anybody actually poured some actual sugar onto Joe Elliot he’d have a screaming fit. Or if you tried shaking any member of AC/DC all night long, you’d be in a headlock from security before their panic room door slammed shut. And if any of these ageing rockers promise to “rock you all night”, they don’t even mean it in any sense, since they’re all well into their 60s by now. They’ve barely got the energy to work the footpump for a couple of minutes at a time. The only thing the Scorpions are doing like a hurricane these days is passing wind.
Alternative rock never had such a deeply engrained schoolboy innuendo problem. No-one ever thought The B-52s had any improper designs on lobsters. When Black Francis intones “rock me, Joe” in ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, no-one imagines we’re about to witness any frantic Pixie-on-Pixie action. And this was very much a ‘70s and ‘80s metal phenomenon – in the ‘50s rock was new and innocent enough to just mean rock. There was never a suggestion that anyone wanted a jingle bell fuck, Elvis starring in Jailhouse Fuck would surely never have received a mainstream cinema release, and no-one’s under the impression that Bill Haley was actually singing “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, fuck!”. Even as late as 1973 Elton John could sing ‘Crocodile Rock’ without anyone simultaneously alerting the ambulance service and the RSPCA.
It’s this nudge-nudge crudity that always made mainstream rock seem so pathetic to me. The idea that rock was sex and vice versa seemed designed to make up for so many inherent inadequacies and disguise nefarious intentions. And while this might all seem like an argument that was done to death in the letters pages of Metal Hammer circa 1984, as long as we regard hoary old shag rockers with the same eye-rolling shrug as Benny Hill and another Boris Johnson affair, it has some bearing on the current rock argument.
Celebrated rock slogan-boards the Manic Street Preachers once opined ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart’. You could replace ‘whiteamerica’ with ‘hornyrockseptuagenarians’ and get the same result. Imagine if, for just one day, all macho rock bands had their Viagra laced with truth serum, making them sing what they really mean – “fuck” instead of “rock”, “underage schoolgirl” instead of “jailbait”, “premature ejaculation” instead of “love in an elevator”. The rot at the core of the whole stinking edifice would be exposed. The curtain would be lifted on the fundamental rock narrative of the male rock singer as either demanding sexual overlord or desperate, begging horndog and the female fan as voiceless giver and receiver of questionable fluid.
Suddenly the knowing corniness of classic rock would all look a bit Handmaid’s Tale and the root source of the toxic masculinity that has kept a male stranglehold on guitar music for decades might even burn itself out. The bands themselves wouldn’t mind being cancelled – anything that might get people talking about them again is a bonus to be honest – but even they might find themselves a bit too embarrassed to sing this shit anymore. Maybe we might be able to draw a line under Level One of rock’n’roll and kick off a more mature, inclusive and respectful girls-to-the-front Level Two.
After all, since they own the charts and airwaves now, it’s pop and rap’s time to come up with endless new ways to intimate the undergoing of carnal acts without alerting Radio One’s morality police. In rock, it’s time to come clean. Not like that.