Posts Tagged ‘rock’

Derivative

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I was amused to read this morning that my favourite rock band of all time – Led Zeppelin – was branded by the BBC in 1969 as “derivative” and “unconvincing”. This the band that went on to sell 300 million albums, and whose one-off reunion concert at the O2 Arena two years ago had over a million hopefuls applying for just 18,000 tickets. Of course, music is famously littered with such bad judgements. The Beatles were turned down by Decca in 1962 because they reckoned guitar bands were on the way out.

It seems to me that the word “derivative” was the put-down of the era. I played in a mid-70s rock band which came close to that coveted recording contract, and while we didn’t make it (a variety of factors including the advent of punk), we did get to play support to a number of top acts. An A&R talent scout from Decca came to see us supporting Judas Priest, and as a result got us into their studio to record a demo at considerable cost to them. We didn’t get a record deal, but we did at least end up with a tape we could hawk around. Amongst others, I sent it to Swan Song – Led Zeppelin’s own record label – and their “constructive rejection” included the word “derivative”. A year later, that same tape was entered into Kid Jensen’s Band of Hope and Glory competition on BBC Radio 1, and we came within the top 20 of around 1,000 entries.

The truth is that all music is derivative. Whether consciously or not, influences creep in. Nobody seemed to bother that there was more than a smattering of Beatles influence in the music of Oasis, and look how many records they sold. Neither do I have any doubt that people will still be listening to “Wonderwall” in 50 years time. And while Led Zep themselves managed to combine hard-hitting rock with the seemingly irreconcilable genres of folk, reggae, blues, soul, funk and rockabilly, they were influences nonetheless.

Derivative – is it really such a bad thing?