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Rock Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 1)

NOTE: Given the complexities and interconnectedness of the Snob universe, cross-references between entries are common and are spelled out in CAPITAL LETTERS for easy identification.

Steve Albini Albini, Steve. Self-consciously difficult Chicago-based record producer who chafes at being called a producer, insisting that he merely “records” bands; best known for having produced—er, recorded—Nirvana’s studio swan song, In Utero, and for issuing snarky comments to the press when some of the album’s uncompromisingly raw songs were later remixed by other producers. Albini, who pushes the bounds of hard-rock iconoclasm by wearing glasses and having short hair, enhanced his outsider cred by playing guitar in the not-very-good hardcore bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. Man, that drum sound is a monster! No one knows mic placement like Albini.

Alt.country. Self-righteous rock-country hybrid genre whose practitioners favor warbly, studiedly imperfect vocals, nubby flannel shirts, and a conviction that their take on country is more “real” than the stuff coming out of Nashville. Heavily influenced by GRAM PARSONS. Also known as the No Depression movement, after the title of an album by the SEMINAL alt.country band Uncle Tupelo (which itself purloined the title from the CARTER FAMILY song “No Depression in Heaven”). Though such alt.country standard-bearers as the Jayhawks and Neko Case continue to embrace the genre’s conventions, the former Uncle Tupelo mainmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar have emphatically de-twangified, the former as the leader of the crit-beloved pop eclecticists Wilco, the latter as a solo artist after disbanding his post-Tupelo alt.country band, Son Volt.

Anthology of American Folk Music, The. Multivolume collection, first issued by the Folkways label in 1952, of obscure and semi-obscure folk recordings as compiled by eccentric musicologist Harry Smith (1923–1991). Significant for having allegedly triggered the late-’50s-early-’60s “folkie” movement that gave us Bob Dylan, and therefore, by extension, for making pop music subversive, turning the Beatles into druggies, and irreparably rending the fabric of our society.

Axe. Imbecilic term for an electric guitar, nevertheless embraced by rock critics and hobby guitarists with advanced degrees. My Sebring axe doesn’t have the pedigree of a Fender, but man, it can shred like one!

David Axelrod Axelrod, David. Snob-exhumed purveyor of 1960s orchestral funk. A West Coast producer-arranger with a C.V. worthy of a James Ellroy character—as a young man he dabbled in violent crime, and went on to become a jazz producer in the 50s—Axelrod established himself in the mid-60s producing artists as varied as Lou Rawls and the Electric Prunes, and under his own name recorded ambitious, layered albums that defied categorization. (He once used Blake poems as lyrics.) A commercial failure in his own era, Axelrod embarked on a cocaine-fueled downward spiral, but fortune smiled upon him in the 1990s when the likes of Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and DJ Shadow sampled his work.

Burt Bacharach Bacharach, Burt. Rehabilitated songwriter whose metrically and melodically unorthodox 60s pop-luxe hits, such as “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “I Say a Little Prayer” (written with lyricist Hal David), were dismissed for two decades as square and Muzak-y until Rock Snobs decided in the 1990s that it was O.K. to like them again. Particularly active latter-day boosters have been Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Elvis Costello, with whom Bacharach recorded a 1998 “comeback” album. That song has a very Bacharach-esque flügelhorn part.

Bambaataa, Afrika. Zulu-centric OLD-SCHOOL Bronx DJ whose 1982 hit “Planet Rock” put Tommy Boy Records on the map and fused hip-hop with Caucasoid electronic music, built as it was around a figure from KRAFTWERK’s “Trans-Europe Express.” Despite his gang-member past and imposing cyborg mien (winged shades, hooded robes, vocoder-ized vocals), Bambaataa proved an affable ambassador of hip-hop culture to the white world, performing at such downtown new-wave clubs as the Mudd Club and the Peppermint Lounge in the early ’80s while presiding over his own “Zulu Nation” collective of DJs and b-boys uptown.

Bangs, Lester. Dead rock critic canonized for his willfully obnoxious, amphetamine-streaked prose. Writing chiefly for Creem magazine, Bangs stuck two fingers down the throat of the counterculture elite and kept alive the scuzzy legacy of bands such as the Velvet Underground, THE STOOGES, and the MC5. Though every Rock Snob worth his salt reveres Bangs (a heavy biography by Rock Snob author Jim DeRogatis was published a few years back), his writing has aged rather less well than that of his less strident contemporaries Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches. They’re all pussies at Rolling Stone now, man; not a Lester Bangs among them.

Barrett, Syd. Founding member of Pink Floyd who defined the group’s early sound with his juvenile, peculiarly English take on psychedelia. Already in the process of becoming rock’s most celebrated acid casualty at the time of Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut, Barrett left the band in 1968, managing to record two solo albums of skeletal meanderings (one of them entitled The Madcap Laughs) before drifting into the permanent twilight in which he lives today. The post-Barrett Floyd song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is about him.

Captain Beefheart Beefheart, Captain. Performing name of Don Van Vliet, a California-desert kid and childhood friend of Frank Zappa’s whose 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, is, Rock Snobs swear, a classic whose brilliance will reveal itself after you’ve listened to it 6,000 times or so. A typical Beefheart song showcased Van Vliet yawping dementedly over the intricately arranged yet chaotic-sounding playing of his backing group, the Magic Band, whose members used “wacky” stage names such as Zoot Horn Rollo and Antennae Jimmy Semens. Van Vliet retired from music in the early 80s and is now a painter. His aesthetic may be straight out of the Dust Bowl, but Tom Waits’s strangulated vocals have a soupçon of Beefheart about them.

Big Star. Anglophilic early-’70s American combo whose first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, have Koran-like status in POWER-POP circles. Led by Memphis native Alex Chilton, who began his career as a teenager with the blue-eyed-soul boys the Box Tops (“The Letter”), Big Star recorded tunes that, while catchy, were too fraught with druggy tension to be commercial—thereby guaranteeing the group posthumous “great overlooked band” mythology. Chilton, who later had a Replacements song named after him, is now a rheumy-eyed eccentric who occasionally performs with original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and their adoring acolytes at quasi-reunion shows.

Bingenheimer, Rodney. Gnomish L.A. scenester and dogged Anglophile who washed up on the Sunset Strip in the mid-1960s as a teen, attached himself to every musician passing through, and parlayed his shameless parasitism into a pop career, an improbably active sex life, and infamy as “The Mayor of Sunset Strip” (a title bestowed upon him by the actor Sal Mineo and later used as the name of a bathetic rockumentary about him). Though long known to Angelenos as a POWER-POP-mad DJ on KROQ (where he is now relegated to the Sunday-night graveyard shift), Bingenheimer enjoyed his poptastic apogee as the proprietor-namesake of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, a short-lived but bustling club that was the locus of the American glam scene in the early 1970s.

Carter Family, the. Country-music dynasty whose founding members, A. P. Carter (vocals), his wife, Sara (vocals, AUTOHARP), and A.P.’s brother’s wife, Maybelle (vocals, guitar), are now embraced not only by musicologists steeped in hillbilly history but, in the wake of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Americana vogue, by loft dwellers who value the Virginia trio as mystical totems of that cool Dust Bowl period it’s so fun to simulate by wearing overalls and calico sundresses in the farmhouse upstate. Staples of Depression-era radio, the Carters popularized the country idiom nationwide and ushered such songs as “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” into the American canon. Maybelle—whom Snobs like to refer to as “Mother Maybelle” just for the sheer frisson of it—had three daughters, Helen, June, and Anita, who upheld the family tradition in the 50s and 60s as the Carter Sisters. June Carter, by marrying Johnny Cash in 1968 and uniting her progeny (among them Carlene Carter) with his (among them Rosanne Cash), perpetuated the dynasty still further. Listening to the plain, uninflected voices of the Carter Family while regarding their severe, unsmiling gazes in old photographs, I get the shivers ... like I’m receiving a transmission from a vanished world.

Gene Clark Clark, Gene. Brooding, handsome founding member of the Byrds who quit the band in 1966 after having written songs that included “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Eight Miles High.” (Ironically, Clark’s fear of flying contributed to his exit.) Subsequent albums such as Echoes (1967) and No Other (1974) achieved cult status for their audacious blend of pop, country, and gospel, and a 1968 collaboration with banjoist Doug Dillard, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark, is also considered a Rock Snob classic. Entire musical careers have been constructed on emulation of Clark, in particular where the more countryish bands in the 1980s Paisley Underground scene were concerned. But none of Clark’s albums sold beans during his lifetime, their poor commercial performance hastening his alcohol-related decline and premature death in 1991.

-core. All-purpose suffix used to convey a punkish undercurrent or an extremity of vision; derived from hardcore, the word used to describe the California thrash-punk scene of the late 1970s. Loungecore describes the over-egged easy-listening vogue; jazzcore describes the kind of breakneck, intricate instrumental music that Frank Zappa played on his excursions into jazz territory; emocore enjoyed a brief vogue as a term for sensitive-but-punk-steeped music for depressive teens, before being superseded by the more succinct term “emo.”

Coruscating. Critic-beloved adjective, literally meaning “giving forth flashes of light; sparkling,” that is invariably used to describe guitar solos or riffs. John Frusciante turns in some coruscating guitar work on the new Chili Peppers album.

Cosmic. Musically meaningless adjective deployed by rock writers to ascribe a mysterious otherness to the actually quite straightforward country music played by GRAM PARSONS and other lysergically inclined, NUDIE-suited, anti-Nashville mavericks in the late 1960s and early ’70s; derived from Parsons’s resistance of the term “country rock” and insistence that what he played was, in fact, “cosmic American music.” The term was repurposed in the 1980s to describe the anthemic “big music” of such British groups as the Waterboys, the Alarm, Simple Minds, and early U2. The Grievous Angel album represents the apotheosis of Parsons’s cosmic vision.

Crazy Horse. Neil Young’s fiery backing band, on and off, since 1969. Frequently held up, along with relative youngsters The Replacements and The Pixies, as progenitors of grunge, Crazy Horse (drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, and guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who replaced heroin casualty Danny Whitten) are revered by graying Snobs for their emotional playing and frayed-denim-and-flannelly-paunch integrity.

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