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Rock Snobbery Selected Entries (Page 4)

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.

Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. Hollywood-based clothing shop specializing in gaudy, rhinestone-studded westernwear. Though Kiev-born Nudka Cohn had been in business since 1947 (catering originally to movie-Western actors and such country stars as Hank Williams and Porter Wagoner), Nudie’s acquired Snob significance only in the late 1960s, when GRAM PARSONS outfitted himself and his fellow Flying Burrito Brothers in custom Nudie suits with psychedelic motifs (marijuana leaves, puffy clouds, etc.). The Nudie look has since been “rocked” by Beck and, during his Monster-era visual-identity crisis, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills.

Nuggets. Landmark anthology LP of obscurish ’60s “punk” singles by one-hit-wonder garage bands, compiled in 1972 by Lenny Kaye, a scrawny, prototypical rock nerd who would shortly thereafter be a prime mover in the ’70s punk movement as the guitarist for the Patti Smith Group. Early Nirvana combined Beatles-esque songcraft with Nuggets-y abandon.

Laura Nyro Nyro, Laura. Bronx-born progenitor of soulful Rhoda-rock. The precocious Nyro released her debut album in 1966 at the age of 19, and shortly thereafter saw the Fifth Dimension and Barbra Streisand score hits with her free-swinging compositions “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stoney End,” respectively. Snapped up by aspiring agent David Geffen, she signed a $4 million contract with Columbia Records—putting both herself and Geffen in the big leagues—and released two SEMINAL albums, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and New York Tendaberry, before growing fed up with the music industry and the limitations it placed on her free spirit and eccentric habits. (She demanded, for instance, that one of her albums be pressed on perfume-infused vinyl, and named her publishing company Tuna Fish Music, after her daily lunch choice.) At the age of 24, Nyro moved from Manhattan to New England, and flitted in and out of retirement until her death in 1997.

Old-school. Sometimes spelled old-skool. Originally a discursively valid term that functioned as the hip-hop equivalent of the word “classic” in rock, denoting a performer or phenomenon from an earlier era still held in high regard today: Eric B and Rakim are my old-school faves. But more recently the term has transmogrified into a despicable phraseological device employed by honkies angling for hipster credibility: I’m much more into old-school Banana Republic, back when it was all safari-wear.

Outsider music. Broad term for any music played or recorded by nonprofessional musicians or, in some cases, by professional musicians who ought to consider another line of work. Among outsider music’s causes célèbres are the Shaggs, the laughably incompetent trio of working-class New Hampshire sisters whose deluded father corraled them into recording an album in 1969 (which Frank Zappa pronounced “better than the Beatles”), and the 1970s Canadian schoolchildren heard on the exuberantly received Langley Schools Music Project album, whose hippie teacher coaxed oddly affecting renditions of then contemporary soft-rock hits from them. Outsider music’s Dr. Demento–ish doyen, Irwin Chusid (who also happens to be the man who repopularized the Mexican easy-listening godhead Esquivel), hosts a weekly radio program, entitled Incorrect Music, that straddles a difficult line between affection and amused contempt for its showcased performers, not a few of whom are mentally ill.

Parks, Van Dyke. Campy, southern-born, half-pint composer-lyricist best known for being tapped by BRIAN WILSON to write the words to the Beach Boys’ aborted Smile album. Though Parks’s bizarre, Joycean, free-associative lyrics served him well on his own albums (such as the Rock Snob orchestral-pop favorites Song Cycle [1968] and Discover America [1972]), his baroque tendencies (including the deathless line “Columnated ruins domino” in the song “Surf’s Up”) alienated the other Beach Boys and exacerbated tensions within the group. Parks and Wilson reteamed on the 1995 album Orange Crate Art, and again on their 2004 effort to reconstitute Smile.

Gram Parsons Parsons, Gram. Southern, Harvard-educated, trustafarian pretty-boy who invented country rock by bringing his high-lonesome tastes to bear on his one album as a Byrd (1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, considered the first country-rock LP). Parsons and fellow Byrd Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. A hard-livin’ soul who favored tightfitting NUDIE suits custom-decorated with pictures of naked girls and marijuana leaves, he greatly impressed Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (inspiring them to write “Wild Horses”), and recorded two Rock Snob–ratified solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, before dying of a morphine-and-alcohol overdose in a motel in Joshua Tree, California, in 1973 at the age of 26.

Pedal steel. Tricky-to-play but rootsily atmospheric string instrument, essentially a guitar neck (or two) mounted on a small table and played sitting down, guiding a steel bar up and down the fretboard while operating a series of foot pedals and knee levers. Long a staple of Hawaiian music and straight country, the pedal steel acquired rock credibility with the Flying Burrito Brothers’s addition of pedal-steel whiz “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow to their lineup in the late 1960s. Jackson Browne’s madcap sidekick David Lindley is also an ace pedal-steel player, though, as any Snob will tell you, his famous solos on Running on Empty are actually played on a lap steel, which doesn’t have pedals and often conforms to a more traditional guitar shape.

Perry, Lee “Scratch.” Mercurial, kooky, formerly forgotten reggae shaman (born in 1936) who has enjoyed new recognition since being pronounced cool by ageless Rock Snob collective the Beastie Boys in the early 1990s. As a producer and as the front man for his own band, the Upsetters, Perry was, in the 1960s and ’70s, a prime exponent of Jamaica’s swashbuckling dub remix genre. Though his gargantuan output is as hard to penetrate as the quasi-mystical pronouncements he gives to interviewers from his home in Switzerland, he now plays to packed houses of young hipsters, few of whom actually know any of his songs.

Plangent. Standby rock-crit adjective used to lend a magical aura to any nonaggressive guitar-based music (even though the word’s primary meaning is “loud and resounding”). Stipe’s muffled vocals and Buck’s chiming, plangent guitar made R.E.M.’s Murmur one of the most auspicious debuts of the 1980s.

Post-punk. Broad term for the music that arose in the aftermath of punk rock’s speedy flameout in the late ’70s, as practitioned by musicians who were sympathetic to punk’s aims but were too arty and clever to just gob and make noise. Much post-punk music embraced dance-funk (Talking Heads, Public Image Ltd., GANG OF FOUR), much of it reveled in absurdism and/or difficult “textures” (Pere Ubu, Siouxsie and the Banshees), and most of it employed emergent synth technology, albeit not in a cheesy, mulleted way. The term has since been appropriated by historically unaware rock hacks to bestow authenticity upon such acts as Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who are really, in the estimate of Snobs, post-post-punk.

Power-pop. Record-reviewer term for high-energy, Beatles-esque music made by intelligent-dork bands that, though they’ve given it the old college try, can’t actually muster the songcraft, cleverness, vocal agility, or production ingenuity of the Beatles. First applied to early-’70s acts such as the Raspberries and Badfinger (the latter group actually being McCartney protégés), and subsequently given a new lease on life with the ’90s advent of such bands as the Wondermints and Apples in Stereo. The Shins’ debut album shimmered with pure power-pop exuberance.

Power trio. Stripped-down drummer-bassist-guitarist format that experienced a mid-to-late ’60s vogue (Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer, Mountain) thanks to new amplifier technology and a blues-purist revolt against psychedelic fussiness, both of which obviated the need for a rhythm guitarist. Which was all well and good until Rush came along and managed to make even power trios sound noodly and PROG-ish.

Prog. Abbreviation for progressive rock, a term used to describe the single most deplored genre of postwar pop music, inhabited by young musicians who, entranced by the eclecticism, elaborate arrangements, and ostentatious filigrees of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper era, distorted their enthusiasm into a 1970s morass of eternal song suites with multiple time signatures, ponderous space-cadet or medievalist lyrics, ridiculous capes and headpieces (especially where Yes’s keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, was concerned), and an overall wretched bigness of sound, staging, and hair. But while prog’s most egregious culprits (ELP, Yes, Jethro Tull, Rush) are easy objects of ridicule, the postmodernist penchant for rummaging through every single chapter of rock’s past has made even these bands worthy of Snob investigation and adulation. Though they’re loath to admit it, Radiohead have picked up the prog mantle more than any other contemporary band.

Dee Dee Ramone Ramone, Dee Dee. Junkie bassist and principal songwriter of the Ramones, né Douglas Colvin, who, more than nice Jewish boy Joey Ramone or arch-Republican Johnny Ramone, came closest to realizing the romanticized ideal of authentic punkness—much as the similarly depraved DENNIS WILSON was the only Beach Boy who really surfed. Neither his OD death just months after his 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nor his sordid past as a rent boy (as chronicled in his tart but unremittingly grisly memoirs, Lobotomy and Legend of a Rock Star, and in the Ramones song “53rd and 3rd”) has deterred today’s garage-punk youngsters from upholding Ramone, along with his pal Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls, as the coolest people imaginable.

Rewards repeated listens. Euphemistic phrase employed by rock critics to confer value upon a dubious musical work that, given the reputations involved, has to be better than it sounds. To the unschooled novitiate, Ice Cream for Crow may sound like self-indulgent and studiously demented tripe, but Beefheart’s swan-song LP rewards repeated listens.

Rickenbacker Rickenbacker. Distinctively jangly-sounding, California-manufactured electric guitar associated with mid-’60s pop in general and the “Mr. Tambourine Man”–era Byrds in particular. Retro-pop acts from Tom Petty to the Rembrandts (the Friends theme song) have long found the Rickenbacker—particularly in its 12-string incarnation—efficacious in evoking an era of “quality pop,” much as harpsichords evoke the court of Queen Elizabeth. The plangent chime of McGuinn’s Rickenbacker embodied the new-dawn optimism of mid-1960s California.

Runaways, the. Feathercut all-female group of the late 1970s whose jailbait image was carefully cultivated by their svengali, perennial L.A. scenester KIM FOWLEY. Intrigued by the idea of a punk girl group, Fowley assembled five Southern California teenagers, among them Joan Jett and Lita Ford, and assigned them such suggestive songs as “Cherry Bomb,” which were put over with brio by the group’s lingerie-clad lead singer, Cherie Currie. Though the Runaways flamed out quickly—Jett skewed punkwards, while Ford aspired to be an ’80s hair-metal star—the group is viewed as a SEMINAL influence on female rock acts from the Bangles (whose bassist, Michael Steele, was deposed as the Runaways’ lead singer by the more husseyish Currie) to latter-day soundalikes the Donnas.

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