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I was just listening to some Dusty yesterday. She must be in the air.

Madeline Meyers

Haven't read your whole piece yet but had to immediately jump in and tell you that the law did indeed exist. The only radio we had back then was BBC....which only played classical, Frank Sinatra and Mantovani. In order to listen to Rock and Roll we had to find other means. Radio Luxembourg was big during my teenage years and the pirate radio ships followed.

Ok...back to reading the rest.

Madeline Meyers

"his job to shut down the radio pirates because…because…"

Because any radio besides BBC was against the law. BBC radio and TV were funded by a tax and were commercial free.

Madeline Meyers

The point was...... BBC owned the airwaves lock stock and barrel. It wasn't about WHAT Pirate Radio played it was about the fact that they were operating outside the law and in doing so hoped to change the law...which they eventually did.

I guess this must all seem strange to Americans who were brought up seeing "sponsors" for absolutely everything...which I found exceedingly strange when I moved here in 1965....but thems the facts.


Pirate radio in the 50s and 60s in the UK existed for one reason and one reason only: European youth (not just UK youth) couldn't get American rhythm and blues except for one hour a week on a Belgian (might have bene out of Luxembourg) station.

Radio was basically state run. The Beeb refused to play anything more modern than skiffle.

(Oh. I see from Maddy's post that it was Luxembourg)

Indeed, had the Beeb played rock and/or roll, bands like the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks might not have come about.

You see, part of rock's charm then was the fact that it was not sanctioned, that it was therefore put on a par with pornography and sex in the eyes of the sate-run stations. It became rebellious not because Elvis did anything earth shattering (to the ear, at any rate) but because teens were offered the opportunity to take a music form and tailor it to their fantasies and imaginations.


This issue is pretty complicated, and I believe everything posted so far in this thread is accurate. From my reading of several books detailing the career of the Beatles, I believe the following is also true.

The supposed ban on rock n' roll was, in large part, a ban on playing recorded music that was in the contracts the musicians union had with the BBC. It was believed by the union that if there were more programs devoted to playing records, there would be fewer jobs for its members, so there was a prohibition against playing more than a limited amount of records on the BBC. However, rock n' roll bands (and presumably other acts considered more in the mainstream) did frequently perform live in various BBC studios, and these shows were broadcast nationally and regionally. The collection of Beatles performances available on CD gives us a taste of what the band actually sounded like in the live performances they were doing as they rose to worldwide fame. In fact, for most of us it's the only way we have of knowing what they were like before they became a commodity.

I'd also add that in Britain in the late 50s and early 60s, rock n' roll was associated with youth violence, even more than it was in this country. Several shows featuring American artists in this period were stopped by rampaging youths who took over the stage, smashed all the equipment they could get their hands on, and vandalized the theatres. Even Labour politicians would have been in favor of banning anything associated with Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, etc.

BTW, I thought this movie was horrible. PS Hoffman seemed to be asleep through most of it (I assume they digitized pupils on his eyelids to hide this fact), Bill Nighy gave us a less interesting version of his standard performance, and Brannagh was simply awful. The script seemed to have been a mish-mash of 5 or 6 different treatments of the theme, and anybody who ended up in the drink in the North Sea in January would probably have died within a few minutes, either from hypothermia or drowning due to the inability to move one's limbs.

Bill Altreuter

The movie Quadraphonia is actually a pretty good depiction of youth culture in the UK during the time in question, although I certainly couldn't tell you how historically accurate it is. Pop music is frequently targeted to youth-- they are its principle consumers, so why not? Youth stands in constant opposition to what has gone before, so styles and tastes in music change. Remember the library scene in High Society? "Don't dig that kind of crooning, chum." Or have a look at a old copy of Downbeat, where the war between the fans of swing (the 'moldy figs') and the bebopers waged. Heck, Punk and New Wave were responses to the Journey records that preceded.

I am inclined to believe that tying rock'n'roll to Vietnam is overstating it more than a little. You could make a list of rock songs from that period with an anti-war text (or subtext-- Last Train To Clarkville anyone?) and be hard pressed to find many that were much good. The only Neil Yong song that is more annoying than Ohio is Southern Man, e.g.. I'm not so sure there is a Dylan song about Vietnam, per se. The only thing by the Stones that seems to come close is You Can't Always Get What You Want ("I went down to the demonstration...").


"Pirate Radio" is in my Netflix queue so I cannot comment on its degree of badness just yet, but I will take a swipe at your introductory remarks about rock 'n' roll.

You are right as far as you go, but as a student of the history of jazz specifically and 20th century American music generally, I take a more nuanced view. Throughout the century, one musical genre superseded another -- ever building on what came before and laying the groundwork for what came next. In this manner, rock has kept reinventing itself, although this old fogey would argue that the Fifties and Sixties remain the richest period.


Shaun, swipe away. One of the reasons I blog is to get stuff explained to me. I should have phrased more of my remarks in the form of questions since I really don't know much about the history. At the time I thought of rock and roll as music for girls, because the only fans I knew were my friends big sisters.

Madeline, actor, Fairfax, and Bill, thanks for the info and the background. Very little of that is in the movie and as I said, without any context, Branagh's character comes across as a solitary monster and the DJs as a seafaring version of the Merry Pranksters without the hostility and the acid trips.

Kevin Hayden

Adding on to the great commentary in this thread: Liverpool (the Beatles)was a blue-collar city, sorta 'the hood' with a fair amount of working toughs.

By 1966, though rock 'n roll was just getting to its ties to drug culture, it was already tied to the notion that it came from Blacks, so there was likely an element of race rebellion tied to it, even in GB.

While pirate radio was clearly about choice, and rebelling against the medium and culture of 'control' the BBC represented, here in the states, a similar thing was underway with underground radio, which was a scattered group of FM stations directly challenging FCC control, which was tight against bad language, overt sexual references and drug references. Underground was not as likely to get shut down, but plenty of fines and fights resulted. And ultimately, all were commercialized.

So if a larger theme can be ascribed to the times, larger than Vietnam and international in scope, it was resistance to control. Dormandy responded, not just out of 'fun aversion', but as any control freak does: trying to control more the more they're losing control. Mid-level bureaucrats often are similar, taking their role so seriously that they can't imagine any other perspective. Lost control means one thing only: failure.

I still appreciated your take on the movie. It sounds like many music documentaries: no complete plot, but a fair amount of good music and a little good acting.

Of all the comments, I can't agree with Bill's assertion about a dearth of anti-war songs. For many teens, figuring out genres wasn't important. A station playing rock was often playing at least blues, R&B and folk mixed in, and in a normal day, we'd hear dozens of protest songs, many of them good, though maybe not to a music purist.

Among the bands that contributed: CSN (with and without Young), Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad, Quicksilver, Steve Goodman, John Prine, Peter, Paul & Mary, Baez, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, The Beatles, John Lennon, Edwin Starr, Phil Ochs, Marvin Gaye, Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, The Byrds, Barry McGure, Creedence, The MC5, Stevie Wonder, Country Joe & the Fish, The Fugs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Animals, Canned Heat, The Doors, The Temptations, Patti Smith, Arlo Guthrie and likely some more I've forgotten.

Also, the Rolling Stones 'Gimme Shelter' was an excellent anti-Vietnam War song. Bill's right in that Dylan never wrote one specifically about Vietnam, as Dylan leaned to larger, universal anti-war themes in Masters of War and Blowing In The Wind.

All the songs weren't great music but some were emotionally intense such as one he mentions 'Ohio' or 'For What It's Worth' by Buffalo Springfield or the in-your-face of 'We Can Be Together' by Jefferson Airplane. And I'd certainly rank Gimme Shelter, Alice's Restaurant, Imagine, What's Going On, It Better End Soon, Who'll Stop The Rain? and others as very memorable, high quality music.

eric k


How could you bring up CCR and not add Fortunate Son


Kevin reminds me that Wolfman Jack had to move his studios to Mexico to avoid US regulations. albeit those were technical spec regs (XERB broadcast at 250,000 watts, which is five times the legal limit for a States station).


I saw this last year and was really disappointed. I'm sure they all had fun, because it comes over like they did, but still…such a stellar cast with so little to do? It just sort of floats along, with very little conflict and the same damn soundtrack as every other feelgood 60s movie. Don't get me wrong, they're great songs, but there should be a clause that says these movies have to find at least one halfway obscure tune in the Rhino back catalog. I dunno, it was an aggressively OK ninety minutes, but only because the cast was so utterly fantastic that they could get away with just being charming. The only interesting bit was the gay subplot, which is hinted at, then sort of disappears. There's a good movie to be made about pirate radio, and I really hope it gets made.

Bill Altreuter

I feel as though I should try to rebut the points Kevin argues. First, how many of the artists on his list made music that he (or anyone else) still listens to? Who has Grand Funk on their iPod? (And what is the anti-war song that Grand Funk is supposed to have performed? T.N.U.C.?) Second, I would put it to you that the anti-war numbers that all of these artists recorded were their weakest material-- although I might carve out an exception for "Wooden Ships".
Third, Goodman, Prine, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Fugs, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, and Buffy Sainte-Marie are not really rock artists. Prine excepted they were working out of the folk tradition; they were mostly active during the folk revival which had mostly run out of steam by 1964. They don't really have a place in this discussion. Even if we include them the reality is here and now, in the 21st Century, we don't go home and listen to their anti-war stuff. We play "Diamonds & Rust" or "Leaving on a Jet Plane", or "Illegal Smile".

Fourth, Patti Smith released her first record (Hey Joe b/w Piss Factory) in 1974. "Horses" was released the following year. (I remember because I bought it the week it came out.) Although she is an age contemporary of some of the others on Kevin's list she is probably not properly a part of this discussion.

My point, I guess, is that although rock'n'roll has a political dimension, when the politics take over the artistry suffers. "For What It's Worth" is interesting as a subjective statement of alienation. Like "Street Fighting Man" its value is as a kind of documentary. The difference is that "Street Fighting Man" has a good beat, and you can dance to it.

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