Sunday, January 14, 2007

In The Dock: Cock rock

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Cock rock

The case for the prosecution (James)

Let me first clarify what I mean when I am discussing cock rock. I mean that form of heavy metal – often called glam metal – which is generally a little softer and poppier. Typically, these bands are fond of lyrical content that suggests:

a) sexual prowess
b) a love of rock ’n’ roll
c) that they like to party (especially if it involves plenty of sex and rock ’n’ roll)

Examples might include: Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison and more recently The Darkness.

I am tempted in this argument to revisit elements of the previous hip-hop debate. While the misogyny is less forthright and ideological in cock rock, it is implicit to it.

It does represent the culmination of the masculinisation of rock and roll. Women are reduced to play-things, objects, groupies. While this reduction is less malevolent than in hip-hop – there is next to no discussion of pimping or prostitution for example – women are represented poorly.

However, I am aware of several contradictions here. It might mystify me, but quite often this music is exceptionally popular amongst women. While I might want to jump on some feminist high-horse and say that the music is somehow debasing them, I find that I cannot do it. Ultimately, I find myself saying that if someone finds some enjoyment in it, who am I to start throwing buckets of water around? (Although hang-on, didn’t I see that on some rock video do that one time…?)

Consequently, I feel compelled to put the feminist argument to one side, despite its undoubted relevance. Fortunately, however, there is a back-up argument that might be yet more robust – it has lost all sense of reality: it has become cabaret.

The fact that cock rock was perfectly sent up in 1984 in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ sums up the redundancy of the style. The fact that it is being revisited with insufficient irony 20 years later by bands such as The Darkness only adds to the horror. I am, however, old enough to have witnessed such resurgences first hand too many times – chiefly, the glam rock revival of the late 80s.

Every single trope used by these "artists" was perfected thirty years ago – the Led Zeppelins, Sabbaths, Purples etc developed each turn. The riffs, attitudes, movements, set designs, T-shirts, hair styles – everything was set in place from the very late sixties onwards. Musically the bands are stagnant, and personally they are stagnant.

I can accept that music – especially rock music – must be partially incestuous, and that very little is exclusively new. Cock rockers, however, have become satisfied to repeat the shows of so long ago without adding anything perceptably new to the mix. What little has changed between 1978 and 2006 has been superficial and curiously uninnovative – hairstyles, rock videos, and production techniques are the only notable developments. Even the groupies look the same.

I would not mind so much if these bands were more honest about it. If The Darkness owned up to simply being a Queen (or whomever) tribute band, but too many of them seem to take themselves just too darned seriously.

Now is this necessarily a reason to damn every subsequent cock rocker? Perhaps not, after all, a mid-adolescent spell in awe of cock rockers is a useful way to gain an introduction to the rock music of the ‘70s (which can often lead onto a greater appreciation of music as a whole). Furthermore, the closest a mid-adolescent boy is likely to get to sex is via the lyrical content of come such band and I think churlish to deny them the opportunity. However, I think that an ASBO should be in order as a minimum sentence for anyone who perpetuates this musical backwater. Preferably with some community service thrown in – something nasty… like popping zits.

The case for the defence (Phill)

I would like to begin by misquoting Voltaire: "If cock rock did not exist, it would be necessary for man to invent it."

Because you see - It has been scientifically proven that men need to rock!

They have always needed to rock, just like that have always needed to hunt, fight and eat pies.

Cock rock fills an important gap in music. It's simple no-frills rock played by macho men dressed as women, featuring cheap sexual innuendo,bad hair and spandex.

What's not to like about that?

Unlike goth music which we discussed a few weeks ago, fans of cock rock know and will admit that it's a bit ridiculous - but of course, the cartoon element of it is the whole point!

At some point your life you've danced to 'Jump' by Van Halen or at least raised a smile if you are the non-dancing type. If you deny this, then your pants are officially on fire right now.

It's a guilty pleasure, like eating Pot Noodles or staying in on a Saturday night specifically to watch 'Casualty' (we've all done it). You just don't admit it to your friends and family.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't sit at home in spandex every night listening to the back catalogue of The Scorpions (I only do this on alternate Tuesdays). However, it's good to know that in times of need I can reach for the Motley Crue album and cheer myself up with Tommy Lee and the boys.

Cock rock was the final act of alpha male music before the more rebellious and intelligent rock music came along. That's right, I'm saying that cock rock is stupid - but sometimes, stupid music is good.

Yes, I'm sure under careful analysis the lyrics of Radiohead are more intelligent than those of Def Leppard - but which makes you smile. Which makes you laugh and more importantly, which one is less likely to leave you contemplating suicide?

Let's compare:

Def Leppard - 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'

"Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on / Livin' like a lover with a radar phone / Lookin' like a tramp, like a video vamp / Demolition woman, can I be your man? // Hey! / C'mon, take a bottle, shake it up / Break the bubble, break it up // Pour some sugar on me/ Ooh, in the name of love / Pour some sugar on me / C'mon fire me up / Pour your sugar on me / Oh, I can't get enough".

Radiohead - 'Creep'

"When you were here before / Couldn't look you in the eye / You're just like an angel / Your skin makes me cry / You float like a feather / In a beautiful world / And I wish I was special / You're so fucking special // But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don't belong here".

Personally I'd prefer that young impressionable teenagers listened to a comedy rock song filled with cheap sexual innuendo, rather than a hymn to loneliness and alienation.

For all men of a certain age, cock rock was an important rite of passage. Hearing your first Def Leppard song was like your first kiss, your first drink or your mum discovering that porn mag under your bed. It was essential!

Getting older, cock rock can be appreciated (mostly) in a more ironic way. Cock rock is great because it is so easy to laugh at. It is important to be able to laugh at men (with women's hair) being idiots and taking themselves too seriously. We must remember this.
Other important points that need to be made:

* If cock rock didn't exist then the greatest music film of all time 'This Is Spinal Tap' would not have been made.

* Without cock rock there would be less mullets in music. Despite what you may think, this would be a bad thing.

* Not all music should be earnest and serious. There is a place in music for songs about the size of your penis.

* Don't deny it - The Darkness opening Glastonbury in 2004 was a brilliant moment.

WE ALL NEED TO ROCK and the less complicated the chord structure and the more outrageous the outfits, the better it is to get the message across.

* * * * *

Thanks to James and Phill. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

18 Comments:

Blogger Simon said...

Well argued, but the use of the term 'guilty pleasure' automatically means it's a landslide for the prosecution. Wasn't "I like it ironically" as a defence meant to have been eradicated by the music community's recent acceptance that modern pop actually can be any good?

Plus, I've always come out in hives at a widdly guitar solo.

1:50 pm  
Anonymous drmigs said...

Cock rock is abhorrent. It has no redeeming features whatsoever.

I agree with everything James says, and a few thousand other words which could be used to prosecute it that there was room for. Its just wrong.

Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.

Just wanted to make sure I'd got across which side of the argument I'm supporting ;-)

2:48 pm  
Anonymous alison said...

I'm no aficionado but I do own a couple of CDs containing 'cock rock classics'. I reserve them for road trips and I have to say they go down remarkably well with (captive) audiences of varied musical tastes. Not guilty, I love it loud and with the windows down!

3:33 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

I liked Def Leopard when I was 10.
I grew up, the music didn't.
Guilty.ht

3:38 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

(oops, typo, the 'ht' came from falling fingers. But I suppose it does give me another chance to say guilty!)

3:40 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

110% not guilty. It's entertainment. And I don't recall The Darkness penning a single misogynist lyric, but I could be wrong. The second album, as well as being a commercial suicide note, was one long apology note to the partner he lost and regained.

But there's an awful lot of bad things in the world and I need a bit of escapism. Sometimes you need to balance the Blink 182 with the Radiohead (I really like both). Again though, it's the genre argument. I'd rather have my eyes glued open and be chained to a front row seat for a four hour Jim Davidson show than listen to Bon Jovi, but that doesn't mean we can dump the whole genre.

I don't quite get the Darkness/Queen thing either. Yes, he has a high voice. But so did Geddy Lee. Funnily enough The Flaming Lips covered Queen. The Darkness covered... Radiohead.

4:50 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

I will agree though that I never want to see the words 'guilty pleasures' again. There's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If you like it, and it's not harming anyone, it's a pleasure, not a guilty pleasure. Ultimately that actually adds to my siding with the defence, with the exception indeed of those words.

4:51 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

I agree that (hu)man(s) need to rock, and I also wouldn't necessarily want young impressionable teenagers listening to nothing but hymns to loneliness and alienation - but where Phill doesn't quite do it for me is in showing that cock rock is necessary for either of these things. We can rock without cock rock (most of which, err, doesn't rock very hard!) and there are a myriad of options for our young people. Guilty as charged! (He's just asking for an ASBO, not execution...)

6:23 pm  
Anonymous SwissToni said...

I think using the phrase "cock rock" diminishes what has been an extremely influential genre of music by giving it a label we can laugh at. Yes, yes... bands like Warrant, Poison, Whitesnake and Motley Crue are easy to laugh at with the ridiculously large hair and childish songs about their own sexual prowess.... but:

a) I don't think you can just totally dismiss their music. Even some of those ridiculous bands came up with some fantastic music. It might not be to your taste, but "Here I Go Again" is a classic, isn't it? David Coverdale came from the blues tradition and sang for Deep Purple. His penchant for big hair, crude innuendos and porn stars should not detract from his music any more than the bling, krug and vainglorious boasting detract from someone like Snoop Doggy Dogg.

b) some of the bands you might call "cock rock" have been massively influential. Take a band like Guns n'Roses for example. They tick almost all the cock rock boxes (recording yourself shagging a groupie and put it onto your record? check!) and yet their legacy can be heard very, very clearly in grunge. Cobain's influences did not start and finish with the Pixies.

I don't see why cock rock is any more worthy of being condemned many, many other genres of music. What about all those Eric Prydz type dance acts with their videos of women in thong leotards working out? What do you make of them? Are they better or worse than Whitesnake's video of Tawney Kittaen getting out of a swimming pool?

Vote them guilty by all means if you don't like the music, but be honest enough to say so... don't be hiding behind any supposed moral superiority about how it's all so superficial and juvenile and how radiohead are so much more *important*.

Not guilty

ST

9:21 pm  
Blogger paul said...

I've not voted before, despite being nearly moved to several times, but having sat in the room and listened to Phill and James discussing this yesterday I feel an almost overwhelm to participate in musical democracy and add a resounding vote for the defense - As Phill says, of course Cock Rock is ridiculous, but that's not even nearly a bad thing - to say the darkness take themselves too seriously, when as pub rockers they used to lay on sandwiches for the fans, and in there 2005 tour Justin played a guitar solo whilst riding on a plastic white tiger suspended above the crowd is just not gonna hold water!

Also, there are at least 5 guitar solos which on their own would justify the whole existence of the genre.

Not guilty your honour!

7:46 am  
Anonymous Nick The Snick said...

Cock-rock makes me laugh.

Anything that raises a smile on my normaly miserable face can't be a bad thing.

Not Guilty.

4:15 pm  
Blogger James said...

SwissToni... a couple of thoughts...

""Here I Go Again" is a classic, isn't it?" If that is a question, I would feel compelled to answer 'no'. If it isn't a question, I would feel compelled to answer 'is it?' I am curious about our use (I say 'our' use, because I use the word in a very similar way) of this word. What do we mean by it? I am becoming increasingly unsure, beyond the mere statement that we like it very much, and, for us, it has stood the test of time. If this is what it means, then it is wholly subjective statement.

Anyway, drawing parallels with Snoop and Eric Prydz seems redundant. It is neither the vaingloriousness nor the potential misogyny of the genre that is the heart of my case. If it were the latter, then cock rock, according to case law, would be steadily working through Andrea Dworkin's 70's material by now (cf. Misogynistic hip hop).

Twice you use the word 'influential', and yet I fail to see how. Cock Rock - as opposed to classic rock or heavy metal (and I guess I am willing to split hairs here) - has failed to influence anything that I can see. If the influence has been felt, it is only for those bands that will to be regressive, ironically or not moronic, or lazy.

Similarly, Cobain's influences no doubt are widespread, but the need to revert to tired cliche (musically and lyrically) does not come to mind when listening to Nirvana. As such they fail to remind me in any fashion of cock rock (again, I am inclined to admit classic rock may well be an influence - but that is not the same thing).

Finally, you say, "don't be hiding behind any supposed moral superiority about how it's all so superficial and juvenile and how radiohead are so much more *important*".

Erm, I'm not. I have no problem with superficial or juvenile - they can be both creditable and entertaining. What I do have a problem with is an unwillingness to bring anything new to the table. And that precisely is the problem, in my view.

9:37 pm  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

Not guilty.

5:44 am  
Anonymous swisstoni said...

James - just to be clear, I wasn't referring to you personally in my comment. I was referring to a tendency - seen here and in other "in the dock" debates, for people to slip into what I would call the "musically and politically correct" argument without seeming to read the cases put before them. I'm not above guilt here myself, but I'm simply calling for people to pause for a moment before voting, read the cases through and to not worry too much what Thom Yorke would think! (what would thom do? wwtd?)

And yes, it is ultimately all subjective.... which if taken to its logical conclusion would make all debate on the subject pointless as you would never change anyone's mind, but seeing as the whole point us being here is to debate about this, then we're going to have to listen to subjective arguments, aren't we?

Still not guilty!

ST

8:31 am  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Excellent arguments, but for me this is an easy one. I'll go for the defence, please, particularly for making my Tuesday morning at work much more bearable with the lyrics to "Pour Some Sugar On Me".

(and I think you can have a "guilty pleasure", can't you? Doing something that you enjoy but that you feel guilty about? Staring at pictures of Britney Spears in a school uniform, perhaps. Both pleasurable and somewhat guilt-inducing....)

10:24 am  
Blogger Ben said...

This has thrown up a bit of a quandary for me.

James: I was fully expecting you to go for the jugular and play the sexism / misogyny card strongly, and that I'd therefore feel compelled to vote for the prosecution so as not to be a hypocrit (following the misogynistic hip-hop debate of a few weeks back).

But you haven't, and I'm not 100% convinced by the crux of your case:
"Every single trope used by these 'artists' was perfected thirty years ago – the Led Zeppelins, Sabbaths, Purples etc developed each turn. The riffs, attitudes, movements, set designs, T-shirts, hair styles – everything was set in place from the very late sixties onwards. Musically the bands are stagnant, and personally they are stagnant."

Admittedly, cock rock has probably been stagnant for the last twenty years - but to suggest that the cock rock explosion of the mid to late 1980s centred on LA's Sunset Strip didn't bring something new is, for me, a bit odd. The bands took themselves less seriously, the lyrics became cruder and more innuendo-laden, and most interestingly band members and fans alike began putting on make-up and dressing like women - which is a pretty extraordinary thing to happen in such a typically masculine and overtly heterosexual genre. It's safe to say that you wouldn't have caught Led Zeppelin dressing like Poison in the early 70s.

But I'm not making a case for the defence of cock rock purely on the grounds of its oddity as a sociocultural phenomenon. No, I'm with Phill - it's fun. I'm an unabashed fan of Appetite For Destruction, and have been known to request Warrant's 'Cherry Pie' in metal clubs. Sexist yes - but, in the terms we were asked to consider it (and to some extent against my better judgement), not guilty.

10:47 am  
Anonymous martin said...

"Uhuhuhuh... you said 'cock,' dude."

"Huh huh huh... that guy rocks with his weiner..."


Ben's right - it's not up to much now but was to some extent a breath of fresh air in metal circles in the late eighties, and if we were discussing the merits of androgynous musicians then cock rock could well support the defence. Ok, a lot of them looked like brickies in drag but they went a lot further than a bit of eyeliner and an ambiguous haircut. I'm talking to you, Brian Molko.

As for stale, well yes it is, but it hit its peak some twenty years ago so any genre concentrating mostly on short-term gratification isn't going to be playing the long game. Having said that, I reckon that the ever-priapic Stephen Tyler proves there's life in the old dog if you do it right. The Stones would kill to be able to manage their consistency of output and performance so long into their career.

Misogynistic or not, (well, ok, it is), cock rock isn't to be taken too seriously and at its peak was popular with both sexes. It was about fun and 'attitude', and that attitude was for the most part all-inclusive even if you had an LA attitude in Wolverhampton. Compare a rock club or pub to a bar or somewhere altogher more fashionable - which tends to have the more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere? If you take the genre seriously and get sociological on its ass then you'll never like it. Let's not forget than Guns N' Roses produced one of the albums of the decade before going downhill. Why did they go down hill? Because they started to take themselves seriously.

I don't often quote Poison in conversation but cock rock is about "nothin' but a good time, and it don't get better than this". Self-obsession doesn't have to be miserable.

12:42 pm  
Anonymous Viagra said...

Well I really hate glam rock. Everything about it... And as cock rock, which name I loved, I think Motley Crue is the biggest expression.
Oh God... thank you for bringing Kurt Cobain,. Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic to the world.

8:09 pm  

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