THE 1960s reverberated to rock. The walloping folk rock of Bob Dylan sang a striking counterpoint to the sweet-sour, sometimes thunderous eloquence of the Beatles at their best; the psychedelic star shells launched by the Jefferson Airplane soared over the Beelzebub beat and leer of the Rolling Stones. And now, suddenly, the '70s have brought a startling change. Over the last year a far gentler variety of rock sound has begun to soothe the land.
Why? Theories abound, few of them satisfactory. The fading out of ear-numbing, mind-blowing acid rock, some say, is related to the softening of the youth revolution. Its decline is variously viewed as a symptom of either progress toward harmony and thoughtfulness or a tragic slide from activist rage into a mood of "enlightened apathy." There is also the desire for individual expression on the part of talented rock musicians too long cooped up in their communal palaces of sound. Many of them came to realize that the higher the decibel rate, the less creative subtlety possible for composers and performers alike. In any case, rock could hardly have gotten more frenzied. "After you set your guitar on fire," says Rock Musician Danny Kootch, "what do you have left? Set fire to yourself? It had to go the other way."
Whatever the cause, the result is clear. The old groups are fast fragmenting. In their place, a diverse, wonderfully evocative collection of individual balladeers and rock composer-performers is quickly moving in as the major pop innovators of 1971. Many of them have dropped such devices as the electrified guitar and wall-to-wall loudspeaker banks; they are returning instead to the piano, or to the more intimate acoustic guitar. Offering a kind of Americana rock, they are likely to celebrate such things as country comfort, Carolina sunshine, morning frost in the Berkshires. What all of them seem to want most is an intimate mixture of lyricism and personal expression—the often exquisitely melodic reflections of a private "I."
A Peculiar Hold on American Youth
As TIME'S informal family tree of rock shows, many of the new troubadours are not new at all. The decompression of rock can be traced back to 1968 and Bob Dylan's search for a simple way of saying simple things in John Wesley Harding. Among the groups, the gentling process was carried to mellow new highs and lows by The Band. The rise of rock's new solo poets is a natural extension. Often they are talented offshoots from famous groups, the most notable examples being all four Beatles. Characteristically, they make the new sound but leave explanations to musicologists and sociologists. Occasionally, however, one will fall prey to the seductions of historic hindsight. "The dream is over," John Lennon has lately observed. "I'm not just talking about the Beatles, I'm talking about the generation thing. It's over, and we gotta—I have personally gotta—get down to so-called reality."