Brett Alan wrote:
Well, there are a few things that we mean by saying the music "grew up". Among them:
1. The lyrics. I know you don't care about this, Bruce, but a lot of people do. In the early days of rock, serious social commentary was pretty much out of the question. Chuck Berry came the closest, but he understandably felt the need to censor himself. Politics was the realm of folk music. Which meant Dylan did it. When Dylan heard The Beatles, he realized he could do it in a rock context. And at the same time artists starting with the Byrds began combining the songs of Dylan and other folkies with the musical influence of the Beatles.
2. The transisition from the individual single/song as the primary means of expression to the album. Not that there weren't great albums before, of course, but the Beatles and Dylan, along with the Beach Boys, made the album front and center, an event unto itself.
3. Broader respectability. Neg says that Elvis has been praised by opera artists, jazz artists, and such--but how much of this happened before the mid-sixties? In the early days, rock was derided by "serious" music commentators and such. Then the Beatles came along and suddenly you had the Times of London naming them the best British composers of 1963, Leonard Bernstein singing their praises, and you mentioned, Arthur Fiedler recording their songs. That was a huge sea change. That was followed by the development of things like serious rock commentary. The role of rock in culture was *massively* different in 1968 than it had been in 1962. Of course Dylan and the Beatles weren't the only parties responsible for that, but it wouldn't have happened without them.
I'm sure these aren't the only ways they made the music "grow up", but it's a good start.
1. There actually was serious social commentary but it wasn't PRESENTED as serious social commentary, largely because that wouldn't have sold and because artists in the 50's had absolutely no outlets, let alone sympathetic outlets (such as later rock mags) to discuss their intent as they would later on, nor did they have intellectual music fans who parsed every lyric and found (mostly mistakenly) insignificant things for which they then attributed great insight and meaning. There's a fairly well known story from a few years back about some blog or something online discussing what certain Dylan lyrics meant and all these weighty ideas were being thrown around. Dylan himself then logged on and told them they were full of shit, it wasn't about ANY of that stuff, it just flowed well and sounded good at the time. Nobody believed it was him and they challenged him to prove it by opening his next show with a song he hadn't done in decades. He did, shocking the hell out of these nitwits who couldn't believe they'd actually been talking to Bob Freaking Dylan. Once they got over it of course they then went on to discuss what they felt the rest of his lyrics "really meant", ignoring the actual writer's own explanations. The moral - the introspection everyone often credits is only found by those looking for it because they WANT to find it and have it mean something more than lyrics like ' You look good, let's get wasted and fuck in the backseat".
But songs like Chuck Berry's "Downbound Train" about alcoholism, or Leiber & Stoller's "Run Red Run", or Dave Bartholomew's "The Monkey" were blatant social protests, none of which of course became hits because the era's listeners were interested in that. The next generation were. It was the AUDIENCE that grew up, the artists simply followed the money.
2. The first album to be unquestionably "an event unto itself" (artistically, creatively, socially, etc.) was James Brown's Live at The Apollo. I thought this has already been definitively shown. It was an album for which you had to hear the entire thing to appreciate, it wasn't singles and filler, it was a full-length "expression" over two sides, even the fade at the end of side one in the midst of the epic 11 minute "Lost Someone" before it fades back in on side two shows how this was consciously crafted. When that album went to #2 on the charts, by a still largely unknown artist on a small label, with no singles from the LP to sell it, that was what showed the album market was viable for more than just the few big names in rock that previously sold LP's in big numbers. Dylan and the Beatles and the Beach Boys all recorded for major labels that had extensive experience in albums and knew the value of them financially and when they saw that rock LP's could sell, they gave them the means to do it. But Brown, the Ventures (who were really the FIRST album-oriented rock artists) and Ray Charles had already proven this was possible.
3. Respectiblity. Rock began as something detested by adult society because it did not come from them. It came from black culture (the critics and social commentators were all white and of a generation that far pre-dated all civil rights struggles) and the music, which was earthy and uninhibited, was aimed at their kids, who by liking it showed that the younger generation were actively rejecting their parents and teachers ideals. Of course there was no respect given for it. So society tried to mock it, ban it and eventually accuse it of bribary to try and stop it. When that failed and it entered into the second and third youth generation (say every four years a new cycle of kids come along) those attacks became less frequent because a) the music was no longer seen as a "new" threat but rather a steady nusiance at best, and there's always "new" threats to rail against when the old crusades lead nowhere, and b) it just wasn't effective any longer. Radio still played it, kids still bought it and just as importantly the industry still made money off it as a whole, more than ever in fact.
Furthermore by the mid-60's you had the first wave of adults who had grown up with rock 'n' roll as a steady presence in their lives entering into the media. The obvious examples are Paul Williams founding Crawdaddy and Jann Wenner former Rolling Stone, but just in general you had an influx of now-grown up rock fans contributing to the national dialogue on the subject and so postions softened. This is absolutely no different than any other form of popular music that begins as disrespectable (jazz in the 20's, rock in the 50's, rap in the 80's) but once it proves it's not going anywhere and enough time passes the views on it change and jazz by the 50's became "serious" music, while rock by the late 60's became "serious" music and rap by the 90's became "serious" music. The same people that were ripping Public Enemy when they were new and controversial were writing essays a decade later on how "important" their social outlook had been. Nothing changes in that regard. The ones who were writing the praise about rock by the 60's and claiming it "grew up" were simply trying to justify their placing so much importance on it.
There's a great line in the movie Chinatown
that goes - "Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough". Same with rock 'n' roll. It had been around damn near twenty years by then, of course it got respectable.