Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Music: Are you ready for that? Driving your car down a desert highway listening to the seventies and eighties rise like zombies from the rippling sand? I hope so.

Don’t be afraid of your Blue Period

Jerry Stratton, July 6, 2009

Digging through the $1 vinyl section I’ve picked up a lot of artists who’ve had one really good hit before fading into mediocrity. I think one reason is that, at least in the seventies and eighties, artists were afraid to repeat their successes. They were perfectly happy to repeat their generally okay stuff and even their mediocrities, but not their big hits.

Go back and look at the great artists, and they repeated so much there’s a name for it: their “x” period. Picasso had his “blue period”. To take a seventies artist whose second album I just purchased, Asia should have had a “Heat of the Moment” period. The best thing on their other albums is the Roger Dean cover.

Sometimes this failure to repeat successes is, I think, because of a fear of “cashing in”. And also that there’s a responsibility in success that doesn’t exist in failure.

But I suspect that a big part of the problem in music is that groups work a long time on their first album, and are then rushed on the second album by their record company—to whom they’re deeply in debt. And after the inevitable writer’s block, the company starts giving them advice. Left on their own, the artists themselves are more likely to be able to repeat what made their work a success. They have first-hand experience at it, after all. Left to fill in the vacuum, music companies will try, but they’ll focus on irrelevant characteristics. “These songs made us a lot of money. They were about three minutes long on average. All songs should be three minutes long.”

One group I can think of off-hand that had their Heat of the Moment period was Foreigner. Double Vision, head games, and Foreigner 4 were all about them going through their “Feels like the first time” period. They were so successful they lasted until they couldn’t stand each other. If they’d been another band they would have kept repeating “Starrider” until they stopped getting work or bumbled into another hit and then stopped getting work.

When you do something great, do it again. Repeat yourself, at least when it’s your best. Repeating your best work is how you internalize the skills that made them best.

  1. <- SL-1200 MK 2
  2. Along came Ray ->