As simple as the musical structure of Garage rock is as much is to say about it. So where o begin? To understand the whole movement and the spectrum of what grew out of it, it is necessary to observe the social background. Like all generations have their break and emancipation from with their parents and oldish models of society, life and morals, the US 60s youth was not exceptional. A spirit of possibility and self-empowerment was in the air. Instruments and gear became affordable in the late 50s. The shift from shellac to vinyl and economic cheaper record studio equipment caused an explosion of availability in music. The expotential post-war birthrate did its part too. Imagine a youth placed in a cultural-timely setting of contrastly felt peace and wealth, with the drive to become independent and get rid of the old generations’ oppression, to encounter the previous mentioned facilities of expression and self-efficacy. Guess what happened? Right, they took the chance to play their versions of the new 3-chord pattern music, garage pioneers set up as a blueprint.
It’s estimated that 180.000 Garage bands were founded in the sixties in the USA alone! Garage Rock happened to be of mostly US origin before it swapped over the borders and big seas to the most exotic corners of the world.It all began in the late 50s. While the UK morphed skiffle, R’n’R and British R&B into Beat Music, the US process brought to the light of the world a musical relative to the later Garage Sound. I’m talking about the Surf, Instro & Hotrod music. This being a topic of its own, it is also an important step in the creation of Garage. The base surely was Rock ‘n’ Roll. Altering the sound by play-arounds with e-guitar-tremolo, the characteristic Surf sound arose. Most of those bands focused on the instrumental parts. Lyrics were absent mos of the time. If any vocals were used, they got limited to sole words, phrases or echoism, all in repetitive manners between solo and acting exposure of music skills or relaxed surf coolness. Especially the Hotrod music appeared as a suspense-packed instrumental R’n’R variant to accompany sceneries of teenage car races.
However, out of this métier the blueprint of the first real Garage bands came of age. Middle-class students became song authors and thus the typical Garage songs are loaded with dreams of love, anger, emancipation and generally all kind of things that commonly arouse a teenage mind. Compared with Surf music, Garage Rock had a wider spectre of variety, simply of the fact it used lyrics. Looking east to the UK, the 50’s black soulful R&B heavily influenced the whole musical evolution and was finally adapted and turned into British (!) R&B. As much this affected Beat Music, the original US R&B influence left remarkable traces in the new Garage Rock, shaping a diversity of harmonies and melody patterns, instrumentally as vocally. Those were missing in the bigger part of Surf music, although there are obscure R&B Instro 45s out there if you dig deep enough (in the manner of the voodoo-mystical “Katanga! Ahbe Casabe: Exotic Blues & Rhythm Vol. 1 & 2“). Until the mid-sixties, Surf/Instro/Hotrod still dominated a great part of the sound that was forged in the garages and basements throughout the land. So a lot of early Garage recordings are not too easy to determine as they are usually a crossover between R’n’R, Surf Rock with drum and sometimes smashing sax tirades, and the new rougher sound of Garage Punk.
The usual Garage combo lineup and set consisted of one or two 6-string guitars, drums, electric bass, fuzzboxes,sometimes portable organs – that’s it. The fact that the structures of the songs and the whole overall appearance were widely unsophisticated was the perfect setting for a wild, sometimes aggressive performance. Never the less there have been a lot of calm bands out there as well. A great example are tracks like “Karen” by the outfit The Embermen Five, based on the Ritchie Valen singalong “La Bamba“, which was one of the few major schemes for uncountable masses of songs.
After the national frustration and fallen hope caused by J.F. Kennedy‘s death, for the teen side the empowering spirit came back with another historical event; The Beatles’ first visit to the USA in 1964! The so-called “British Invasion” began. Between ’64 and ’66 the British Beat music was spotlighted by the media and teenage attention. After the UK experienced a “US R&B Invasion” in the 50s, they brought their transmorphed variant, the British R&B in ’64 back to the USA., flavouring the sound of the day. What happened then to the US Garage Sound was quite interesting. Themes like “Gloria” by UK’s “Them” became a garagy blues stomper standard for many groups. Around the mid-sixties, several things at once fell together. The British Invasion altered the sound as did the slowly dawning “Age of Aquarius” psychedelic movement. While Dylan changed to electric at the Newport Festival, a new Folk genré was born too; the Folk-Rock. At this point, a niche saw the light of the world. Garage with Folk-Rock elements and typical rhythm patterns popped up here and there, often able enough to create a psychedelic sound with their combination of melodies, melancholy, Folk-Rock rhythms and awesome vocals, sometimes even chorals. There is definitely a need for a compilation of this, how I personally call it, “Psychedelic Folk-Rock”, strongly rooted in Garage Rock. I’m working on such a comp and will present it to you sooner or later. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions or to be notified). This is the timely breaking, where Garage Rock started to become “Garage-Psych“, which will be continued in a separate article. ~Written by Mr. Coconut, 2021 for www.rum-n-coconutwater.com
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