Everybody needs heroes, but this country’s classic-rock love is taking it a bit too far. It’s as if all of Rolling Stone magazine’s dreams have come true: an entire nation who have quietly agreed that there’s a single list of rock stars who are now officially “gods” of the genre, and therefore anything they’ve ever flung at us is there for lapping up without criticism. Consensus is death. Cut out the reverence; let’s have a truthful look at five of the most famous nominees instead.
Eric Clapton. World-champion bore. Had his moments in Cream playing second fiddle to Jack Bruce, and briefly shone with Blind Faith as Steve Winwood’s pet guitarist. Left to his own devices, he figured it was more fun banging George Harrison’s wife than being a vital musical force. The rest of his career could have been a crime against music had it had a little more bite; as it happens, it is one long, drawn-out exhibition of squeaky-clean, safe-for-grandma blandness. One to put on the shelves, by the seaside souvenirs and the tea cosy.
Jim Morrison. Part-genius, part-arse. The Doors’ greatest hits are terrific, and he certainly pulled his weight as a frontman, partly by giving his band a single point to focus their energies on, and partly by whipping his knob out in public; that having been said, being a bit of a character isn’t the same as being a “rock poet” and an object of collective worship. Not that Oliver Stone’s drooling movie helped. Take out the ten best Doors songs, and you’re left with endless late-sixties noodling and Jimbo making it up as he goes along. Thank god for the drummer.
John Lennon. The thinking man’s Marc Bolan. His solo career’s a mess of politics, horrifyingly syrupy peacemongering, art-scene dabbling, and Yoko-worship, punctuated by the occasional rock ‘n’ roll gem. Outlived the Beatles by ten years, and made no records for five of them. Released Imagine nevertheless, and early on, so the damage was done. A clever and fun bloke by all accounts, probably too clever to buy into his own bullshit. Known to have given piss-ups a chance. His spectacles are more memorable than his albums. And he’s more like T-Rex than you think.
Slash. The emperor’s new clothes. Only they weren’t even new clothes: Slash took to the Jimmy Page look ten years after Jimmy Page had abandoned it in favour of a shirt and a normal pair of trousers. Threw in a top-hat, so no one would notice. Is responsible for many very famous guitar bits, and demonstrated a crude, but functional, sense of melody, and a very eighties utter lack of restraint. Put that together with shameless showboating, and you have a rock god fit for the masses: easy to listen to without ever making it seem easy.
Jimi Hendrix. Bob Dylan is to blame for the singing. Pushed guitar playing to places undreamt of. Nobody who plays an electric guitar today doesn’t carry a bit of Hendrix DNA around. Pity about all the Gods-made-love hippie rubbish, though. And the horrible, drug-addled jams. And the songs. And the voice.