Stories spiced with juicy and scabrous anecdotes are inherent to the debauched, carefree lifestyle of rock stars and I wonder if their charm would be the same otherwise. Throughout much of the 20th century, Rock ‘n’ Roll saw the rooster-haired vocalist Rod Stewart and his band The Faces, trash countless hotel rooms, Ozzy Osborne snorting ants and excited groupies embroiled in sexual acts with band members. But were they all bad boys?
Although the genre was responsible for the rise in recreational drug use, anti-social behaviour and the practice of unsafe sex, it also caused raucous but necessary drifts from societal expectations, by tackling social causes using the common, hippy themes of love and peace: During the 1950s, Rock ‘n’ Roll proved its global importance during the Civil Rights Movement by heralding the way to desegregation in America and notably, John Lennon was vocal in his anti-war sentiment, “Imagine” which has stood the test of time as an abstract evocation of peace.
One of the most influential rock bands of the era, The Kinks were no strangers to challenging issues of importance. In 1970, the band released their eighth studio album, Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, from which the featured song “Apeman” reached No. 5 on the UK singles chart. The song lays bare Ray Davies’ wishes to leave his fast-paced urbanized lifestyle because the “air pollution is fogging up my eyes”, in order to revert back to a simpler, pre-evolutionary state. He discusses his desire to escape the “over-population and inflation and starvation and the crazy politicians”. Although goofy in delivery, the hippy sentiment leaves a sting to be remembered when he sings, “I don’t want to live in this world no more, I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an Apeman”.
The hit was released during a wave of environmentalism in the United States and Great Britain, and it soon became an anthem for sustainable activism. It is fitting that in the same year, Earth Day was founded. “Apeman” is now approaching its 50th anniversary and its meaning is still incredibly relevant today; reminding the world that we need to continue acting on sustainable change, in order to have a better future.
Few things can capture a movement quite like music and for over half a century, Rock ‘n’ Roll has led a rich seam of eco-conscious artists who have brought awareness to climate change, sustainability, political and social issues. The genre has not only produced some of the greatest artists of all time, but it has proven that honest lyricism and unparalleled instrumentation is all we need to spark the sort of change that will last for generations.
All in all, The Kinks were right about our planet: the air pollution is fogging up our eyes and it’s about time we did something about it.