Originals never out of style

By Ed Helmore

Three 70s stars who broke the mould contrast with today's pop divas on their comebacks.

Debbie Harry of Blondie will play at Glastonbury in June and is releasing a new album. Photo / AP
Debbie Harry of Blondie will play at Glastonbury in June and is releasing a new album. Photo / AP

Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde - two grandes dames of 70s rock - have new albums out in the next few weeks. Add new material from Patti Smith and UK tour dates from each, and their re-emergence will offer the women of vintage rock a chance to square off against the men.

Harry has cleverly combined her new Blondie album Ghosts of Download with a new greatest hits collection and will play Glastonbury in June.

Chrissie Hynde's first solo album, due out on June 9, features Neil Young and John McEnroe.
Chrissie Hynde's first solo album, due out on June 9, features Neil Young and John McEnroe.

Hynde is releasing Stockholm, her first solo album, on June 9. She says she's putting it out "to get it out of the way". It was recorded with Swedish musicians, features Neil Young and John McEnroe and she'll play the Latitude festival in July. Smith contributes a new song, Mercy, to Darren Aronofsky's film Noah and is setting off on a seven-month tour.

Though far removed from the punk rock aesthetic of Harry, Hynde and Smith, Kate Bush is playing 22 nights at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and represents the most anticipated comeback of the year.

While few are expecting any great addition to the pop and rock canon, the return of the women of the 70s is offering an opportunity to compare them with contemporary figures, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, Lorde and Florence Welch to more calculated pop divas like Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

A recent Vanity Fair celebrated Harry, Hynde and Smith as women who have "more in common with Led Zeppelin than, say, Lesley Gore" and described how each created - effortlessly, it seemed - looks that became inextricably linked with their music. All endured because they were unwilling or unable to accept the stereotypes of pop.

"They weren't interested in conventional feminine roles, particularly conventional feminine roles as presented in the media," author and rock critic Greil Marcus told the magazine.

Bush famously upbraided her label EMI after it wanted to use a picture of her in a pink top for a publicity picture. Later she said: "The media just promoted me as a female body. It's like I've had to prove I'm an artist in a female body."

Harry said risque behaviour "is becoming more par for the course, although I think there's more nudity now". Hynde recently reflected on the difference between rockers and pop stars or actors. "When I made my first record we walked in off the street wearing what we were wearing and the guy took a picture and that was the album cover.

"These days, even for a rocker, they'll bring in stylists and makeup artists. I can't go in for all that."

In some quarters, the return of the old guard has prompted handwringing about their modern equivalents selling themselves and their careers short by too readily accepting the fickle hand of the multibillion-dollar fashion industry.

Hynde says that in the era of the Pretenders, the artists at least had the upper hand. Now, when musicians at award shows are asked which style or designer product they are wearing, there is a sense that many have sold out to the generous marketing budgets of luxury conglomerates.

"Clothes alone won't make you cool," says Christian Joy, a stylist who helps dress Karen O. "Nowadays it's all about fashion - who's wearing Chanel, who's wearing Gucci. Back then, those girls weren't going out and buying fashion. They had a style that almost doesn't exist any more."

She says any woman who starts a rock band now looks back to Hynde, Harry and Smith.

The world of contemporary cool might be more difficult to unpick. Sure, Harry, Hynde and Smith were also selling image, said Joy, "but nowadays image is so marketed it can't be cool any more".

There are other dangers, too. Lady Gaga's career is believed to have suffered after she lost the services of stylist Nicola Formichetti. Having built a career around fashion, music alone can't support her, some argue.

Harry, Hynde and Smith were true originals but that was a long time ago, says pop culture writer Michael Bracewell.

- Observer

- NZ Herald

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