After the 60’s the 70’s was a bit of a comedown. Most of the optimism was reserved for the new artists setting out on their careers. For the hero’s of the 60’s its was a period of being a bit lost. The Beatles had split, the revolution hadn’t happened and some of them had just taken a few to many drugs. A lot of people were asking a lot of questions and wondering if they were going mad. There was not a whole lot in the way of positive psychology, no one knew what ‘well-being’ might be. Here are 5 songs from musicians grappling with their their mental health
Octopus. Syd Barrett
Isnt it good to be lost in the wood
One of the more coherent track from Barrett’s solo career, full of rich but rather nonsensical imagery. Virtually all his solo work is the sound of a man unraveling, not helped by the fact that any backing musician had to play along, often to recordings, of his solo performance which, at best were a bit wavering and at worst had no real tempo at all. Octopus contains the words ‘The Madcap laughed’ which kind of got appropriated to describe Syd himself. Dave Gilnour has since reconsidered that the words may have been the Mad cat laughed but lets not ruin a good story.
All The Madmen David Bowie
Here I stand
Foot in hand
Talking to my wall
Bowie revisited mental heath many times in his career. He was troubled by his half brother Terry’s schizophrenia and he would revisit the concepts of metal illness on just about every album he made in the 70’s.
‘All the Madmen’ is an obvious choice for title alone. Being a consummate professional he wont let the subject matter get in the way of a cracking tune but here Bowie is playing with a familiar concept that maybe madmen are not that different to us.
Behind Blue Eyes. The Who
When I smile tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act Ike a fool
Townsend seemed to be determined to spend the 70’s being as unhappy about being in the greatest rock band of the time as he could. Unwilling to just to write great songs for great musicians he continually overreached. Firstly there was the grandiose Lifehouse project which was whittled done to their finest album ‘Who’s Next’ from which this songs comes.
With the sheer bravado of a Who performance its easy to miss the often downbeat subject matter. Despite channeling his songs through Daltrey this is still an extremely confessional song. Townsend was to go on to overreaching further with Quadrophenia and further confessional songs on Who by Numbers and Who are you. Unsurprisingly given his mental state he was drinking heavily and eventually turned to heroin by the end of the 70’s.
Nick Drake. Know
Know that I love you
Know That I don’t Care
You Know that I See You
You Know I’m not there
Drake’s career is one of a man steadily retreating from the world, firstly stopping live performances then recording then ceasing all human contact apart from his family.
By his final album ‘Pink Moon’ it was just Drake and a guitar. This was the first record I ever heard from Drake and initially I didn’t recognise its misery but in retrospect its not really about unhappiness just a sense of not really wanting to be too involved in the world. Drake was a heavy cannabis user which couldn’t have helped his mental state at all but he also seemed acutely depressed.
The above lyrics are the entire song, musically its just a sketchy, its the sound of a man giving up which Drake finally did when he overdosed on antidepressants at the family home.
House on the Hill. Kevin Coyne
The rooms are always Chilled
They’re never Cosy
Pre becoming a professional musician Coyne had worked in psychiatric institutions and probably over identified with the residents within. Coyne rather enjoyed being the underdog, he even turned down the chance to audition for the Doors who were looking around for a new singer post Jim Morrison.
Despite a guitar technique which relied on him making chords with his thumb Coyne could turn out songs by the bucketload which inevitably led to a bit of a loss of quality control. House on the Hill reflects his time working in psychiatric care and its bleak and and beautiful . It’s possibly his best song.
Coyne’s own mental health would take a slow side downwards exacerbated but a serious alcohol problem to the point where he ended up homeless in Germany where he managed to turn things around to the point where he sustained a career there until his death.
There’s plenty more of course. Ray Davies was struggling and had suffered a breakdown in the 60’s. The Album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ is full of desperate songs slightly lost in the trad jazz musical backing.Richard Thompson was producing songs of almost unbearable bleakness as was Roy Harper. Pink Floyd of course went on to explore and market madness with Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here’. That’s all been covered by better writers than me a million times. If theres anyone I’ve missed out, do let me know in comments.