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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Thirty five years ago today pop music stopped being "alternative"

Thirty-five years ago today I was woken by the news John Lennon had been murdered.

It's difficult to think back to that time when he was just another former rock star living in effective retirement in New York. However I have a feeling that he wasn't all that famous. Obviously he was famous but he wasn't as famous as he would become in death.

I was editing Smash Hits at the time. I wasn't surprised that people like me, who'd grown up with the Beatles, were deeply affected by his death but what amazed me is how keen the readers of Smash Hits, who had been infants at the time they broke up, were to join in the mourning and celebration.

In the days following his death everybody else piled in. The greybeards of the arts, the men of the cloth, the politicians, the soothsayers of the media, every last man jack who had ever been on a TV programme with him, everybody who had ever sung a pop song, been to the pictures to see "Help!" or combed their fringe forward. They all wanted to make it clear how much they approved of pop music.

Some of it was delayed reaction to Elvis Presley's death three years before. The editor of "People" didn't put Elvis on the cover because he wasn't sure it was a big enough story, which tells you a lot about the moment. His career had faded, much as Lennon's had, and it was assumed that the lustre would diminish along with it.

Of course, as we know now, it didn't. It grew. The process of mourning made both men bigger figures in death than they had ever been in life. In Lennon's case it also triggered the rekindling of the love affair with the Beatles, an affair which continues to this day.

It was the day pop music stopped being the alternative and became the mainstream.