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Sex, pop music and British youth culture, 1950s–80s
Matthew Worley
,
Keith Gildart
,
Anna Gough-Yates
,
Sian Lincoln
,
Bill Osgerby
,
Lucy Robinson
,
John Street
, and
Pete Webb

The introduction outlines the premise behind the book, nods to the relevant literature and provides historical context. It explain how sex, distinct from gender and sexuality, has rarely been looked at by scholars of youth culture and pop music.

in Let’s spend the night together
Gillian A.M. Mitchell

This chapter examines the controversy engendered by the singer Jerry Lee Lewis during his 1958 British tour. The discovery that Lewis was married (apparently bigamously) to his 13-year-old cousin, Myra, was seized upon by popular newspapers, their coverage combining shocked and sensationalist tones. As the negative publicity spread to Lewis’s native United States, he was forced to abandon the tour at considerable cost to his career. By focusing on the manner in which popular newspapers covered, and exacerbated, the ‘Lewis scandal’, the chapter highlights its reflection of the attitudes of both press and public towards rock ’n’ roll in late 1950s Britain – particularly regarding its sexual morality. Perceptions that the music was dangerous could be readily reawakened, and even reshaped, as anxieties concerning the perceived sexual precocity of youth apparently intensified during the later 1950s. While Lewis’s marriage was frequently deemed exotically ‘Southern’, it also challenged significant taboos concerning appropriate sexual conduct. The intense press focus on Myra certainly reflected contemporary fears surrounding the sexual welfare of teenage girls, as they frequently reached physical maturity prior to statutory adulthood. Ironically, however, the Lewis affair proved sensational not merely because of the outrage it provoked, but also because of an increasingly bold approach to press coverage of sex-related scandals. The story ultimately represented an early instance of press interest in, and intrusion into, the intimate lives of popular musicians – a subject which would furnish many distinctive, and often damaging, ‘scoops’ into the 1960s and beyond.

in Let’s spend the night together
Sex, pop music and British youth culture, 1950s–80s

Let’s spend the night together explores how sex and sexuality provided essential elements of British youth culture in the 1950s through to the 1980s. It posits that the underlying sexual charge of rock ’n’ roll – and pop music more generally – was integral to the broader challenge embodied in the youth cultures that developed after the Second World War. Drawing from scholarship across a range of disciplines, the Subcultures Network explore how sex and sexuality were experienced, presented, conferred, responded to and understood within the context of youth culture, popular music and social change in the period between the Second World War and the advent of AIDS. We ask: how was the relationship between sex and youth-orientated cultures mediated? How did pop music transmit sexual desires? How and where was sex experienced by people coming of age amid new sounds and styles? Did youth cultures challenge or reinforce sexual mores; how did they reaffirm or reimagine notions of gender and sexuality? Was youth culture shaped by broader socio-cultural and economic changes or did it help drive the change? No definitive conclusions will be offered. Rather, we hope to open up the field, positing questions and raising possibilities for future study.

Rural spaces and girls’ experiences of courtship and sexual intimacy in post-war England
Sian Edwards

This chapter explores the role and significance of rural space in the consensual, romantic and sexual experiences of teenage girls from 1950 to 1969. Until recently, historical accounts of post-war youth cultures and sexual change have, with few exceptions, centred on urban experiences. Yet, as numerous scholars have advanced, space, both as a constructed entity and physical boundary, has a significant role to play in shaping understandings of sexuality and sexual behaviour both now and in the past. Through an analysis of the archive of the Mass Observation Project, alongside contemporary advertisements and newspaper reports, this chapter addresses this lacuna by considering the significance of rural spaces in post-war sexual culture and in the personal testimony of rural girls in England. The chapter argues that rural spaces of courtship, particularly the lovers’ lane, were romanticised in the post-war popular press, reflecting the moral geographies in which contemporaries understood the sexual behaviour of post-war youth. However, the specific context of country life and community could restrict rural girls' opportunities to experience romantic and sexual intimacy, challenging the dominant romanticism of rural courtship extolled in popular culture. Yet, despite these restrictions, the countryside could also provide the rural teenage girl with spaces to express their autonomous (hetero)sexuality away from parental control or community judgement. Moreover, post-war girls increasingly found themselves with opportunities to move between rural and urban spaces and beyond their immediate locality for courtship. Thus, those with the opportunity to do so, could take on the role of cultural navigators, working both within and outside urban models of romance and intimacy.

in Let’s spend the night together
SEX, sex and British punk in the 1970s
Matthew Worley

British punk has typically been presented as a response to either the pop cultural or political context of the 1970s. As a reaction to an ageing and increasingly bloated rock form, punk offered a youthful return to basics: short, sharp songs full of energy and volatility. However, British punk also emerged dressed in the clothes produced from Malcolm McLaren’s and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX emporium on the King’s Road in London. The translation of fetishwear into fashion-wear was very much part of punk’s claims to originality. Indeed, the name ‘Sex Pistols’ alluded to a seditious sexuality that served as integral to the band’s unruly provocation. This chapter examines how sex and sexuality fed into the presentation and performance of early British punk. It draws from the clothes, records, artworks and interviews of the time, connecting to the theories of Wilhelm Reich that intrigued McLaren and locating sexual ‘deviance’ as a key part of punk’s cultural arsenal. It will explore SEX’s engagement with pornography and the underground world of rubber fetishism, utilising contemporary publications and film to reveal how McLaren and Westwood envisaged punk’s sexual subversion. In so doing, the chapter contextualises punk within a broader cultural context of artistic challenges to sexual mores, revealing how punk helped redefine – or at least confuse – notions of sex and sexuality in both musical and stylistic terms.

in Let’s spend the night together
Blowup (1966) and the free hedonism(s) of Swinging London
Marlie Centawer

The 1960s saw the exploration of new social mores and lifestyles related to youth and sex in so-called Swinging London. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) ushered in these new representations on the cinematic screen, following the pursuits of a photographer’s daily encounters between the worlds of high fashion and pop, offering a frictionless visual passage between the fantasies and potential realities of youth culture spaces and sex. Using sexuality as both seduction and a kind of subcultural currency, Antonioni posits more of an exploration into the tedium and tension between such moments and representations than the sensationalism and notoriety surrounding the film initially suggests.

in Let’s spend the night together
Abstract only
Social, sartorial and spatial intersections between mod and gay (sub)culture, 1957–67
Shaun Cole
and
Paul Sweetman

Popular histories of mod acknowledge the overlaps and intersections between mod and gay culture in the late 1950s and 1960s, with mods buying clothes aimed initially at a gay clientele from Carnaby Street retailers such as Bill Green’s Vince and John Stephen, and mixing with gay men at clubs in Soho and elsewhere. Academic accounts of subculture, including of mod, have tended to overlook such connections, however, focusing instead on issues of race and class. This chapter looks at the development of Mod from the late 1950s, and at its partial associations with homosexuality and effeminacy, before examining why subcultural studies has failed to acknowledge such interconnections. It then looks in detail at the social, sartorial and spatial intersections between mod and gay culture, before considering how we might best conceptualise such interconnections, discussing both the idea of ‘discourse communities’ and the potential application of Actor Network Theory (ANT), to address and describe the overlapping networks of constituents involved. We conclude by suggesting that mod and gay culture can be thought of as overlapping and partially co-constitutive networks of marginality, and that in this context mod subculture might be considered as offering a relatively safe context for the exploration of marginal or subversive forms of gender or sexuality, while gay style and space offered an existing underground milieu through which such identities could be articulated.

in Let’s spend the night together
Overstanding the relationship between slackness and culture within the reggae dancehall, 1960s–80s
William ‘Lez’ Henry

The chapter details why the relationship between slackness and culture, within the reggae dancehall arena, is one of the oldest and perhaps overly misunderstood aspects of the deejay or sound system performance. Within the reggae dancehall space, ‘slackness’ is usually associated with sexually explicit lyrics that often debase femininity, whilst extolling the virtues of a hyper-sexual masculinity. Culture, on the other hand, is regarded as the epitome of righteous and conscious lyricism; representing the ultimate form of reality that also invests in an ideal ‘natural’ sexuality. Ergo, to be known as a conscious deejay is to be the deliverer of ‘culture lyrics’ that are designed to educate and uplift the people premised upon truth, rights and justice, the antithesis of the slackness deejay. Yet this notion of ‘consciousness’ can be subsumed during moments when there is a shift to another aspect of the culture, as in the case of ‘slackness’ as the art of ‘burialism’, which is when a rival sound system or deejay is musically/lyrically ‘killed’ during a clash dance. A blurring becomes evident when the culture is placed under critical scrutiny, because you will find conscious lyrics that contain profanity, and slackness lyrics that are conscious, which according to the reggae performer. Therefore, how the culture shape-shifts must be appreciated to overstand that the dichotomy between ‘slackness’ and ‘culture’ is often a false one, which misrepresents what happens within the reggae dancehall as an alternative public arena.

in Let’s spend the night together
Queer sexualities and youth cultures in England and Wales, 1967–85
Daryl Leeworthy

This chapter outlines the emergence and development of queer youth cultures in England and Wales from the aftermath of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 through to the cusp of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s. It explores how queer youth negotiated issues of privacy, space and musical taste. The long 1970s saw the emergence, largely for the first time, of specifically queer youth cultures, as the language and activity of queer liberation – itself closely identified with a younger, post-war generation – moved to the foreground of the campaign for civil rights. Different forms of music were adopted as signals of queerness, localised facilities and spaces enabled subtle regional variations of style, and the generations clashed over the meaning of freedom.

in Let’s spend the night together
Femininity, early goth aesthetics and BDSM fashion
Claire Nally

In Mick Mercer’s iconic account of goth culture, Gothic Rock Black Book (1998), men represent the dominant image of goth musicians. Histories of goth music have identified very few female icons or lead singers, with Siouxsie Sioux being one notable exception. Therefore, the contribution of women in early goth warrants further attention. This chapter addresses how sexuality and femininity were interrelated and articulated through the clothing of key music icons in the early goth community, and how this testifies to the redevelopment of punk iconography (Westwood, McLaren). Central to this chapter is a case study of Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees) who has experimented with influences drawn from BDSM culture and bondage aesthetics since her emergence in the late 1970s. As the chapter explores, the highly sexualised imagery of such visual performances can be emancipatory, ensuring some visibility for women in male-dominated music genres. However, these models of ‘alternative femininities’ are not without complexity, participating in stereotypes which align women as objects of visual pleasure. Tracing these sartorial lineages through magazine and print culture (including fanzines), this chapter identifies how the broader issue of subcultural gendered performance is closely related to an aesthetic of perverse sexuality, which in turn developed into a complicated but crucial space for women in the subcultural music scene.

in Let’s spend the night together