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A Look Into London Rocks
There is a new breeze blowing at Busch Gardens this year that captures your ears and eyes; much like strawberry fields and marmalade skies. London Rocks marks the return of a live performance production at the park’s historic Globe Theater and it does so with a clear message: “All You Need is Love.”
The show highlights the counterculture movement of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. During this time, music reflected the attitudes of those living in a very complicated, tumultuous time period. In order to explain the British culture through the decades mentioned, I would need to reference several books, articles, and documentaries based on the subject. London Rocks, however, has less than 30 minutes to convey recognizable elements of the decade; 23 minutes to be exact.
So what can you fit into a half hour? Let’s just say that the show is a powerhouse of visual images and subtle references, cleverly disguised as an easy-going musical about love and togetherness. It is obvious that a huge amount of time and effort went into making London Rocks and therefore, I wanted to make sure I honored that work by breaking down the symbolism and theatrical elements that brings the show to life.
I decided the most logical way to share my interpretation of the show is visually. It is my hope that I will shed some light on the story, symbolism, and music behind London Rocks.
Please note, this is just my interpretation.
Also as an FYI: The “60s” is really classified loosely from 1963 to 1974.
While watching the animation here is what you need to take note of:
- Colors: The scene is muted in mostly shades of gray and a splash of yellow, blue, and specks of bright red. The muted colors evoke daily life in London and the robotic nature of being a part of the system. The red is showcasing “Iconic” London, British symbols.
- Cultural References: The style of art is similar to the animation found in the opening sequence of the BBC/PBS TV program called Mystery! (as seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAmGsM4Dids&feature=kp ) Several announcements are made on the TV screen from an animated Queen Elizabeth that is an obvious homage to Terry Gilliam’s animation in Monty Python. The Abbey Road Records is appropriately named as the album “Abbey Road” still remains the best selling Beatles record. The fictional “QBC” network or Queen’s Broadcasting Network is harking to the actual “BBC” (British Broadcasting Network).
- Symbols: Businessmen with bowler hats and briefcases, famous London buildings, post boxes, the British Underground Sign, peace symbols, flowers, paisley prints, tea pots, and tea cups.
- Animation: the animation cycles to in force the “hum drum” daily life. There is a sleeping cat that ignores a little mouse in the window of the record store. The men and women go about their day in a slow, methodical drudge. When the TV broadcasts the Queen, she is featured only in black and white and babbles on about proper British rules like how to drink tea. In-between these clips, there are snippets of black & white broadcasts.
A sample of Monty Python Animation for Reference:
- Color: Lucy’s bright yellow outfit clashes against all the black and white. From this we get that Lucy does not fit in with everyday life and thus reflects the nonconformist movement of the era.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Typical London Rain, business men flocking to various jobs in the city. Lucy’s mini skirt, go-go boots, and hair style is showcasing how the youth used style and fashion as a means of rebellion. The record on her coat also shows that this may be inspired by the music she listens to. The audio and movements of the businessmen have a comedy style much like that found in Monty Python. **An example of what I am talking about:
After a very exciting animation of riding the British Underground, Lucy emerges to head home.
Cultural Reference: Lucy lives on Arnold Lane which I picture as a reference to the 1967 hit from Pink Floyd called Arnold Layne; a song with a very extreme counterculture message for the time.
- Color: The Yellow (aka: Lucy) is used to not only the door to her flat but to here bedroom window.
- Color: Her room is devoid of any color except for her window. I believe this is her world without music.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The British Flag on the bed sheet, the pictures of all the members of the Beatles, the band logo from Who, a strawberry, more peace signs and flowers, records, a poster of London, and some other images I cannot make out.
Side note: Lucy plays the record and starts to sing and dance in her room by herself. The song is “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll (But I like It) by the Rolling Stones. (1974)
- Color: This is the start of the spiral of Blue and Pink in the background. In this case, it is Lucy’s crush-infatuation-love for the lead singer. I call this “Falling in Love” (You’ll see it again)
- Song: “For your Love” by the Yard Birds (1965)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Peace signs, the Union Jack flag pattern, and a heart right below the lead singer that is projected on the stage. The four band members could reference the four Beatles, their costumes much like that of their early career. See below photo:
- Color: Red has been used to showcase only iconic British symbols so far. Now the color seems to evoke desire. The stage becomes more colorful the longer the music plays.
- Symbolism: Lips, peace signs, and paisley prints. The lips are an obvious choice for Lucy being enamored by the singer’s voice. I think the Paisley print is to represent the counterculture style of music.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Dancers come on stage with Camera’s for their heads and also (not shown) wearing over-sized Bowler Hats. This seems to reference a connection to Lucy’s infatuation with the singer’s image through the British media.
- Song: “What I like about You”by the Romantics (1979)
(This is not the actual animation for this scene. I am using this one to have a visual reference.)
- Color: The queen is shown to be only black and white. At the end the sun rises and is the same blue and yellow and blue you see for Lucy and Guy (who is about to show up in the next scene)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The Queen and her Corgis. She declares the music as “barking” and that the racket “Will never last.” This bit is to show that at the time the older population thought the music rubbish and that it was just an unwanted phase of the youth. At the end the sun rises playing The William Tell Overture.
- Color: Both Lucy and Guy have complimenting outfits in style and colors. The muted colors are back in this scene except for the records themselves which are in rainbow like colors. This multi-color aspect is starting to reflect what is considered bohemian or counterculture for the time.
- Song: “Wild Thing” by the Troggs (1966) and “Wishin & Hopin” By Dusty Springfield (1964)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Records, flowers, and peace signs. The records are obvious nods to popular records for the time. Albums such as Bowie’s Alladin Sane (1973) and The Beatles album Meet the Beatles (1964) are two that I can definitely make out.
- Color: The costumes of all the other characters are multi-colored, thus meaning they have truly embraced the Bohemian lifestyle. The bright red hat and boots (I believe) are used as a tool to gain focus on the fact that the couple is being drawn together.
- Song: “Come and Get It” by Badfinger. (1969)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Fashion exploded in the 60s. “Do your Own thing” was a time of self expression and being free. London was huge for the Mod movement and both Lucy and Guy represent that London “Mod” Look. The other characters are more of the “Hippie” style. Bell-bottoms, fringe, long hair, vests, folk-style hippie boots all reflect self expression-letting it all go and to be free from conformity.
- Color: Besides what is already mentioned above, the swirl in the background has taken a pink-blue color pallet from the monochromatic in the previous scenes. This ties in with the “love” aspect of Peace and Love.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Besides the fashion & hairstyles, there is an addition to flowers which is a play on the “flower power” concept of make peace not war theme of the 60s. The hippie characters surround Lucy and Guy in celebration of coming together in the spirit of love.
- Color: Main thing to note is that the streets of London in the animation are now in full color.
- Song: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles. (1967)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: This is an interesting scene that requires some need 3D animation type effects. The dancers run in place but the animation is creating an illusion of them running forward. This, to me, symbolizes Lucy and Guy’s romance- or a whirlwind romance.
- Color: This set is all about pink and blue; just like the swirls before. The groomsmen are in blue and the bridesmaids are in yellow to represent the couple. It is hard to see but Lucy has yellow flowers in her hair and a yellow floral bouquet. Guy also has a yellow shirt and tie. The guitarist is in red and for me, this serves the same purpose as the woman in the red hat in the previous seen. “Desire- the drawing together of two people in love.”
- Songs: “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. (1977) possibly one of the most lovely, romantic songs for any wedding. <<Yes, this played at my wedding so I am a bit biased.>>
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The groomsmen are dressed in an almost spot-on look for how the Beatles were dressed in the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album from the Beatles. (1967) A historic album that was known to be “a historic departure in the progress of music” (Time Magazine). The cover even received notations in fine art! Also, the guitarist looks very much like Slash. Here is what the album cover looks like:
- Song: “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie (1987)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: This is where the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band comes into play. A myriad of people are placed together and animated in a very “Monty Python” style; swaying back and forth to the music. (Much like the lyrics themselves ~let’s sway) The dancers on stage are going through various popular dance moves such as the hustle and perhaps a bit of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Either way, the dance is catchy.
- Color: Note the Queen is wearing color now and is more liberal in dress. Red being Iconic Britain in this instance.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: This is the moment I realized what the “sun reference“meant! The sun (yellow) is Lucy and the sky (blue) is Guy. “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” Check. The queen is also wearing clothing that is more liberal and saying the music isn’t all bad. For me this is a take that Britain herself is becoming proud of the new music. Attitudes are changing and moving forward into accepting new ideas.
To save time, I am combining all three animated sequences:
- Color: Blue and Yellow~ Lucy and Guy like the Sun and Sky.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The cars morph to reflect Lucy and Guy’s priority changing. After the wedding they go from a convertible (picture not shown) to a family style vehicle. Animation is once again showing the passage of time.
- Color: The interior of the car has yellowish tones and outside blue. It is also important to know that all of their children have yellow and blue elements to represent both parents.
- Song: A mix of three songs sung by the individual puppets. From left to right: “We will Rock You” by Queen (1977); “Octopus’s Garden” by The Beatles (1969); and “Come Together” by the Beatles (1969)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The couple’s children are singing different songs and arguing in the backseat. All three songs are all very different in meaning and attitude, yet still represent the feeling of the era. Their manner of dress enforces their differences. The girl puppet wins by stopping the other boys and choosing the song “Octopus’s Garden.” I may be wrong, but I think the two boy puppets resemble Paul McCartney and John Lennon. This would make sense as the Lennon–McCartney would be a songwriting partnership that is legendary. Both had distantly different styles and visions. Yet, despite their comradely, eventually they parted ways. As Lennon once said about McCartney: ““He provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.”
- Color: The characters of the Walrus and Gator are in red, white, and blue with stripes; much like the Union Jack Flag.
- Effects: Bubbles
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The best line in the whole song to describe why this was picked for the children growing up is this one line: “Oh what joy for every girl and boy, knowing that they’re happy and safe.” Of all the Beatles songs, this one is perfect for children. Written by Beatle’s drummer Ringo Starr, which I fondly note that in this scene the drummer is an Octopus. “The Walrus” is a common reference in Beatles songs and a part of various debates of meaning and origin. The crocodile really causes me to geek out here as I recall an old Beatles Cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Db_45UVHuYs The song also says “coo coo cachou” (there are other spellings, which is a a nonsensical word used by the Beatles, then Simon and Garfunkel, and even more recently, in the movie Finding Nemo! It could honestly mean anything and perhaps is better left to be interpreted by an older audience. During the song, lyrics appear above and you can sing along. Again, this gave me a huge sense of nostalgia as the old Beatles cartoons for kids (which would fit the time of the triplets -1969) had “Sing-a-longs.”
- Color: Record store is in full color now with the Queen dressed fully in red. Lucy’s flat now has flowers that are in yellow.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Britain has embraced the music and is moving forward to the next thing with high hopes.
- Color: Everything is in a rainbow range of colors now. There is even a “Yellow Submarine” like Blimp carrying the Queen.
- Songs: “Strawberry Fields Forever” By the Beatles (1967) ; “Magical Mystery Tour” (1967) By the Beatles.
- Effects: There is a smell of strawberries that is pumped into the theater at this time.
- Color: Blue –Pinks (love) Blue sky (Guy) (Yellow Lucy) Lucy in the Sky… etc.
- Song: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie (1969)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The Big Ben flies into space much like the Space Race going on at the time. The song “Space Oddity” references Major Tom, a fictional astronaut, and was released in 1969. The first man on the moon was also in 1969. The milestone was huge in British society and all around the world. This animation, like previous animations, is speeding us to another decade and point of reference in Lucy and Guy’s life.
- Color: There are those same colors, now in combinations of blue and yellow. Signifying the children of both Lucy and Guy. Blue and Pink- love and peace.
- Song: “Under Pressure” By David Bowie and Queen (1981). Possibly one of my favorite songs of all time.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The triplets are now teens in the 80s and are unhappy. The 70s brought a depression and the 80s brought a sense of frustration and possibly a sense of the “World May End any day.” This is the part I relate to. I was terrified of nuclear war and the threat that tomorrow may end. Money was being spent and nothing was saved. People lived as if there was no tomorrow. The culture of the era reflected that. I would say these teens represent the musicians of Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, and Billy Idol. Also take note that in the background, there is a kitchen; thus meaning that they are at home in Lucy and Guy’s house (yellow).
- Color: Lucy and Guy are wearing Yellow Black and White. The colors in the back are muted once more, meaning “daily life” has returned. They have conformed to the system and no longer have peace, love, and happiness.
- Song: “Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles (1964) Appropriately sung by a generation from the early 60s and when the couple first met.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Lucy is working. This shows that women are now in the working place and she is tired of being everything to everyone. Both are now working in a business job, much like the hum drum life of those animated figures drudging away in the streets of London. It looks as if they may be on the verge of breaking up. Their children are angry at this and are tired of the bickering. They fight among themselves only to have the girl bring them together much like the scene in “Octopus’s Garden.”
- Color: The swirls become pink and blue and thus love has returned. Their house is red and not yellow.
- Song: “Work it Out” by the Beatles (1965) to “Under Pressure” By David Bowie and Queen. (1981)
- Cultural References and Symbolism: Just like in any marriage, it takes work and love. Lucy and Guy find love with their children and with each other. After all, all you need is love.
- Color: Yellow is back for Lucy and Guy as more of a goldish color. The Queen and most everyone has some sort of Blue, Red, and White.
- Song: A clever use of the patriotic song called “Rule Britannia” mixed with “All you need is Love” by the Beatles.
- Cultural References and Symbolism: The queen is no longer supporting the music; she is in the music and proud of it. This means that the British people look back on their history in music and the arts in pride. In the end “Peace and Love” win out and the message is clear: “All you need is Love! Peace! and ROCK ON!”
My personal take:
I was a child of the 80s and all I knew of the 60s and 70s was what I learned through TV and my parents. Thankfully, my husband introduced me to music from the era. Not only did I learn about the the complexity and messages of the time, but I also realized that all the music I loved in the 80s and beyond stemmed from the radical change in philosophy and styles from the 60s.
That decade was huge in the development of the world. The time from 1960 to the 80s faced huge turmoil; war, nuclear threats, assassinations, and the uncertainty of what will be. Music, designs, and fashions all reflected the hope and desire to escape from the reality. In retrospect, it was an artistic way to show the multifaceted and complex nature of what direction the world would go.
Music binds us all together; generations, races, and sexes. We can agree about music and art in a way that each song speaks to us on some level. We relate to it; we put ourselves in the lyrics and find peace in the words.
Thanks to my loving husband, I not only learned about the classics of rock, but established a passion for a generation that I never experienced. London Rocks is that window for all generations. It is geared to teach us that love is the answer and no matter what, we can work it out.
I hope this article sheds light on all the symbolic meanings and details that went into this production. As a film studies major with a degree in studio art and animation, I appreciate the concept on every level. I felt with my knowledge, I could interpret some of the themes and meanings in an artistic way.
London Rocks is a loving tribute to all things British; not to mention, an era of tremendous change. I can never know what it was like to live in the 60s, but the show gives all generations a glimpse.With history we gain wisdom and understanding. We accept those who may differ from ourselves because we are no longer afraid.
To the creators and artists behind London Rocks, thank you for the work and passion put into this production. Every time I watch the show, I keep seeing more and more subtle references. Now if you could only add some Duran Duran, New Order, Erasure, and Pet Shop Boys to the list of artists; I would be even more ecstatic.
- A special thanks to Behind the Thrills who allowed me to assist them in coverage for media day. Here is their video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDP60JjEwB8 You guys Rock!
- Behind the Scenes Official Video from Busch Gardens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0axpOjtjvtk&list=UUPT2be1EnXUnBPwZ7l6FyCg
- Scot Gasparich, VP of Entertainment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8RmzYeB-cA
- Sam Buntrock, Show Director.
- Tim Bird, Projection Manager. From his Linkedin profile: “I am a Tony nominated show designer specializing in the integration of video projection into live work. Whilst working as a founder and creative director of the Knifedge agency, which ran for over 10 years, my work was dedicated to blending art with technology, in the service of storytelling and communication. This ethos continues into current work.”
- Jason Kantarowitz, Creative Producer. From IBD: http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=25730
- Ben Cohn, Musical Director. Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ben-cohn/4/445/531
- Ken Billington, Lighting Director. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Billington
- Stan Meyer, Set Designer. http://clearconceptentertainment.com/StanleyMeyer/ I adore Stan. A sharp dresser first of all. When I met him, that suit was fabulous. He has done tons of work for theme parks, including Verbolten at Busch Gardens. He took the time to speak with me and it was very hard for me not to drop into a “Waynes World bowing moment” of “I’m not worthy.”
Many thanks to all those I did not mention.
Please check out all of Busch Gardens Behind the scenes videos and interviews on their You Tube Channel.
In the meantime: