The premise of Jack Hamilton’s deep new study Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination seems like something that’s been on rock history’s tongue for a long time without ever quite leaving it. Chuck Berry, a black man with a guitar, had been a rock and roll archetype in 1960, but by the end of the decade Jimi Hendrix would be seen as rock’s odd man out for being... a black man with a guitar. How did that occur? "Tracing the Rock and Roll Race Problem" an interview in Pitchfork.
Outlaw songs are at least as old as popular music itself. The image of a gallant loner battling a rigid and unyielding legal establishment has proved irresistible for generations of songwriters. In 1959, Texan Sonny Curtis wrote one of the best, "I Fought The Law." Intended as a vehicle for himself and the post-Buddy Holly Crickets, their single went precisely nowhere.That is, until it was covered -- the first hit cover was by The Bobby Fuller Four in 1965, then another major version came out 14 years later, from The Clash who revived the "oldie" into what is now a "punk anthem." From there, the covers start piling up.... [more inside]
Louie Louie is a song with a curious history. Inspired by (and/or partially copied from) El Loco Cha Cha by Rene Touzet and Havana Moon by Chuck Berry (YouTube), the original song by Richard Berry and The Pharaohs (YT) is a mix of calypso, cha-cha, and rhythm & blues. The next version was by Rockin' Robin Roberts & The Wailers (YT), which added a certain rock and roll swagger that will sound more familiar to most folks. But the vocals are all wrong, as they're too sharp, too easy to understand. The Kingsmen made the version everyone was talking about, with concerns of obscene lyrics getting the FBI involved (choice excerpts on The Smoking Gun). [more inside]
Chris Richards, formerly of DC post-punk outfit Q and Not U asks: Are foodies quietly killing rock and roll?
The Cramps ripped it up, madly channeling the sordid specters of rock 'n roll's past while staying true to its psychedelic future, even when voxman Lux Interior was a lean 59 years old. The first show from their last-ever tour does nothing but prove it. [more inside]
Rock’n'roll as spontaneous Paganism: Mick Farren on Nick Cave, Elvis and the Devil is an essay by the author of Gathering Of The Tribe: A look at the role of the occult in music through key albums. Another excerpt is Punk-Esotericism: The Occult Roots of the Wu-Tang Clan
Grantland's Steven Hyden writes the winner's history of rock and roll, in four parts (so far), and charts the death of rock music as a major pop-cultural force in the 21st century by looking at some (not necessarily well-loved) bands that helped to transform it into a Big Business: Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith (and coming up in the next installment, Metallica). Rock isn't dead, by any means. But for better or worse, it ain't what it used to be.
The Rolling Stones rock Warhol's East Hampton Pad, Montauk 1975 - Half way through the tour, Truman Capote met the group in Kansas City. In tow was his new best friend, Lee Radziwill. The mix of rock royalty and Fortunate Four Hundred did not work well. Jagger hated Capote’s mincing manners, and Capote called Mick – "…a scared little boy… about as sexy as a pissing toad." Stones guitarist Keith Richards welcomed the cultured Radziwill by banging on her hotel door that night, screaming "Princess Radish… C'mon you old tart, there’s a party going’ downstairs!"
On Halloween night 1992, a skinny, gravel-voiced man in a blue dress and horn-rim glasses took the stage at a tiny Atlanta dive bar/strip club along with his band, The Opal Foxx Quartet (which was not a four-piece; around a dozen people crowded the dark, low-ceilinged space). This would be their final show, and it's a barn-burner. [more inside]
Before hip-hop beefs, there were response records, also known as answer songs, usually replies to well-known songs. There are a few key eras: blues and R&B recorded music in the 1930s through 1950s, including a number of responses to "Work With Me, Annie" (1954), recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, with answers including "Annie had a Baby," and "The Wallflower" by Etta James; and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" (1953), with a quick response by Louis Innis and Charlie Gore, made a mere week after the original was released, and Rufus Thomas' "Bear Cat" (1953), Sun Records' first hit. Country, rock & roll, doo-wop and pop music picked up where the blues left off, with most activity in the 1950s to 60s. Two examples from this era are "Are You Lonesome To-night" and "Who Put The Bomp," and responses to both. The most well known from the next decade was Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974), a response to Neil Young's "Southern Man" (1970) and "Alabama" (1972). Until the 2000s, no answer songs had charted as high as the original hits. That changed with Frankee's "F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back)" (2004), a response to Eamon's "Fuck It (I Don't Want You Back)" (2003), which was the first answer song to reach number 1 in the UK. Six years later and across the pond, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" was a response to "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. It was the first answer song to reach No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100. More Responses inside. [more inside]
200+ Famous Musicians Who Died Too Young. Ordered by age, from 17 to 54, with brief descriptions and links to their last.fm pages.
A lady, back in 1957, addressing the camera in an elegant evening gown, fit for some grand society ball, had this message for the oldsters: "Now, whatever you think of rock and roll, I think you have to keep a nice, open mind about what the young people go for." She then proceeded to announce Buddy Holly and the Crickets, who obligingly performed their hit Peggy Sue for the ballroom dancers' pleasure and edification. That same Buddy Holly would've been quite the oldster himself, had he lived to see today, his 75th birthday. So, if you have a little time on your hands today, you might like to learn more about Buddy by viewing The Real Buddy Holly Story 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Cause, hey, Buddy was not only one of the most unique and vital voices of the early days of rock'n'roll, but he wore the same glasses that every other hipster in Berlin is wearing right now.
Rock Scene magazine - scans of every page of all 54 issues from 1973-1982, featuring artists like Bowie, Queen Lou Reed, the Ramones, The New York Dolls, Blondie, Talking Heads, Willy DeVille, and more. (via Dangerous Minds)
"In 1955 "Rock Around the Clock" went to the top of the charts and turned Bill Haley into the king of rock and roll. Twenty-five years later, he was holed up in a pool house in Harlingen, TX, drunk, lonely, paranoid, and dying. After three decades of silence, his widow and his children tell the story of his years in Texas and his sad final days." (Via)
In 1969, a psychedelic rock group from around Scranton, PA released an album featuring lyrics by Edgar Allan Poe. [more inside]
Rock historian Joseph Burns makes a case for why Arthur Big Boy Crudup's "That's All Right Mama" should be regarded as rock & roll's first song. Not everyone agrees - clips to some of the other contenders inside. Or explore Google's Rock & Roll Timeline. [more inside]
David Bowie's response to his first American fan letter. In 1967, 14 year old Sandra Adams wrote a letter to Bowie. According to Bowie himself, this was his first bit of fan mail from the States. The response, though brief, is funny and sincere.
"She was a rock star," recalls Ira Tucker Jr., who grew up watching Tharpe with his father's gospel group in the 1940s and '50s. "You know, like Beyonce today and people like that. That's what Rosetta was to us." Sister Rosetta Tharpe wasn't the first one to bring black popular music into the church. (Here's the great Arizona Dranes playing barroom honky-tonk piano on the gospel side I Shall Wear a Crown in 1927.) But her fierce stage presence and her original blend of gospel, boogie-woogie, swing and smoking hot blues guitar was a crucial forgotten influence on what we now recognize as rock and roll. (Many more recordings inside. Enjoy!) [more inside]
It's not so often that a US Top 40 chart hit is a song whose origins can be traced back 300 years, and even less often that such a song would be sung in Spanish. So when Ritchie Valens went into a studio and recorded La Bamba 50 years ago this month, he carved himself what would become a special place in American pop music history. It was one of those cases of the B side becoming the hit, though: the A side was Oh Donna, which showcased a sweeter, croonier side of Valens (singing in English), but was a somewhat unremarkable tune on its own. Here's a live recording of La Bamba by Valens, who, of course, along with rock'n'roll legend Buddy Holly, lost his life in an airplane crash just as his career was blossoming. Almost 30 years after La Bamba's original release, a version by Valens' natural heirs Los Lobos became a hit once again. And, admittedly, I didn't make it through the entire clip, but it's perhaps worth noting, for the record, that a Barack Obama-related version is available for your listening and viewing, er, pleasure? [more inside]
This past Spring, Oklahoma State Representative Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) and State Senator John Ford (R-Bartlesville) joined together to put their bipartisan support behind House Concurrent Resolution 1047, a bill to designate the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma, as to be chosen by the people. As long as the song was written or recorded by an artist from Oklahoma, it would be eligible. The lengthy list of nominees has now been pared down to ten, and the voting has opened online. The finalists vary from Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" (written by Okie Mae Boren Axton) to "Do You Realize," by The Flaming Lips, and my personal pick, Three Dog Night's "Never Been to Spain." [more inside]
This week I've been perseverating on Chuck Berry's great 1964 song "You Never Can Tell", so now you get to too! Unless you're over 50, you probably know it from the Thurman/Travolta dance in Pulp Fiction, but here are some other versions worthy of your attention: [more inside]
John Lee Hooker performs Gloria and It Serves Me Right to Suffer with Van Morrison; I'm in the Mood with Bonnie Raitt; The Healer with Santana; Boogie Chilluns with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton; and Roadhouse Blues with Jim Morrison & the Doors (audio only). [Also, Muddy Waters, Etta James and more blues legends & rock combos inside]
The ten most accurately rated artists in rock history! According to SPIN, at least.
The Day the Music Died...It was February 3, 1959 that Buddy Holley, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash. You need look no further to find one of the true icons of rock and roll than Buddy Holley. Originally scheduled to fly, Waylon Jennings gave his seat to an ailing Big Bopper. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn't going to fly, he said, "Well, I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your plane crashes." This friendly banter of friends would haunt Jennings for years. And can anyone really decipher Don McLeans' "American Pie"? More.
The King of the Jukebox who disturbed the status quo They called rock music jump blues during the World War II era, and this amazingly talented clown was its master, with over fifty Top 10 R&B hits -- eighteen reached #1 -- between 1942 and 1951. Chuck Berry identified with him "more than any other artist." James Brown said, "He was everything" and considered him one of the earliest rappers. A pioneer of music video, the first black artist to cross over from the "race" market to a white audience and a central link between big bands and rock, he was a primary influence on Bill Haley, Ray Charles and B.B. King, who once said, "I wanted to be like him." Rest in peace, Louis Jordan. [Dozens of one-minute song clips here]
E Street Band guitarist and erstwhile Sopranos star Little Steven is launching a syndicated radio show to be centered around garage rock of the '60's plus latter day punk as well according to this story. Steve's own site includes some great live reviews and excellent garage rock links . I, for one, am really looking forward to hearing this show. Good luck, Steve.
The Perfect Rock 'n Roll Photo A photo of The Clash bassist Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on stage has been picked as the perfect rock 'n' roll photo of all time. It's a great picture, summing up violence, anger, frustration and an adandonment of common-sense. But do you agree?