Posts Tagged ‘Bo Diddley’

In 1955, the white man was in big trouble. Sure, we ruled the waves. And the land. And anyone who wasn’t white. And women in general. But what good was that when our music was appalling? As evidence, I present to you the Top 10 songs for the year.

The most popular song of 1955 was by a Cuban, Pérez Prado. That’s the start and finish for diversity on this list. “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” is an instrumental. Prado’s work differs from that of other instrumental groups of that era, for example, The Shadows (“Apache”) and The Tornados (“Telstar”) in that it thoroughly sucks. Pérez Prado was the king of mambo in ’55, but “Cherry Pink” is mambo with the temperature turned to Do Not Resuscitate. The trumpet playing is a bunt down the line compared to Herb Alpert’s double off the wall.

In second place is Bill Haley & His Comets with “Rock Around the Clock.” I suspect you know all about this one, which is considered the first rock song. It doesn’t sock you in the jaw as it probably did in ’55 but it still has enough force to rap you on the sternum.

A quick run through the collected works of Bill Haley turns up nothing much, except for “Thirteen Women and Only One Man in Town,” Haley’s thoughtful speculations on life after an atomic war.

Batting third we have Roger Williams with the immortal “Autumn Leaves.” This is not the Roger Williams who founded Rhode Island in 1636. He was more into death metal. “Autumn Leaves” by this Roger Williams would’ve embarrassed Liberace.

Tennessee Ernie Ford bats cleanup with “Sixteen Tons.” What a voice TEF had, as smooth and dark as Tennessee whisky or Tennessee maple woods, if Tennessee made whisky or grew maple woods.

The lyrics tell two stories. One is about a man who is so tough that he could’ve been the subject of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” The other is about a man who is so beat down that he owes his soul to the company store. Paying attention to the lyrics is confusing.

“Sixteen Tons” bears a passing resemblance to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” Both songs would be considered novelties today.

Number 5 is Bill Hayes with “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.” This is a real marchin’ and fightin’ song. It paved the way a few years later for two more marchin’ and fightin’ songs, Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Sink the Bismarck.” Horton’s songs don’t give any space to ethnic slurs about Brits and Germans (although in “The Battle of New Orleans” General Jackson’s troops do mistreat an alligator), while Disney piles up the anti-Indian sentiment in “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.”

Crocket is also celebrated in this milestone of the musical arts for abandoning his family and seeking adventures out West because he was fucking bored. And, of course, there’s that episode where Crocket joined the Texicans for their last stand at the Alamo, “where freedom was fightin’ another foe,” even though we stole Texas and freedom’s foe was actually us.

In the 1970s, Bill Hayes (who did not write this hockey puck) found a home as an actor on Days of Our Lives, where he’s been playing the same role for 42 years.

The bottom half of this list doesn’t redeem itself. To appreciate Mitch Miller’s “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” you have to enjoy masses of men singing lustily but without specifics about their favorite gal. To me it sounds like more marchin’ and fightin’. When I was a kid we sometimes watched Sing Along with Mitch, which featured more crud like this. They ran the words past you in a primitive CNN crawl. A little ball bounced from one word to the next (“Just follow the bouncing ball!”) in case you were rhythmically challenged.

I always associate this song with the scene in Giant where Rock Hudson brawls with the racist restaurant owner while “The Yellow Rose of Texas” plays on the jukebox. Probably not what the composer had in mind.

The McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely,” a cover of The Moonglows’ hit from earlier in the year, could only chart in a deeply segregated musical society. However, the sisters looked great in knee-length leopard-print coats.

Next up are The Four Lads and “Moment to Remember.” Their name alone disqualifies them from any serious consideration of their music. To be fair, their music also disqualifies them.

As we learned from the time I tried to listen to every band with a number in its name, 4 is one of the deadlier numerals. The Four Aces, in their clubbing of “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” don’t prove me wrong.

At the bottom of the list is Les Baxter and his thoughts on “Unchained Melody.” Baxter is popular among hip aficionados of the ’50s-’60s crazes for Tiki music and exotic outer-space sounds. However, his smothering embrace of “Unchained Melody” does not help his reputation. (Four different artists had Top 10 hits with “Unchained Melody” in 1955. Imagine if Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Usher, and Yo-Yo Ma all had Top 10 hits with “All About That Bass” in 2015.)

I’m fond of Baxter’s mambo version of “Never on Sunday” only because that’s the song my Mom sang when she washed the dishes.

In the separate-but-equal United States of 1955, black pop music was walled off in its own category, called R&B. (In 1925 these songs would’ve been called “race records.”) The R&B Top 10 for ’55 had its own share of musical doorstops (including two versions of “Unchained Melody”), but you could include most of these records on a radio playlist today and not lose all your listeners. You can’t make the same claim for “Autumn Leaves” or “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.”

The R&B list includes Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” and Bo Diddley’s song about Bo Diddley. Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” is a far better song than “Rock Around the Clock.” It sounds more like rock; Bill Haley’s song has some residual swing to it. But “Rock Around the Clock” was released two months before “Maybellene” and so takes the prize. The list also includes The Moonglows, Etta James, and Little Walter.

I’m not going to write about black music of the 1950s, because I don’t remember much about the ’50s aside from learning how to dress myself, how to hold a crayon, and how to play hide and seek (while hiding, don’t yell “I’m over here!”). I still use all of these skills at work. But I do remember the black music of the ’70s, and that’s where we’re going next time. Get up. Get on up!

Many thanks to Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking for sending me this illuminating list.

Random Pick of the Day 1
Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1970)
The heart of this album are the glorious “We Can Work It Out,” “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” and “Heaven Help Us All.” The rest of the album is expertly put together but not distinctive.

Random Pan of the Day
Stevie Wonder, Where I’m Coming From (1971)
This album doesn’t go anywhere. But I hate panning anything by Stevie Wonder, so here’s a bonus Pick:

Random Pick of the Day 2
Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind (1972)
This is where Stevie, who was just 22, explodes into musical adulthood. The synthesizers on this disc are years ahead of their time. The first two songs, “Love Having You Around” and “Superwoman,” are 15 minutes long. I like them both, but is this where Prince picked up the idea that it was OK to go on and on and on and on?

On “I Love Every Little Thing About You,” Wonder gives us a straightforward love song with a real beat. On “Sweet Little Girl” he does Barry White before there was a Barry White to do. On “Happier Than the Morning Sun” he out-McCartneys McCartney. On “Keep on Runnin’ ” he shows he can rock when he feels like it. This is a pop album with a fist inside a velvet glove. And he hasn’t even written “Superstition” yet.


We’ve just returned from a week in Utah, where Special D and I visited Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and various roadside attractions.

The hiking in Capitol Reef is beyond belief. In this hot, arid, wind-sculpted, high-altitude wonderland I felt that I had invaded an ancient Egyptian city. The silent domes and cliffs and hieroglyphs suggest unimaginable chasms of time.

CR 3

Bryce Canyon, which was new to me, is filled with spooky stone towers called hoodoos. (This makes me think of comic-relief characters in old novels who were constantly fending off the heebie-jeebies, the jim-jams, and the dipsy-doodles.) Some of the hoodoos look like the terra cotta soldiers buried with Chinese emperors; some look like Hindu gods. If I were a little less awed, I’d say they all look like candle drippings on a Chianti bottle.

Bryce 3a

The canyonlands were well-stocked with Brits and Germans in rented RVs, followed by the French, the Japanese, and the Australians. Are Australians always happy, or are they just happy to be anywhere but Australia? Are all Germans over 30 depressed, or do their faces just naturally do that?

Kudos to the state of Utah. Of all the states I’ve traveled in, Utah has the most highway signs that haven’t been aerated by gun slobs.

Chow time
We found something good to eat almost everywhere we went. The last time I hiked in Capitol Reef was about 25 years ago, and back then the best you could hope for for dinner was barbecued iguana. Plus you had to run it down yourself.

Capitol Reef Inn & Café was just up the road from our cabin in Torrey. Ooh-la-la! If this restaurant were in downtown Portland, it would be so popular that no one would go there anymore.

At the Burr Trail Grill, the tattooed staff not only serves up a first-class burger, they also produce the best apple pie I have ever eaten, and that includes my wife’s, and it’s safe for me to say this because she said it first. We took some pie back to our cabin for breakfast. Later that morning I did a solo hike with no more fuel than that pie. Sure, on this hike I was lost for about an hour, but was I hungry and lacking in energy? Heck no!

On our way into Utah, we stopped at a town called Payson, and not because Footloose was filmed there. We didn’t know that. All we knew was that we wanted lunch. We found a terrific Mexican place: Mi Rancherito. Good town to walk around in, but it was Sunday and we couldn’t get into the Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts Center, a Victorian extravaganza named for a Ute Indian chief.

On our way out of Utah, we stopped in tiny Snowville. At Mollie’s Café, where the staff is friendly even though the building looks as if it wants to fall down and take a rest already, we split a superb cinnamon roll.

In Idaho we stopped for a late dinner in the desolation of downtown Mountain Home. Frankie’s Burgers was empty on a Saturday night and I can’t understand why, because I don’t know where in Idaho you’re going to get a better burger.

In Baker City, Oregon, we breakfasted in the 19th-century splendor of the Geiser Grand Hotel, and then, in the only non-food shout-out in this section, we spent a pleasant hour at Betty’s Books. I have never seen an independent book store with so many new books from traditional publishers and so many small-press regional histories and indie press fiction and memoir. They even had used books:

Betty's Books b

I’m home. Next week we return to Prince and my usual hailstorm of unlikely opinions.

Song of the Day and Bonus Song of the Day
“Bring It to Jerome,” on Bo Diddley (1957)
We stayed one night in a hotel in Jerome, Idaho, which whacked this song into my head. Bo Diddley didn’t write “Bring It to Jerome” because he stayed in the Comfort Inn and he liked the scented soap. He wrote it for his maracas player, Jerome Green.

In 1959, Bo and Jerome collaborated on “Say Man,” which is three minutes of them trash-talking each other and slinging bad jokes while the guitar and piano play. (“Where you from?” “South America.” “What part?” “South Texas.”) “Say Man” was Bo Diddley’s only trip to the Top 20. That ain’t right.

Bo Diddley is an important step forward for rock ’n’ roll. But like most stuff from the ’50s, it sounds dated, and a lot of it sounds the same. Chuck Berry has the same problem. But “I’m a Man,” “Before You Accuse Me,” and “Who Do You Love?” are all on Bo Diddley. Give it a listen.

Book of the Day and Bonus Books of the Day
Nicholson Baker, U and I: A True Story (1991)
This is the story of Nick Baker’s friendship with John Updike…which he made up. Lots of children have imaginary friends, but how many adults write 179-page books about one? Baker’s impossibly convuluted sentences gallop on for days, including one startling specimen about Updike being “so naturally verbal that he could write his fucking memoirs on a ladder” which began on page 43 and collapsed, all passion spent, on page 45. Possibly the weirdest book on my lifetime reading list, not counting Baker’s other books that I’ve read, musings by various French existentialists and Irish nihilists that I was forced to march through in college, and the Bible.

The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker (2006), and
The Rejection Collection: The Cream of the Crap (2007)
Cartoons rejected by The New Yorker. Any questions? Vol. 1 is funnier than vol. 2. Each chapter begins with an artist responding to the editor’s ridiculous questionnaire. Paul Noth, who led off vol. 2, has two of the best answers. Where do his ideas come from: “From a magical place called Boredom.” What would be a terrible pizza topping: “Mike Wallace.”


Let’s give a big Run-DMSteve welcome to today’s contestants:

Golden Oldies: Radio programming.
Golden retrievers: Dogs.

Are you ready to rumble?

Golden Oldies
In 1966 my parents gave me my own radio, with a primitive earbud. They were sick of listening to my music on the family radio, which sat on the kitchen counter beside the bread box. Looking back, I can understand what Mom and Dad were up against. My musical sensibilities at the age of 11 were the equivalent of Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers. Who wants to listen to Herman’s Hermits and the tragic story of Mrs. Brown and her lovely daughter?

When I was 11, I certainly did, and when I got to see Herman’s Hermits in concert for a friend’s birthday I was thrilled. But before my 5th-grade colleagues and I could sing along to “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am,” we had to survive the opening act: The Who. (They weren’t famous yet, at least not on this side of the Atlantic.) What followed was, by the standards of that era, full-blown insane flying carnage. Fun!

Wherever you are today, Mrs. M., I’d like to thank you for not taking us home early, though I plainly remember your shock, particularly when the audience was hit by drum sticks and guitar shrapnel.

As the 1960s continued, The Beatles and The Who became more experimental and The Rolling Stones more savage. Other bands followed. Radio stations sprang up to play this music (the first “alternative” outlets). In the early 1970s I noticed that there were other stations, usually on the AM side, that were still playing Herman’s Hermits and similar bands. They didn’t seem aware of Sgt. Pepper’s or Tommy or Beggar’s Banquet. Their playlists stopped in the mid-’60s, and they included songs from a decade I knew nothing about: the 1950s, which in my mind meant crooners (Frank Sinatra) and cool jazz cats (John Coltrane).

As we moved into the 1980s and I learned more about the history of pop music I realized that Golden Oldies radio wasn’t just something I listened to when I didn’t like what was playing on the other stations. Golden Oldies was cultural propaganda, like Fonzi and Happy Days. All of the ’50s music these stations played was white-washed white pop. The only black artists I remember hearing* were Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Bo Diddley – and by the time we moved into the ’90s, Bo Diddley had disappeared and the other three were restricted to a song or two each.

What about all the other black R&B artists? What about rockabilly? What kind of country is this where we have to learn about our heritage from Led Zeppelin?

Today, in 2011, even that remnant of the 1950s is gone. The Golden Oldies songbook begins in the early ’60s with The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Jan & Dean and The Everly Brothers have vanished. Golden Oldies extends into the early 1980s now, and though blacks and women have been allowed into the club (no soul, no Golden Oldies), this format continues to perpetuate atrocities. Where else are you going to hear Chicago, The Dooby Brothers, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Bread? Excuse me while I rinse my brain out.

* Not counting doo-wop. I’m not sure that doo-wop is music.

Golden retrievers
Golden retrievers love chasing tennis balls. They love standing around chewing tennis balls. They love you. They love whatever you’re doing. They would never ever rewrite musical history or suppress music created and performed by women, minorities, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered individuals. They wouldn’t make me listen to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.” And if I secretly played “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daugher,” they wouldn’t tell.

Winner: Golden retrievers. W00T! (And w00f!)