Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Berry’

My mother and I have battled over my clothes, my career choices, my hair, why I don’t put on a hat when it rains, whom I married and whom I didn’t, but I love my mother and I think of her as the light that warms the room on a bright morning in May. Alzheimer’s has not changed her sunny personality.

Following a series of unfortunate events, we had to place Mom in a nursing home. She’s within eight miles of the house she lived in for 59 years, but she’ll never see that house again. This has been traumatic for everyone except Mom, who has a limited ability to form new memories.

Surprise! A few weeks in the dementia unit did wonders for her physically. She’s been transferred into the general population. Mom now has people she can talk with (she can hold up her end of a conversation, if you don’t mind that she forgets everything). She’s not surrounded by unfortunate souls who have lost the power of speech or who can only converse in disjointed sounds or who aren’t aware of their surroundings. Though she asks every day if today is the day she’s going home, she also says about her current circumstances, “I can’t complain.”

Meanwhile, my Dad’s health and morale have also improved. He can sleep through the night because there are no more emergencies. For the first time in years, he has a schedule: Eat breakfast, play with the cat, get dressed and go spend the day with Mom. They play bingo and word games, drink coffee and talk to people. If they’re sitting together and the nurses put a blanket on Mom, they put one on Dad, too. “I look like one of the inmates,” he says. He’s almost 90 – he’s older than most of the inmates.

A couple of weeks before Chuck Berry died, Dad gave me a clue to help me understand Berry’s legacy. A rotating cast of musicians give concerts at the nursing home, including a guitar player who, according to Dad, “plays all the old songs.” He and Mom love them. That includes “Roll Over, Beethoven.” Berry’s obituaries and appreciations have all mentioned how his songs have been “stitched into our DNA.” I thought this was only true for people born after the war. No, it includes everyone, even Dad, who was born a few months after Berry. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.

If Alzheimer’s ever sneaks into my head and the doc recommends I be packed off to a dementia unit, please euthanize me in front of a wall of boom boxes all playing U2’s “Gloria” with the volume at 11.

Random Pick of the Day
Hoodoo Gurus, Stoneage Romeos (1984), Mars Needs Guitars! (1985), Blow Your Cool! (1987)
A friend of a friend died recently. Her nickname was Boz. I never knew her real name, and in fact I only met her three or four times in 30 years. But through our mutual friends I heard about her often. I felt she was part of my life, though occupying a distant orbit.

The only time I was ever alone with Boz, we talked about her favorite band, The Hoodoo Gurus. I like them, too. They’re an Australian band with a dark sense of humor, maybe too hard-edged for pop but definitely too good to miss. These are their three best records. They’re uneven – if I had my choice, I’d siphon the best tracks onto one disc and call it Cool Stoneage Guitars. Give them a listen in Boz’s memory, or at least try their one almost-hit, “Bittersweet.”

Random Pan of the Day
Donald Trump
It’s too easy to make fun of Donald Trump and his rants, lies, delusions, wet dreams, and fourth-grade mental fitness. He’s lived in this country all his life and yet he doesn’t understand our history, culture, language, or even the government he’s now in charge of.

It’s also too easy to point out that he’s stocked his administration with fuckwads, dipshits, shitburgers, hairballs, ass kissers, racists, ninnies, and swimming-pool goicks.

The real tragedy of Donald Trump is not the lives he’s going to wreck or the money his family will strip-mine from the Treasury or the planet he’ll pollute. The tragedy is how he’s teaching our children – excuse me, he’s teaching our male children – that you can spend your life lying and cheating and treating women like serfs and never reading a book, not even your own, and 60 million people will happily vote for you to be their leader. You can merit nothing and win everything.

This shit just got real.

 

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.

 

It’s almost 2015. I have one resolution: I will DOMINATE this year. Before I stride forth and conquer, happy new year to all of you. Yes, even you. I am indebted to you who read this blog or regret that you read this blog. For those about to rock, I salute you.

Here at the Bureau we are working 24/7 (and on weekends) to bring you even more musical snobbery. This is just a sample of what you can expect to find at this address in Year 5:

  • The complete index to Year 4
  • What I did on my Christmas vacation
  • 2014: The year in books
  • The return of ’70s Week. Pain train’s comin’, baby!
  • Also ’80s Week, as soon as I find my T-shirt with the alligator on*
  • Welcome back to ’90s Week (I didn’t understand the ’90s during the ’90s, but maybe I can still catch up)
  • Valuable cooking tips – collect ’em, trade ’em, spread ’em around!
  • Another round of Ask Run-DMSteve (please submit your questions so I can humiliate you)
  • More mystery packages from my Dad

And: I will finish my novel!

* “Gonna sell me Bob Marley records/gonna get me some Jackson Browne.”

Enjoy yourselves on New Year’s Eve. I leave you with a message from a wet sidewalk in my neighborhood:

Alive

Random Pick of the Day
Chuck Berry, St. Louis to Liverpool (1964)
I thought Chuck Berry was “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven” and a slew of other songs with the same guitar riff. I also thought he descended into an endless greatest-hits tour after the British invaded. As if!

In 1964, St. Louis to Liverpool was swamped by 15 albums from The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals. Listening to it 50 years later for the first time, what I hear is a strong response from the USofA. St. Louis to Liverpool has only one of the well-known Berry classics (“No Particular Place to Go”). What it does have is some unexpected blues (“Things I Used to Do”), a great rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” and lots of fun rock ’n’ roll. Hail hail Chuck Berry.

Random Pan of the Day
Nicki Minaj, Beam Me Up Scotty (2014)
The first track is a love song to her Range Rover. You can stop listening right there. Ms. Minaj’s talents are confined to her figure; she looks like she escaped from an anime lab. The only thing I like about this speed bump in the path of musical progress is that on her last album she worked with a rapper named Lunchmoney Lewis.

 

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!)