Posts Tagged ‘rock and roll’
Long time readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with Sun Records, it’s presiding spirit, Sam Phillips (c.f., “So you wanna be a rock and roll star…“), and the acts–a pantheon of early rockers– that Sun birthed (c.f., “Collecting is my passion“). Turns out, there was a very particular method to the madness…
If rock and roll is a religion, then Sun Studio is one of its holiest temples. The walls of this garage-turned-recording-studio in Memphis reverberate with the echoes of the past. This is where Elvis became king, Cash walked the line, and Perkins put on his blue suede shoes. This is where Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Ike Turner, and Jerry Lee Lewis all got their start. This is where rock and roll was born.
Behind every guitar riff, drum beat, and lyrical innuendo, there was the man in the control room who engineered it all. Sam Phillips helped turn poor boys, sharecroppers’ sons, and ex-servicemen into legends, icons, and superstars. “He was always trying to invent sound,” says Sam’s son, Jerry Phillips, “He felt the studio was his laboratory.”
The inside story: “How Sam Phillips Invented the Sound of Rock and Roll.”
As we swivel our hips, we might sing a doleful birthday ditty to Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup; he was born on this date in 1905 (though some sources give the date as August 24). A Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Crudup is probably best known today as the writer of “That’s All Right (Mama),” the A side of Elvis Presley’s first single (recorded, of course, by Sam Phillips at Sun), and for “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” also covered by Elvis (and many others).
Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns suggests that “That’s All Right (Mama)” is the world’s oldest rock and roll song, and notes that it contains (what is probably) the first ever guitar solo break.
Suddenly, black was everywhere. It caked the flesh of miners and ironworkers; it streaked the walls and windows of industrial towns; it thickened the smoky air above. Proprietors donned black clothing to indicate their status and respectability. New black dyes and pigments created in factories and chemical laboratories entered painters’ studios, enabling a new expression for the new themes of the industrial age: factory work and revolt, technology and warfare, urbanity and pollution, and a rejection of the old status quo. A new class of citizen, later to be dubbed the “proletariat,” began to appear in illustrations under darkened smokestacks. The industrial revolution had found its color.
Black is technically an absence: the visual experience of a lack of light. A perfect black dye absorbs all of the light that impinges on it, leaving nothing behind. This ideal is remarkably difficult to manufacture. The industrialization of the 18th and 19th centuries made it easier, providing chemists and paint-makers with a growing palette of black—and altering the subjects that the color would come to represent. “These things are intimately connected,” says science writer Philip Ball, author of Bright Earth: The Invention of Color. The reinvention of black, in other words, went far beyond the color…
As the means of producing the color black changed, so did the subjects that it was used to evoke/represent. Get the basics at “The Reinvention of Black.”
* Shakespeare, Hamlet
As we paint it black, we might we might retreat to the colorful, remembering that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Catskills in New York State. The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000. A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the now-famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free. The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence. Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts. It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.
Readers may recall our recent visit to The Internet Arcade, an online repository of payable versions of old arcade games. Now, also from Internet Archive, an incredible collection of vintage MS-DOS computer games. From Oregon Trail (from which, many readers will have known, the above image comes) to Prince of Persia, there are 2,400 of them available to play for free at Software Library: MS-DOS Games.
As we relearn the arrow keys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that the Beatles entered the U.S. pop charts for the first time, when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” debuted at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100; it went to #1 the following week. The single had already ascended to the pinnacle of the British charts: indeed, with advance orders exceeding one million copies in the U.K., “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would ordinarily have hit the top of the British record charts on its day of release (November 29, 1963), but it was blocked for two weeks by the group’s first million-seller, “She Loves You.” The release order was reversed in the U.S.; “I Want to Hold Your Hand” held the number one spot for seven weeks before being replaced by “She Loves You.” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remained on the U.S. charts for a total of fifteen weeks, and remains the Beatles’ best-selling single worldwide.
Lisa Wade, in Pacific Standard:
Earlier this year I reviewed a study that found that, simply by changing the weight of an object in hand, psychologists can manipulate how seriously a person takes an issue. In other words, when holding something heavy, matters seem heavy. Or, concerns seem weightier when one is weighed down.
Thanks to an email from University of Southern California professor Norbert Schwarz, I was introduced to a whole series of studies on what psychologists call metaphorical effects. These are instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality. So, for example, holding a warm cup of coffee makes people feel warmly toward each other (here), getting the cold shoulder makes people feel cold (here), people placed in a high location seem to be high in a hierarchy (here), and cleaning one’s hands makes a person feel morally clean (here).
Schwarz was the co-author, with Spike W.S. Lee, on another example of a metaphorical effect. They wanted to know if smelling something fishy made people suspicious. It did.
Read the noisome news in full at “Smelling Something Fishy Makes People More Suspicious.”
* Lyall Watson (in Jacobson’s Organ)
As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Ctaskills in New York State. The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000. A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free. The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence. Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts. It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.
From the folks at Concert Hotels, “100 Years of Rock in Less Than a Minute.” Rock’s family tree– from 1900 to 2000– unspools (as excerpted above); and each box, when clicked, plays an example of the genre. Educational fun for all!
* David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) in This is Spinal Tap… which is fast approaching– in March– the 30th anniversary of its release
As we turn it up to 11, we might recall that this date in 1959 was “the day the music died”: the day that a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (aka, The Big Bopper), and pilot Roger Peterson.
If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music… and of aviation.
– Tom Stoppard
In 1963, a Portland high school band called the Kingsmen covered the song “Louie Louie,” originally recorded by Richard Berry eight years earlier. Their version has become a classic– though almost no one has any idea what the actual words are. (Hear it here.) As it happened, the band had a one-hour recording session in which to lay down both the A and B sides of their first record. To simulate a live performance, singer Jack Ely was forced to lean back and sing into a microphone suspended from the ceiling. “It was more yelling than singing,” Ely said, “’cause I was trying to be heard over all the instruments.” It didn’t help that he was wearing braces at the time of the performance, further aggravating his infamously slurred words. Still, the raw recording worked– it sold over 1 million copies, going gold.
It probably helped that Indiana Governor Matthew E. Welsh, assuming that obscurity meant obscenity, banned the song. Soon after, an angry parent wrote to then-U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, insisting that the lyrics were dirty. Kennedy put FBI on the case; but the crime lab concluded, after four months of investigation, that the the recording could not be interpreted, that it was “unintelligible at any speed.” The lyrics are in fact innocent; but the FBI missed something: at about 0:53 into the song– audibly, but not obviously– Lynn Easton, the band’s drummer, drops a drumstick… and drops the f-bomb. (Hear it here.)
As we mind our manners, we might recall that it was on this date in 1980 that AC/DC earned their first Top 40 hit with “You Shook Me All Night Long.” The maiden voyage of Brian Johnson (who’d replaced the band’s original lead singer Bon Scott after Scott’s untimely the prior year), it was the lead single on Back in Black, an album that has sold over 20 million copies.
From great songs…
… to the works of great bands…
… Designer Viktor Hertz presents The Pictograms of Pop (among many other graphic delights).
* Friedrich Nietzsche
As we smile semiotically, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that rock and roll’s first great wild man, “The Killer”– Jerry Lee Lewis– appeared on television for the first time.