12:00 p.m. - May 01, 2006
For the next two days, I’m going to be talking about my “Best of” and “Worst of” mixes, with insightful commentary from many around these here parts, so make sure you stay tuned.
But I wanted to start music week with a thoughtful essay on music, specifically, what we call “rock and roll”.
When I was sketching out what I was going to write about, I was running ideas out loud and I said, “Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution”. Liz piped up and said, “Oh, hell, you know it!” (or something like that!)
So we are in agreement in the Smed household, and that AC/DC were truth tellers (at least then, well, OK, probably they were truth tellers even with “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Big Balls” but who’s counting??)
As I ponder that statement (“Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution”), I was thinking of all of the elements of the phrase, and why it’s important to repeat it from time to time.
I didn’t want to get into a historical survey of rock and roll, except that it’s important to know that rock and roll is a heady brew mixed from equal parts swing, blues, jazz, R & B, and country, amongst other genres.
It’s important to realize how closely intertwined country music and R & B were in the 50’s and how that developed the classic rock and roll sound. Take a listen to Carl Perkins, and compare it to Buck Owens. One is ‘rock’ and one is ‘country’ but really, c’mon. Same thing!
It’s important to know that all of the old school rock and roll haters out there had to realize, in their mind, that the ‘new’ kind of music was basically taking old forms and shaping them into something new and improved.
Rock and roll, from the 50’s to today, has taken many forms, shapes, and guises. It has morphed into a lot of things, spun a lot of different genres and sub genres, and is basically unrecognizable from the form that was taken in the 50’s.
Or is it?
Even in the early days of rock and roll, all kinds of things were considered rock and roll, from Little Richard to Pat Boone. Paul Anka was ‘rock and roll’ and those songs could have been recorded in the 40’s.
We’ve added a lot of elements to the mix of rock and roll over the years. Classical music, bluegrass, world music, spirituals and gospel music, folk music, poetry, and the list will continue to grow as we explore and keep building our knowledge base.
It’s funny, because rock and roll now is not really a genre. Everything is something else. We’ve genred and subgenred everything. It’s “classic” rock. It’s “emo”. It’s “urban”. It’s “house” or “club”. No radio station plays all of the ‘popular’ songs as they’ve narrowly defined their target audience.
But is it all rock and roll? I say yes.
Rock and roll is everything – it’s not just one thing. It’s a feeling, a mood, an attitude, a swagger, vulnerability, a heart and soul.
You know it when you hear it.
Every so often, Rolling Stone has articles that state, basically, “Rock and roll is dead!”
Not by my ears, it’s not. It’s still going strong, even if many hipsters don’t call what is going on now rock and roll.
I say that Motown is really rock and roll – yes it’s soul music, R & B, whatever. But the mood, the essence, the feeling is rock and roll at heart.
James Brown was rock and roll. The funkmaster had that swagger, that style. He spoke to the kids. Yes, he’s the Godfather of Soul, but he’s also one of the best rock and rollers ever. It’s not that far of a leap – in fact, it’s a short jump over a puddle.
Some would say that the goofy pop stylings of bands like Herman’s Hermits in the 60’s weren’t rock and roll at all – they were just updates of English music hall songs set to a modern beat.
Ah, the modern beat!
Is bubblegum music rock and roll? Well, was it fun music that brought a smile to many faces? There you go, it’s rock and roll.
And yes, the 1910 Fruitgum Company can coexist with Black Sabbath.
Heavy metal? Definitely rock and roll! Punk rock – definitely rock and roll.
Rap? Hip-hop? Yep. Rock and roll!
Face it – I’m not a huge fan of rap. Oh, I kind of like the old school with the breaks, beats and bravado, but when it got all gangsta I kind of decided that it wasn’t something I was into, really.
But check it out – the attitude, the rebellion, the mixing up of several styles of music? Yeah, that’s how rock and roll started back in the day.
You don’t have to like Eric B. and Rakim, Run DMC, Kool Moe D, Public Enemy, or even Eminem, but it’s all rock and roll.
How easy was it for Run DMC to combine with Aerosmith? How about Anthrax and Public Enemy, or Biohazard and Onyx? Geez, they fit together seamlessly.
Sure, we can blame that for Limp Bizkit, but that’s a price we’ll have to pay, I suppose.
The Spice Girls?
Well, did the kids like it? Yeah. Sure it was processed, corny pop music over a dance beat. There was nothing edgy about it.
But it built on many things, including Beatlemania and classic girl groups. And no one would claim that the girl groups weren’t rock and roll.
What about dance pop, like Madonna or even…uh…Britney?
Well, sex has always been a hallmark of rock and roll. Sex and dancing is rock and roll. Yeah, I can’t stand Britney, but I can’t really stand REO Chuckwagon either.
Yes, there are things that are outside of the rock and roll genre. Jazz is its own thing, as is classical, and you know, what the heck ever passes as country music now, for the most part, can just stay the hell away from rock and roll. (Even though a lot of it is recycled Lynyrd Skynyrd or bad ballads from the 80’s). But I’d consider the Dixie Chicks rock and roll, because of their attitude and what they draw from.
So, after 40 years on this planet, and listening to 37 years of ‘popular’ music, and about all that I’ve said in these 1,104 words to date was that “almost everything I listen to is rock and roll”.
Well, it is to me, at least.
And it ain’t noise pollution.
And it will never die.