Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rock or Not

It used to be very easy to separate music into nice, convenient categories. It was pretty simple to tell Rock from Soul and Funk and so on. Record stores loved that. It made it very easy for the teenager who was helping you find something. You remember record stores don’t you? There used to have these places where you had to PHYSICALLY go into the meat world and spend money to acquire an actual physical copy of an album, they were called RECORD STORES. (No one remembers why they were called that when all they had were CD's, they just were).

This happy state continued well into the 1970’s. True, there was some grumbling about Prog Rock and Hard Rock being different and in England there was something called Glam Rock, but hey, they still had Rock somewhere in there. That all changed with Punk, then came New Wave, Rockabilly (again!) Hair Metal and other 80’s oddities.
From there it just got worse. Now there’s alt, anarcho-punk, power pop, pop-punk, emo, goth, neo metal, grunge, nerd and more. It wasn’t just rock, country got into the act and went all crossover country with modern country sounding most like pop or rock with a twang. Sure there are a few authentic country voices out there, but even those guys stray into stuff with wailing guitars and a backbeat.
But that’s just how it always was.
Go back to the early, early days, before Elvis Presley made it cool for whites to listen to R&B, and take a look at the R&B or Race records as they were euphemistically called. These couldn’t be played on white stations and weren’t stocked by white record stores. Whites who wanted them had to cross the tracks, so to speak, to buy them. When they got there they discovered that it was not a monolithic type of music, there was blues, jazz and stride and hundreds of little subgenres of music that they had never heard of.  
Some of it was raunchy and nasty as hell. Big Ten Inch Record, Sixty Minute Man, I'm Wild About That Thing and a whole host of others that couldn’t played just about anywhere (That’s right Virginia, It wasn’t mine or even your generation that discovered sexual innuendo. Apparently people have been having sex for quite a while) Some of it was hot horns blowing for all they were worth and cool blues that just about made you want to die.
Rocket forward a few years to Sun Studios. Yes, that little place in Memphis where Elvis recorded probably his best work, certainly his best R&B/Rock records. (one of these articles we will have to discuss why Elvis is considered the King of Rock and Roll when he recorded very little that fits most people’s definition ) Who are the big five who recorded there? Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.  They were simply the class of 1955. Howlin’Wolf, Little Milton, Junior Parker, Charlie Rich and a whole host of others recorded there in every genre you can think of.

But is it Rock or not?

My personal favorite from his Sun Studio recordings
In my opinion, Yep. All of it’s Rock. You know why?
Because if you can feel the beat, if it moves your feet, if the music’s hot, if it makes you think, if it says fuck that old shit, listen to this, if it says that new stuff is crap, listen to this, if it makes you weep, then it’s good music and Rock is good music.

Because music is like life, it doesn’t like to be labeled or constrained; it’s all those things and more than we can name.
Because Rock has it roots, not in the 50’s or even the 40’s but in 1920’s!
Because we are more interested in talking about music then in categorizing it and that's why we'll be talking about anything that "rocks" whether it’s called rock or not. 
The shattering of Rock as a type of music has lead to a marvelous diversity in form. We have ‘rock” stars covering standards and the JPop artisits covering Cindy Lauper.  EddieVedder rocking an entire album played on Uklele.  How about Robert Plant recording Appalachian Blue Grass and more incredibly William Shatner recording an awesome cover of Common People better than the original? Mind. Blown.
Then again, this is probably why the record stores went out of business when they couldn’t figure out where to put the new stock.
Until next time, keep listening!

Songs you might want to hear:

I'm Wild About That Thing
Common People (William Shatner also Ben Folds)
Ukulele Songs [+Digital Booklet]

Sun Records 50th Anniversary

Mystery Train (2004 DSD remaster)

Girls Just Want To Have Fun

It Had to Be You... The Great American Songbook

Clicking these and buying means corporate america (Amazon) pays me.



  1. Very nice. And I've heard every one of those songs in their original forms.

  2. Yeaah, I just discovered Bessie Smith a few months back. Shw was a wicked woman. Not quite as wicked as Lucille Boggan but darn close.

  3. Well said. And something that I think needs to be said because I think younger generations don't know enough about the history of rock.