• A story in black & white (part II)

    Apr 28 2008, 19:04

    Just before the end of the 40s, young white listeners became interested in the new R&B black music. It seems that the slow tempo of the bubblegum style was for adult people, those who had become tired after the long war. But the young generation wanted something else, something fresh and bubbling. It was not simple, in those distant days, to find this kind of music. There were special radio station for black audience, and special record shops for race records, which white people would never enter. Just imagine the angry parents who find their child listening to that 'unfitting' music.

    The lucky white youngsters were those who lived in towns that had great black population. Memphis, Tennessee, was one of them. This was an island of toleration in a segregated country. When Sam Phillips, a young DJ from Alabama, wanted to start his on recording studio, a studio intended for both black and white singers, he chose to open it in Memphis. It was so symbolic that the studio opened on January 3, 1950, on (almost) the first day of the decade.

    Young Ike Turner wrote a song called Rocket88, a song that praised the new Oldsmobile 88. It was performed by Ike's band, as a routine R&B song. Sam Phillips recorded the song for Chess/Checker record label in Chicago. This song has all the signs of true Rock and Roll music, an up-tempo blues with the rolling bass of boogie-woogie. Nevertheless, the song was not a true Rock and Roll song, because it aimed to the black market.

    There is a disagreement among the music historians. Some think that Good Rockin' Tonight is the one. To solve the question, I went to YouTube and listened to this song, and, to my opinion, there is nothing special in this up-tempo blues song. Maybe the use of the word 'rocking' causes the confusion.

    Few months passed, and another band performed the same song, Rocket 88. This was the first time, when a white group, later called Bill Haley & His Comets, performed a black song.

    The story is not finished yet. In a week or so we are going to meet Elvis Presley and some of his friends in Sun Records. We're also going to meet "big mouth" Alan Freed, the man who mixed two cultures into one.

    Something in the back of my memory tells me that Sam Phillips persuaded Bill Haley to record this song, but I need a confirmation.
  • A story in black & white (part I)

    Apr 23 2008, 4:37

    Please forgive me for not using the new term Afro-American. I think that black people have better qualities than white people (music, sports), and that they should have been proud of being black.

    The story of the relations between the white majority and the black minority in the USA, starts with the first slave ship in 1619. Until the end of the 19th century, each culture developed its own music. The white music originated from European classical music and folk songs, and the sources of the black music came from Africa. The first occasion of confluence is the Ragtime music, beginning at 1895, which is basically white parade music, adopted by black musicians. This led, ten years later, to the Jazz music.

    Apart from those, each party developed its own culture and its own music. The segregation was the main cause, but not the only one. Otherwise, there is no way to explain the development, later, of the Breakdance and the Hip Hop. One would think that World War II could break the walls, but when the soldiers returned home, the segregation became even worse.

    In the years after the war, the music of the black population was mainly Rhythm & Blues (or R&B), which is based on up-tempo Blues, and the white population had the bubble gum music, a sweet and sticky music originated by Tin Pan Alley writers in the years of the Great Depression. Since the vast majority of the American population is white, the pop charts were mostly full of hits from this genre, with Jazz-like songs from time to time, mostly Swing or Boogie Woogie.

    The black population had their own charts, the R&B charts, (before 1947 called the Race Records charts). When we talk about black music, we do not mean music sung by black artists (though essentially that was true), but music for the black population. The other side was more complicated: There were black artists, of whom most known are The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots and Nat King Cole, that sang mainly for the white audience. It was not easy, for a black man, in those dark days of segregation, to appear before white audience: They had to sneak him through the rear entrance, hide him when he goes to toilette, and so on.

    Please wait for the next part: Alan Freed, Sun Records and the birth of Rock and Roll.
  • Pop music

    Apr 19 2008, 16:41

    Many terms of the modern music are not defined well. For example, the term genre has many meanings. Many questions have no answers: Is a genre? Maybe ? Would be better? And , is it another genre?

    From these examples, one thing is clear – the term genre has no strict definition. There was a time when I tried to find categories for mood. I search the Internet, and found that university professors in Eastern Asia and Canada researching the subject, and cannot agree among themselves. MediaMonkey creators adopted four categories, which are good enough for me, but when it comes to genres… the sky is the limit. I even found a group in Last.fm that calls itself something like "Genre is not important".

    OK, let's go back to the term pop. I have read ambiguous definitions in several sites, and although I am not a professor, I aim here to establish a clear definition. This term, as I understand it, is a short way to say Popular Music.

    Now, let's go another step: If people using terms like euro-pop mean popular music from Europe, and British pop likewise, then what does pop, without a prefix, mean? The answer is simple – the pop music, which is essentially recorded and broadcasted music, was born in USA, and therefore it means American popular music.

    There is a simple way to distinguish between pop and other genres: the charts. There are several types of charts, like country charts and R&B charts. The charts we look for are the so-cold standard charts, or the charts of standard hits, or the main charts. All the hits appearing on those charts are essentially pop hits. Also, non-hits songs that sound like those hits are also pop songs, unless they come from other styles, like jazz, country or folk.

    In this world, nothing is perfect. Sometimes a standard hit can come for the country charts. Patsy Cline, the country singer, had hits in the main charts. Elvis Presley had blues hits on the standard charts. So hits can be pop hits and belong to another style at the same time.
  • A short survey of the pop music of the fifties (years 1957-1959)

    Apr 17 2008, 14:15

    This article is a transcript of a radio program that I'm going to broadcast on May. (Continued).

    In 1957 there was a shift change. The old shift, the artists from the beginning of the decade, left the charts, and the new generation, young artists like Fats Domino (started 1955), Pat Boone (1955) and those mentioned before, took over. A new style, the calypso, like Banana Boat (Day-O), topped the charts, but not for long.

    Another change was more important. The , an overall name for a group of young creators, rushed in. the rush started with a smash hit, Diana. The singer took all the credits to himself. about the lyrics, I have no doubts, but I am convinced that the producer, Don Costa, has a great part in the music.

    The next year, 1958, Rock and Roll was still in its prime, but more mild, like Splish Splash. Acappella was not a new style, even not in pop music, but this year it has some top hits, as like Lollipop.

    And last, in 1959, all the styles from 1955 and above were still in fashion, like the Doo-Wop 16 Candles. Even the twist craze would wait another year, but the seeds of the next revolution, the British invasion, were starting to germinate. The song Love Portion No. 9 was covered in 1965 by The Searchers with almost the same arrangement.
  • A short survey of the pop music of the fifties (years 1953-1956)

    Apr 15 2008, 5:47

    This article is a transcript of a radio program that I'm going to broadcast on May. (Continued)

    1953 was still a year of . Here is a beautiful song, Doggie in the Window, that I like very much. However, the winds of change already blow, and the / are here. Istanbul (Not Constantinople) is a strange oriental mambo, which gained a great success.

    1954 is the year of the changes. In January, a new style enters the charts, the, with Earth Angel. Later, in July, the song Rock Around the Clock appeared on the charts, and the revolution begun. On the other hand, bubble-gum songs like Little Things Mean a Lot, still dominated the pop music.

    The next year (1955), saw the Rock'n'Roll on its way, like Dance With Me Henry. The doo-wop gained popularity too, like Only You.

    In 1956, a new group of young artist appeared. On March, the King charted his first hit, Heartbreak Hotel, the first of a long series of hits. Other followed, like , who wrote and sang Blue Suede Shoes, and , singing Be-Bop-a-Lula.
  • A short survey of the pop music of the fifties (Years 1950-1952)

    Apr 12 2008, 16:16

    This article is a transcript of a radio program that I'm going to broadcast on May.

    There is no landmark that says: Here starts the music of the . The music of the first years of the decade is something sweet and sticky, or in short, bubble gum music. The best example is the song that was at the top charts on the first week of 1950: I Can Dream, Can't I . Not all of the songs were melancholy. Some were merrier, jazz like, as: If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd Have Baked A Cake.

    1951 is very similar to its predecessor. A good example is Be My Love. Not all the songs in the main charts were necessarily Pop songs. The song My Truly, Truly Fair is an up-tempo song, but the pop audience loved it.

    In 1952 there is a change. The instrumental part starts to be a piece of music by itself, and not necessarily an echo of the singer. It makes the songs less sticky and more interesting, especially when the role of the percussion instruments grows. Tell Me Why demonstrates it well.

    Jambalaya is a food that the southern cowboys used to eat. singer Hank Williams wrote the song, but Mitch Miller was the one who made Jambalaya a charted hit.