Thursday, April 03, 2014

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- In The Time Before The Rock ‘n’ Roll Jailbreak –They Shoot iPODs Don’t They

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Some people ask, and not always the young people either who have grown up in hip-hop nation or on techno stuff, if there was music before 1950s classic rock ‘n’ roll. I am not one of those asking such a question as will become clear for the reasons listed below but also because I was faced with the endless droning coming from the kitchen countertop radio seemingly permanently glued to radio station WJDA, glued to about the year 1946 as far as music played went.

So of course there was music and moreover I have taken some pains to establish the roots of rock, although stuff that those same not always young people did not know, back to Mississippi country blues, electric blues as they traveled north to the heartland industrial cities, jazz as it got be-bopped and took to swing, certainly rhythm and blues from the likes of Ike Turner and Big Joe Turner, north and south, and rockabilly as it came out of the white small town South. What it owes little to, or at least I hope that it owes little to is that Tin Pan Alley/ Broadway show tune axis part of the American songbook. That music, more reflected in my parent’s generational choices seemed to me a different trend and one that was reflected in a CD review I did recently, The 1950s: 16 Most Requested Songs. That compilation was really about the 16 most requested song before the rock jailbreak of the mid-1950s. Let’s be clear about that.

I have along the way, in championing classic rock as the key musical form that drove the tastes of my generation, the generation of ’68, contrasted that guitar-driven, drum/bass line driven sound to that of my parent’s generation, the ones who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought World War II, and listened to swing, jitter-buggery things and swooned over big bands, swings bands, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters and The Mills Brothers, among others. In other words the music that, we of the generation of ’68, heard as background music around the house as we were growing up. Buddha Swings, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, Rum and Coca-Cola, Paper Dolls, Tangerine, and the like. Stuff that today sounds pretty good, if still not quite something that “speaks” to me. That was not the music however reflected in that compilation and which, I think rightly, I was ready to shoot my iPOD over once I heard it as I announced in the headline to this piece.

No, this music compilation reflected, okay, let’s join the cultural critics’ chorus here, the attempted vanilla-zation (if such a word can exist) of the Cold War Eisenhower (“I Like Ike”) period when people were just trying to figure out whether the Earth would survive from one day to the next. Not a time to be rocking the boat, for sure. Once things stabilized a bit though then the mad geniuses of rock could hold sway, and while parents and THE authorities crabbed to high heaven about it, let that rock breakout occur and not have everything wind up going to hell in a hand basket. But this music, these 16 most requested songs were what we were stuck with before then. Sure, I listened like everyone else, everyone connected to a radio, but this stuff, little as I knew then, did not “speak” to me. And unlike some of that 1940s stuff still does not “speak” to me.

Oh, you want proof. Here is one example. On that compilation Harbor Lights was done by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra. This was cause number one for wanting to get a pistol out and start aiming. Not for the song but for the presentation. Why? Well, early in his career Elvis, while he was doing his thing for Sam Phillips’ Memphis Sun Records operation, covered this song. There are a myriad Elvis recordings during the Sun period, including compilations with outtakes and alternative recordings of this song. The worst, the absolute worst of these covers by Elvis has more life, more jump, dare I say it, more sex than the Kaye recording could ever have. And it only got worst from there with incipient things like Frankie Lane’s I Believe, Johnny Mathis’ It’s Not For Me To Say, and Marty Robbins’ (who did some better stuff later) on A White Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation). And you wonder why I ask whether they shoot iPODs. Enough said.


Harbor Lights Lyrics
(words & music by H. Williams - J. Kennedy)

I saw the harbor lights

They only told me we were parting

Those same old harbor lights

That once brought you to me.

I watched the harbor lights

How could I help it?

Tears were starting.

Good-bye to golden nights

Beside the silvery seas.

I long to hold you dear,

And kiss you just once more.

But you were on the ship,

And I was on the shore.

Now I know lonely nights

For all the while my heart keeps praying

That someday harbor lights

Will bring you back to me.



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