Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tomorrow's Oldies

OK, here's the deal. I was sitting in Fuddrucker's last week munching on a burger, surrounded by music memorabilia and listening to oldies. Yeah, I know it's not diet food, but my 15 year old son makes a nasty face when I suggest we have a salad and I can't stand seeing him suffer like that. Afterward, during a couple hours at the gym, I started thinking about all the different shops and restaurants that still play 1950's and 1960's music in the background. One of the radio stations in my area changed format last week from simulcasting polka music to Good Time Great Oldies from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Just then something hit me like a ton of bricks. It was one of those OMG moments. To help you get the same feeling I had, we need to start with some simple mathematics. (Don't worry, there will not be a quiz later.)

Most of the radio stations and shops that play 60's oldies these days play at least one Beatles song. The Beatles took off in America in January 1964. In almost no time at all, they had ALL FIVE of the top five songs on the national charts!

As I write this, we're a month away from January 2010. 2010 minus 1964 is 46 years, right? Now, take 1964 and subtract 46 years. That takes us back to 1918. You baby-boomers can correct me if I'm wrong, but to the best of my recollection, we did NOT sit around at hamburger joints in 1964 listening to a bunch of songs from 1918! We did NOT have radio stations playing The Best Of The 1900's, 1910's, and 1920's. What the heck is going on here?

I'm starting to wonder if the rock and roll era somehow caused music to begin expanding sideways instead of growing forward. Has popular music fragmented into so many different pieces that there are no more new styles left to create?

I can picture a young Jimi Hendrix sitting in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village watching his idol Bob Dylan shout out his classic folk version of All Along The Watchtower while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Later that night, Jimi will go to work playing killer electric guitar as part of a backing band for an R&B group. Jimi loves Dylan's music, and he loves wild electric guitar, so he "marries" the two and gives birth to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, along with all the imitators who come afterward. Meanwhile, a young Jimmy Page leaves a pop-rock-oriented British Invasion band, does some studio guitar work, and then "marries" early American blues and R&B with hard rock to create Led Zeppelin.

These are examples of how the evolution of popular music created entirely new styles. In much the same way that DNA splits and recombines to create new and unique human beings, popular music styles split apart and then combine with other styles to create a totally new sound. But what kind of combinations are being made today? What new forms of popular music are being created these days?

Last week, someone wanted to know if there were any recent hits that were not done in standard 4/4 time. I can't name one. Can you? For that matter, can you think of any current hit that really does something truly different? Are there any new songs that really push the envelope, plow new ground, or do something truly radical and exciting? (And I don't consider singing through Auto-Tune to be an "advancement" in the music industry!)

At a time when the record industry is pushing for new fees from radio stations who play their music, one has to wonder exactly what they're doing to EARN those fees. What new products are they cultivating?

We continue to discover great music from fifty years ago that was somehow overlooked the first time around. Certain musical styles that were first born fifty years ago still command the power to fuel huge cult followings. Rhythm and Blues tunes from fifty years ago still sound mighty sweet today. But what music is being CREATED today that will have the same kind of impact in 2056 -- some 46 years from today?

You may have noticed that I've started to play some Christmas songs on MusicMaster Oldies. This has become an annual tradition, but unlike some of the radio stations today, I don't suddenly switch to a wall-to-wall Christmas music format somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving! Instead, you'll hear Christmas music they way I heard it on the radio when I was growing up. I think this music is much more special when it's blended into the normal mix. Back in the 1950's and 1960's, the Christmas season really got into full swing just a week or so before Santa came sliding down the chimney. None of the stations switched to 100% Christmas music, either, except maybe for a few hours on Christmas morning. It is possible to get too much of a good thing, you know!

By the way, yet another Pirate Radio Station has appeared in the news, this time it's in Canada. Click HERE to read more about it.

A quick note to all the musicians and artists out there: MusicMaster Oldies is under contract to play music with ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI. We pay our royalties for each performance. However, if we should happen to post anything on this blog that you own rights to and want us to remove, please contact me directly. You can e-mail me at Please don't contact Blogger or Google because they might shut down my blog instead of just asking me to remove an offending item. There's no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water!

It irritates me when artists are cheated out of compensation for their work. However, it's not always kids downloading songs that cost them the most. There are horror stories in abundance throughout the 1950's and 1960's, and right into the present, talking about how record companies and unscrupulous record promotors and managers took advantage of a naive client who's only concern was playing rock and roll music. Click HERE to read an interesting story about underpaid royalties.

Finally, I want to thank every one who commented on my last blog post. You make this a LOT more fun with your interaction and feedback. Without your input, writing this blog would be like a tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear it...

Some corrections were made to my Original Versions post after getting new data from a few well-informed followers. In addition to the corrections I've already made, I've got some more new information to pass along now.

Roy Hall was actually the first person to release There's A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On on Decca 29697 in 1955 (despite the fact that Wikipedia claims it came out in 1954). Roy Hall, who's real name was James Faye Hall, was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, on May 7, 1922. He died on March 2, 1984. His version was covered so quickly by blues singer Big Maybelle that it created confusion for years as to which was the original recording. It was more common back then for a Country & Western singer to cover an R&B record than the other way around, which helped create some of the controversy.

Roy Hall claimed to have written the song, even though his name is never actually credited on the label. You will find different variations of composer credits on this song, but the song was written by Dave "Curlee" Williams, a singer-songwriter who was born in Kentucky as the son of Native American (Crow tribe) and African-American parents, with help from Hall, who was a white piano player, songwriter, and band leader. Roy used the alias Sunny David, which is why you'll often see the composers of this song listed as "D Williams & S David." Roy also claimed that he once employed a young piano player by the name of Jerry Lee Lewis back in the early 1950's, so now you know the "rest of the story."

Here's Roy Hall's Original Version of There's A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On:

Memphis Slim wasn't even close to being the first to record Stagger Lee. The song was recorded many years earlier, in 1928, by Mississippi John Hurt as Stack O'Lee Blues on Okeh 8654. Here's that version of this classic rock and roll song:

But that was NOT the Original Version of this song. It may have been the first one recorded with lyrics, but an instrumental version was released a full five years earlier by Fred Waring And The Pennsylvanians on Victor 19189. This was a traditional song that pre-dated recorded music by many years. Here's that 1923 recording of Stack-O' Lee Blues by Fred Waring:

Now you can see why collecting these Original Versions can be a lot of fun. Music historians are still trying to piece together all the available data, and new discoveries of even older versions are being made all the time. To make this process even more complex, a lot of incorrect information is out there on the Internet. Moral of the story is, don't believe everything you read in Wikipedia!

I also learned that Hound Dog was also recorded by several other people in 1953, although none of these came out earlier than Willie Mae Thornton's Original Version. You can also find the song done by Billy Star on Imperial 8186, Tommy Duncan on Intro 6071, Betsy Gay on Intro 6070, Eddie Hazelwood on Intro 6059, Jack Turner on RCA 20-5267, and Cleve Jackson on Herald 6000. Of course, you'll hear ALL of these and more on MusicMaster Oldies!

Let me close this topic, for now, with one more Original Version for your enjoyment. You've all heard Led Zeppelin, of course. After Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, I thought their version of When The Levee Breaks would make a fitting and prophetic memorial song. But I discovered an even better choice: the Original Version of that song! The first recording dates back to 1929 when it was released on Columbia 14439 by Kansas Joe And Memphis Minnie. The song was "re-worked" by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, which might explain why they left the original composers off the album credits. Here now, as my tribute to the many folks who lost their lives in the rain, wind and flooding in New Orleans, please enjoy the Original Version of When The Levee Breaks:

1 comment:

  1. Well...don't give Zep too much slack. They 'mistakenly' denied credit to several blues artists with their 'reworked' covers were sued, lost and paid the most nominal of fines (they were making money for the label, Willie Dixon was not). Youthful indiscetion or Peter Grant's avarice? Or worse? It's history now, the beginning of the end of white businessmen taking advantage of artists with no legal knowledge. Not that the end to that kind of manipulation is in sight...