Week 12. Sitcom Families: Fear & Conformity in the Atomic Age
Week 12. Great Balls of Fire: American Westerns & Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Required reading: Jack Hamilton, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination (Harvard University Press, 2016).
- Required watching: Film: John Ford, The Searchers (1956) [Available through library digital streaming & for purchase on most streaming websites]. This is the most famous American Western. Pay close attention to the cinematography. I also recommend this article on cancel culture and John Wayne.
- Required watching: *Bruce, Lenny, Blah Blah Blah and obscenity conviction clips (1961) [Audio, Youtube, below]
- Recommended watching: *TV Episode: Dick Van Dyke Show, Season 3, Episode 1 “That’s My Boy” Original Airdate September 25, 1963. [Streams on Netflix; if you don’t have access to Netflix you can skip this; was required when we were on campus as I had compies for you]
- Joan Rivers
- Four Freedoms
- Diversification of American workforce during WWII
- Rosie the Riveter
- Kaiser Shipyard Childcare
- Perez v. Sharp
- Loving v. Virginia
- Desilu Productions
- Jailhouse Rock / Juvenile Delinquents
- Emasculated Husbands/ The Fairy Trope
- Obscenity Laws and Standup Comedy
- Stereotypes of Asian Americans in the age of imperialism (what are they?)
- The Hays Code
- The Western & Sci-Fi as Allegory
- Environmental Monsters vs. Psychological Thrillers
- The Manson Family
- Ghost Dance / Wounded Knee (continued)
- The Great Train Robbery
- Genre traits of The Western
- John Ford
- Found Object Presentations
- Discuss Just Around Midnight
- Discuss The Searchers and American Westerns
Opening Clip: Joan Rivers on The Ed Sullivan Show
Required Lecture: Fear and Conformity in the Atomic Age
Opening Clip: Ghost Dance
Required Lecture: American Westerns
While I have provided fewer key terms for this lecture, you need to take notes in order to properly finish your western film review and contextualize it with key arguments of what this genre does over time.
Weekly Mini Assignment
- For extra credit/ optional: Watch and write a one-page response to the Oscar-winning documentary film Morgan Neville, Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Your response should discuss how the film intersects with major class themes. This film is available on Netflix.
- Required: Work on your final project proposal
Optional Learning and Multimedia Discussed This Week In Lecture and Readings
Rosie the Riveter Propaganda Song from World War II (1942)
I Love Lucy “Job Switching” Episode: September 15, 1952
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Gender Inversion Scene
Elvis Presley: “Jailhouse Rock” (1957)
“America” from West Side Story (1961)
Lenny Bruce “Blah Blah Blah” comedy routine that leads to his arrest on October 4, 1961 and obscenity charges (if you watch the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this is the same Lenny Bruce)
South Pacific “Happy Talk” (1958)
The King and I (1956)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (Lol)
The Blob (1958) (More Lolz)
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963)
Set List for Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
This is the setlist for Jack Hamilton’s book and song blurbs he provided for Harvard University Press to accompany the book you are reading.
Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”
Dylan’s 1963 composition, the melody of which is borrowed from a 19th-century anti-slavery song, became an anthem of the civil rights movement and arguably the most famous musical work of the 1960s folk revival.
Sam Cooke, “Bring it on Home to Me” (Live)
This electrifying live recording from Miami’s Harlem Square Club in 1963 finds Cooke in full-throated, gospel-infused showmanship.
Sam Cooke, “Blowin in the Wind” (Live)
This 1964 performance from Manhattan’s Copacabana, recorded and released just a few months before Cooke’s death, shows a completely different side of the singer’s versatility, as Cooke suavely reworks Dylan’s folksong into a gently swinging nightclub number.
Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come”
Cooke’s most famous composition and one of the most powerful musical works of the civil rights movement, “A Change is Gonna Come” was released in 1964 and directly inspired by both “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”
Widely regarded as one of the most important recordings in pop music history, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” became a smash hit in summer of 1965 and decisively marked the singer’s transition from folk revivalist to full-blown rock icon.
Lonnie Donegan, “Rock Island Line”
Donegan’s frenetic version of Leadbelly’s classic “Rock Island Line” shot up the British charts in early 1956 and sparked what would come to be known as the “Skiffle Craze,” a brief, intense musical happening that had drastic ramifications on the future of rock and roll in the UK.
The Rolling Stones, “Not Fade Away”
One of the Rolling Stones’ earliest hits came in the form of this pounding 1964 cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” which finds them reworking Holly’s composition in the style of Bo Diddley.
Barrett Strong, “Money (That’s What I Want)”
The first single ever released by what would soon be known as Motown Records, this unbelievably infectious paean to capitalism is the perfect musical microcosm of Berry Gordy’s upstart label.
The Beatles, “Money (That’s What I Want)”
The last track on the Beatles’ second album, With the Beatles (1963), this snarling, punk-ish cover version of Strong’s hit offers an early indication of the massive impact of Gordy’s label on the Fab Four (the fourteen tracks on With the Beatles included three Motown covers).
The Beatles, “Rain”
Paul McCartney’s bass playing on this extraordinary 1966 b-side to “Paperback Writer” shows the remarkable influence of Motown session bass player James Jamerson on the Beatles’ mid-1960s music.
Marvin Gaye, “Yesterday”
Gaye’s stunning 1970 cover of one of the Beatles’ most famous compositions came at the cusp of a major turning point in the singer’s career; just a year later he would release his masterpiece, What’s Going On, the last major Motown album recorded in Detroit.
Stevie Wonder, “We Can Work It Out”
Similar to Gaye’s “Yesterday,” Wonder’s 1970 recording of the Beatles’ 1965 hit completely reimagines the original song and foreshadows Wonder’s own emergence as arguably the most influential recording artist of the 1970s.
Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)”
The Queen of Soul, in all her splendor: Franklin’s breakthrough hit for Atlantic Records in 1967 heralded the arrival of a transformational talent onto the landscape of 1960s pop.
Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart”
Joplin’s incendiary version of “Piece of My Heart,” a song originally recorded by Aretha Franklin’s sister Erma in 1967 and remade by Joplin in 1968, was one of Joplin’s biggest hits and remains one of her most iconic performances.
Dusty Springfield, “Son of a Preacher Man”
The British “blue-eyed soul” star Springfield’s evocative rendition of John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins’ composition, the biggest hit from her classic 1968 album Dusty in Memphis, is one of the more beguiling and beautiful recordings of late-60s R&B.
Aretha Franklin, “Son of a Preacher Man”
Hurley and Wilkins had originally written “Son of a Preacher Man” for Franklin, who turned it down; after Springfield had a hit with it, in 1970 Aretha recorded it herself in a churning, gospel-infused style.
Aretha Franklin, “Eleanor Rigby”
Franklin’s 1970 recording of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” transforms the song from an elegiac, string-octet dirge into a rollicking, bluesy statement of feminist resilience.
Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”
Hendrix’s 1968 recording of Bob Dylan’s composition is one of the guitarist’s most famous performances and one of the most iconic musical markers of Vietnam-era tumult and dread.
Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
A dazzling display of instrumental and studio virtuosity and the closing track on Hendrix’s 1968 masterpiece Electric Ladyland, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is an apocalyptic blues that showcases the nearly unfathomable dimensions of Hendrix’s musical abilities.
Jimi Hendrix, “Machine Gun”
Recorded live at Madison Square Garden on the very cusp of the 1970s, “Machine Gun” is one of Hendrix’s most explicitly political compositions and one of the more powerful pieces of anti-war music to emerge from the Vietnam era.
The Rolling Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
After an ill-fated flirtation with psychedelia, 1968’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” breathed new life into the Rolling Stones, and remains one of the most influential rock and roll singles of all time.
The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man”
One of the standout tracks on the Stones’ 1968 album Beggars Banquet, “Street Fighting Man” transports Martha and the Vandellas’ 1964 classic “Dancing in the Street” into the global unrest of the summer of 1968.
The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
This 1969 duet between Mick Jagger and the great black female vocalist Merry Clayton is one of the most visceral depictions of war and terror in all of popular music.
The Rolling Stones, “Brown Sugar”
The critic Robert Christgau once described this 1971 hit as “a rocker so compelling it discourages exegesis”; stunning, wild, and outlandishly offensive, it is perhaps the quintessential song of the Rolling Stones’ long and complicated career.
Jimi Hendrix performs “All Along the Watchtower” (1968)
Jimi Hendrix performs the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock (August 1969)
Guided Watching Questions
1) Here is a link to the lyrics to “All Along the Watchtower.” What elements of the language and imagery do you think evoke the danger and uncertainty of war? And what elements of Hendrix’s own musical performance do you think help emphasize these themes?
2) People often forget that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is actually a song about war. What are some of the moments in Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that seem to sonically evoke this?
3) Many people have described Hendrix’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a work of protest music, but Hendrix himself often characterized it as a work of patriotism. But it can be both! How do you think patriotism and protest are connected to one another, both in this piece of music and also in general?
18 responses to “Week 12: American Popular Culture: TV Families, Westerns, & Rock in the 1950s & 1960s”
The Fillmore is one of San Francisco’s most iconic music venues. It is located in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, which is considered one of the main hubs of black history in the city. The area was referred to as the “Harlem of the West” and was a major hot spot for music and nightlife from the 1940s to the 1960s. In the 1940s, the music venue was a major venue for the thriving San Francisco jazz era. Then in the 1950s and 60s, businessman and music promoter Charles Sullivan “began to book some of the biggest names in black music into The Fillmore. Sullivan booked West Coast tours for performers including James Brown, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and Ike & Tina Turner” (The Fillmore).
Ike and Tina Turner grew to be a highly popular ensemble over time. Surprisingly, Tina Turner made her recording debut performing as only a background singer for Ike Turner’s song, “Box Top” in 1958. In 1960 she stood in for another singer for the song “A Fool in Love” — she sang lead vocals. At this time, Ike Turner served only as a mentor for Tina; they were not yet married. “A Fool in Love” became the duo’s first major hit. It incorporated sounds from Soul, R&B, as as as Rock n’ Roll. The song also included vocals from The Ikettes, a group of hired female background singers who came to be featured on many of Ike and Tina Turners’ songs. The lyrics describe Tina’s tumultuous relationship with Ike Turner. Given that he acted as her mentor, it must have been difficult for Tina to hold her own and have power in their relationships – both romantic and professional. The popularity of “A Fool in Love” led to Tina Turner’s first television debut. She was featured on American Bandstand in 1960.
Ike and Tina Turner ultimately became more prominent in the later 1960s and 1970s; however, they performed at The Fillmore during their early years on the music scene. They performed “A Fool in Love” at The Fillmore in 1960, when the song made it to number 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
Link to A Fool in Love:
1960 Concert Poster & Video: https://blog.postercentral.com/2017/04/05/ike-tina-turner-concert-poster-1960-fillmore-auditorium-s-f/
Although the song “Blue Suede Shoes” as it is commonly known today was reproduced by rock ‘n’ roll artist Elvis Presley, it was actually first recorded by Carl Perkins in the year 1955. As the story goes, Perkins was driving to make his first national appearance to promote the new song (on the Perry Como Show), when he got into a horrific car accident which seriously injured himself and ended up killing his brother. Perkins reportedly never fully recovered from the incident, and was therefore unable to promote the song – which is where Elvis’ cover of the song became the prominent version as we know it today. Before Elvis Presley recorded this song however, Perkins’ version “sold 2 million copies…was the first and one of the few records ever to reach the top of the sales charts in all three major categories: pop, country, and rhythm and blues” (Los Angeles Times). Despite Elvis Presley’s popularity with the song however, it was never as successful as Perkins’ version was before the accident.
Carl Lee Perkins was born on April 9, 1932, and passed away on January 19, 1998. One of the pioneers of early rock music, he recorded most prominently with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning in the year 1954. “Blue Suede Shoes” remains one of his best known songs – “a rock and roll classic that illustrates the close relationship between rockabilly and early rock and roll” (New World Encyclopedia). Released on January 1, 1956, “Blue Suede Shoes” was an immediate success, and Carl Perkins became the first artist to record a record which sold a million copies.
The following sources outline some of the background information and history both on the song and on the artist. The second and third links (YouTube and “Classic Bands”) are both a later performance of the song by Carl Perkins, followed by a brief interview, and then an additional interview with Carl Perkins in the year 1978, in which Perkins reflects on the tragic night and the car accident which changed his life – “I was [gonna] do Perry Como’s TV show. I would’ve been the first Rockabilly artist to appear on network television. I was to appear on Como’s show on Saturday night and two weeks after that, do Ed Sullivan’s show. But it was never meant to happen” (Classic Bands).
https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/14a51fbc0a522d8efda0d8aef6c299020042da2029941ef837e43a2b927fd263.jpg Isley Bros:
The Isley Brothers was originally a music group three brothers, but later two members were added (Newspaper articles: http://search.proquest.com.libproxy1.usc.edu/cv_791994/docview/201802548/B54AB151F40F4491PQ/11?accountid=14749 and http://search.proquest.com.libproxy1.usc.edu/cv_791994/docview/565328032/B54AB151F40F4491PQ/4?accountid=14749). Apparently the original three members were performing Jackie Wilson’s song “Lonely Teardrops” at a concert when they began improvising and interacting with the audience. They treated this call and response as an informal “thing” with the audience that they would often do at shows, not necessarily as a particular song. It excited the audience enormously, drawing upon church songs that involved audience participation. Soon, RCA (Radio Corporation of America) executive Howard Bloom suggested that the brothers turn the chant into a single—“Shout” was released in 1959.
The lyrics feature line repetition to hype up the audience, repeated verses that can easily be learned and remembered. The brothers instruct the audience what to repeat at the end of each line, usually a shout or nonsense word. The content of the song is not particularly meaningful, but rather the importance of the song lies in its delivery and spirited performance. A fast paced rhythm is present throughout the song, a combination of clapping and an instrument such as a tambourine. The beat is somewhat reminiscent of musical imitations of trains found in previous music we have looked at. Stop-and-go moments, in which the background music will stop for a few seconds before continuing, creates even more anticipation for a frenzied chorus, in which the music speeds up and becomes crazed.
The Isley Brothers toured black theaters in the late 1950’s, but the song reached a greater audience than the ever had before. The song was met with great popularity and became the most covered song at the time, reaching an international scope, from Australia to Scotland. While the group may have played for predominantly black or mixed audiences, the popularity of their song seemed to spur them onto another level of performing. I found two clips of them on television, seemingly intended for white (or perhaps mixed) audiences. One clip features them performing as a finale act to a “Shindig” show before backup dancers and singers. They are introduced as the closing act for credits by elegantly dressed white couple who could be famous entertainers themselves ). The other clip presents them performing before a live white studio audience, probably for a televised television or music show ).
The song was also paired with an iconic dance, which can be seen in the 1978 movie clip of Animal House ). Later, the song was included in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and present on many Billboard charts.
“Shake, Rattle and Roll” was a rhythm and blues song originally recorded by African American blue singer Joe Turner in 1954 and later re-recorded by all white male rock and roll group Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954. Joe Turner was an already established blues “shouter” at the time, and had been performing in R&B and spirituals reviews throughout the 1930’s-40’s and . Turner was discovered by Atlantic Record founder Ahmet Ertegun at one such R&B revue in Harlem, and quickly went on to produce hits for the record label such as “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (http://www.npr.org/2012/10/22/163396468/the-big-man-behind-shake-rattle-and-roll). Despite Turner’s fame in his R&B circles, however, the song was re-recorded one year later in what was to become its most popular version by band Bill Haley & His Comets. Though Joe Turner continued to perform the song and his version rocketed to the top of the R&B charts, Bill Haley’s cover was similarly successful in the pop music charts (See the video above of Turner performing at the Apollo R&B Revue in 1954).
I posted three versions of this song to illustrate a shifting and blending of musical genres in the 1950’s, particularly as musical genres relate to race. Firstly, Turner’s version uses the original lyrics written by black musician Jesse Stone, which Haley’s band changed in their recording. The original lyrics contain a host of sexual innuendo ranging from phallic symbols to references to intercourse. However Haley’s version was much cleaner, taking out sexual references and ultimately changing the meaning of the song from a song appreciating the sexuality of a female partner to a love-lost story (see https://genius.com/Big-joe-turner-shake-rattle-and-roll-lyrics and http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/bill_haley_and_the_comets/shake_rattle_and_roll.html for breakdown and interpretation, as well as comparisons to the changes made in Haley’s version). It is curious to see such blatant changes in two songs produced and recorded by the same record company, which suggests a clean up of themes and content in early rock and pop music at the site of transition from black artist covers to white artist covers. The stark transition in lyrics is one of hundreds of examples of lyrical change in white artists covers that completely transform meaning – other famous examples include Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” in which the original song tells the story of a woman who’s kicked a man out of her home, or the removal of any infidelity themes from Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” covered by Pat Boone. Though rock & roll became quickly associated with teen delinquency and a host of corruptive influences it appears that much early rock & roll for white audiences was a tamed down version of many jazz, blues, R&B and soul songs (see one example of the associtions with early rock and corruption here, 1957 movie poster for Untamed Youth .
Though the different version rely on altered lyrics, both songs draw from similar musical legacies and themes. While R&B and rock & roll may be considered different musical genres, both genres draw from the twelve-bar blues style that characterizes so many musical genres in the 1940’s and 50’s. From “Shake, Rattle and Roll” to “Hound Dog,” many early rock songs relied on a twelve-bar format directly derived from blues musicians and patterns (Covach 2005 – http://www.academia.edu/7634222/_Form_in_Rock_Music_A_Primer_in_Engaging_Music_Essays_in_Music_Analysis_ed._D._Stein_Oxford_University_Press_2005_65-76). However, unlike blues music both songs have choruses, illustrating a clear blending of old forms and new to create genres that draw from the past but push inventive techniques for what will soon become a recognizable rock and roll form and canon.
Early rock and roll feels more blended with influences from soul, gospel, R&B and bop than it does with the popular rock music of the 1960’s. Though bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Monkees would continue to cover and draw from blues themes and direct content these bands feel much more formulaic in their output. This may have something to do just as much with the rise of pop – or “popular music” – as a musical genre in of itself in the 1950’s alongside the rise of rock & roll. The 1950’s also saw an onset of what was soon to become enormous record labels constantly producing music while playing a hopeful numbers game with hits, listeners, and rankings. Early rock did, however, seem to have more of an influence on individual artists whereas the 1960’s saw an upswing in emphasizing bands and every member in them as a marketing tactic. The addition of more electrical instruments also changes the nature and sound of rock music mainly in the 1960’s, with keyboards and electrical guitars becoming staples of many rock bands.
I really enjoyed the documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom by Morgan Neville. I remember that I saw one of the singers featured, Judith Hill, on television for being on the Voice and singing with Michael Jackson, but I had never before even thought about the role of background singers. I was incredibly surprised to see the impact of background singers in producing music and how, like famous solo artists, they would be well known in the music industry for producing a certain sound or helping create a song as a part of the production process. Also surprising was to hear the impact of unknown voices on extremely popular songs, and the fact that either Darlene Love (and The Blossoms) or the Waters Family were often responsible for creating a part of those iconic tracks.
I couldn’t help but notice the reoccurring tie between church and music. Most, if not all, of the background singers were either minister’s daughters or had started off singing in church. The community aspect of music san be traced throughout history, so essential to black life since slave songs and spirituals. For the congregation, singing is not simply good to the ears, but is also a way to share emotions and narratives. In popular music, this gospel sound was captured. Solo singers and their background vocalists also mirrored this setup: “Ray [Charles] is the minister, the Raelettes are the choir.”
The film documents how The Blossoms was the first black female group to gain notoriety. Previously, white female vocalists would sing “oohs and ahhs” and move in and out from the the microphone in almost a boring and uneventful fashion. However, the emergence of black singers changed the presence of background singers to more of a performance, similar to how early African dancing as well as later tap brought about more physical body movements. Black vocalists enlivened performances, contrary to previous dispassionate harmonizing and reading off of paper choir sheets. This vigor is reminiscent of the emergence and popularity of jazz music as a raw, real genre that influenced many musical performances thereafter. Artists, particularly with rock and roll “wanted to sound black” and used black background singers to achieve this sound. Of course, certain moments were met with political charge. In a time of protests and political unrest, sining meant more than just a gig. One background singer claimed that her way of protest was through using her voice— that singing in “Sweet Home Alabama” had a deeper meaning for her as a black woman in relation to current race riots and a long presence of a tumultuous south.
Like Taylor I also chose an Elvis Presley song, “Hound Dog”, and interestingly enough the song has a similar backstory to “Blue Suede Shoes” in that Presley was not the writer of the song, nor was he the original performer. The song was originally written by songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 to be sung by the talented and large Willie May “Big Mama” Thornton. When the songwriters first met Thornton, they were stunned: “We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a ‘lady bear,’ as they used to call ’em. She must have been 350 pounds, and she had all these scars all over her face” (Rolling Stone). In order to match the song to the singer, the writers wanted something “Brusque and badass” (Crouse) so they came up with a song that was intended to be about a woman berating her man, the “hound dog”, and kicking him out of the house. The writers were both 19 when they wrote the song, and they said that it took them about 15 minutes to write (Crouse).
Here is the original version sung by Thornton.
Now while this record was relatively successful, selling almost a million copies, Thornton never saw a fraction of the money. In fact, neither did the writers who decided to create their own record company after getting screwed by Peacock Records. The song actually had many covers and “answer” songs that came after it’s release, which worked to dilute the number of records being sold. One famous cover that was actually the inspiration for Elvis Presley’s version was by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. They were a band who performed comedic songs in a Vegas nightclub, and they were approached by Bernie Lowe in 1955 to take the racy and sexual “Hound Dog” that was being performed by Thornton, and make it more appealing to the general public. They changed the lyrics so that the song was no longer about kicking a cheating man out of the house, but was instead literally about a dog. “They replaced the racy with the ridiculous, turned a declaration of no more sex (‘You can wag your tail but I ain’t gonna feed you no more’) into a reprimand for poor hunting skills (‘Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine” (Shmoop).
Here is the Freddie Bell and the Bellboys version of “Hound Dog”
From this new parody of the original “Hound Dog” came Presley’s version: “Elvis’s version of ‘Hound Dog’ (1956) came about, not as an attempt to cover Thornton’s record, but as an imitation of a parody of her record performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. … The words, the tempo, and the arrangement of Elvis’ ‘Hound Dog’ come not from Thornton’s version of the song, but from the Bellboys’.” (Rodman). Presley took what was originally a raunchy R&B tune, and made it into a fast-tempo rock and roll sound that people just ate up. He performed the song during his concerts and his good looks and unique gyrating dance made him an instant celebrity with all the young girls. The song is well known for its controversy regarding the way that Presley would dance while performing. On June 5, 1956 he performed the song live and without a guitar on the Milton Berle Show, but the public mistook what he had meant to be “witty multiracial piece of sygnifyin’ humor, troping off white overreactions to a black sexual innuendo” (Fink) as being completely serious. Critics called Presley “a sexual exhibitionist with no musical talent.” and he faced a lot of criticism for his performance. Still, Presley later recorded the song in July and it went on to become one of the best selling singles of all time, selling over 10 million copies and catapulting Presley into stardom.
Here is the recording of Presley on the Milton Berle Show. Check out the gyrations on “Elvis the Pelvis”!
What had originally been a blues piece that was crafted for a 350 pound black women had been taken and altered to become more white and appealing to the public, as with many of the most famous songs from this time. Thornton would see no money for her recording, but Presley was launched into stardom by his own version.
Richard Crouse, Who Wrote The Book Of Love? (Random House Digital, Inc., 2012).
David Fricke, “Leiber and Stoller: Rolling Stone’s 1990 Interview With the Songwriting Legends”,
Rolling Stone (April 19, 1990; reprinted: August 22, 2011).
“Hound Dog Meaning”. Shmoop.com. 2004-12-09.
Robert Fink, “Elvis Everywhere: Musicology and Popular Music Studies at the Twilight of the Canon”, in
Roger Beebe, Denise Fulbrook, Ben Saunders, ed., Rock Over the Edge: Transformations in
Popular Music Culture (Duke University Press, 2002):97.
https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/78b6b78b52bd96e63fb5ff18360660e89d89ee31d6fe054c94b9d7966bf73af3.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c97ce56d48243dbda688d45dd86d7cd0b6b7b0830b612a6f19f8b7522e981e99.jpg “Daddy-O” by Bonnie Lou (195-)
Bonnie Lou started out as a country artist. She rocketed to fame in 1953, soon after signing with King Records, with her top 10 hit “Tennessee Wig Walk,” which became a perennial favorite of vaudeville shows, dance halls, classrooms, and summer camps. However, in 1955 her hit “Daddy-O,” with it’s sass, strong beat, and jazzy instrumentation, soon made her a rock and roll sensation, establishing her as one of the first female rock and roll musicians.
This love song seems to be describing a “Dad” figure that the girls in school find attractive- not so much because of his looks but rather because of his car, style, and cooking abilities. Bonnie Lou’s music, which combined elements of hillbilly, R+B, and emerging rock and roll genres, was coined as “Rockabilly” music. The success of “Daddy-O”led other songs of hers to get increased attention, as seen in a Billboard music review. The song was picked up and covered by other artists, like the Fontanes. The Fontanes’ cover was arguably more popular than Bonnie Lou’s original, with a “Music-Radio” article from 1956 citing it as one of a few examples where a cover had overtaken an original in the music charts.
Considering her record label, it’s not a surprise she crossed over into rock and roll. King Records was founded by Syd Nathan in 1943 in Cincinatti, Ohio. Nathan, a firm believer that race was an ‘artificial construct’ when it came to music, signed both white country (then known as “hillbilly”) musicians and black rhythm and blues musicians, facilitating biracial musical cooperation thought to be key to the development of rock and roll music (http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2017/02/25/fight-preserve-king-records-legacy/97696596/).
Despite producing and recording some of Rock and Roll’s earliest hits-including “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Train Kept a Rollin'”, “The Twist”, and “Work With Me Annie” by the Midnighters (named on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of those who shaped the genre)- King Records hasn’t received nearly as much fame or recognition as other early studios, like Memphis’ Sun Records, Motown, or Preservation Hall. Despite decades of activism by local residents and former artist James Brown, the dilapidated King Records building, last used as a warehouse in the 1980s, is nearly constantly on the verge of being demolished. The local government is on board with preservation, naming the building a historic landmark, but lacked the funds to acquire the property early on in the fight when the idea was first brought to their attention in 1997. Since then, the property the building sits on was bought by Dynamic Industries, a machine tool company with no interest in preserving King Records’ legacy. Currently, the city and Dynamic Industries are battling for control of the building. Dynamic Industries hopes to demolish it in order to raise the property’s value before selling the land. The city hopes to save the building and turn it into a tourist attraction. The City of Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board, tasked with considering Dynamic Industries request for permission to demolish King Records, recently postponed the hearing another 6 months, until August, in hopes of giving the city more time to acquire the property. The city has a two-pronged approach to saving King Records: they have offered to buy the 12-acre plot of land for $220,000 dollars, and have also started the process of acquiring the property through eminent domain (http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/27/king-records-avoids-demolition—-now/98473092/). Upon his deathbed in 1997, James Brown urged activists to keep fighting for King Records, and the tenacious Ohioans of Cincinnati remain determined to preserve the building, and the legacies of Brown, Bonnie Lou, and King Records’ founder, Syd Nathan.
Elvis Presley recorded his first single on Sun Records called That’s All Right in 1954. The song was originally written and recorded in the 1940s by an African American man named Arthur. 1954 was a time in which the United States Supreme court issued Brown v. Board of Education. African Americans were segregated and prevented from voting, attending particular schools, and were separated in places like public transportation. This song revealed that white and black music could be integrated, even if his white counterparts separated the African American man who wrote the song. Elvis’ single was unique as it shook up the music world and it was a white person singing a song with a blues approach. The song was recorded on a bright orange vinyl. The song has instruments such as the guitar as well as a string bass. The song created the moment in which Sun Records and Elvis made their leap into history in which they formed a new innovated sound that was taken from different musical influences such as blues.
It appears that in the rock and roll styles of the early 20th century, the saxophone or the piano were the leading instrument, yet in the 1950’s the guitar was the primary instrument. The rehearsal video of “That’s All Right” shows 4 other musicians with Elvis Presley playing instruments such as the guitar, as well as drums (Youtube Archive). Elvis is seen playing the guitar as well, yet he is the only one that sings—the other musicians do not sing during the rehearsal. The lyrics of the song continues to repeat, “That’s all right” and says he is leaving town to not bother her anymore. The song was a gift to his mother. The song was issued as the first blues record on RCA’s new 45 rpm single format.
Ritchie Valens was a seventeen year old Mexican American singer and songwriter who is best known for his hit “La Bamba” which was released in 1958. This hit is one of the first songs ever that introduced traditional Mexican folk tune with rock and roll. Essentially, the song is about the dance called “la bamba.” It does not describe how to dance la bamba, all it says is that you need is some grace. The song features a heavy use of the guitar as well as harps and a guiro.
Although the song is in Spanish, its catchy lyrics and electric beat became an instant hit amongst the public. People were dancing to this song without even knowing what the lyrics said. It is interesting how popular this song was during its time and after Ritchie’s death since it was released in 1958 just four years after Brown v. Board. This song also has a connection to slavery. It is believed that African slaves who were taken to Veracruz sung the original song as they worked. Ritchie Valens did not write the song (he did not speak Spanish) he learned it from his family and added the rock and roll element to it.
Elvis Presley’s song “Hound Dog” is one of the most iconic songs of rock ‘n’ roll in the 20th century, especially in the 1950s. Elvis performed this song on the The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, which sparked much controversy in American society. His gyrating movements from this performance become infamous, even making appearances in popular culture even up today, like in Lilo & Stitch and Forrest Gump. This caused controversy because of the sexual movement of his hips, which normally would have been covered by his guitar (but he decided to go sans guitar during that performance).
However, this song was originally written for Big Mama Thornton, a famous black blues singer of the 1940s and 50s. Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog” was extremely popular, but alas Elvis’s version was more widely known, especially with the increase in popularity of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis heard a parody of Big Mama Thornton’s song and decided he needed to perform it immediately. This version of the song is more comical than Big Mama Thornton’s version, where hers is more somber. Her version may be more serious to reflect the African American experience, whereas Elvis’s version was more upbeat, considering he was a white male, having much more privilege in the United States than most others.
“Great Balls of Fire” was a hit song recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957 on Sun Records. The track was recorded by Lewis in Memphis, Tennessee with the intent to use as part of the soundtrack of the movie Jamboree. The song itself has a very upbeat tempo, utilizing the traditional early rock and roll technique of putting the down beats at two and four on four beat bars. “Great Balls of Fire” achieved immense popularity almost instantly, selling approximately one million records in the first ten days after its release and over five million overall. Further evidence of the song’s warm global reception is shown by reaching number two on Billboard, number one on the country charts, number three on the R&B charts, number one on the UK singles chart, and was featured at number thirty on the Dutch Top 40 chart.
The most interesting – and controversial – aspect of “Great Balls of Fire” are in the meaning of the lyrics, given the events which occurred only years later in Jerry Lee Lewis’ life. He starts off the song by saying how the love he has for a girl has quite literally driven him insane yet he loves the “thrill” and every second of it. Lewis’ references to “great balls of fire” is symbolic of the love phenomenon where individuals don’t notice the stars in the night sky until they have fallen in love. However, the subject of Lewis’ love is what makes the meaning so controversial. At the age of twenty-three, Jerry Lee Lewis married his thirteen year-old first cousin; the scandal was not well-received by the public, and his career was cut short immediately afterwards. Lewis is clearly referring to his love for his first cousin throughout the song, which makes “Great Balls of Fire” take on a creepy undertone for a fun, upbeat song.
Link to Poster: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwj8xbGe_LHTAhXpy1QKHQo6B6cQjBwIBA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.hakes.com%2FImage%2FHighRes%2F211596%2F1%2Fimage.jpg&psig=AFQjCNEaJnv58q_MacMglgtrHexgum1EVg&ust=1492741124143869&cad=rjt
The song “Rock Around the Clock”, by Bill Haley & His Comets, is known as one of the earliest, most influential rock and roll songs of the 1950s. Though originally released by a little known band named Sonny Dae & His Knights in March, 1954, the version that would become one of the pioneering songs in rock and roll history was released less than a month later in April. Though some artists at the time were slowly breaking down the barriers that existed between “black music” (gospel, blues, jazz) and “white music” (country, folk, etc.), the stir caused by “Rock Around the Clock” was seen mainly through children and teenagers who were inspired by the new, revolutionary sound of rock and roll music. “Rock Around the Clock” did not bridge the racial divide in music the way artists such as Elvis Presley did, but in a sense, the creation of rock and roll was working towards that goal already. Rock and roll was created from the fusion of several genres of music, both black and white, and the genre would most likely cease to exist without drawing from country western, blues, folk, and jazz. However, the true importance of “Rock Around the Clock” was that it was THE song that moved rock and roll from an “underground movement” (Frazer-Harrison) to the mainstream. The song would not begin to have a profound impact on the music world until its re-release a year later as part of the soundtrack of “The Blackboard Jungle”, a film that dealt with societal issues, mainly between teachers and inner-city students. “Rock Around the Clock” appeared in the opening credits of the highly-acclaimed film (Giland), and hit the pop charts running, becoming the first rock and roll song to reach the number one spot on the Billboard charts, a distinction the song would hold for 8 weeks. The song would later be named the number two song of 1955. The song itself does not take any particular stance on any particular social, racial, or societal issue, instead it just showed the changing of the times in music, and the restlessness of the rebellious 1950s youth. The refrain “We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight/We’re gonna rock, rock, rock ’till broad daylight” is not much more than a representation of 1950s youth culture, their restlessness, and their desire to move away from the “old” styles of music to something new, fun, fresh, and exciting, something that literally kept them going around the clock.
In 1957, The 5 Royals releases “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Two years later, The Shirelles released a cover of the same song. Jump forward to 1967, the Mamas & Papas revisited the song at the song which reached #2 on the Billboard Top 100. The tail of early Rock N Roll stems from early bands mixing gospel, soul and blues music and white groups replicating the sounds years later. It’s amazing how different the two songs were in 1957 vs 1967, but both clearly aim to be a dreamy and soulful tune about love.
The 5 Royals (1957):
Mamas & Papas (1967):
Historically, America was in the midst of the Cold War and the likes of Elvis Presley and other Rock n Roll artists were on the rise. The 5 Royals’ version is a bit more on the Doo Wop side with the “oohs and ahhs.” The electric guitar is a key tune in the song and provides very much of the modern twist on doo wop. The lyrics, “Life can never be exactly like we want it to be/I can be satisfied just knowing that you love me” can allude to America recovering from the Korean War. According to digitaldreamdoor.com the song as, “It’s as tender and sincere a sentiment as has ever been offered in a rock song but it’s presented with such a dangerous allure that it becomes downright erotic in nature.” As a group, there weren’t outside background singers hired but there are elements of the gospel “wall of sound.” Like most groups, the dynamic of the lead singer and backup singers parallels that to a church with its pastor and choir.
Here is a poster: https://digitaldreamdoor.com/images_reviews/1958-poster-apollo.jpg
Music is an integral part of popular culture. Many people feel tremendously connected to their favorite bands and lead singers because they feel a visceral connection to the music that the artists put forth. We often forget that much of what makes music great is the factors that come from more behind the scenes. Even in major bands today, we typically focus solely on the lead singer and forget about the members of the band who play the instruments. Before I saw the film Twenty Feet from Stardom, I had hardly given any thought to the back-up singers who provide such depth to so many songs that I love. While African-American singers such as Diana Ross and Tina Turner rose to stardom in the 1960s, many female black vocalists never received the recognition they deserved. Twenty Feet from Stardom seeks to shed light on the work that these invisible voices contributed to major American music history.
Darlene Love and the Blossoms were the first African-American back-up singers in the music studios. They “disrupted” a music world full of white singers. Where the white singers were limited to small dance movements, the black singers were far more engaging and contributed far more emotion to their songs. This immediately caught the eye of white producers. The Blossoms embraced the fact that they could change their sound based on whomever they were providing background vocals. Many of them share a similar story: pastor’s daughter who grew up in church and learned how to embrace music and intertwine their voice with the voices around them. “You come up learning the part that your voice actually fits in. Nobody tells you. That’s how singers learn how to do background” Darlene Love
Phil Spector, one of the biggest music producers in the 1960s, relied on Darlene Love’s young powerhouse voice to carry many of his most successful hits. The issue, however, is that Love was primarily “ghosting” for other ensembles, meaning she never got credit for her work on the songs. In the film, singer-songwriter Susaye Greene spoke to the frustration that came with this type of work: “It’s pretty debilitating to the spirit to sit at home and watch the song that you sang and there’s someone else lip syncing, and no one knows you did it.” Even when Spector signed Darlene Love to his label, he continued to trick her and used her vocals to help The Crystals rise to fame.
One major takeaway from the film that really stood out is how the back-up singers do not have anger or spite about not being in the direct spotlight. In fact, many of them did not particularly want to be lead vocalists. Instead, they are frustrated by the fact that they are never really recognized and credited as part of the music experience. Although this documentary help create awareness by allowing prominent background singers to tell their sides of the story, far more must be done to give these women the credit they truly deserve.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a film based on the nuclear bomb hysteria that existed during the Cold War. Although the film is based on the Cold War, its satire gave the audience a new perspective on the nuclear bomb situation. Like, The Manchurian Candidate this film made a huge impact on the United States since it is also one of the most important films made during the Cold War era. Stanley’s Kubrick’s use of humor eased the height of suspicion and fear for a short period of time. This connects to how music and the radio eased helped people get through the atrocity that was The Great Depression. The Great Depression caused turmoil in the United States, just like the Red Scare. Entertainment seems to act as a getaway from the horrors of the world, and Dr. Strangelove does exactly that. Its portrayal of the military and its inability to shut down a nuclear attack on Russia illustrated the United States in a new manner that society had not seen before. This new image allowed the audience to develop new opinions and view the Cold War in a new way. Music has acted as a mediator for strenuous events in the United States. This is seen with the development of the Blues and Jazz. African Americans needed to evolve their slave work songs into a new form of communication, thus the creation of the Blues. The use of Cold War films was the new coping mechanism that America needed during this era. Dr. Strangelove’s excellent use of satire and illustrations of the nuclear bomb allowed the United States to perceive a time of paranoia differently.
20 Feet from Stardom Extra Credit:
Darlene Love’s career was filled with hit records and little to no recognition for her work. 20 Feet from Stardom tells the story of how background singers helped revolutionize modern music. Many of the singers began training their gift in church, where they would be around and partake in gospel music. Great back up singers, such as Darlene Love, used her soulful and youthful voice to add depth to rock n roll records. For most of her career, she was under contract for Phil Spector, a music producer who was notorious for creating rich sounds by laying tracks on one another. He strategically used Darlene Love’s voice in order to create a wall of sound. Such a sound became the quintessential depth in “popular” music.
The relationship between Love and Spector is one that has been told throughout American history. I would even argue Spector displayed white privilege by owning Love’s contract and restraining her from Stardom. Like a master restrains their slave for work, Love could not escape Spector’s will and was given little to no credit for her hard work. More than credit, Love was not paid royalties for the songs that SHE sang. Even when she got out of the contract, Phil Spector bought out her new signed deal just to have further control of Love. The business side of music, along with popular entertainment, is often controlled by wealthy, white men. Even today, music labels struggle with the appropriation and restrictions of producing urban music forms. Music, attempts to be authentic, but the production process, in the chase of perfection, causes faults. Unfortunately, singers like Darlene Love become the victims.
Bye Bye Love – Everly Brothers.
This song came out in 1957 and talks about when a woman leaves her love. The singer says “goodbye romance that could have been”. He also says “hello loneliness, I think I’m gonna cry.” It’s a strange song because it sounds romantic and uplifting with the guitar in the background and the fast paced beat, but it is actually about him losing his sweetheart. I like this song because the lyrics are about the woman leaving the man– presumably to make herself happy, and I like songs that emphasize women’s choices in this time era.
This song debuted with The Everly Brothers in March of 1957 and sore to the top of the charts. Rolling Stone magazine lists it as #210 for the top 500 songs of all time. George Harrison also did a famous cover of this song in 1974. The guitar part of the song was not originally a part of it, which was added by one of the Everly Brothers.