Holly Days #2

That’ll Be The Day!

Some may believe The Buddy Holly Story movie version of how The Crickets got their name. The whole cricket in the garage thing at Buddy’s home in the early days, the scene is fiction. The name came about after the Decca recordings which is about two years later than any playing they did in Buddy’s parents garage. When working with Norman Petty in his Clovis, New Mexico studio, Buddy wanted to record “That’ll Be the Day”. The song was one of the unreleased records that Buddy did with Decca in Nashville. That first session took place July 22, 1956 with Buddy, Don Guess, Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison. And formally credited to Buddy Holly and the Three Tunes and Decca released this after the song became a hit.

Long story short, and there are several different recollections but basically they needed to release the new version under a different name in an attempt to avoid issues with Buddy’s old Decca contract that was still in place. So Nikki Sullivan, Buddy and Jerry Allison got together and, based on an R&B group named The Spiders, they sifted through an Encyclopedia looking for names. They briefly considered the Beetles but as we know they settled on the more ‘musical’ insect.

In another part of the movie, the scene were the DJ locked himself in the studio and played Buddy’s “That’ll Be The Day” over and over was completely made up and this never happened.

“That’ll Be The Day” was written by Jerry Allison and Buddy Holly with a song credit taken by Norman Petty for the reworked hit version. Released as a single by The Crickets on May 27, 1957. It’s not a surprise that his biggest hit and only Billboard #1 is also one of his songs with the most cover versions. Recorded over 110 times.

“That’ll Be The Day” was released by Linda Ronstadt in August of 1976 and the single would reach #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Ronstadt’s fifth top 40 single in two years, all of them cover songs.

The precursor to The Beatles, The Quarryman would record this song July 15, 1958. It was not officially released until 1995 on Anthology 1.

Thanks for reading!

References: 1,2, 3

Holly Days #1

Buddy Holly
Holly Tree

I am starting something new, it will be a short take on cover songs with more frequent posts. Beginning with Buddy Holly songs, moving to Billie Holiday and finishing the year with Holiday and Christmas songs. While Canada held Thanksgiving Day on October 10, Americans will celebrate on November 24. So with this upcoming official start to the Season, along with my recent post on Buddy, and please pardon the pun, but the Holly/Holiday was just too much to resist!

Buddy in his short career released 36 original songs and 27 covers. Of those amazing originals, (for me this is going back some years now) I was surprised to learn that “Rave On” is not one of them. It was co-written and recorded by Sonny West, who was also managed and produced by Norman Petty. West released it in February of 1958, it did not chart. Buddy was the first to cover it and the first time he himself covered someone’s song. So later in 1958 he changed it up just a bit (for the better), leading to a #37 hit in the US and #5 in the UK. This would go on to be covered more than 80 times, mostly in the style of Buddy Holly.

John Mellencamp, great version!

A rockin’ version from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Amazing job by Gary Busey in the 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story. A stellar performance by Busey throughout the film. However there were a great many mistakes, omissions and fictional additions in this Hollywood version. More on that in Buddy Holly Part 3.

Thanks for reading.

Holly Tree image by Nannette Turner

Buddy Holly Part 1

Charles Hardin Holley, Sept 7, 1936-February 3, 1959

Leading up to the anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly (February 3) I will be presenting a three part series. The second part should appear in late November or early December and the last in late January. I believe the new biopic titled Clear Lake will be released at some point in this timeline though I can’t seem to find out where or when. Recently, I did a post on Rockabilly and as I was also working on Buddy Holly, I left him out. I noticed while doing my research that his name does always get included in that conversation. Rock and Roll yes, but not always Rockabilly. It does appear in Holly’s Wikipedia page and he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (unfortunately the organization and website has fallen into disrepair). While it is true he emulated this traditional style when he used the guitar, drums and double bass ensemble, but in some ways he was different. First and foremost geographically, being from Texas his influences were unlike most of the Rockabilly/Rock and Roll artists in the 50’s, this I think would give his music a fresh and unique feel. In Texas at that time there was the popular Tex-Mex style, more formally called Tejano music, which is a fusion of Northern Mexican and American sounds. Most certainly Country music, his first love so to speak, was very popular and Bob Wills is legendary for his Texas Swing, literally a sub genre he created. The Blues legends Blind Lemon Jefferson and T. Bone Walker were very well known and Big Mama Thornton’s career took off with her move to Houston in 1948. Need I remind you that it was in San Antonio and Dallas where Robert Johnson made his legendary recordings in 1937 and 1938. This is just a sampling of what was going on in the vibrant and diverse Texas music scene in the 1930’s through to the early 50’s.

Read more: Buddy Holly Part 1

Not that Buddy would have listened to all of these artists. At home his musical family sang and listened to Gospel Music as well, but certainly his key influences at a young age led him to Country. A genre which (largely for White folks) was the most popular music in Lubbock, Texas and across much of the American South, not to mention that it had spread elsewhere. However, his biggest turning point came with one Elvis Presley. Buddy had seen Elvis perform at least a few times in Lubbock and area and thus began his transformation. Buddy and his highschool chum Bob Montgomery (Buddy and Bobby) along with Larry Welborn performed on the opening ticket for Elvis on October 15, 1955 at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, the night before they had done the same for Bill Haley and His Comets. So, as Elvis went from a Ballad Singer to Rockabilly/Rock and Roll, Buddy followed him by moving from Country, as did Bill Haley for that matter. Now, Buddy did not look or move like Elvis but he understood the beat, the appeal of the music, and he was, as it turns out a natural.

Holly has long been a favorite of mine, even though he was killed in a plane crash on February 3, 1959 which was five days before I was born. The fact that he died at age 22, aside from the tragedy itself also taking the lives of 28 year old J. P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens who was just 17 and the 21 year old Pilot, Roger Peterson, it took away all the music he would have created. We know the theme of Don Mclean’s epic “American Pie”, his references to “the day the music died” and there is some truth to that line. Holly was an established artist and the younger Ritchie Valens was a rising star in Rock and Roll. We will never know what may have happen to popular music had these two survived, but I do know their legacy has created an immeasurable influence. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and others all cite Buddy for his songwriting skills, his guitar playing and his unique voice.

Getting back to Rockabilly, Holly and his band The Crickets were key figures in the genre, but not with every song and certainly not his later solo material. Holly’s early attempts as mentioned were in the Country Music genre that included appearances on Lubbock Radio and local venues. But his connection to Rockabilly did not come as it did for most that had roots in Hillbilly music nor was he from Appalachia or any of the states most connected to the genre. His first (home and never released) recording was in 1949 at age 12 or 13 and he chose “My Two Timin’ Woman” written and recorded by an artist that was gaining popularity in Country Music, Hank Snow (1948). If you follow the story of Elvis Presley and as depicted in the recent Elvis movie he really started his career opening for the (albeit briefly) better known Hank Snow. Just as an aside, Elvis also covered three of Hank’s original songs, the most popular being “(Now and Then, There’s) A Fool Such as I” with The Jordanaires in 1959 and Snow’s breakout hit from 1950, “I’m Moving On”, he recorded in 1969. Pardon the tangent, and I won’t steal my own thunder for a future post by expanding on the significance of Hank Snow, but anyone having an influence on both Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly deserves a mention. Those sneaky Canadians!

Buddy, while still just in high school would cut eleven demo songs recorded at KDAV in Lubbock. Among those were songs written by his first songwriting partner, Bob Montgomery. However for his move to Rock and Roll/Rockabilly, we can say that technically all the tools were there, including the core instrumentation setup of his band who were originally just Buddy on guitar, Jerry Allison on Drums and Nikki Sullivan on Bass. The first Buddy Holly Album was released in 1957 and was titled The “Chirping” Crickets. As Nikki would soon leave the band to go back to school (but occasionally return) he was replaced by Joe B Mauldin on Double Bass. It was these four who are pictured on the first album cover. However it was not Buddy Holly and The Crickets for most of his time as a recording artist.

More so as time went on, there was not any cohesion to the musicians, other than Buddy himself. On several records you will see the bass (whether the stand-up double bass or the electric guitar) players; Sullivan, Maudlin and Welborn credited together or separately, this in part is due to the re-recording of the earlier Decca Records songs and production decisions among other things. You can find the unreleased Decca songs as well as more unedited (undubbed) Holly recordings, and even telephone calls and commercials on Youtube. As we all have experienced “going down the rabbit hole” there is an interesting bit of trivia I just picked up. One song in his first string of hits “Maybe Baby” (#18 in 1957) was recorded at the Tinker’s Officers’ Club on Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Apparently Buddy liked the acoustics in the room, how he even knew about the place I don’t know. The song would be finished at the Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. Most will know that Holly’s days with Decca Records were frustrating as they failed to see his value. Ironically, Norman Petty would have him sign with Coral Records and record under the Brunswick label which was a subsidiary owned by Decca. The Executives were not fooled for long, but hey, they were making lots of money at this point so they didn’t care. In another twist of fate a Buddy Holly and The Crickets inspired band named The Beatles would record a demo for Decca in 1961 and they were rejected as well… so sometimes you never learn. I will hold there and work on completing Part 2.

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Thanks as always for reading my blog.

Rockabilly

Gene

I’ve had this topic in my folder since I started blogging four years ago. On the heels of the Elvis post it seems it’s time. Rockabilly by definition is a hybrid name, or technically a portmanteau so I recently learned. A combination of Rock and Roll and Hillbilly music. Rock and Roll as we know started to really develop in the early 1950’s and prior to that much of Country Music was described as Hillbilly Music. However that name was going out of fashion at the same time as Rock and Roll was rising. So it is somewhat fitting that we have a genre that bridges the gap between the two. Just to set the stage for Rockabilly, which not unlike most of what we call a ‘genre’ is actually considered a subgenre, in this case of Rock, so let’s take a look at the roots of the music. As the name says a big influence came from what was labeled as Hillbilly, so geographically we are talking about music from the Appalachia and the Ozarks as well as parts of the American South. It came to be used to describe the music, often in a derogatory way meaning music from the hills of just about anywhere.  Hillbilly Music moved under the term Country & Western, which ‘adopted’ this sound and other associated styles including Bluegrass, Folk, Western, and Folk Blues among others. Having said that, post this musical amalgamation the legendary Country star Hank Williams has been described as The Hillbilly Shakespeare which is unrelated to Rockabilly. For a short time in the late 1940’s Cashbox Magazine among its many music charts had one called the The Nations Big 5 Hillbilly. As for the term Hillbilly, it has not gone away entirely and is closely linked to Old Time Music and Bluegrass.Read More »

Elvis Presley, simply complicated.

I have dedicated two posts to Elvis and his name pops up over 50 times throughout my blog, more than any other artist. Now there is a new biopic out and from what I have heard and read it was very well done with some amazing vocals from Austin Butler, Elvis impersonator number 19,350,108 (serious fans will understand that figure). If you include singing in the shower this is a low estimate of people who have tried to sing like Elvis Presley. According to Wikipedia there have been an estimated 400,000 full blown costume, hair, voice, the whole thing impersonators. I am sure many of us have heard some very good ones, but Butler maybe the best of them all. Really looking forward to seeing the film. I am no expert on Elvis, but I do know a bit about his music, particularly in the early years, and I’m learning all the time. I titled this post with an oxymoron as I believe the life story of Elvis is full of contradictions and events that make his very existence a labyrinthine that intertwines not only the history of Rock and Roll, but three decades of changing times, culture and the events that led to his untimely death at the age of 42. For that story you need to watch some of the many films or read one of the many biographies.

We all know of the King of Rock and Roll, a title he never accepted, and we at least recognize a song or two, afterall he holds the record for the most certifications ever from the RIAA (Recording Industry Arts Association) in the USA. For example he had 54 Singles obtain Gold Record (500,000 sold) status, for all his album and other milestones you can see the Guinness World Records link here. Why do we (maybe not you but a lot of us) still listen to Elvis songs, many of which are now over 60 years old? As I write this it was 68 years ago today, meaning we are just two years away from the 70th anniversary of the recording of his first release, July 5, 1954. Music for most of us is a personal thing, we like what we like because somehow on some level we can connect with it. Why is it when we play our favorite song for someone else they often offer a friendly nod or say, “that’s nice”? Why don’t they love it as much as you do? It could be the style or genre, maybe the artist, melody or the lyrics they don’t connect with, maybe it’s just missing the context that made you love the song. We could say it’s the music of our youth that sticks with us, but many people change their preferences over time. Hey, my sister talked me into going in on buying a The Partridge Family album when I was 12 so I know this is true!

Read more: Elvis Presley, simply complicated.


Elvis passed when I was in high school and I’ll admit he was on the periphery of my music radar, unlike my girlfriend at the time who would have gleefully tossed her panties on stage. But I came to enjoy that amazing voice and his unique way of delivering a song on a record, let alone on stage or in film. Elvis wasn’t known for his songwriting abilities and like many artists he didn’t read or write music. And though he played guitar, bass and piano as well as other instruments, typically he is not remembered for this talent.  All was surpassed by the love of his voice and grant you, his looks and swinging hips for some. The focus of my blog is centered around cover songs and given the plethora of Elvis information both pre and in, the new film, I will talk about him from a different perspective. Focusing on his early career, here is a selection of songs and many of them were not Elvis originals but he certainly added something special and made most any song his own.

While researching in May of 2018, I found there were 485 documented (by Secondhandsongs.com) songs that Elvis covered. In 2019 they had 507 listed and as of July 2022 that number has grown to 514, researchers are uncovering and adding new songs to the list all the time. The original Elvis songs he did total 271, which even for a 25 year recording career is very impressive. Not that it’s a competition but just to give you a comparison, Rod Stewart in his 50 plus year career has recorded about 50 (Elvis 271) or so original songs and approximately 315 (Elvis 514) covers. I took the time to add up the number of covers of just the top 10 of the 271 original songs by Elvis and there are currently 2,179 versions, add in the rest for a grand total of 5916. This makes him the fifth most recorded artist of all time, behind The Beatles, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby and Bob Dylan. Expect a spike in these numbers as the new movie will inspire a lot of singers.

Thanks to YouTube and various posters who have done my work for me I can give you video or audio of some of these songs. And thanks to Secondhandsongs.com I have a great reference library! Here is a selection of covers that Elvis did early in his career with reference to some original songs as well.

The first songs to be recorded at Sun Studios and then released on July 19, 1954 were “That’s Alright” a cover of Arthur Crudup, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” from Bill Monroe.

You’re a Heartbreaker” was his first original song (written by Jack Sallee) recorded December 8, 1954 and released on Jan 8, 1955. It was the ‘B’ side of the single “Milkcow Blues Boogie” a cover of Kokomo Arnold from 1934. Neither song charted, his first original song that would become a hit was “Heartbreak Hotel”, released a year later on Jan 10, 1956. This was his first release with RCA Records and it was a worldwide smash #1 song.

At this point in the timeline I would like to talk about the great Little Richard. I did a post on him a while back and you can check that out here, so I may repeat myself a bit here. First I will say he was a key figure and pioneer in Rock and Roll. When Specialty Records released his sixth single and first successful song, “Tutti Frutti” in October of 1955 it hit #18 on the then equivalent of the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B chart. He would follow with “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip it Up”, “Ready Teddy” and “Lucille” all with the exception of “Ready Teddy” hit #1 on the R&B charts and all had varying success on the mainstream charts. All fantastic stuff.

Pat Boone was the first to cover Richard, his version of “Tutti Frutti” which was a ‘B’ side, charted at #12 in 1956. Elvis was next do the song and he would record Richard’s songs seven times but none of them charted. Was Little Richard a victim of the the exploitation experienced by performers, and many of them Black, absolutely. This practice is a stain on White culture, particularly in the US, but also Canada and the UK. Is Elvis to blame for any of this? I think not, and again these are issues I have tackled in many of my past posts on Rock and Roll and Blues history. Elvis recorded Little Richard songs as a tribute not as an attempt to “rip him off” or steal his music. He recorded covers of many Black artists, because they were great songs. Did Elvis pick up some pointers from the dynamic Little Richard, yes, did Little Richard pick up some tips from other artists such as Esquerita? Yes.

Little Richards’ woes at least from a royalty and financial perspective were due to a bad record deal. It is true Black artists were notoriously paid less than the popular White artists. If you do some research you will find that recording artists both Black and White have been getting screwed over by Record Companies and Managers since the beginning of recorded music. Both Black and White record executives often underpaid their artists, also Black and White executives stole or hid royalty fees from both Black and White performers, and the list goes on. Black artists have covered other Black artists. Black artists have also covered White artists many times, every hear of “Maybellene” or “Blueberry Hill”? This is a debate that has been going on for a very long time and has come into mainstream again with the movie release. Just thought I would include this perspective as it not about a Black and White divide, though a little education on this topic would go a long way.

While I am tangenting again, just one more aside, here is a sampling of bona fide early Rock and Roll songs by date of recording/release to give more perspective on this. I can go back several years but let’s just begin with Big Joe Turner’s original “Shake Rattle and Roll”, Feb/April 1954, covered by Bill Haley June/August 1954 after he covered”Rock Around the Clock” April/May 1954, Elvis with “That’s Alright” July/July 1954, Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” May/July 1955, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” September/October 1955. James Brown’s first hit was “Please, Please, Please” Feb/Feb 1956. Buddy Holly’s first hit release was “Blue Days – Black Nights” Jan/April 1956. These and many other artists were in the mix as pioneers of Rock and Roll, did any of them invent it? No. On to more Elvis songs.

“Blue Suede Shoes” was written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in December 1955, Elvis recorded the song in February 1956 and easily the best know version

“Money Honey” was written by Jesse Stone and originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and Drifters 1953. Elvis released it in 1956.

My Baby Left Me”, another song by Arthur Crudup from November 1950. Elvis released it May 4,1956

“Shake Rattle and Roll” again a song written by Jesse Stone (Alias Charles Calhoun) and first released by Joe Turner and His Blues Kings in June 1954. The best-known version of this song for most is from Bill Haley and His Comets from July 1954, but Elvis was the seventh to try this one, released in 1956.

In total Elvis would release 26 covers and 11 original songs in 1956. Notable originals include; “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Paralyzed”. Adding to the list of memorable covers that year were:

Hound Dog” originally from Willie Mae Thornton, albeit via Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, but Elvis would find his own style for the song. Check out this clip from ‘Big Mama’ Thornton, “Everything Gonna Be Alright” and you will hear why she came to people’s attention beyond “Hound Dog”, she was an incredible talent who was unfortunately much overlooked in her all too short time with us.

“How’s the World Treating You” written by two major stars in the music world, Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant, first released in 1953 by the Beaver Valley Sweethearts. Elvis did it in October 1956.

“Love Me Tender” has original lyrics written by Ken Darby who was a singer and vocal director on the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. He wrote more songs for Elvis as well as Marilyn Monroe and Bing Crosby. It is classified as a cover however because the melody is from a Civil War song circa 1861 called “Aura Lee” written by George Poulton, the original lyrics were not used but they were written by W.W. Fosdick.

As we know Elvis served in the Army from March 1958 to March of 1960. Recorded on June 10, 1958 before he left for Germany they released “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such as I” in March of 1959 as a ‘B’ side song. It was gaining popularity so they re-released it as an ‘A’ side and it hit #1 in the UK and #2 in the US. The first ‘A’ side was an original Elvis song, “I Need Your Love Tonight” which hit also #1 in the UK and #4 in the US.

After his return he and The Jordanaires were right back at it and I mean hard at it, he released 29 cover songs in 1960 alone and another 13 original songs. In 1960 and 1961 he would have “Surrender” and “Stuck on You” both hit #1 and “A Mess of Blues” was #2 in the UK. “Little Sister” reached #5 in the US, however the song, along with the singles flipside “(Maries the Name) His Latest Flame” both hit #1 in the UK. For covers it would be “It’s Now or Never” which was another song with original lyrics but the music was from “O Sole mio” composed by Eduardo di Capua in 1898, and “Are Lonesome Tonight” which was originally from 1926. These two hit #1 in the US, UK, Canada and Australia as well as several other countries in the top five. “Fever” which was about the 11th version of the song first recorded by Little Willie John was not a hit for Elvis but one of my favorites. For me it’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” at the top of my list, it has original lyrics from the dynamic trio of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss. Although the music was adapted from “Plaisir d’amour”, which was a popular French love song composed in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini.

In 1962 ‘Good Luck Charm” would hit #1 in the US and eight other charts, “Return to Sender” hit #2 in the US and #1 on seven other charts. He would chart another three singles that year. In 1963 he charted two singles, “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ peaked at #3 in the US and #1 on eight other charts.

Elvis’s time was dedicated to a string of movies (1964-66) so his recording releases were largely restricted to songs from those films. Unless you are an Elvis fanatic you may not know that an album was released in 1999 of ‘home’ recordings from 1964-67. Some of the songs are just Elvis solo, several were used for a later Gospel album and other songs include an ensemble such as “500 Miles“. It’s a folk favorite written by Hedy West first recorded by “The Journeymen” (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weissman) in 1961. The song was based on the words and melody from this traditional folk song – the first recording is called “I’m Nine Hundred Miles from Home” by Fiddlin’ John Carson (1924).

Just how far back can we go to find a connection to a song Elvis covered? So far (that I’ve found at least) as mentioned is “Love Me Tender” as it’s roots go back to 1861 and you can check it out my Love Songs post. But here is another, “The Gospel Train” or “Get On Board” is a traditional gospel song dating back to at least 1872. Here are the Tuskegee Institute Singers (1916). Based on this same melody is “Cindy” by Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, first recorded in 1927. Hope you are following along OK, now a song based on that melody was recorded as “Cindy Cindy” (words and music by Darrell Fuller, Buddy Kaye and Ben Weisman) released by Elvis in June of 1971.

Here are some more songs;

Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” by Eddie Riff with Orchestra (written by Ivory Joe Hunter and Clyde Otis) in 1956. Elvis recorded this as a single in 1964.

And I Love You So” (1970) written and performed by Don McLean, another beautiful song from a gifted artist, this song touched Elvis enough that he released a version in May of 1975.

Elvis recorded several songs from the talented Jimmy Reed, such as “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1959). Elvis (1968).

In an earlier post I talked about Aretha’s cover (1971) of “Bridge over Troubled Water’ from Simon and Garfunkel (January 26, 1970) but Elvis , and an astounding 52 other artists did a cover of this in that first year (1970) alone.

Elvis also covered Bob Dylan (four times) including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“. To say Elvis’s tastes and abilities were diverse is a bit of an understatement.

Trivia. The Queen song “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1979) was written by Freddie Mercury in about 10 minutes while lounging in a bath. It was a tribute to Elvis. It was the first time Freddie composed a song using a guitar which he admittedly “couldn’t play for nuts” and the band completed and recorded the song in half an hour. It went to #1 in the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and sold close to 3 million copies worldwide. A great cover by the very talented Dwight Yoakam the closest thing to a legit ‘Country Elvis’ you’ll ever find, he hit #1 on the Canadian Country chart in 1999.

Interesting fact that top ranked (Rolling Stone Magazine) music icons Elvis (#3), Aretha Franklin (#9) and Robert Johnson (fifth greatest guitarist) all passed away on August 16.

Thanks as always for reading my blog. Click on the Follow button if you would like my new post sent directly to your inbox.

When did Rock drop the Roll?

When did Rock drop the Roll?

They Called it Rock

Since Rock and Roll was such a groundbreaking development in Music, I set myself to reading more about the genre itself, more specifically its definition and the subsequent application of related subgenre.  I have been reluctant to give in to the idea that Rock and Roll (the genre that came first), it is now widely considered a subgenre of Rock Music. To me this sounds like a rearranging the order of things. Maybe you’re like me, I thought it was always genre first then your various subgenre and sub subs and so on. This is not a chicken and the egg thing, Rock and Roll came first.

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Greatest Pop Rock Ballads (1960's)

The Greatest Pop Rock Ballads (1960’s)

 
There are many definitions for “ballad” songs and many sub categories as well such as the; Sentimental, Blues, R&B, Hard Rock, Soft Rock and of course the Power-Ballad. A ballad is generally defined as a song with emotion and sentimentality that may include a story of love, loss, longing or self reflection. It is typically a longer and slower paced song. We can trace the origins back to the singing bards and traditional folk music, through the Victorian parlours, Big Bands and all the way to songs such as Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me“. I think all of us generally know a ballad when we hear one. Today I want to talk about Pop-Rock Ballads.

Yesterday” (recorded June 14, released August 6, 1965) written by Paul McCartney, credited to Lennon/McCartney and sang solo as a Beatles member by McCartney.  I’ve blogged on this, the most covered ‘pop’ song of all time before but not in this particular capacity, for me it ticks all the boxes for a great ballad. This was a turning point for ballads in Rock music and for that matter in popular music period. Just because the song is now almost 55 years old and most everyone knows the song doesn’t make it great, it was exceptional right from the first time it was performed. It’s well documented from McCartney’s own words that the melody came to him in a dream, and after months of using the comical placeholder lyrics of “Scrambled eggs/Oh my baby how I love your legs/Not as much as I love scrambled eggs” the words were finalized while on a holiday break. Paul has credited John Lennon with coming up with the title of “Yesterday” which helped him finish the song. There is so much written about the uniqueness of the song, the chord progression, lyrics and Paul’s acoustic guitar playing-not to mention George Martin’s brilliant idea to add the orchestra. While it was very briefly debated to release the song as it was, a solo by McCartney, this was vetoed and the the band would not allow it to be released as a single in the UK. Their American label was Capitol Records and the distance (both physical and legal) from EMI’s Parlophone label allowed them to make the decision to release the single on September 13, 1965 but in the US only. It hit #1 after four weeks and reportedly sold a million copies in five weeks, not unheard of however, even for the most popular singles at that time it was still about a year’s worth of sales. And people are still listening to and talking about the song. Currently there are well over 800 documented cover versions with likely a couple thousand others so it is tough to pick just a few. The first cover was from Marianne Faithfull in 1965 (catch the irony!) The Supremes  and John Denver are two of the over 70 versions from just 1966 alone. Frank Sinatra (1969). Himesh Patel from the movie ‘Yesterday’. (2018). Billie Eilish from the 2020 Oscars.

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Greatest Folk Rock Songs

My “Greatest” Folk Rock Songs

The Byrds

To begin the ‘greatest of’ topic in my “Not all ‘Greatest of lists” are created equal” post I talked about the creation of lists and then got a start on a list of my own. One does not have to be genius to come up with such a list but I do take some time to do my research. So to use a popular term these days I have ‘curated’ the songs, many of which you will find on other lists but I have my own take so perhaps you will learn something new.Read More »

Chess Records

Chess Records

Earlier this November I had the privilege and pleasure to visit the former Chess Records (1956-65) building in Chicago. It is an important landmark in the history of Blues and R&R music. It is now home to the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation and hosts tours of the partially restored original recording Studio room ‘B’ and the small room which was Studio ‘A’. Firstly a thank-you to the Dixon Family for preserving this gem. Also a nod to the fantastic tour guide who’s name I didn’t catch but he’s from Manchester so if you go there and are lucky enough to have him you’ll know who I mean. They have lots of photos, great memorabilia and a neat little gift shop (got the t-shirt). I’ve long been a fan of Chess Records and the music they produced, so if you read this post there are spoilers for the tour but my words can’t hold a candle to that experience. I’m happy that this, my 100th blog post coincides with a personally meaningful visit to one of my music ‘meca’s’.

One of the most iconic and recognizable R&R songs “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry was recorded at that building, it’s #7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

Started by two brothers Phil and Leonard from Poland who arrived in Chicago as children with their mother and sister. They joined their father who was working in the Al Capone controlled liquor business during the Prohibition years. The family changed their name from Czyż to Chess and also adopted more American first names. Eventually the family got into the ‘scrap’ business and across the street was a church, and it was there the young brothers got their first introduction to Black Gospel. As described by our tour guide the boys thought they were listening to the sounds of heaven and so their love of music began.Read More »

Southern Rock

Southern Rock

Lynyrd Skynyrd

As I have discussed in previous posts trying to pigeon hole bands into genres and subgenres in particular is a tough task at times. That said when we think of Southern Rock there are certain names that come to mind. Most likely those would be ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’ (LS) and ‘The Allman Brothers Band’ (ABB). I’ve read that the late Ronnie Van Sant who was the lead singer of LS said they were “a rock band who just happen to be from the South” and this is certainly true. But there are some characteristics of the subgenre which set it apart in more ways than just geography. The all too obvious songs we can point to are “Sweet Home Alabama” by LS (1974) and Charlie Daniels “The South’s Gonna Do It” (1975). The former I touched on a bit in my post on Neil Young as his “Alabama” and “Southern Man” both struck a nerve in the south and prompted LS to strike back with an ‘answer song’ both eschewing his view of the south and calling him out by name in the lyrics. They promoted their ‘southern pride’ all the way to a #8 hit song. While the latter from Charlie Daniels was only a minor hit, it lists the names of the some of the Rock bands from the ‘South’ like LS, Grinderswitch, ZZ Top, Elvin Bishop and a few others. Here he is promoting a resurgence of the music and putting the ‘South’ back on the Rock & Roll map. Incidentally a song covered by …no one, while “Sweet Home Alabama” ironically was first covered in 1981 by Charlie Daniels . I should mention here that R&R started in the ‘South’ and perhaps the “British Invasion” made some forget that fact, hence I think that’s why this subgenre is so important.Read More »