Monday, August 08, 2005

Rock 'n' Roll

We watched the PBS American Masters special on Sun Records the other night, which was pretty cool. Catch it on re-broadcast if you missed it.

During it, they showed various musicians, sometimes with original Sun musicians, performing classic songs from the Sun catalog.

After a while, M----- and I noticed a distinct pattern. All of the older musicians seemed to be trying to reproduce the originals as well as their own distinctive styles would allow, and seemed to choose songs which worked with their strengths. Newer artists seemed to be "reinterpreting" the classic songs and didn't seem concerned with any sort of reproduction.

After a few days' pondering, I managed to sum up the difference: older artists seemed to project, "This is so cool!" while newer artists seemed to project, "I'm so cool!"

Paul McCartney and Robert Plant seemed to be able to channel their inner little boys who grew up on Sun Records and be humble and respectful to the material while impressing their own profound identity upon the songs. Newer artists whose souls weren't changed by this music, who didn't grow up on it, didn't seem to manifest the same repect. Their new versions were invariably inferior, and left a bad taste. And I really like Ben Folds.

To my ears, which also didn't grow up on this stuff, but on music two and three generations removed, it's still definitive and classic, and I would never presume to try and change it. Especially on a nationally broadcast television show. But then again, perhaps I lack the ego necessary to do what's needed to get on that show to begin with...

People who seem to think that they're more creative than masters of the form are always less so.

Although, yes, some of the older musicians featured recorded their own versions of classic tunes. Given. But they always seemed to respect the essential soul of the music. M------ mentioned that none of the new artists who were on the show did versions which had a bloody backbeat! This was an essential feature of early Sun music! What's that line from the Beatles' Rock and Roll Music? "It's got a backbeat you can't lose it!"

I'd also like to complain that they showed Brian Ferry (of Roxy Music) during the segment with Mark Knopfler, but he wasn't shown ever doing anything. We were just a couple of days earlier wondering if Roxy Music and Squeeze ever knew each other, and it was nice to see confirmation, but...

M----- and I both think that Brian Ferry would do an amazing job on Roy Orbison tunes, and would also like to comment on the lack of attention on Roy during this program! They showed his picture but never even mentioned his name!!! We're aghast, aghast I say!

But, seriously, go check out the Sun Records catalog, it's some of the best music ever.

One other thing, though, is that Sam Phillips seems to come across as a complete nutjob. I guess you'd have to be a bit loopy to do what he did, but still...

Not mentioned on the program:

I have to note that he recorded, before Sun began, what is arguably the first rock song with Ike Turner, another nutcase, Rocket 88.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still want to know what the opposite of a backbeat is.
Maybe we should look at and see if there's an expanded version--surely, Brian Ferry didn't just sit around the whole time!

9:42 AM  
Blogger fatoudust said...

Ah... the answer is all around you!

Beats don't have an "opposite" but to answer the most obvious interpretation of your question... it's "downbeat".

In a 4/4 rhythm, a backbeat is emphasis on beats 2 and 4, as opposed to a downbeat rhythm with emphasis on beats 1 and 3. Or at least the one, as that's what "downbeat" means, emphasis on the "one" beat.

In the Beatles song in question, it's "backBEAT" instead of "BACKbeat", if that helps...

3:29 AM  

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