Despacito: Topping the charts everywhere, but is it really that impressive?

I’ve been busy working on other writing projects and my thesis, so I am a bit late to the party, but this song is still played widely on the radio. It’s still #1 in America. I heard it on the bus and it got me thinking: is it really that impressive that a Spanish language song made it to the top worldwide in 2017? It is impressive because most songs on the charts are in English and English is often deemed the official language of rock and pop, no doubt. There are still barriers to non-English language music appearing on the charts: the need to appeal to American audiences.

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Indian Influences in Classic Rock

 Note from the author: I wanted to write this post for a while now. The sitar is my favourite instrument. I think it was an instrument that revolutionised classic rock and added something cool to the table, paving the way for other world music genres to influence classic rock. I believe that incorporation of world music influences in classic rock does a lot of good, broadening the minds of fans. It’s great to see musicians acknowledging their influences and giving credit where due. It’s not cultural appropriation. It’s art and it’s for all to enjoy.

 I grew up in a family that taught me about different cultures and encouraged curiosity. Not only did I learn about multiple cultures from being mixed race, I travelled a lot with my parents and my parents encouraged me to read from a young age. I encourage everyone to read about other cultures. I encourage you to travel and try new things. Maybe you can’t afford to travel or you’re unable to for other reasons, but the internet and the library are here for you – great places to learn about the world around you. Life is short, learn about this beautiful planet.

The 60s was a period where you saw Indian inspired fashions and heard Indian inspired music. The term for this embracing of Indian culture is Indomania.  It was more than just sitars in psychedelic rock and it wasn’t just superficial, let’s throw in a sitar in this rock song. In this post, you’ll see what I mean.

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Disco Rocks

Genre rivalries, there are a lot of them. They can be between different subgenres of rock or between different genres. You’re told to pick one side or the other, you can’t like both. Or can you? A silly question, of course you can like more than one thing. Don’t let the elitist fans tell you what you can and cannot like. I can rant all day about elitist fans, but I’ll leave that for another time. In this post we’ll be covering the crossovers between disco and rock with an emphasis on rock musicians trying their hands at disco. Disco played an important role in popular music and inspired the dance genres of the 80s and beyond.

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Hip Hop in Classic Rock and Oldies

Classic rock took influences from everywhere. Hip hop/rap started in the late 70s, but it influenced classic rock musicians in the 80s and later. Let’s see how classic rock influenced hip hop and how it incorporated hip hop. So what were hip hop’s influences? Looking at the chart from School of Rock, it seems like it came from disco and funk, which took influences from R&B and doo-wop, and from there the blues. We can see that this is true because many rappers have sampled soul, funk, and r&b songs like Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft”, Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” (this song reminds me a lot of early hip hop and I can see how it is influential), James Brown’s “The Payback”, “Between The Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, “Amen Brother” by The Winstons, and “The Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl. Many more have been sampled and we can go on and on. A good resource if you want to check and see what has been sampled or what used samples is http://www.whosampled.com/. Turns out that in a way School of Rock was right!

Even before funk, disco, R&B, and soul music, there was talking blues. One of the earliest examples of talking blues is from the 20s. This was a time before the LP record, a time before television. Mind you, the sound quality isn’t great because they didn’t have the best recording technology at the time. Chris Bouchillon is “The Original Talking Blues Man”. His father was a banjo player. His first talking blues song was recorded in 1926 and released in 1927. The idea of him talking instead of singing was born from the recording director telling him to talk instead of sing. He made a sequel to the song in 1928. This sub-genre of blues inspired musicians like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. From the blues came genres like soul and R&B, so talking blues is an ancestor of rap, when you think about it. So is rap really almost 90 years old? Or is it even older than that?

Actually, according to some sources, there were roots of rap before talking blues. In West Africa stories were told rhythmically and blues music came from work songs and African-American spirituals. By the 20s during the Harlem Renaissance there was jazz poetry, and in the 50s and 60s, beat poetry. According to Elijah Wald, hip hop is “the living blues”. The Last Poets, poets and musicians who came out of the black nationalist movement in the 60s and 70s were influential to many hip hop musicians. Their music was political, and their rhythms were tight. I like the drums in “When The Revolution Comes”, from 1970. The Last Poets formed in 1968 in Harlem and were influential to Gil Scott-Heron and later on hip-hop musicians.

An important part of ska music was “toasting” which is making sounds, repeating words, rhyming, and talking over the beat of the music. Ska music started in the 60s in Jamaica and has spread all over the world and is an important part of the skinhead subculture in Britain. Toasting is a precursor to rap.

Here’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, by Bob Dylan from 1965. This is one example of talking blues that’s a bit more contemporary.

A lot of people pit different genres against each other. Many musicians from all different genres have a lot of respect for each other. So these supposed rivalries are a bit fabricated. You also can like more than one genre. There’s a lot of stereotypes about rap, such as “Rap has no meaning.”, when really, a lot of early rap had a meaning and was very political and very intelligently and poetically written. This stereotype is not true at all. Let’s find out what classic rock and oldies musicians have been influenced by the genre or influenced the genre.

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Black Classic Rock Musicians

Rock and Roll is a black American invention. The first rock stars were black. Rock and Roll started picking up in popularity in the 50s with musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Goree Carter (some say he made the first rock song: “Rock Awhile”), Jimmy Preston, The Isley Brothers, Wes Montgomery, and Fats Domino. Every rock musician you can think of from the 60s and 70s and beyond took inspirations from these musicians from this era. Songs by these musicians have been covered by many rock bands. For example, The Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA” borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”. The Beatles have covered Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”. They have even covered both “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (although “Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by The Top Notes). They covered “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (that was a blues song that Little Richard covered). The Beatles also covered Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. The list goes on. Let’s explore the history of black rock musicians from the 60s and 70s!

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Romani Classic Rock musicians

The Romani are an ethnicity mostly living in Europe (although there are some Americans of Romani descent). They originated in India and were nomadic, eventually reaching Europe. The Romani live all over Europe, with populations in countries such as England, Spain, France, Italy, and Romania. Sadly, they have been persecuted for centuries and there are estimates that anywhere from 220,000 to 1.5 million Romani died in the Holocaust (not much is known and it is difficult to find exact numbers). To this day there still is persecution because of far right wing parties being elected in parts of Europe.

Romani music itself has a wide variety of influences from Indian to Greek to Persian to Slavic to French and Spanish. Romani music was even the basis for the Spanish flamenco. Django Reinhardt, a Belgian jazz guitarist of Romani descent was very influential to rock musicians such as Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Dickey Betts, Jeff Beck, and Jerry Garcia. Django Reinhardt was the inventor of the genre “jazz manouche” in the 30s. Jazz pianist John Lewis said of Django “He was the first great European jazz musician”. Another interesting thing about him is that in a fire he lost a few fingers but continued to play guitar. He died in 1953 at the age of 43. Here’s a video of some Django Reinhardt songs:

There are a few musicians of Romani descent who have made contributions to classic rock, let’s explore! Disclaimer: There will be quotes from musicians about their backgrounds. Some of them have reclaimed the word “gypsy” to describe their ethnic backgrounds. This is how they wish to identify. The only usage of the word “gypsy” will be in quotes from musicians or in one case a band name. Otherwise I will not use it. Thank you. Continue reading “Romani Classic Rock musicians”

Black Owned Record Labels

Prologue:

Black Swan Records was founded by Harry Pace in 1921 in Harlem, New York City and was the first black owned record label whose target market were black Americans. The label released recordings of blues and jazz music. Blues and jazz music had a big impact on rock musicians. Black Swan Records was bought out in 1924 by Paramount Records (nothing to do with the movie studio). The record label was defunct by the late 20s and was resurrected in the 90s with rereleases of blues and jazz music on compact disc.

Vee Jay Records was founded in 1953 by Vivian Carter and James C Bracken, husband and wife. Before Motown was founded, it was the largest black owned record label according to Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter. It was started in Chicago, same city where Soul Train started. Like Stax (came from the names of the founders Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton – brother and sister), their record label came from the two names of the founders. Like Stax, Motown, and Philadelphia International Records, they had their own house band with a guitarist, a bassist, a piano player, drummers, and a brass section. The music released on that label were from the following genres: blues, R&B (which was rising in popularity in the 50s), jazz, and rock and roll. The Impressions (Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler were a member of this band) were signed to this label before they released music on Curtom Records. Their best known song from this very early era was “For Your Precious Love” from 1958. Some of The Beatles’ music was released on Vee Jay in the United States. Sadly, the record label went bankrupt for the first time in 1966. Musicians who were signed to this record label include John Lee Hooker, Dee Clark, Memphis Slim, The Dells, The Four Seasons, and The Standells. Here are some songs by these musicians:

There were many other famous record labels that have had much success amongst black Americans and people from all ethnic groups from around the world. For example, music from the Motown/Tamla Motown label was popular in the English Northern Soul subculture. Music from the Motown and Philadelphia International record labels was featured on the popular American TV programme, Soul Train, which was created by Don Cornelius. Soul Train was known as one of the first youth oriented shows that was geared toward a black American audience. It was known as “The hippest trip in America.” Soul Train was also a hit amongst white Americans, and quite a few non-black musicians appeared on the show such as David Bowie, Elton John, Average White Band, and Frankie Valli.

Let’s explore!

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Ska and the Caribbean Influence in Classic Rock

Music of the Caribbean has had an influence on classic rock and youth subcultures in Britain, such as the Mod and Skinhead subcultures. Skinhead came from the Rude Boy/Rudie subculture from Jamaica. A few reggae and ska songs crossed over into the top 40 in the 60s and 70s. Rock bands have made covers of ska and reggae songs. The late 70s marked the start of a ska revival, the two tone era. In the 90s there was another revival of ska, especially with Ska punk.

How did ska and reggae get to Britain in the first place and influence so many musicians there? Jamaican immigrants in the 50s and 60s brought music with them. During the 60s and 70s a lot of Jamaican musicians moved to the UK to further their music careers. Record labels like Chris Blackwell’s Island and Lee Gopthal’s Trojan brought Jamaican music to the UK.

Let’s look into how ska came to be and how it spread in popularity. We will also look at musicians of Caribbean (mostly Jamaican) descent who had a big influence as well.

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