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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Before they were old enough to vote: young musicians in classic rock and oldies

Rock and Roll was a very youth oriented genre. Young people loved it and many songs were about rebellion and standing up for what is right. The slogan of the 60s generation was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Many rock stars got their start in their early 20s and were topping the charts. Some of these musicians when they made it were not even adults, and in some cases were not even teenagers or were barely in their teenage years. They were making hits before they were able to vote in an election or rent a car. Many musicians today were young when they made it such as Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Rihanna, but they were far from the first teenagers to make it in music. Here are some classic rock musicians who started their careers at a very young age.

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Black Owned Record Labels


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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