Rooted in rhythm-and-blues pioneered by black musicians, 1950s rock and roll was racially inclusive and attracted listeners and performers across the color line. In the 1960s, however, rock and roll gave way to rock: a new musical ideal regarded as more serious, more artistic-and the province of white musicians. Decoding the racial discourses that have distorted standard histories of rock music, Jack Hamilton underscores how ideas of "authenticity" have blinded us to rock's inextricably interracial artistic enterprise.
Here is just a sprinkling of the issues Hamilton addressed that I never considered as a teeny bopper listening to music at our neighborhood pool.
- Racial roots ran deep for the music that was popular in the 50's and 60's.
- Blacks felt as if their music was plundered involving issues of cultural ownership and racial authenticity.
- Hamilton traced the roots of 60's rock and roll back to the King of Soul, Sam Cooke, who he juxtaposed with Bob Dylan, the leader of the folk rock movement.
- Gospel music, slavery songs, civil rights, the southern freedom struggle and political unrest all influenced music. Similarly, there was dynamic back-and-forth movement as music itself influenced politics and culture.
- Protests against capitalism made big bucks for record companies. (Think of musicians in the 60's such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and of course, Bob Dylan himself.)
- Music was made to be danced to and sold.
- Performance and identity are intertwined for many musicians.
- The term "invasion" should not have described the Beatles. There were tons of influences on the Beatles from this side of the Atlantic including Motown and Cuban music. Other influences included British blues (itself derived from American blues), Keith Richards, Tads, Skiffle.
- White artists performed black songs and vice versa. For example, both Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder sang Bob Dylan's songs. Aretha Franklin (the Queen of Soul), Janis Joplin (the Queen of Rock), and Dusty Springfield sang each other's music. Joplin sang black music in white-only venues; Franklin sang the Beatles, "Eleanor Rigby" in first person and made it into a rhythm and blues rendition that Hamilton called "audacious" and "genre bending". Hamilton went into great depth analyzing how each musician's rendition made a song his or her own and their motivation to assimilate the music into his/her own repertoire.
- What is soul? In Hamilton's words, "Soul is a way to think about race." According to some commentators at the time, "to have soul was to suffer unjustly at hands of whites."
- Do whites have the ethical right to play black music? If not, isn't this racism? The problem was that whites got paid more for their performances.
- There were musical commonalities between the Beatles and Ray Charles. Ideas of what white and black musicians can and cannot do, rarely hold up to scrutiny of musical practice.
- Often Jimmy Hendrix expressed his dismay at the Vietnam War through musical violence. To him, it was a critique of the society around him. But derogatory remarks made about him among critics often marked him as "other".
- The Rolling Stones were obsessively grounded in black roots.
The narrator, Ron Butler, did an excellent job. I could listen to him read any book! Here is a sample from MIDNIGHT. If you are interested in delving into the cultural and musical environment of the 50's-early 70's, then this is a book for you.
I'm giving away the MP3-CD that I received from Tantor Audio. It is encoded in MP3 format and is iPod ready but will play only on CD and DVD players or computers that have ability to play MP3 formatted disks. (That meant I could play it in one of our cars but not the other and it didn't work on an old CD player.) Please leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Giveaway ends June 2.