These are quick notes describing some of the different sounds or song styles within "rock and roll" music. (Beware of excessive categorization. :-) Cross-over is good?)
And keep in mind that I use the term Rock and Roll to cover the sounds of the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s - anything later requires an adjective. ;-)
- Da Doo Ron Ron, by the Crystals
(is what Phil Spector intended it to be - hand-clapping foot-stomping driving Rock and Roll.)
- The Boy I Love, by Darlene Love
(joyous, with a wall of sound behind Darlene's strong voice)
- Time Is Tight, by Booker T and the MGs
(an instrumental that just keeps moving (it is "tight" :-)
Honourable mention to songs with artists pushing their strong voices, such as Darlene Love in Christmas Baby - Please Come Home.
JUST MOVIN' OUT Productions that are fast-paced include:
- Big Town Boy, by Shirley Mathews
- Rockin' Little Angel (rock and roll/rockabilly)
- Heartache, by the Marcels (doo-wop style)
- Morse Code of Love, by the Capris (doo-wop style)
- Rescue Me, by the Fontella Bass, moves along on strong instrumentation
- Wasn't that a Party, by the Irish Rovers (bad theme, catchy music)
- Beautiful Momma, by Roy Orbison, sounding a bit like Elvis, in "rockabilly" style (hmm - much rockabilly in this list, is the section title a partial description of the genre?) - Buddy Holly's first hit, the name escapes me, upbeat in temp and theme
- Wah-Watusi, by the Orlons, interesting sounds from backup singers and musicians. - and in performances more of the later "Rock" era, Wonderful Sunday, by Daniel Boone
- Go Jimmy Go
- Too Busy Thinkin Bout My Baby
(By "lilting" I mean varying in tempo and volume, sometimes by a soaring chorus. The fast doo-wop performances such as Rose Marie by The Fascinators have some of that. By comparison, Big Town Boy just keeps bouncing.)
- The Young Ones, Cliff Richard (great combination of guitar and symphoney strings)
(Who sold more records in Britain than the Beattles. Might be a message in the difference in sound - IMO the Beattles wrote great melodies but performed in a less listenable style.)
- Footsteps, Steve Lawrence.
- Love You So, Ron Holden
- I'll nominate Sam Cooke's Havin' a Party.
- Honourable mention to many ballads, such as Tan Shoes and Pink Shoe Laces by Pat Boone, who fell into a successful run of ballads.
"Carry Me - home to Birmingham" by the Stampeders has some lilting but more of a rolling-along sound to my musically uneducated mind. Is it a fast version of "ballad"? (OK Keith, what defines a "ballad"?)
Brenda Lee's live version of Havin' a Party had a guitar backing that I described as "rolling".
DON'T FORGET SMOOTH SLOW
Check my Doo-Wop page for some slow songs.
I expect you can think of slow RnR songs that are not doo-wop. (The Paris Sisters hit for Phillies Records comes to mind as I write this, except its title does not - perhaps To Know Him Is To Love Him. :-) The Fleetwoods had several slow hits, notable for vocal harmony.
And what is this?
Any Other Way by Jackie Shane and Billy Billy by the Beaumarks are what I call a halting or interrupted style.
The Elgins, out of Motown, have a somewhat similar sound but without substantive pauses - noteably Heaven Must Have Sent You - and Just One Look by Doris Troy is similar.
Is there a resemblance to some jazz styling? (Big Band and jazz performers played around with stylings.)
Or rockabilly? (Listen to Crazy Little Thing Called Love, such as performed by Michael Buble.) Or to calypso (noting the roots of the sound of Mary Wells' "You Beat Me to the Punch", performed in a style with substantial pauses, in comparison with Two Lovers that also has calypso flavour)? (See the end of the Shaggy Dog Stories section of this page regarding the calypso flavour in some of her performances.)
An interesting sound is what I call a "rolling guitar", somewhat like a John Fogarty/CCR sound, heard behind Brenda Lee singing "Havin' A Party" at a live performance (different from the original by her friend Sam Cooke).
A common but overlooked feature in arranging is the short piano tinkles in Just One Look, offsetting the heavy RnR instrumentation.
I like guitar twangs, such as: - the bass in My Girl, by the Temptations
- the guitar in Someday Soon, by Judy Collin (which sure sounds like Ian and Sylvia)
- the guitar bridge in He's a Rebel, by Darlene Love performing at Rainbow and Stars (her group did not have a horn player as in the original Phillies Records production)
Echo was commonly used, in some cases to evoke memory of a dance in a high school gymnasium.
You can hear it clearly early in Heartache by the Marcels, when "ache" is shouted separately from "Heart".
Radio stations and recording studios used electro-mechanical means to produce echo, lower budget productions often used a bathroom.
Eat your historical heart out, fans of Country & Western dancing. Some RnR performances were line dances - such as The Locomotion - with music to move to.
SHAGGY DOG STORIES
(Not a sound, but an approach to telling a story within a song - which Barry Gordy and Smokey Robinson tried to do in their early work. A Shaggy Dog Story has an ending quite different from what you expected while listening.)
- Two Lovers, by Mary Wells
- Two Silhouettes, best known in the Diamonds cover of someone else's work
(Two Lovers is both an example of Smokey Robinson's perpetration of shaggy dog stories and of his calypso-based arrangements. (His ancestors were from the Caribbean.) You Beat Me to the Punch is a better example of calypso influence, also performed by Mary Wells - whose earlier Motown work was tougher (such as Bye Bye Baby, which launched the career of the shy teenager at age 15).) One of the production values Motown started with was that each performance should tell a story, biut I expect Barry Gordy meant that more generally. :-)
And for country & western fans, especially those who like the steel guitar, there's Conway Twitty's magnificent love song "The Likes of You".
In too many cases the group named on the record label did not perform what is on the record. When a hot group was out on the road performing and people wanted a new release a different group might record something for release under the name of the hot group. One example is He's A Rebel - released as The Crystals but actually performed by Darlene Love and The Blossoms, a group often used for backup/background vocals at Golden Studios in LA where Phillies Records produced. (Phil Spector got away with it at the time because Darlene Love's clear strong voice was reasonably close to the Crystals' lead singers - Barbara Alston's was clear but not as strong and La La Brooks' was strong but she styled her words more, though I doubt either could manage the strength of Darlene's no-no-no.... at the end.)
- the saxaphone was a favorite instrument.
(But possible to substitute for - noting for example Darlene Love's 1998 night club performance in New York, credibly using a guitar in the bridge of He's A Rebel despite the hit version using a sax. The key is it rocks well.)
Look to this EZine for examples of sax breaks and his observation that the technique was popular in R&B "jump" performances in the Fifties.
- bass guitar was widely used.
- symphony instruments were often used.
(Such as strings and bass fiddle - hear both in My Girl by the Temptations (from Motown, who regularly used members of the Detroit Symphony and hired a big-band arranger to manage the music for concerts). My Girl contains my favourite "bridge" - and a matching intro - both using progressive introduction of both symphony and rock instruments.)
OK, Red Robinson - where does Rockabilly fit in that? ;-)
(Apparently ranging from the Sun Records bunch (Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, ...) to Tommy Rowe.)
Obviously the performers and music came from many places and times.
My Doo-wop notes cover some of the big-band, jazz, rythm & blues, and gospel roots. With which I'll note the comments in the TV show on the 40th anniversary of Motown that what RnB disk jockeys called "happy music" (Motown's sound in contrast to "soul") reminded some of the "sisters getting happy" in a southern church.
Elvis Presley and others came from "rockabilly" which is related to country music.
Brenda Lee came from Lousiana and country roots then handled pop rock and roll well before going back to country (her last #1 pop record, Comin' On Strong, has country elements).
Latin influences were there, as well as "cultural" from places like Brooklyn and LA.
And the more "pop" rock and roll has broad roots.
(Classical music enthusiasts might listen to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. :-)
But recognize that Rock and Roll is essentially American, though some of its US roots were from elsewhere much earlier and many Europeans did great work. (Canada being in "America" with a fairly porus border.) The United States being the great melting pot with freedom to pursue interests and the productivity to fund music.
I mentionned Doo-Wop, and there's Acapella.
Other RnR examples include:
- The Flamingos
- The Shirelles singing Soldier Boy
I mentioned "doo-wop" earlier.
"Rockabilly" was an early part of Rock And Roll. Elvis Presley came out of it. Jack Scott's song "Oh Little One" was a smooth version. Rock and Roll combined with hillbilly country I suppose.
Here's an attempt to give eras of various styles of "rock and roll".
(I'll stick a few notes here for now. See The People of Rock and Roll for more information on disk jockeys.)
- for a good business approach read Pat O'Day's book about KJR and the concert business. (In later interviews he reveals some of his personal problems.)
- a radio station that seemed to be programmed and promoted in the style of KJR's heyday, but not the same music, was 96.9 in Vancouver BC and other Canadian markets. Complete with clever long promos and zany contests reminiscent of the 1960s, it was called "Jack" FM. (An awkward play on the words of an in-your-face saying, with the tag line "playing what we want".) Not RnR but I am curious who programmed it. I understand they are Rogers chain stations, and the concept began as a format-replacement on one Vancouver frequency - see Christmas notes below for other examples.)
- praise to CISL 650, the oldies station in the Vancouver BC area, for finding many different mixes of popular songs - often recent-style beat arrangments and broader voice ranges than the originals. (Granted, it may help meet the oppressive "Canadian content" regulations.) Most appreciated at Christmas, when too many stations play too much "same old".
- Some Rogers chain stations have gone all-Christmas at Christmas, for those who really want the music, as a bridge between a failing format and its replacement in the new year. Sounds like a dream temporary job - "its all yours for a month, make it sound good but you won't be rated on it". (IMO they outperformed many regular stations in selecting and sequencing the music.)
- And I commend the Smooth Jazz station in Seattle, KJAZ, for a different selection for Christmas 2005. While linked to their normal music choices it was more melodic, swinging wider. One production that really caught my ear was the Dave Koz band's rendition of Walking in a Winter Wonderland, with Dave Koz swinging on jazz saxaphone in front of a country guitar, an incredible production. (My music study must continue so I can determine whether he was playing alto, tenor, soprano or baritone sax in this production - he plays all of them. ;-)
- And I'll mention the Reuters Budapest web site for hosting a clever animated feature of reindeer backing Bill Pinkney leading White Christmas like you've never heard it before. (Beginning with Bill's deep voice backed by higher voices in the group "Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, then reversing to Clyde McPhatter leading with his high voice. The combination of low and high, plus nonsense syllables, is classic DooWop.) Unfortunately the credits are in the fine print somewhere else (the song production is decades old, the animation a few years old).
- As for new mixes, it is bemusing when the lyrics are clearly RnR - mentioning dances of the era such as the Locomotion and the Stroll - but with recent-style arrangement. (For example "Its Christmas Morning" - hey, I don't remember that one from "back-when" :-).
(Covers are risky of course - people remember the original hit, which often was to a production quality level not matched by the cover. Some are faithful (such as the Beach Boys cover of the Regents' "Barbara Anne"), some corruptions (such as one supposedly doo-wop version of Unchained Melody), some styled differently but quite good - such as Stand By Me by Little Eva, and the White Christmas version I just mentionned.)
I'll mention these specific radio stations:
- 104.9 FM in the Vancouver BC area dropped Red Rock Diner with Red Robinson, as they radically changed format. They had adopted the CFUN call letters at Red's urging, but weren't perorming to the standard of CFUN of the 1960s and now have moved on from any resemblance to it.
- CISL 650 in the Vancouver BC area has moved significantly back to oldies plus "big band" to cover what the disappeared 600 frequency played. (CISL went to some classic hits format that bombed.) Red Rock Diner with Red Robinson is back on CISL, noon to 4pm Sundays.
- KIXI 880 in the Seattle WA area is a blend of smooth RnR with big band. A gem is Jim Parsons on Saturday evenings from 6pm to 8pm and Sunday afternoons from 2pm to 4pm, music from the early days of Rock and Roll including doo-wop plus good interviews. Preceding the Saturday time is an hour of Elvis Presley, following the Sunday time is Frank Sinatra music and history.
- Alas, CFR 660 oldies from Calgary AB, receivable in Edmonton AB, has changed to news only.
- 880 KOOL Oldies was somewhere in central Alberta.
- KBSG 97.3 in the Seattle area no longer plays oldies.
- KISN 97.1 in the Portland OR area (old information).
- the LA area has many stations, many variations, and changes. Try 92.3, 94.1 and 101.1 for oldies (that's old information).
- in eastern Iowa try KMRY 1450 in Cedar Rapids for smooth oldies and big band, and FM105.7 in Waterloo for oldies with R&B content, plus a station to the west (that's old information).
- and in New York City, WCBS-FM may be a very listenable oldies station (that's old information).
2004 was being considered the 50th anniversary of Rock and Roll, which exploded in the mid-Fifties. Elvis Presley recorded at Sun Records in July 1954, Rock Around the Clock was released, and the doo-wop classic In the Still of the Night was written.
2005 was the 50th anniversary of many more founding aspects of Rock and Roll.
(But Lloyd Price claims his 1952 production "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" started Rock and Roll, according to Bill Dahl in the liner notes for the CD box set "Rock, Rhythm, and Doo Wop".) Of course the Rock and Roll genre encompassed at least three types of sound, most with roots going way back. We should think out of the categorization box. Some producers and disk jockeys did, resulting in successes (like Pat Boone's as a balladeer on the Top 40 charts) and new trends.)
© Keith Sketchley
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