my old friend, doctor john harrelson, has written a couple of nice things about the history of pop music. i’m re-posting them here to get the word out a bit more. history comes in many colors. musical history as well. for many of us musical history, is just as important as the more regular stuff. i hope you enjoy john’s blogs.
KING OF ROCK, KING OF POP, GODFATHER OF SOUL
MIGHTY, MIGHTY MEN
Part One—Dedicated to Drew and to Jason
Was Elvis the King of Rock? Was Michael Jackson the King of Pop? Can you even doubt that James Brown was the Godfather of Soul?
First, Pop[ular] music. Before 1930, Popular Music was very much associated with regional taste/culture and narrow exposure. The first guy to appreciate the possibilities of capturing a national audience was Bing Crosby. Incorporating Jazz phrasing learned from Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden and a great sense of song choice, Crosby was the first commercial entertainer to use his recordings as a substitute for his live performance. He figured the exponential impact correctly and was a successful entertainer into the 60s and lingered on into the late 70s [See his duet with David Bowie in a Christmas special doing “Little Drummer Boy.”]
Frank Sinatra is the next memorable icon, though hardly the only singer of the late-30s and 40s to be a PopStar. Many Big Bands featured romantic, handsome and/or talented vocalists who were a major feature. Trumpeter Harry James, drummer Gene Krupa, and clarinetist Artie Shaw were musicians who courted movie stars, engaged in mis-behaviour, and were very much like Mick Jagger, Glen Campbell, or Chris Robinson.
Frankie Laine, Snooky Lanson, even Tennessee Ernie Ford were singer/stars of the 50s that were on the radio, television and selling great quantities of recordings. Then came Elvis Presley.
In 1954 and 1955 Elvis started a revolution—though he did not invent it. Singers who based their entertainment approach on Louis Jordan’s Tympani Five, Bullmoose Jackson, Roy Milton, Louie Jordan, Bill Haley, were causing a ruckus, filling the gap left by the sudden decline of the Swing Era bands. Nat ‘King’ Cole, Charles Brown, and some crooner types brought fantastic textures to the market place. Elvis, though, got young people excited.
Many young folks were drawn to the visceral realm of Roy Brown, Wynonie Harris, and the new DooWop genre. The realm of the Crows, the Robins and two hundred more was exciting, new, and not like any of the music before 1945. Elvis drew from these sources and his own White cultural music, Hard Rock Gunther, Bill Monroe, and Bob Wills. [Check his first version of “Milk Cow Blues” a tune that dates back to Kokomo Arnold, where Wills probably learned it.]. Elvis, with his band, brought together a vast number of disparate elements that became Rock-a-billy and, less than four hundred days later, “Rock and Roll.”
Once the label was firm, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins were under the same ‘new’ umbrella. But, as businessmen will do, the real deal was quickly sharing the genre with Georgia Gibbs and Pat Boone. By 1958 the “Bobbies” fucked everything up. Some were talented (Bobby Darin), some were vapid (Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton). Some were not Bobbies at all (Bobby Paul Anka and Bobby Tommy Sands) and some were too late (Johnny Burnette and Jimmy Clanton). Ricky Nelson took a while to get over his own celebrity, but he did contribute some great songs. The Everly Brothers took the simple device of singing in thirds and performed some fantastic songs.
Link Wray did the magnificent “Rumble.” Johnny & the Hurricanes did the cheerful but useless “Rocking Red River Valley.” Elvis got out of the army and did two killer tunes; “Marie is the name of his Latest Flame” and “Little Sister.” Then he folded into a shameful pile of has-been. Periodically he would offer an amusement (“Viva Las Vegas”) or a piece of crap (“Girls, Girls, Girls”). He got pseudo-operatic with “You Gave Me a Mountain” (and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”). He got maudlin (“In the Ghetto”). He tried to be hip (“U.S.Male”). He tried to be cultivated (“My Way”). But, in reality, his creative days were over in 1958, and his genuine power was gone after 1961.
But he was the figure who got young folks excited. That is why Elvis is considered the King of Rock’n’roll. –JWfH
THE KING OF ROCK, THE KING OF POP AND
THE GODFATHER OF SOUL
PART TWO—Dedicated to Justin and to Dahvia
So it is apparent that Elvis has virtually no power after 1961. Girl groups, the Shirelles, the Chantals, the Ronettes, the Chiffons, and more to come, are a dominant segment in the market-place. Duane Eddy made the guitar a more prominent voice, leading to Dick Dale, the Chantays, and a tide of instrumental Surf bands. The Beach Boys opened the door for the Surfaris, Jan & Dean, and the other side of the Surf genre, that of the vocal groups. This offered the opportunity for the Ronnie & the Daytonas (from Memphis), the Cobras (studio band?), and the Pyramids (with a Black guitarist!) to enter the genre. The last gasp of Surf music was “New York’s a Lonely Town” by the Tradewinds in 1965.
The Folk Music Scare was in full effect. From 1958’s Kingston Trio hit “Tom Dooley” [nee “Duhla”] through Peter, Paul, and Mary, Folk music was a commercial arena. The Back Porch Singers, Pete Seeger, and the essential Bob Dylan, were to provide the foundation for the 1965 rise of a new sub-genre—Folk-Rock. Barry McGuire, the Mamas and the Papas, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and, importantly the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield inhabited a realm that was only American. (Except of course, those pesky Brits were as good at this as they were at copping our Blues and other styles and genres. Check Chad & Jeremy, Peter & Gordon, and the Beatles.)
1960 to ’64 is a rich and overlooked era in Rock/Pop/R&B. Obscure events and records (Reparta & the Delrons, the Cookies, three-and-four track tape machines, Fender amplifiers improved, cheaper, efficient microphones, Sam Cooke leaving the Gospel genre, et al.) The Four Seasons managed to update the DooWop style as far as it could be taken. MoTown went from Smokey Robinson, the Marvelettes, Little Stevie Wonder to a huge stable of hit-makers that were always present in the charts (‘64-’74). Stax Records developed from “Green Onions” and “Last Night” to a significant contributor to American culture.
When the Beatles emerged, young people once more became excited. And with that excitement came rapid change and creativity. A Buddy Holly clone became the leader of the Bobby Fuller Four. The Warlocks, a Memphis Jug Band imitation, became the Grateful Dead. King Curtis opened a Hollywood Bowl concert. A pair of albino brothers left Texas and found their way to acclaim. A mild sub-wunderkind from the late 50s became Sir Douglas.
The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and Paul Butterfield stimulated a curiosity in young Americans about their own inheritance. Thus B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and a clutch of Chicago-based Blues musicians gained notoriety and increased their influence. The Folk folks had reintroduced Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny & Brownie, Jesse “Lonecat” Fuller and ten more, so the Blues scene flourished.
Between ’65 and ’72 the acceleration of ideas was nearly unbelievable. The Moody Blues went from a sophisticated R&B ensemble to an incredibly sophisticated orchestral presentation. Eric Clapton developed from a convincing heir to Blues authenticity to an intense Jazz-inspired [but not informed] improvisational-ist. The Yardbirds, a very experimental-minded Blues band, spawned the foundations for Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Jeff Beck’s Group, and eventually Led Zepplin. Miles Davis created “Bitch’s Brew,” as much a landmark of change as any such ‘event’ in American music history.
The Beatles traveled from a fantastic Rock band to a bunch of Rock’n’roll musicians who made it a habit to trample on boundaries. The first 60 songs fall away from memory when “Rubber Soul” appeared. That work was pushed aside for the impact of “Revolver,” which was faded by “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The final LPs by the group stand as holy grail items.
As the Beatles became the four individuals, an expectation developed that a “New Elvis/Beatles” phenomena would develop. The two leading qualified candidates were Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Of course, Stevie Wonder had been famous since 1963, he was blind, and, he was Black. While the atmosphere for Black artists had changed since Count Basie’s 1935 reference to racism, Nat ‘King’ Cole had died before benefiting from changes, and Ray Charles had gone forward to new boundaries, America would not realign its’ habits or tastes for Wonder. Elton John received support from some quarters simply because there was a vacuum of power.
At this point  Michael Jackson was a novelty, associated with the Jackson Five. The Jackson Five had not matched MoTown’s best acts—the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and the stellar Supremes. Since Wonder had taken Berry Gordy to task, wanting new terms with his recording contract. Marvin Gaye soon wanted the same. The Jackson’s tried for similar renegotiations but separated from MoTown and benefited from this decision. Gordy kept legal ownership of the Jackson Five name and could not really exploit the family’s earlier efforts. Further, Gordy was unconnected to Michael’s rising fame.
If you want to really understand Michael Jackson’s place in the greater scheme of Rock/Pop history realize that he had twenty-seven super hit songs. Nine of those were with his brothers involvement. Only three of his ‘long playing’ discs had deep impact. Twenty-three of his solo singles failed to attract any attention. Contrast this with the Beatles having 21 Number One singles and one Number Two (in six years). Then, as individuals they had many hits (“Imagine,” “Jet,” “My Sweet Lord”).
Year Title Highest Chart Slot
1969 “I Want You Back” 1
1969: “Who’s Lovin’ You”(b-side of “I Want You Back”) 1 [False statistic]
1970: “ABC” 1
1970: “The Love You Save” 1
1970: “I’ll Be There” 1
1970: “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
1970: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
1971: “Mama’s Pearl” 2
1971: “Never Can Say Goodbye” 2 [Cover of a previous hit]
1971: “Maybe Tomorrow” 20
1971: “Sugar Daddy” 10
1972: “Little Bitty Pretty One” 13 [Cover of a previous hit]
1972: “Lookin’ Through the Windows” 16
1972: “Doctor My Eyes” [Cover of a recent hit]
1972: “Corner of the Sky” 18
1973: “Hallelujah Day” 28
1973: “Skywriter” – 25
1973: “Get It Together” 28
1974: “The Boogie Man”
1974: “Dancing Machine” 2
1974: “Whatever You Got I Want” 38
1974: “Life Of The Party”
1974: “I Am Love (Part 1)” 15
1975: “Forever Came Today” 60
1975: “All I Do Is Think of You” (B-side of “Forever Came Today”) [False statistic]
CBS releases (The Jacksons)
Year Song title US chart
1976: “Enjoy Yourself” 6
1977: “Show You the Way to Go” 28
1977: “Dreamer” – 22
1977: “Goin’ Places” 52
1977: “Even Though You’re Gone
1978: “Different Kind Of Lady”
1978: “Music’s Taking Over”
1978: “Find Me a Girl”
1978: “Blame It on the Boogie” 54
1979: “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” 7
1979: “Destiny” – 39
1980 “Lovely One” 12 29
1980: “This Place Hotel” 22
1981: “Can You Feel It” 77
1981: “Walk Right Now” 73
1981: “Time Waits For No One”
1981: “Things I Do For You”
1984: “State of Shock”(with Mick Jagger) 3
1984: “Torture” 17
1984: “Body” 47
1987: “Time Out for The Burglar”
1988: “2300 Jackson Street”
1989: “Nothing (That Compares 2 You)” 77
1989: “Art Of Madness”
Long Player releases
1972 Got to Be There * Released: January 24, 1972
1972 Ben * Released: August 4, 1972
1973 Music & Me * Released: April 13, 1973
1975 Forever, Michael * Released: January 16, 1975
1979 Off the Wall * Released: August 10, 1979 * Label: Epic (EK #35745)
01 – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
04 – Get On The Floor.
05 – Off The Wall
1982 Thriller * Released: November 30, 1982 * Label: Epic (EK #38112)
03 – The Girl Is Mine
04 – Thriller
05 – Beat It
06 – Billie Jean
07 – Human Nature
08 – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
1987 Bad * Released: August 31, 1987 * Label: Epic (EK #40600)
01 – Bad
02 – The Way You Make Me Feel
07 – Man In The Mirror
08 – I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
09 – Dirty Diana
10 – Smooth Criminal
11 – Leave Me Alone
1991 Dangerous * Released: November 13, 1991 * Label: Epic (EK #45400)
08 – Black Or White
2001 Invincible * Released: October 30, 2001 * Label: Epic (EK #69400)
“—” denotes albums that weren’t released or were released but did not chart.
Now you can compare these facts with Rod Stewart’s career, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles. Figure out that Peter Frampton means nothing. That means van Halen, AC/DC, Nirvana are not imperatives. The Who accomplished something, but Boston and Aerosmith are only significant, not essential.
To many participants in Pop Music, Van Morrison, RadioHead, Tupac Shakur, and your favorite act mean nothing. If Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, Madonna is the Queen Mother, Britney Spears is a Princess, and the royal blood-line is dependent on the genetic information provided by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. –JWfH