MY FAVORITE ROCK CRITIC (Not Quite Random Favorites…In No Particular Order)

87

(My favorite rock critic, at 41, the year I was born.)

The earliest memory I retain with any certainty happened when I was four (or five) years old. It was the Christmas season of 1964 (or 1965). My favorite rock critic and and my sister and I were walking through a shopping mall (somewhere in Florida…my memory says Merritt Square, the internet says it didn’t open until 1970 so maybe it was Titusville or even Orlando…I know I wasn’t nine, I swear my memory is at least that clear). My favorite rock critic was holding my hand (or else my sister was). They were piping music through the mall (or whatever it was). I wasn’t paying the least attention to the music. Until I was. Something new and wonderful started playing (or maybe it was the chorus that got me) and I broke away from whoever was holding my hand and started running towards that sound.

The only problem was, the sound was being piped over speakers that pointed from every direction. This probably saved me from getting lost in a bustling Christmas crowd, because, having completely lost my senses, I started running around in circles. My favorite rock critic could no longer run, so it was left to my sister to finally catch me, after which they both kept asking me “What is it?”

I couldn’t tell them.

76

(My favorite rock critic, my brother-in-law and me, circa the time period in question. Memory says the play list was heavy on Peter, Paul & Mary. Lovely. But they were not who was playing at the mall…or wherever.)

I probably knew the words “music” and “song.” They were concepts my favorite rock critic lived for. But, in that moment, overwhelmed by that sound, I wasn’t able to call up the words. My senses weren’t merely lost but overwhelmed. I was, for the first and last time in my life, experiencing a strange, benumbing combination of physical pain and an insistent inner command to laugh out loud, which, for some reason, I could not obey.

All I could do was keep pointing at the roof of the mall (or wherever it was).

And that was all I was ever able to do.

Years later, when I finally bought the record that was playing over some set of surround sound speakers somewhere in Central Florida in 1964 or 1965 (on an “oldies” 45, which I still have), I didn’t even think to ask my favorite rock critic if she remembered this little incident. Nor did I ever think to ask afterwards. Because I didn’t think to ask, I’ll never know.

She loved the record. I remember that much. My favorite rock critic had killer taste. Just listen and hear…

 *    *    *    *

My favorite rock critic never bought records herself (she was into sheet music).

130

(My favorite rock critic, a little later on. With her sheet music….Or somebody’s.)

There were some kids’ records around the house when I was growing up, and some albums my father picked up at thrift stores, mostly Broadway soundtracks or easy listening instrumentals. I listened here and there after I learned to work the stereo’s record player. If I listened to the radio, it was to Braves’ games or college football. Never the radio. If I knew the words to any pop song, “Snowbird” say, it was from my favorite rock critic’s song books, the vast majority of which were religious. My favorite rock critic arranged and directed church choirs when she wasn’t singing in them or, more likely, in front of them. There was music everywhere at my house. Just not much rock and roll.

The first peak at my own future came when my sister moved out, for the last time, after my brother-in-law came back from Viet Nam. She left her 45s, which consisted of a Little Richard that was too beat up to play (I can close my eyes and still see every single thing on that Specialty label except the title), Gale Garnett’s “We’ll Sing In the Sunshine,” which I liked well enough to learn the words to (and which I still have), and this one (which I also still have):

Unless maybe it can be traced to that experience above (about which more later…reveal at the end!), I don’t doubt my inordinate affection for what, in those days, were still called “girl” singers, dates from the summer afternoons when I was ten, eleven, twelve, when I played “Ode to Billie Joe” ten, eleven, twelve times in a row, day after day, while my favorite rock critic went about her business, never once asking me to stop or play something else or even becoming the least exasperated when I asked her, yet again, for the tenth or eleventh or twelfth time “What does it mean?”

“There were a lot of rumors when it came out,” she would say. “But nobody really knows.”

I was convinced, in those days, that my favorite rock critic, the most honest person I knew (or ever would know), was keeping some horrible adult secret from me. I was convinced of it, even though she never had the least bit of trouble telling me I was too young if I really was. Such is the power of the Gothic tale.

By the way, I’ll save my deep thoughts for a “How Much Can One Record Mean” post some day, but this much I can say here: There are still a lot of rumors about what “Ode to Billie Joe” means. And just because Bobbie Gentry has taken a stab at explaining it herself, doesn’t mean anybody really knows.

 *   *    *    *

You might think that, having been captured by a 45, I would seek to replicate the experience. I did not. I’m not sure why. Money would certainly have been an object. I didn’t have any. I did not get an allowance. Any money I made working for my father, from nine to nineteen, went into a college fund (which would remain untouched and, in its interest-bearing entirety, one day pay for exactly three months at university…there were reasons we did not buy many records at my house).

But it’s just as possible that, being surrounded by music in the house, I did not feel any great need to seek it elsewhere. And still more possible that being captured by that particular 45 put a brake on what might otherwise have been my natural development.

In any case, time passed, and we moved to another part of the state. For reasons I went on at some length about here and here and here, I became a record junkie.

And a smart aleck.

One day, in my full-blown smark alecky phase–sixteen maybe, or seventeen–I was listening to the radio in my room (yeah I listened to the real radio by then, a lot). The local Top 40 came out of South Alabama and played a mix of current hits and oldies. It was a Saturday and me and my favorite rock critic were cleaning my room and one of Roy Orbison’s ballads came on. “Only the Lonely” if memory serves. Roy at his greatest. Elvis’ favorite singer. I thought I’d play a smart aleck joke on my favorite rock critic, who was a huge Elvis fan, so I spent two and half minutes convincing her it was Elvis. She didn’t buy it at first, but I was so convincing, and she so much believed I was sufficiently like her that I wouldn’t treat such a thing frivolously or pointlessly, that she finally accepted my truth. Elvis sang “Only the Lonely.”

And then?

One of Elvis’s ballads came on. God help me if it wasn’t “Love Me Tender,” which, perhaps sacrilegiously, I’ve never really considered primo Elvis and, as a record, wouldn’t consider in the same league with “Only the Lonely” even to this day.

Except…The joke, my joke, was about the voices. Not the records.

As my favorite rock critic liked to tell people with a smile ever after, when she, never I, would bring up the story: “And you could hear the difference….Right away.”

By which she meant, you could hear why Elvis was Elvis, even on “Love Me Tender” and why even Roy Orbison wasn’t, even on “Only the Lonely.”

And, God help me, you could.

That was the last time I tried to play a musical joke on anybody, let alone my favorite rock critic.

But something about that moment made us closer (perhaps I should say even closer) than we had been. I think the shock I felt at being so coyly betrayed by the Cosmos, and the clarity with which I learned my lesson, left her with a feeling that we might meet in the middle on my new favorite subject…that she might yet teach me something about it that couldn’t be learned in books.

She taught me.

One thing she taught me was not to take professional rock critics too seriously. A few years later, I gave her Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, with which I was very much impressed at the time, to read. Her response to the Elvis part was, “Well, at least he treated him with some respect.” Which was her way of saying he didn’t quite get it, a judgment time has confirmed. On the other hand, her response to Marcus’s description of Randy Newman’s “Sail Away,” (“a vision of heaven superimposed on a vision of hell”), which I read to her right after I played her the record, was: “Yes, that’s perfect.” Meaning both the record and the description, judgments time has also confirmed.

And she “got” things I didn’t get but someday would: Everything from Grease to, yes, Elvis.

Most of all, my favorite rock critic got voices. Their power, their seduction and, above all else, their cost. The only two voices she ever described as being “like an angel,” were Martin Luther King’s and Karen Carpenter’s. I’m not sure I took that comparison (which she never made directly) all that seriously. Kinda silly really. Until Karen Carpenter turned up dead. Turned out, my favorite rock critic knew, just by listening, who was likely to be chased out of this world by hellhounds. So while I didn’t know if she was wise beyond her years, I soon learned she was wise beyond mine. There was, for instance, no chance anyone raised by my favorite rock critic would ever be taken in by Johnny Rotten (the way to dusty death for me, whatever he meant to you).

Thus, there were some happy days, of which a few still stand out:

One day I was listening to this…

…and she asked me who it was. When I told her, she smiled and nodded and said: “I knew it had to be brothers. Only families can harmonize like that.”

Voices.

Another day, (the day after I brought it home and played it as incessantly as I’d played “Ode to Billie Joe” once upon a time), this…

My favorite rock critic: “Now who did that song you were playing last night.”
Me: “A group called the Shangri-Las.”
My favorite rock critic (with her familiar smile and nod): “I thought it was them. I always remembered them because they were always so different.”

Voices.

Another day, this…

…to which, assuredly: “That’s as good as Little Richard.”

Voices.

Another day, this (just out on the radio)…

The opening chord was chiming as we pulled into a parking space at the bank, me driving (she didn’t), me in control of the radio (she always let me), me ready to go inside, her saying: “Oh let’s listen to this.” To this day, I don’t know whether my favorite rock critic loved the song or just knew I did. She’d have told me if I asked. But my favorite rock critic knew I wouldn’t.

Voices. Or maybe just sounds.

Another day, this…

My favorite rock critic, with her eyes closed, ten seconds into hearing it for the first time and not knowing the Band from Adam: “They must have played together for years to have that kind of timing.”

Voices. Or sounds.

Another day, it might be this…

or this….

And my favorite rock critic would say something like “Where do you find these?” and I would be able to recount little tales of the record collector’s art that, among other things, demonstrated that professional rock critics were not always entirely worthless!

75

(My favorite rock critic in her element. That’s our long-gone stereo behind the chair. I still have the guitar. I can’t play a lick and it’s one of exactly three physical possessions that will have to be pried from my cold, dead fingers.)

Then, one day, it was late in the game, toward the change, when the happy days weren’t so common and were more typified by me playing something like this…

And my favorite rock critic, eyes closed, her own voice racked by age and disease, sighing and saying, “I used to sing like that.” To which my father, befuddled, said “You never sounded like that.” Meaning my favorite rock critic was an operatic soprano, not a soul baritone. To which I said, as gently as I could: “That’s not what she meant.” Meaning even my favorite rock critic never spoke truer.

Voices.

90

(My favorite rock critic, near the end of happy days)

Anybody who has followed the blog knows my favorite rock critic was a major Elvis fan.

They may not know that she always thought if she could have reached Elvis somehow she could have saved his life. Tom Petty was among the many who thought the same. I doubt anyone could have, but if anyone could have, I’d have bet on my favorite rock critic before I bet on anyone else.

They may know that my favorite rock critic used to tell stories about singing with the hobos, who eventually taught her to hop trains, in the Salisbury, North Carolina train yard when she was barely older than I was when I had my first musical memory.

They may not know that she started to give me and our pastor’s son guitar lessons but went in the hospital two lessons in for one of her longer stays. By the time she got out, the pastor’s son was on summer vacation. By the time he got back, his father had found a new church. I don’t think either she or I knew that the real reason I didn’t want to take guitar lessons again was that my nine or ten year old self–not much younger than she was when she hopped those trains and rode them only to the edge of town–arrived at some subconscious conclusion that guitar lessons equaled hospital visits and there were enough of those already.

That’s how it is, sometimes, when your favorite rock critic happens to be the person who brought you into this world.

If I’m even a little bit better person than I was born to be, I have my favorite rock critic to thank. And wherever she is now, I know she can see and hear my earliest memory–wherever and whenever it was–far more clearly than I can.

And, if she ever thinks about that moment when I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, wherever and whenever it was, I know she’s smiling, knowing it turned out okay.

Here’s to then….And to Voices. And sounds.

Happy Mother’s Day!

(Next Up: My Favorite Music to Break Rulers By…By Which I Mean the Kind You Can Use for Drumsticks If You Don’t Have Drums)

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES FOR 2016…

Like last year, no Tanya Tucker. Like last year (and every year), no drama. Like last year, three worthy inductees that cover a broad spectrum. They all happen to be natives of my mother’s home state, but I’d say sincere congrats if they were from Mars. In case you think “country music” covers only a narrow spectrum, you can listen below and be disabused.

As Recording/Touring Musician, Fred Foster, who, among countless others, produced these…

and, with Kris Kristofferson, wrote this…

In the Veteran’s Category, Charlie Daniels…as performer…

and songwriter…

And in the Modern Era category, Randy Travis….

For at least the last couple of years, the Country Music Hall of Fame has had the very good sense to have Brenda Lee announce and introduce the nominees. Highly recommend listening to the ceremony for anyone who is remotely interested in this stuff.

ILLUMINATION AND ALL THAT…THE BEATLES IN THEIR TIME (Segue of the Day: 11/8/15)

Or, what might this…

beatlespleasepleaseme

have to do with this…

19622nd

and this…?

1962stillrockin3rd

More than I would have guessed.

It’s always fun to think of some small new twist on a story that’s been done to death. Not too many stories have been worked over more thoroughly than The Story of the Beatles.

But one thing I’ve never done before is try and listen to the music that made them big in England, a year and half before ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and The Ed Sullivan Show sent them into the international stratosphere, in the context of what was happening on American radio in the months must before which we’ve always known they had an ear for.

How much of an ear?

Well, their first album, finished in February, 1963, included fourteen songs. Eight were Lennon/McCartney originals. One was a recent Broadway tune (“A Taste of Honey”). The other five were hits of recent vintage (no fifties’ rocker stuff, as there would be on later albums), three of them straight from the Brill Building (though one of those was by way of the Isley Brothers) and another, “Boys,” that might as well have been.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but outside of “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Please Please Me” and “There’s a Place” (that last, a space even the Beatles never got back to) and, at a stretch “Love Me Do,” the Brill Building cuts, real and faux, are the strongest stuff on the album. “Chains” is solid. The other three (“Boys,” with Ringo’s first recorded vocal and his best until “It Don’t Come Easy,” plus “Baby It’s You” and “Twist and Shout”) all epic.

Having four sides in the can (the A’s and B’s of their first two singles) when they prepared to cut the album, their assigned producer George Martin asked Paul and John what else they had. They answered “our stage act.”

Meaning all that Broadway/Brill Building/Faux Brill Building stuff of such recent 1960–63 vintage wasn’t thrust upon them. It was what they liked. What inspired them.

Which is odd, given that for several decades after, as professional rock criticism bloomed, flowered, withered and died, the basic narrative pretty much held that rock had “died” in those years. (You can still find Greil Marcus going on about it in his latest, which I’m still loving by the way.)

For many reasons, the strongest maybe being because I came in at the Beach Boys (first national hit, albeit one I never much cared for, released June, 1962) and, especially, the Four Seasons (first national hit, August, 1962), I never bought that particular narrative myself.

Later on, when I got to know much more about Roy Orbison and Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke and Brenda Lee and Gene Pitney and Ray Charles and girl groups and surf rock and second-generation doo wop and early Motown and so on and so forth, I bought it even less.

But, amongst all those “nevers” I still never thought to actually play the Beatles first album next to a well chosen anthology of the music that was in their LIverpool-to-Hamburg-to-London air, via Pirate Radio or the BBC or their record collections or whatever other distribution methods were targeting their demographic at the time.

Then, this week, I found myself with my latest additions to Time Life’s year-by-year collection, “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era” which happened to be the two discs devoted to 1962. And, since I was duty bound to listen to them anyway, I went, “h-m-m-m-m.”

Why not stick the Beatles’ first, Please Please Me between Time Life’s 1962 and 1962 Still Rockin’?

That was Monday, which makes this Segue of the Day a week late and a little bit of a cheat, but what’s a blog for if you can’t bend a cheap concept like Time out of shape once in a while to suit a narrative?

Anyway, it sent me off on that whole tangent I mentioned in my other posts this week, and I might still have one or two posts to go before I exhaust that particular day.

The day itself didn’t exhaust me. I found it pretty exhilarating

Because listening to a multinational corporation’s repackaged definition of what the Beatles were trying to fit into as they climbed their first mountain made both experiences bigger and better.

In the first place, I learned something.

Listening to all this music thrown together, I could finally begin to understand the belief held by so many about rock’s “demise.”  There are 44 tracks on the two Time Life collections and, even with the names I mentioned above being mostly absent (except for Gene Pitney), the period was heavy on reaching for quiet spaces. That wasn’t quite the rejection of Little Richard and Chuck Berry so many assumed. More like a broadening of perspective. But I can see how some might have been fooled.

Because while there are rockers (the Isley’s “Twist and Shout” among them, though it doesn’t rock like the Beatles, who tended, along with everything else, to be smart about choosing their battles), the major emphasis is on introspection, heartbreak, longing.

That really shouldn’t be surprising.

These are the kind of things you might expect the era’s outsiders: black people, urban immigrants, girls, perhaps even the occasional hillbilly (throw Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby” up against “Love Me Do” some time if you need evidence history doesn’t always move in a straight line even in the short run), to be especially invested in communicating as a dual language: part public, part secret.

The Beatles certainly didn’t miss that. A lot of that first album, including something as joyous and up-tempo as “Please Please Me,” reaches for those very same qualities. Sometimes they missed. Several cuts tend to commodify rather than amplify the melancholy, skate over it rather than deepen it (something else they would also always be very good at and which the public accepted enough, in the immediate wake of February, 1964, to make cuts like “P.S. I Love You” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” into big hits–what happened with the Beatles, there was a reason they called it Mania).

But about half the time, they grabbed hold. On top of which they, or somebody, had the sense to start and end strong. “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Please Please Me” frame the first side of the British debut LP; “Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout” the second.

All to the good.

Believe me, coming out of Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park” and Don and Juan’s “What’s Your Name” (both wonderful) at the end of the first 1962 volume, “I Saw Her Standing There” really is a leap in the dark, a rush that feels like “What’d I Say” must have felt in 1959 or “Tutti Frutti” must have felt in 1955. In fits and starts at least, Please Please Me still sounds like some sort of revolution.

By the end, with this…

and this…

closing the record*, it becomes possible to think Americans must have been flat out deaf and stupid not to respond to the various attempts to sell the Beatles over here throughout the latter months of 1962 and all of 1963.

That, in fact, is just what I was thinking.

But then I put on the second Time Life disc.

And it started with a reversal of form: The Beatles’ quiet-place-bleeding-into-a-loud-place becoming a loud-place…

bleeding back into a quiet place…at a party no less…

And I was yet again reminded that the competition in early rock and roll was literally insane. That maybe the miracle wasn’t so much the Beatles didn’t make it here sooner, but that they made it at all.

In the Contours’ Detroit, after all, and Sam Cooke’s Chicago-or-L.A., and a whole lot of other American spaces, they might have gotten lost in the crowd.

Well, until Rubber Soul anyway.

By which time they probably would have had other jobs.

*Sorry, no decent studio cut was available. Even YouTube isn’t perfect.

 

TESTING THE LIMITS ON OPERA AND SPEED…DOO WOP IN ’56 (Segue of the Day: 8/26/15)

DOOWOP1956

Given where technology and “markets” (i.e., viable distribution systems) are headed, the various series the Bear Family has been putting out lately, dedicated to fifties’ R&B, country, sixties’ soul, doo wop and so forth, are probably going to serve future generations in a capacity similar to that provided by the Irish monks who preserved scripture in the Dark Ages.

I’ve spent this year working on the Street Corner Symphonies series and I’m up to 1956, which was even more of a watershed year than 1953 or 1954 (which I wrote about here) or 1955.

Bill Dahl, whose been an R&B historian for about as long as there has been such a thing, did the notes for the series, and he rightly notes that ’56 was the year rock and roll supplanted blues and gospel as the unifying force in the era’s vocal group dynamics.

But that just means those older styles were subsumed, not that they vanished. Here, they’ve moved from conscious to subconscious but their force is still present, the submergence creating a new dynamic that would last until the rise of punk and rap in the late seventies.

Just how much the world had opened up in the space of a year hit’s home in the distance covered by tracks 7 and 8, both uber-familiar, both as fresh as the day they were recorded.

First you get the Platters, with Tony Williams doing everything it’s possible to do with a pop ballad–everything anybody had ever done and everything anybody, including Roy Orbison, would ever do…

Then, without warning, you get the kind of head snap that put rock and roll in the center of the culture overnight and kept it there for the next thirty years. It took that long for the overlords to get their feet completely back under them. They’ve been stepping on us ever since and, absent a cataclysm no sane person will want to live through, I doubt they’ll let the boot slip again. But you can still listen to this, coming out of the song above, and know why it was so hard…and why a sliver of hope always remains.

I mean, who knew people were capable of this, the minute before it happened?

Certainly nobody in Tin Pan Alley.

That’s why, within a few years, the operative catchphrase for the same basic process had changed to “Brill Building” and the scene was being run by twenty-two year old kids with classical training they could utilize or discard at will.

No real surprise. After the segue above, the conservatory and the street were bound to meet somewhere above the old timers’ heads.

And all of that’s before you get the Cookies (who would soon be the Raelettes) pushing the dawn of the girl talk ethos back a full year before the Bobbettes and Chantels….

and the Six Teens offering proof of just how far Brian Wilson’s knowledge of the L.A. doo wop scene really extended….

and some guy named James Brown, showing up at the very end, sounding more “traditional” than anyone on this disc, and also pointing the way to a future that couldn’t be denied.

I’m done for now. I plan to quietly fold my hands in my robe in preparation for spending the rest of the day in meditation and perhaps copying a chapter or two from the Book of Judges.

MICK AND NEIL AND THE MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY (Segue Of The Day : 5/26/14)

I’ve been thinking a lot about ballads lately. By “a lot” I guess I mean, even more than usual.

The more than usual bit kicked in around a week or so ago, when I listened to a couple of “Ballads” comps from Hip-O Select’s series of such. Hearing their James Brown collection for the first time–and being blown away by it, by the fact that this was about the tenth best thing we think of when we think of James Brown and that it’s both mind-blowing and past any easy exegesis–led me to the other disc I have from the series, which is a similarly staggering set from Brenda Lee.

And all of that got me to thinking–or remembering–that the real reason rock and roll took over the world for thirty-plus years wasn’t just because the fast and loud singers got better (as opposed to just faster and louder, which is what the common narrative would have us believe) but because the ballad singers got better, too.

I know, I know. Me on my high horse again, contending that Tony Williams and Jackie Wilson and Roy Orbison went places even Doris Day and Nat “King” Cole (my picks for the greatest pre-rock balladeers) simply couldn’t go. Once more admitting I’d rather listen to Clyde McPhatter than Billie Holiday (great as she is) or Elvis in full-on strings-and-horns mode over Sinatra being eminently tasteful (or enervated, depending on your perspective).

What can I say? Guilty as charged.

But this recent bout of contemplatin’ got me wondering just how deep the divide really runs. I mean, how many rock and roll balladeers would I have to list before I got to a pop singer (we’ll leave country and gospel out of this for now–though I’ll say they are a lot closer to the spirit of rock and roll than Tin Pan Alley and some heavy Don Gibson time these past few weeks has certainly brought home just how much closer)?

I decided it would run pretty deep. I didn’t make a list or anything, but–given the modern definition of “ballad,” which is pretty much anything that tries to pack an emotional wallop into a slow tempo–I’m guessing I might get to thirty or forty before I even started considering any Pop singers besides Doris and Nat, and maybe fifty or more before I actually put another one in place.

Even after all that, it turned out I wasn’t quite through, because yesterday, on the daily run to the grocery store (hey, it gets me out of the house, which, believe me, I need)–I turned to an actual music station for the first time in about a month and ran into the Rolling Stones’ doing “Angie” (#1 in 1973–their last except for the disco-ish “Miss You” in 1978) backed up by Neil Young doing “Heart of Gold” (his sole #1, from 1972).

It happens I wasn’t really thinking of Mick Jagger or Mr. Young for my “top balladeer” list. And you have to use that stretcher of a definition I cited above to really call these ballads. But they do demonstrate the depth of field that was operating at rock’s high tide.

As it also happens, I have some emotional ties to both.

“Heart of Gold,” always brings back rides to baseball practice in the spring of ’72. I was eleven. My dad worked in the afternoons. My mom didn’t drive. The baseball fields weren’t anywhere near my school. Nobody on the team lived near me. That meant I was riding with my brother-in-law, who would pick me up on his way from Titusville to Merritt  Island every afternoon and deposit me at the practice fields about twenty minutes late, where I would get dirty looks from all the coaches and most of my fellow players even though everybody knew I didn’t have a choice. Male bonding!

That was the year I almost quit baseball–five years before it quit me. Mixed memories to say the least and I can understand why my brother-in-law doesn’t remember it. Sometimes I’d like to forget itmyself. But “Heart of Gold” played on the local Top 40 station every day that spring at the same time on the late rides into practice and I seldom encounter it without thinking of those times and smiling a little over how long it took me to become a Neil Young fan!

“Angie” was sort of wrapped up in male bonding, too. Or maybe I should call it male anti-bonding. It was the first Rolling Stones’ single I bought (from one of those oldies’ bins I had started to haunt, some time in the late seventies) and one of the first songs I ever had to “defend” in one of those snark-fests young males get into when they are calling each other’s tastes into serious question.

The extent of my defense was not exactly the stuff high school legends are made of. Following a rather lengthy rant from the other guys about how there was this really great, slow, acoustic guitar playing and then Mick had to start whining and make everybody want to puke, I think my response basically amounted to “Hey, I like it. Sounds good to me.” That and a little smirk that was designed to suggest I just might be onto something. End of discussion!

I learned early. The more mysterious the better.

So, whenever I heard “Angie” through the years–and I’m pretty sure, given the proximity of their release dates, that it and “Heart of Gold” have been chasing each other around quite a bit over these four decades–I mostly thought about the weirdness of me sticking up for a record by the Stones (about whom I have always maintained a certain ambivalence) against rabid Stones lovers who happened to hate the first Stones’ record I loved.

Then, on September 11, 2002–the first anniversary of you know what, when it was already evident that “you know what” was not going to be taken seriously and that, except for the soldiers we asked to get shot and blown up for the privilege of accepting our “thanks,” we really were all going to go shopping and let it go at that–I was riding around, listening to the radio, and heard those acoustic guitar chords my long-ago debate club buddies had praised, not because they liked beautiful acoustic guitar lines (trust me, they didn’t) but because whatever Keith did was cool (even if it was just duet-ing with Mick Taylor) crawling through my speakers.

The song changed for me in that instant.

Listening to Mick sing it that day didn’t change it back.

It just cemented the change in place. There’s been a lot of speculation over the years, just what/who the song was about. I’ve read that “Angie” was supposed to be Marianne Faithful, Angie Harmon, Keith’s daughter and none of the above.

Take your pick.

As for me: From September 11, 2002, to now it’s always been about the sound of goodbye and, whatever it was supposed to “mean,” I’ve also developed a sneaking suspicion that the what/who Mick Jagger was really saying goodbye to was himself.

There has certainly never been any recorded evidence on this side of the divide that the man who was responsible for so much transcendent  music that had been recorded in the previous decade still exists.

So here’s to our nation of shoppers.

Goodbye us.

 

AN OPERA LEGEND SAYS GOOD-BYE…HAS THE GOOD SENSE TO RELY ON HIS INNER NEIL SEDAKA (Found In The Connection: Rattling Loose End #26)

Opera great Ben Heppner says farewell at his retirement party…with Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” a number one hit in the early sixties and a top ten as a ballad remake in the mid-seventies.

I especially like the way the (presumably) hoi-polloi audience starts out by assuming it’s a campy joke. Maybe they forgot–or didn’t know–that, in the era when Sedaka’s hit first charted, he was competing with folks like Roy Orbison and Jackie Wilson and the post-Army Elvis, among others, who were actually doing things a young Ben Heppner might have found inspirational.

Whether that was the case or not, I bet Heppner, at least, hasn’t forgot the possibility.

And, by the time he’s done, neither has anyone else:

My only regret is that he didn’t do the comma-comma-down-doo-bee-doo-down-down part. I’m sure Richard Wagner’s response in the afterlife would have been ve-r-r-r-y interesting!

THE RETURN OF MARY WEISS (Memory Lane: 2007)

{NOTE: I’m kinda’ swamped at the moment so, to cap the week, I’m posting one from days gone by. Rock and Rap Confidential was kind enough to distribute a slightly edited version of this piece in their on-line newsletter at the time Mary Weiss’ solo album Dangerous Game was released in 2007. I don’t see any reason to alter any of its basic assumptions. Weiss, not surprisingly for someone who tends to let silence speak volumes, has recorded nothing since, though she has toured occasionally. For anyone new to the site, you can track some of my personal history with the Shangri-Las in the SHANGRI-LAS FOREVER category at the right. In any case, this is an accurate reflection of how things stood between me and Mary Weiss when she finally came out of the shadows. FYI: You can follow the Norton Records link below to find Weiss’ interview at the time, which I’ve linked before but can’t possibly be over-publicized.]

About fifteen years ago, driving through middle Georgia, I happened across a very small black gospel station of the sort that proliferate throughout the south. It was a Sunday afternoon and the programming consisted of a live, obviously local choir performance.

The choir featured a very young female soloist who sounded remarkably like….SOMEBODY. I drove along–slowly!–mentally riffing through dozens of favorite black female singers, trying to place the similarity. After about thirty minutes, hearing her off and on, I finally realized I had been on the wrong track. The striking resemblance wasn’t to a black woman at all. It was to a white teenager.

Just before I passed out of the tiny station’s limited range, never learning the young singer’s name, or even the name of the choir she was fronting, I realized she was a dead ringer for the Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss–Ah, yes, Queens and the Georgia plains, together again!

A few months back, at the Norton Records’ website, Weiss related a wonderful story about reverse-integrating a women’s bathroom while a Houston cop drew down on her during a show she played with James Brown. I certainly wasn’t surprised to learn that the lead singer of the Shangri-Las was not intimidated by racist cops. And because of that Sunday afternoon in Georgia, I wasn’t even surprised to learn that Augusta’s own James Brown had hired the Shangri-Las because he assumed from their records that they were black.

But Weiss’ return is far more than a nostalgia trip with a lot of great stories attached. This is one comeback that is tremendously important to both history and the moment.

As to history: In breaking a lifetime of silence regarding her career with the Shangri-Las, Weiss has driven about a hundred new nails in the coffin of Standard Rock Theology’s most damaging falsehood–that because they were female and often impossibly young, many of the greatest singers of the rock and roll era owed their success primarily to svengali-like male producers rather than their own drive and talent.

This lie is rooted in a deep, almost willful misunderstanding of singing as a creative process, fully equal to writing and producing. It has probably kept the Shangri-Las (and Arlene Smith and the Marvelettes and Mary Wells, among others) out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, if reading and hearing Weiss’ modest, convincing voice doesn’t kill it for good, nothing will

From her, we learn that the Shangri-Las’ revolutionary dress and stage manner–which instantly and permanently changed the way women could present themselves in popular culture and left a long, deep shadow on the New York street scenes that would eventually produce both punk and rap–were entirely their own. That they worked closely with their producers and arrangers at every stage concerning what they would record and how. That their impeccable, drop-dead harmonies, always a vastly under-appreciated aspect of the female group sound, were forged by years of practice in a hyper-competitive environment** where literally hundreds of fine groups never made it off the streets and only a handful ever had a hit (let alone the near-dozen chart records, including four top twenties, notched by the Shangri-Las).

As to the moment: Weiss’ new album–the first music in forty years by one of rock’s signature voices–has been consistently damned with faint praise that grows straight out of the old, false mindset. Most mainstream reviews have been content to convey two basic ideas: 1) Gee, the old girl sure does sound like herself and 2) it’s always nice to have an excuse to name-drop Shadow Morton.

Don’t be fooled.

On Dangerous Game, Weiss is backed by the fine southern garage band, Reigning Sound, whose Greg Cartwright supplied most of the first-rate songs. The sound and style are as far from Morton’s justifiably storied extravagance as you can get.

But after a dozen listens, I’m convinced this music is of a piece with Weiss’ long-ago greatness not because of her still unmistakable timbre, but because of her ability to bring her great themes–trust and betrayal–to bear on any situation anyone is ever likely to write a song about.

There’s no doubt either, that they are her themes. Morton’s wonderful songs–and Cartwright’s–have frequently emanated from the mouths of others without once acquiring the capacity to either wound or heal. Weiss has nearly always made them do one or the other. At her very best, as on “Remember” and “Never Again” forty years ago or “Cry About the Radio” and “Stitch in Time” here, she’s done both in the same song.

The inability of the modern rock press to address her in these terms–the terms due a singer who owns the idea that no relationship worth having can ever be entirely safe as surely as Roy Orbison owns romantic paranoia and John Fogerty owns righteous anger–simply reinforces their own irrelevance.

(**As a poignant footnote, when Weiss began touring and giving interviews shortly after this piece was published, she was asked why she was reluctant to sing some of her old songs on stage. Though she has, of course, sung at least some of her oldies live, her answer, essentially, as to why she preferred not to, was that those songs were arranged for particular voices and those voices–two of which belonged to the deceased Marge and Mary Ann Ganser–no longer existed.)

Mary Weiss “Cry About the Radio” (Audio Recording)

 

BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT TIME I INTRODUCED MYSELF…

First of all, I had a nice rebound in traffic during October after the expected drop in September. Thanks to all for hanging in!

I’ve been doing this for about eight months now so I’m going to spend the next few weeks periodically doing something I probably should have done earlier, which is give some sort of outline of what I value most, “artistically” speaking. (It says so much more than one’s politics, religion or culinary habits.)

Figured I’d begin at the beginning, so here, more or less chronologically (that’s world chronology, not personal….I probably knew Cyndi Lauper before I knew Clyde McPhatter)….

MY TWENTY FAVORITE ROCK AND ROLL SINGERS (and five representative performances which also happen to be building blocks for a better world)…First a nice intro:

Brenda Lee “Break It To Me Gently” (Studio recording…with some nice pictures)

Then on to the list…

Clyde McPhatter (Dominoes, Drifters, solo)–Money Honey; Three Thirty Three; Treasure of Love; Without Love (There Is Nothing); A Lover’s Question

Elvis Presley (solo)–Good Rockin’ Tonight; Heartbreak Hotel; It Hurts Me; Long Black Limousine; Reach Out To Jesus

Tony Williams (Platters)–Only You (And You Alone); The Great Pretender; (You’ve Got) The Magic Touch; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Harbor Lights

Bobby “Blue” Bland (solo)–I Pity The Fool; Turn On Your Love Light; Queen For A Day; Two Steps From the Blues; Lead Me On

Sam Cooke (Soul Stirrers, solo)–Jesus Gave Me Water; Bring It On Home; Cupid; That’s Where It’s At; A Change Is Gonna’ Come

Brenda Lee (solo)–Sweet Nothings; Break It To Me Gently; Heart In Hand; Coming On Strong; Johnny One Time

Roy Orbison (solo)–Only The Lonely; Running Scared; Dream Baby; Blue Angel; Crying

Jerry Butler (Impressions, solo)–Your Precious Love; Make It Easy On Yourself; Moody Woman; Only The Strong Survive; Western Union Man

Frankie Valli (Four Seasons, solo)–Walk Like A Man; Rag Doll; Silence Is Golden; Girl Come Running; Fallen Angel

Gladys Knight (Pips, solo)–Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye); Midnight Train to Georgia; I’ve Got To Use My Imagination; Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me; On and On

Smokey Robinson (Miracles, solo)–What’s So Good About Goodbye; The Tracks of My Tears; The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage; Sweet Harmony; Cruisin’)

Bob Dylan (solo)–Talking World War III Blues (live); Maggie’s Farm; Like A Rolling Stone; Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again; I Threw It All Away

Mary Weiss (Shangri-Las, solo)–Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand); Give Him a Great Big Kiss; Never Again; He Cried; Past, Present and Future

Aretha Franklin (solo)–I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You); Respect; (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman; I Say A Little Prayer; Rock Steady

Van Morrison (Them, solo)–Gloria; It’s All Over Now Baby Blue; Listen To The Lion; Almost Independence Day; Tupelo Honey

John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival, solo)–Fortunate Son; Lodi; Green River; Run Through The Jungle; Sweet Hitch-Hiker

Al Green (solo)–Tired of Being Alone; I’m A Ram; Here I Am (Come and Take Me); Take Me To The River; Belle

Ronnie Van Zandt (Lynyrd Skynyrd)–Tuesday’s Gone; Sweet Home Alabama; The Ballad of Curtis Loew; Gimme Back My Bullets; What’s Your Name

Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders)–Precious; Mystery Achievement; My City Was Gone; Middle of The Road; I’ll Stand By You

Cyndi Lauper (Blue Angel, solo)–Money Changes Everything; Time After Time; All Through The Night; When Sally’s Pigeons Fly; I’m Gonna’ Be Strong (solo version)

First Alternate: Arlene Smith (Chantels)

(Feel free to list your own….this is the fun part of the job!)

 

THE THREAT….ELVIS CROSSOVER (Part Five)

(NOTE: I want to preface this by saying that the commentary on the “Nashville Establishment” below does not in any way reflect my general feelings about country music, which I love as deeply as rock and roll, or its many great artists, who are in no way responsible for what Adam Smith liked to call “the vile maxims of the masters.”)

In the first four Parts, I laid out some numbers that demonstrated the extraordinary cross-racial appeal of early rock and roll generally, and Elvis Presley in particular. based on chart data before, during and after Elvis’ mid- to late-fifties peak.

This time around, I’ll take a look at what all this meant on the country charts.

First, some quotes:

“When rock and roll cracked open the pop market for Southern white singers, for a couple of years (1956–58) it looked as if the margins between ‘pop’ and ‘country’ were being wiped out. Producers in Nashville organized their sessions with an ear to what had worked for Elvis Presley, and brought in electric guitars, boogie piano, harmonica, saxophone and vocal groups to embellish their arrangements and give their records ‘teen appeal.’ And for a while, country stations played the records as enthusiastically as the pop stations: Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and Gene Vincent, had country hits with their rock ’n’ roll records alongside the dual-market hits made by the Sun rockabillies in Memphis.

“But in 1958, the country music establishment reasserted the segregation between pop and country which had prevailed before rock ’n’ roll and country radio virtually boycotted records which sounded as if they had been made with the pop market in mind. From then on, artists had to decide which way to go, country or pop, knowing that to choose one route would mean sacrificing the other.

“For a Southern white singer, the pop market was always an elusive target, being more accessible to the artists and producers based near the main media centres, and most of the singers who had broken through eventually retreated to the more predictable and reliable country market. But they were not always allowed to make the switch overnight, and many had to endure a two- or three-year period of ‘paying their dues’. criss-crossing the South with tours that took them into every country music club on the circuit, before radio programmers accepted them into the country fold.

“Elvis Presley’s career reflected the change in attitudes. His first 11 hits for RCA were all equally big country hits, to “Hard Headed Woman” in June 1958: suddenly, country radio play dropped right off, and Elvis had no more records in the country top ten until 1971, when his straight country renditions of ‘I Really Don’t Want to Know’ and ‘There Goes My Everything’ were finally, if grudgingly, accepted. The story was similar for the Everly Brothers, who had only one minor country hit after they joined Warner Brothers. Brenda Lee had no country hits at all during the period when she had 19 hits in the top twenty. Conway Twitty had no country hits until 1966, and Roy Orbison never did make the country charts. All of them recorded in Nashville, but that was not enough to qualify as ‘country’.

“From 1958, the world of country music virtually isolated itself from the world of pop, and most of the time it seemed that this was the way the major labels chose to keep it. Each of them appointed a Nashville-based A&R man to oversee their country music roster of artists, and little effort was made to push even the biggest country stars on pop radio.”

(Source: The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Charlie Gillett, 1983, Revised Edition)

“‘That’ll Be the Day,’ Buddy Holly’s chart debut, came too late to make it on country radio. If this recording had come out even a few months earlier (Holly had already cut another version of the song for Decca that flopped), Holly likely would have climbed the country charts as swiftly as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent. By the summer of 1957, though, the Nashville Sound had been building momentum for a year already–”Don’t Be Cruel,” “Gone,” “Young Love,” and “Four Walls” had all been major hits. Consequently, rockabilly acts were in the process of being banished from country play lists: even established stars like Elvis and Jerry Lee wouldn’t be on country radio much longer.”

(Source: Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, David Cantwell and Bill Friskes-Warren, 2003)

“The Grand Ole Opry didn’t take kindly to those Elvis fans booing Hank Snow off that stage in Jacksonville. Only a few days after the incident, the Opry let it be known throughout country music circles that its regular performers would no longer be allowed to appear on any show that included Hayride artists.”

(Source: Louisiana Hayride Years: Making Musical History in Country’s Golden Age, Horace Logan with Bill Sloan, 1998)

Then some history and numbers (the usual caveats about chart data as purely objective evidence discussed in previous parts still apply):

Billboard published its first “country” chart–based solely on juke box play–on January 8, 1944. For the first year, it was not all that different from a mainstream pop chart. The first #1 hit was a duet by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (which would be the rough equivalent of a duet by Celine Dion and the Backstreet Boys somehow topping the country charts in the nineties–which is to say the world does not always move in a straight line.)

That first year, there was also a degree of racial integration which would not come close to being replicated for more than half a century. Louis Jordan had two number one hits and the King Cole Trio had another. No black artist would top the country charts again until Charley Pride in 1969 (see here for the numbers on Pride’s highly anomalous career).

Beginning in 1945, the country chart truly became an entity more or less unto itself.

Here’s the subsequent breakdown of Country/Pop crossover in the relevant periods:

Records that topped both the Country and Pop Charts:

1945–1955: (5)

1956–1959: (13, including 6 by Elvis, 3 by the Everly Brothers, 1 each by  4 others)

1960–1972: (3, one each by Jimmy Dean, Bobby Goldsboro and Jeannie C. Riley)

1973–1975: (8, including 2 by John Denver, one each by six others)

1976–1978: (1)

As with the R&B charts, the numbers tell a significant story of the challenge rock and roll presented to the existing order (and also indicate a resurgence of that challenge in the much-despised mid-seventies).

Beginning in early 1956, Elvis had six Country/Pop #1s in about eighteen months. That was one more than all acts combined had in the previous eleven years.

Again, as with R&B crossover, the second most impressive act throughout the late fifties was the Everly Brothers, like Elvis, southern whites who recorded principally in Nashville.

We saw, in the previous posts, what happened with R&B crossover through time: There was a wavering back and forth, but, after the Elvis earthquake, a constant pressure was maintained that led to occasional full integration of the R&B and Pop charts and, finally, increasing crossover (which led ultimately to a modern “hip-hop” era when black artists often dominate the Pop charts as thoroughly as whites did in the pre-rock years).

As we can see above, the Country/Pop relationship had a very different history.

In the fifties, Elvis represented the same sort of cataclysmic challenge to the existing Country/Pop dynamic that he represented to Pop/R&B.

But country music was different from both Pop and R&B in one particularly crucial respect: It was–and is–centrally controlled.

As far as I know, there’s never been a thorough dissection of the exact ways and means by which Nashville chokes off competition (though Logan’s memoir provides a good, rough outline by detailing the Grand Ole Opry’s systematic demolition of the Louisiana Hayride–already by far the most serious threat ever posed to Nashville’s hegemony even before it became the launching pad for Presley’s first national success).

But the language in the quotes above probably tells us most of what we need to know: “boycotted,” “virtually isolated,” “banished,” “no longer be allowed.” Those are phrases normally associated with a police state and, however it was accomplished, the Nashville “ban” certainly had a KGB-like effectiveness.

The degree to which the country establishment’s jihad against Elvis was personal can only be guessed–but the best guess is that it was extensive.

The story of Elvis being given the cold shoulder at the Opry in the months before he broke out on the Hayride was well known from the beginning. The bitter taste it left in his mouth–not so much that the audience didn’t respond (his relationship to Vegas proves he could get past that) as that he was treated with contempt by the powers-that-be in the auditorium itself (and, of course, famously told to go back to driving a truck, a sneer that has never entirely lost its currency)–has become clearer in recent years as more and more biographical information has been assembled.

At any rate, within a year or two, he had his revenge on country radio–and had it with records principally recorded in Nashville using the same studios and session-men every other country star used.

Then–coincidentally?–he was drafted.

Whether Nashville’s tactics (which almost certainly included refusing to deliver traditional country records to country stations that played Elvis or any other rock ’n’ roll star) would have worked as well if Elvis had been around to represent an ongoing challenge remains an intriguing “what-if.” What is obvious is that it wasn’t a fight he had any chance of winning from an army base in Germany.

The final purge that resulted was breath-takingly thorough, as Charlie Gillett’s research cited above indicates.

By 1960, country music had resurrected a wall around itself which was not even remotely threatened until the mid-seventies–when it was beaten back just as quickly and decisively (the signature symbolic event in that case was presenter Charlie Rich taking out his cigarette lighter and burning the card he had just read that announced John Denver was the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year–an ugly incident the basic absurdity of which was compounded not so much by Rich’s admitted state of inebriation as by the fact that he himself was a successful crossover artist who was no closer to being “pure” country than Denver).

Just how high and effective the wall was in the beginning, though, can best be demonstrated by delving into Gillett’s point just a little deeper.

To wit:

When Tex Williams took “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” to #1 on both the pop and country charts in 1947, he spent 16 weeks at #1 Country and 6 weeks #1 Pop.

When Tennessee Ernie Ford took “Sixteen Tons” to the top in 1955, it was 10 weeks #1 Country, 8 weeks #1 Pop.

Even when Elvis took “Heartbreak Hotel” to the mutual top in 1956, it was 17 weeks #1 Country, 7 weeks #1 Pop.

In other words, under the old order, a country-charting record that managed to get to the top of the Pop chart was almost certain to spend longer–often much longer–at the top of the Country chart. And even in the volatile 1956–59 period, there was at least a rough parity.

In the last ten months of 1960, however, Nashville based artists spent 21 weeks at #1 on the Pop charts with six different records. (3 by Elvis, 2 by Brenda Lee, 1 by the Everlys).

Every one of those records got to at least the top ten on the R&B chart.

On the Country charts, four of them did not chart at all and the remaining two, (“Stuck on You,” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight,”) got to #27 and #22 respectively.

“Boycotts” don’t get much more effective than that.

Of course, country music fans did not “suddenly” stop listening to Elvis and the Everlys–and suddenly reject Brenda Lee (like the Everlys, almost literally a child of Nashville and, like both they and Elvis, eventually a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame) and Roy Orbison in 1960, anymore than they had “suddenly” rejected Louis Jordan and Nat Cole in 1945.

But, as is usually the case with hidebound establishments, order was even more important than profit. And in the specific case of the Nashville establishment, it’s not hard to believe that the maintenance of racial order was most important of all.

Which leads us into the not-so-intricate explanation of the “why” of it all.

Nashville’s relationship to the mainstream has always revolved around a tricky but very simply defined dilemma: How to access the profit margins available only in the pop market while preventing interlopers from breaching the wall in the other direction–in other words, how to reach out from a protected space and grab the maximum amount of free-floating cash without letting any similarly grubby hands come reaching in from the other side.

As a business model one can at least present an argument–weak and facile, but not completely nonsensical–that this has been effective.

As a model for anything other than business it strikes me as pretty repulsive.

Much as those high-handed gents backstage at the Opry hated Elvis, there were things they hated even worse. At the back of the challenge early rock ’n’ roll represented, the history of the country was always lurking. The guardians at the Nashville gate knew quite well that if Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers were riding over the hill, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry wouldn’t be far behind.

They also knew that if they could shoot down Elvis, the rest of the riders would scatter hither and yon–that the assault would die with him.

They were right and the implications of the Nashville “ban” have been damaging the culture ever since, not least because they’ve played a major role in ultimately re-segregating American music, not only by race, but by class and generation as well (a state of affairs now accepted–even championed–by “realists,” of every imaginable political stripe, even as the popular audience keeps finding ways to express the common-sense desire to be done with this nonsense).

To the extent that the ban/boycott/no-longer-be-allowed phenomenon has ever been explained, it’s always been explained with some variation of the same theme: It was just business.

Of course.

And that’s the eternal problem with “it’s just business.”

No matter how ugly and false the sentiment is on its face–it’s always a mask for something worse. (For an extreme example, read any basic “Lost Cause” treatise on the “economic necessity” of slavery, a style of argument now also routinely adopted by African-American scholars bent on defending African slavery–the great minds among us really do think alike.)

By breaching the barriers between the carefully segregated Pop, Country and R&B charts to a degree which had not come close to happening before (and which, genius being the funny thing it is, could not have been achieved to anything like the same extent by anyone else), Elvis forced the honchos in every corner of the music industry to make hard choices. In Nashville, at least, the weight of those decisions leaned heavily and rapidly toward a greatly clarified end–to take whatever steps were necessary to make sure it never happened again.

Since at least the mid-sixties, it has been fashionable among the mostly liberal crit-illuminati to mock–or at very least seriously question–the idea of Elvis as either artistic or cultural Revolutionary and, not coincidentally, to treat with scorn any revival of the unique coalition he built against immeasurable odds in rock’s early dawn (which is how the early sixties and mid-seventies  came to be counted as rock’s famous descents into Hell, halted by the British Invasion and Punk respectively).

So it turns out the lefties on the sixties’ ramparts and the Klan-lovin’ Nashville suits had something in common after all.

To paraphrase the late, great Lester Bangs: They’ll never agree on anything as they agreed on Elvis.

(In Part Six, I’ll take a look at the unprecedented cultural assault on Elvis (which can, of course, also be traced by reading the “Stupid Things” posts) in the fifties and beyond. I’m also working on a post dedicated to “In the Ghetto” for a “How Much Can One Record Mean” segment….Til then!)