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.