Category Archives: Popular music

Ray Charles and “What’d I say”

 

In an interview, Ray Charles recalled the genesis of his 1959 hit What’d I say:

We happened to be playing one of my last dances, somewhere in the Midwest, and I had another 12 minutes to kill before the set closed. A typical gig of that kind lasted four hours, including a 30-minute intermission. It was nearly 1 a.m., I remember, and we had played our whole book. There was nothing left that I could think of, so I finally said to the band and The Raeletts, “Listen, I’m going to fool around, so y’all just follow me.”

So I began noodling—just a little riff that floated into my head. It felt good and I kept going. One thing led to another and I found myself singing and wanting the girls to repeat after me. So I told ‘em “Now.”

Then I could feel the whole room bouncing and shaking and carrying on something fierce. So I kept the thing going, tightening it up a little here, adding a dash of Latin rhythm there. When I got through, folks came up and asked where they could buy the record. “Áin’t no record,” I said, “just something I made up to kill a little time.”

The next night I started fooling with it again, adding a few more lyrics and refining the riffs for the band. I did that for several straight evenings until the song froze into place. And each time I sang it, the reaction was wild.

Quoted in Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ own story by David Ritz (New York: Dial, 1978; RILM Abstracts 1978-5376).

Today would have been Ray Charles’s 90th birthday! Above, the album cover (note the keyboard and hands reflected in his glasses); below, the recording itself.

BONUS: The scene as it was recreated in the 2004 film Ray.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

The Stax/Volt Revue

 

The Stax/Volt Revue was a central event in the history of the Stax record label and a key moment in the transatlantic appreciation of soul music. It was the first time that many of its participants visited the U.K., and it offered British soul fans their first opportunity to see the musicians who played on the label’s recent hits.

The Revue played to sold-out audiences in many of Britain’s major cities during March and April 1967. It cemented the appeal of Stax artists like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave in the U.K., confirming them as transatlantic soul icons.

At the time, the Revue was ignored by the national and local press, with coverage limited to the British music magazines. This sorely underestimates its significance, for it proved to be a transformative experience both for the musicians and many audience members; indeed, the response of young British soul fans to the Revue indicates that it was among the most important musical events of the decade.

This according to “The Stax/Volt Revue and soul music fandom in 1960s Britain” by Joe Street, an essay included in Subcultures, popular music and social change (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014 195–217; RILM Abstracts 2014-89164).

Below, the finale of Sam & Dave’s set.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Rosie Flores and “Working girl’s guitar”

 

In an interview, Rosie Flores discussed the title cut of her 2012 album Working girl’s guitar:

There’s a friend of mine who does, well, everything. He does bodywork, he’s written books on rolfing, how to play the banjo, and how to play the upright bass. His name is Ritchie Mintz.

I went to him a couple years ago and said, “You know, I’ve got too many guitars, and I need to come up with some money. Are you interested in maybe getting one of my Taylors?” I brought it over, he looked at it, turned it over and said, “Man, this is a working girl’s guitar! Look at all the scars on it. This has been on some airplanes and trucks and cars, hasn’t it?” “Yep, it’s been around!” I said.

And so that night he bought the guitar. He called me up the next day and said, “Rosie, you’re not going to believe this, but your guitar wrote a song for you.” I said, “For me? My guitar wrote a song for me?” And he went, “Yep!” So I came over and listened to it, and was just blown away. I said, “That is such a cool song, Ritchie!” So I just turned up the distortion and the overdrive pedal and went to town on that riff and just had a great time with that.

Quoted in “Guitar girl’d: Interview with Rosie Flores on the release of Working girl’s guitar” by Laura B. Whitmore (Guitar world 25 October 2012; RILM Abstracts 2012-45948).

Today is Flores’s 70th birthday! Above, Flores at the 67th Annual Peabody Awards in 2008; below, a live performance of the song.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Zao and “champagne socialism”

 

 

In the mid-1980s Congo-Brazzaville was chafing under the heel of a military regime that fed its impoverished people irrelevant political slogans while the elite dined on champagne and caviar. Zao, a humorous band led by Casimir Zoba, a former schoolteacher in a comical pseudo-military uniform singing in an extravagant mixture of Senegalese French and local slang, seemed to pose no real threat to the authorities.

But Zoba was no ordinary humorist or village idiot, and underneath his buffoonish image was a hard-edged political and social critic. While Zao’s music was tolerated as comic relief, the group delivered sharp critiques of bureaucracy, corruption, gender relations, and abuse of power in the “champagne socialism” of the military dictatorship.

This according to “Couching political criticism in humor: The case of musical parodies of the military in Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville” by Lyombe S. Eko, an essay included in Music and messaging in the African political arena (Hershey: IGI Global, 2019, 87–107; RILM Abstracts 2019-16663).

Below, Ancien combattant, Zao’s most popular song, and a case study in the article.

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Filed under Humor, Performers, Politics, Popular music

Audra McDonald and Lady Day

 

In an interview, Audra McDonald discussed Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille, for which she won the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award in 2014.

“It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”

“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her—and what is fascinating in this show—is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music—she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.”

“One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs, so I have a lot to draw on.”

Quoted in “Audra McDonald to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday” by Patrick Healey (The New York times 26 February 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-89300).

Today is McDonald’s 50th birthday! Below, excerpts from her Tony Awards performance.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Stevie Wonder’s turning point

 

Stevie Wonder’s extraordinary burst of productivity after his 21st birthday in 1971—a time now celebrated as his “classic period”—was a direct result of his contractual maneuvers with Motown Records.

On his 21st birthday, when he was no longer a minor, Wonder gained access to 10 years’ worth of royalties that had been accruing in a trust set up for him when he’d signed his first contract, at age 11.

He also allowed his Motown contract to expire at that moment, meaning that one of pop music’s hottest stars was now both financially secure and a free agent. If Motown wanted to keep him, it would require a deal unlike any the label had previously granted.

Wonder negotiated a new contract with Motown that granted him full artistic control over his music, his own publishing company, and an unprecedented royalty rate. It was a revolutionary deal that initiated one of the greatest sustained runs of creativity in the history of popular music.

This according to “The greatest creative run in the history of popular music” by Jack Hamilton (Slate 19 December 2016; RILM Abstracts 2016-48645).

Today is Stevie Wonder’s 70th birthday! Above, in his turning point year; below, Superstition, his #1 hit from 1972.

BONUS: Tearing the roof off Sesame Street in 1973.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Willie Colón on salsa

 

Born in the South Bronx, New York, Willie Colón has been a leader in the salsa tradition for over 50 years. In an interview, he discussed the music and its background.

“A lot of people like to characterize salsa as a pastiche of Cuban son. There’s no denying that there is a Cuban influence and a Cuban base to it, but it’s so much more.”

“Salsa is not a rhythm, it’s a concept. It’s a way of making music. It’s an open concept and the reason that it became so popular is because it was able to evolve and accept all of these other musics. We put the bombas and plenas in it; we put calypso, samba, bossa, and cumbia in it. It’s definitely not even a Puerto Rican or a Cuban music. It’s a reconciliation of everything you can find.”

“I think it could have only happened here in New York, where you had so many different kinds of people living and playing together. We used to get a lot of the black jazz players. They wanted to come and play salsa so they can blow over the changes. Where are you going to find players like that other than in a big city like New York? This was not going to happen in Cuba or Puerto Rico; it had to be here.”

Quoted in “Willie Colón: Salsa is an open concept” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 March 2009).

Today is Colón’s 70th birthday! Above, an iconic record cover from 1971 (right-click to enlarge); below, a 2018 performance.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Audioreelism, sound worlding, audible indigeneity, and Flying Wild Alaska

 

The soundtrack for the reality television show Flying wild Alaska uses audioreelism—sound-design components that express the lived realities of indigenous peoples—to portray the daily life of an Alaska Native family in the airline business. It also uses sound worlding—bringing the world into being through sound—and audible indigeneity—the stereotypical ways in which listeners determine whether or not music sounds Native.

This soundtrack is unprecedented in its use of music by indigenous musicians from Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. Featured artists set lyrics in indigenous languages to popular musical styles such as hip hop, rap, funk, and R&B. The overall sound combines local musical styles, licensed third-party music by indigenous artists, synthesized distortion effects, and sounds such as propeller engines, aircraft alarms, and bird strikes.

This range of sounds unsettles conventional musical representations of The North. Audioreelism and Native sound worlding therefore challenge settler-colonial representations of the indigenous Arctic.

This according to “Inuit sound wording and audioreelism in Flying wild Alaska” by Jessica Bissett Perea, an essay included in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2019, pp. 174–97).

Above and below, Pamyua, one of the groups whose music is used in the series.

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Filed under Mass media, North America, Popular music

Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular

 

In 2019 Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado launched Contrapulso: Revista latinoamericana de estudios en música popular (ISSN 2452-5545), a peer-reviewed online journal devoted to popular music in Latin America and the Caribbean at all times in history—from the musical, literary, technological, and/or performative scrutiny of the popular repertoire to the study of the formation of collective identities through this music. Issues are published yearly in January and August.

Below, Pamela Cortés’s Cristales rotos, one of the songs discussed in “Fonograma erotizado: Producción musical y mujer en la música popular de Guayaquil” by Luis Pérez Valero and Samaela Campos; the article is included in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Popular music, South America, West Indies

Personality and alcohol consumption by genre

 

A 2017 study compared the personality traits of Croatian classical and heavy metal musicians with norms for the Croatian population, and data on alcohol consumption with a representative sample of the general Croatian population.

Participants in the study were men (N = 249) playing either classical (N = 113) or heavy metal music (N = 136). Personality was measured with the IPIP-50 personality questionnaire, and participants answered several questions about alcohol consumption.

The study found no significant differences in personality traits between classical and heavy metal musicians, but both classical and heavy metal musicians differed significantly in personality from the norms, having higher scores on extraversion, agreeableness, and especially intellect.

Belonging to a heavy metal group was associated with consuming alcohol more often, and the frequency of alcohol consumption was statistically higher for heavy metal musicians than in the general population.

This according to “Personality traits and alcohol consumption of classical and heavy metal musicians” by Ana Butkovič and Dunja Rančić Dopuđ (Psychology of music XLV/2 [March 2017] pp. 246–56).

Above and below, members of Hladno Pivo (Cold Beer) discuss the study’s findings.

Related article: Eläkeläiset inebriated

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Science