Category Archives: Popular music

Psychedelic vegetables

 

In 1967, in the hands of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson, the incongruous, semantically complex figure of the vegetable came to illuminate aspects of psychedelic consciousness and—partly by design, partly by accident—the link between LSD and Anglo-American popular music.

Their vegetable imagery also illuminated the scope and limits of changes in the relationship between creative artists and the Anglo-American popular music industry in the mid-1960s; and in retrospect, the figure of the vegetable cast into relief the counterculture’s utopian and dystopian dynamics as manifested in these songwriters’ personal lives.

This according to “The vegetables turned: Sifting the psychedelic subsoil of Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett” by Dale Carter (Popular music history IV/1 [April 2009] pp. 57–75).

Below, one of the songs discussed in the article—Wilson’s Vegetables, which is rumored to include the sound of Paul McCartney chewing celery.

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Filed under Curiosities, Food, Popular music

Kate Bush arrives

 

Kate Bush appeared at a moment in the history of British rock in which a great deal of space for a singer like her had just opened up.

One of the victories won by female singers in the mid-1970s punk era was the opportunity to experiment with a wider range of vocal sounds. Bush, who gained popularity in post-punk England with a repertoire of unearthly shrieks and guttural whispers, took advantage of this space to convey a disturbing breadth of emotion. Yet her music was also a reaction against the one-dimensional angst and discord of punk, using melody and often frail vocals to create a surreal world of affect.

To Bush, the visual presentation of music cannot be divorced from the music itself, so it is not surprising that she was the first female pop star to combine her music with her classical and modern dance training. Her idea that the combination of music and movement allows the artist to express a more complex range of emotion has proved highly influential, having been translated—though in simplified form—into the work of current music video superstars.

This according to “Kate Bush: Enigmatic chanteuse as pop pioneer” by Holly Kruse (Soundscapes III [November 2000]).

Today is Kate Bush’s 60th birthday! Above, Bush with friends in 1985; below, Running up that hill, the most successful of her 1980s releases.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Louis Jordan and “Caldonia”

In an interview, Louis Jordan recalled the background of his 1945 hit Caldonia:

Caldonia started a long time before I came to New York. There used to be a long, lean, lanky girl in Memphis, Tennessee, where Jim Cannon used to have a gambling place where people used to come to shoot a bale of cotton because they didn’t have too much money to gamble.”

“This long, lean, lanky gal used to hang out in this place and she wouldn’t do anything you asked her to do. That’s why they said ‘Your head was so hard,’ and…Hot Lips Page was very young then and I met him and he said ‘You should make a tune out of that, just a plain old blues.’”

Quoted in Let the good times roll: The story of Louis Jordan and his music by John Chilton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 112).

Today is Jordan’s 110th birthday! Below, a 1946 performance of the song.

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Karinding Attack’s heavy metal bamboo

Karinding Attack is a group from Bandung, West Java, that performs original songs, covers international death metal hits, and engages in collaborations with musicians who specialize in other genres—all to the accompaniment of Sundanese bamboo musical instruments that were virtually extinct only 20 years ago.

After the Sundanese people’s embrace of a hegemonic modernity in the 20th century relegated these instruments to obscurity, their efflorescence represents an alternative modernity in which, instead of adopting disdain for their own past as the primitive Other against which European hegemonic modernity is constructed, Sundanese people construct their own history against which to articulate a coherent Sundanese modernity.

This according to “Heavy metal bamboo: How archaic bamboo instruments became modern in Bandung, Indonesia” by Henry Spiller, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp. 241–55).

Below, Karinding Attack covers Sepultura’s Refuse/Resist.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

Rubén Blades and tango

During his service from 2004 to 2009 as the Minister of Tourism for his native Panama, the singer-songwriter, actor, and political activist Rubén Blades largely refrained from his many pursuits in the entertainment world.

But before diving headlong back into his salsa career, Blades finished a project several years in the making: a collection of 11 of his original salsa compositions re-imagined as tangos. Carlos Franzetti, a Grammy-winning pianist from Argentina, arranged and produced Tangos, which was recorded in Buenos Aires using the veteran tango musicians of Leopoldo Federico’s orchestra.

This according to “Rubén Blades: Tango storyteller” by Thomas Staudter (DownBeat LXXXI/9 [September 2014] p. 16).

Today is Blades’s 70th birthday! Above, performing at the 2014 Latin Grammy Awards, where Tangos won the award for Best Tango Album; below, an excerpt from the record.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Danse électro and Tecktonik

Danse électro originated in France at the beginning of the 2000s. Inspired by other European dance movements, danse électro went on to become a global phenomenon.

Tecktonik, registered as a trademark in France in 2002, played an important role in the spread of the movement. The Tecktonik trademark branded nightclubs, compilation albums, and various tie-in products, including clothes (above) and alcoholic and energy drinks.

While danse électro was one of several movements involving dancing to electronic music, it maintained its identity through brand placement, the involvement of pre-teenagers, and information technologies, particularly Web 2.0 applications.

This according to “Tecktonik and danses électro: Subculture, media processes, and Web 2.0” by Anne Petiau, an essay included in Made in France: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 203–15).

Below, Alive by Mondotek, a danse électro hit from 2007.

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Filed under Dance, Popular music

Journal of popular music education

In 2017 Intellect launched Journal of popular music education (ISSN 2397-6721; EISSN 2397-673X).

One of the main aims of this journal, especially initially, is iteratively to define the parameters of the field and disciplines of its readership and contributors (especially with regard to other journals in popular music, and music education), this being an emerging field of scholarship and practice.

The other principal aim is to disseminate excellent critique and other forms of scholarship (e.g., phenomenological) in and related to the field. The journal aims to have an inclusive, global reach. Education and popular music are terms that the editors are glad to see stretched and problematized through rigorous examination from multiple international perspectives.

Below, 我和你 (You and me), a song discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Pedagogy, Popular music

Prince’s personae

Few musicians have been as acutely conscious of their images as Prince, or as dedicated to presenting themselves with such teasing complexity.

Prince transformed his visual identity with each album he released. The pompadoured rock god of Purple rain was followed by the beatific flower child of Around the world in a day and the louche sensualist of Parade. Each record carefully maintained its own distinctive palette, most obviously with Purple rain, but also with the peach-and-black color scheme of Sign o’ the times and the black, white, and red of Lovesexy.

The cover of one of his earliest albums, Dirty mind (1980), depicted a sexually charged, ambiguously gendered Prince, complete with a thong and thigh-high boots. He continued to blur boundaries between male and female, straight and gay, chaste and libidinous, through much of his career.

This according to “How Prince invented himself. Over and over.” by Ekow Eshun (The New York times 3 November 2017).

Today would have been Prince’s 60th birthday! Above, his 2016 Piano & a Microphone Tour, shortly before his death; below, performing in 1984.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Queercore and all-girl bands

Queercore is a loose community of like-minded individuals who have developed a culture of fanzines, films, art, and music. Initiated in Canada and the U.S. during the mid-1980s, queercore spread throughout North America and Europe during the 1990s and 2000s.

The movement was inspired by feminist, postmodern, and queer theories that rejected binary understandings of sexual identity as homosexual/heterosexual and gender identity as man/woman. These theories were put into punk practice to confront heterosexist society.

Central to queercore are all-girl bands whose music confronts lesbian invisibility, misogyny, homophobia, and sexual violence, and who create vital spaces and communities for different ways of doing and being queer. These bands and artists draw on discourses of girlhood, femininity, womanhood, lesbianism, and queerness within radical music-making, lyrics, and performances affiliated with DIY queer culture.

This according to “Queercore: Fearless women” by Val Rauzier, an essay included in Women make noise: Girl bands from Motown to the modern (Twickenham: Supernova books, 2010, pp. 238–58). Above, Team Dresch, one of the bands discussed in the article, in the 1990s; below, one of the band’s more recent performances.

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Filed under Popular music

Irving Berlin and jazz

In his four Music box revues (1921–24), Irving Berlin introduced a series of songs that were widely construed as jazz. That view has not prevailed, but the jazz label becomes more intelligible through efforts to restore its original milieu, including the songs’ distinctive musical and linguistic elements, their theatrical context, and the cultural commentary surrounding Berlin and his work in that period.

At a time when the term jazz had only recently entered public discourse, and when its meaning, content, and value remained in flux, Berlin deployed a variety of ragtime and blues figures and combined them in such a way as to produce a jazz trope, a musical construct created by juxtaposing disparate or even contradictory topics. When repeatedly set to lyrics that celebrate illicit behavior, the music gained further associations with things that jazz was thought to abet.

Theatrical setting further reinforced the songs’ links to jazz. Berlin wrote many of the numbers for a flapper-style sister act, often placed them in a climactic program position, and juxtaposed them with sentimental and nostalgic songs that lacked jazz flavor and whose lyrics, in some cases, pointedly denied jazz’s attractions.

Beyond the stage, the songs and their theatrical presentation flourished within an emerging perspective that identified Jewish Americans, such as Berlin and George Gershwin, as the key figures in jazz and musical theater. Berlin’s Broadway jazz stands as an influential and revealing intersection of musical, linguistic, theatrical, and social elements in the early 1920s.

This according to “Everybody step: Irving Berlin, jazz, and Broadway in the 1920s” by Jeffrey Magee (Journal of the American Musicological Society LIX/3 [fall 2006] pp. 697–732).

Today is Berlin’s 130th birthday! Below, Alice Faye sings his Everybody step, an example from the article.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception