Category Archives: Reception

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

“Wild rover” redux

 

On this St. Patrick’s Day, countless fans of Irish traditional music will sing along to The wild rover, with its irresistible “no, nay, never” refrain. Little will they realize the song’s multifarious past.

The text originated in The good fellow’s resolution, a 17th-century English broadside written by Thomas Lanfiere—one of any number of moralistic broadsides of the period describing the wayward behavior and subsequent regrets of “bad husbands” and the duplicity of alewives.

Over the course of 300 years several distinct textual and musical changes altered the moral thrust of the song, assisting its enduring popularity. Lanfiere’s 13-verse text was edited and condensed, appearing in late 18th- and early 19th-century chapbooks and broadsides with the “bad husband” being converted to a “wild rover” along the way.

Stages in the song’s evolution are preserved in these print versions, which found their way into English oral tradition (sung to a different tune from the currently familiar one) by the early 19th century, when a harmonized version cropped up in Thomas Hardy’s grandfather’s songbook.

The song was also reproduced in mid-19th century American songsters, and was extremely popular in Australia, where three different strains and a country & western rewrite all made the rounds.

At some point the “no, nay, never” chorus replaced the original “wild rover, wild rover” refrain. The form with the distinctive four-beat pause was first recorded in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century, and the version familiar today is the result of further adaptation by performers in the 1960s British folk revival.

This according to “The well-travelled Wild rover” by Brian Peters (Folk music journal X/5 [2015] pp. 609–36). Above, in 1958 Burl Ives identified the song as Australian; below, in 1965 The Clancy Brothers did too.

BONUS: A lesser-known variant.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Reception

The Apollo 11 mixtape

According to NASA, during the Apollo 11 moon voyage the astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins listened to a special cassette mixtape.

This cassette tape was not an 8-track; the smaller audio tape and audio recorder was preferred for space travel due to its compact size and because the astronauts could tape spoken notes over the music for their return back. It included Barbra Streisand’s People, Peggy Lee’s cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s Everyday people, Spinning wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Glenn Campbell’s Galveston.

This according to “Man on the moon music: The Apollo 11 moon landing mixtape and Spotify’s top-streamed lunar tunes” by Adrienne Gibbs (Forbes 17 July 2019).

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon! Below, excerpts from the Apollo 11 mixtape.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Carmen Miranda’s legacy

 

In 1991 the celebrated singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso discussed the legacy of Carmen Miranda:

“She was a typical girl from Rio, born in Portugal, who, using a blatantly vulgar though elegant stylization of the characteristic baiana—Bahian dress—conquered the world and became the highest-paid woman in the United States. Carmen conquered white America as no other South American had done or ever would. She was the only representative of South America who was universally readable, and it is exactly because of this quality that self-parody became her inescapable prison.”

“Nevertheless, in 1967 Carmen Miranda reappeared as a central figure in our aesthetic concerns. A movement that came to be known as Tropicalismo appropriated her as one of its principal signs, capitalizing on the discomfort that her name and the evocation of her gestures could create. We had discovered that she was both our caricature and our X-ray, and we began to take notice of her destiny.”

“In Carmen’s day it was enough to make a percussive din that was recognizably Latin and Negroid. By bringing the musicians from Bando da Lua with her to the United States, however, she represented less the adulteration alleged by her critics than a pioneering role in a history that is still unfolding. It is the history of the relationship between a very rich music from a very poor country and musicians and audiences from the rest of the world.”

Quoted from “Caricature and conqueror, pride and shame” by Caetano Veloso (The New York times 20 October 1991).

Today is Miranda’s 110th birthday! Above, in 1941; below, performing in A date with Judy (yes, that’s 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the audience).

Related article: Tropicália and Bahia

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Reception, South America

Reggae as Intangible Cultural Heritage

 

Each year UNESCO adds to its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and Jamaica submitted reggae for consideration in 2018. The genre was approved in late November of that year, joining a list of over 300 cultural traditions.

In its statement, UNESCO noted that reggae’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love, and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, sociopolitical, sensual, and spiritual.”

The statement continued: “The basic social functions of the music—as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God—have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all.”

This according to “Reggae added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list” by Jon Blistein (Rolling stone 29 November 2018). Above, Bob Marley in 1980; below, a short film issued by UNESCO in connection with the announcement.

Related article: Bob Marley’s œuvre

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Not Luka Sorkočević

In 2015 the Hrvatska pošta produced a stamp honoring the eighteenth-century Croatian composer Luka Sorkočević, inadvertently illustrated with an image of the U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.

The mistake was discovered just before the stamp’s release, and the entire run was withdrawn and destroyed, though one post office had sold 22 examples of it prior to the release date.

In view of the events and given the fact that apparently no copies had yet reached the philatelic market, a 2018 advertisement from the auction house Barac & Pervan noted that this stamp should become widely sought after; and since this rarity is also important for the American philatelic market, its value is expected to increase over time.

This according to “Unissued stamp from 2015 supposed to show Mr. Luka Sorkočević” (Barac & Pervan 2018). Below, one of the composer’s symphonies.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography, Reception

Athanasius Kircher’s global reach

Musical commodities frequently accompanied European explorers, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries who traveled to Asia in the early modern period. During this time, numerous theoretical treatises and musical scores—both printed and manuscript—were disseminated throughout Asia.

One of the most significant of these musical imports was Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, which provided far-flung missions with vital information on music theory, history, organology, composition, and performance. An unexpected letter to Kircher from Manila, sent just four years after the treatise’s publication in Rome, provides testimony to its importance:

“I am so obliged to Your Reverence not only for the great kindness with which Your Reverence treated me in Rome, but also for the instruction that Your Reverence gives me all day in these remote parts of the world by means of your books, which are no less esteemed here than [they are] in Europe.”

“Here in Manila I am studying the fourth year of theology, and I see for myself the many marvels that Your Reverence recounts in his books. I have been the first to bring one of these, that is, the Musurgia, to the Indies, and I do not doubt that it will be of great usefulness to the Fathers of the missions, where music is taught publicly. Father Ignatio Monti Germano, Rector of Silang, wants to read it, and I will send it to him shortly.”

This according to “The dissemination and use of European music books in early modern Asia” by David R.M. Irving (Early music history XXVIII [2009] pp. 39–59).

This year marks the 390th anniversary of Kircher’s ordination! Above, the frontispiece to the first volume, engraved after a drawing by Johann Paul Schor; below, Kircher’s celebrated musical cure for a tarantula bite.

Related article: Baroque birdsong

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Reception

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

 

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

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

“Bengawan Solo” and pan-East/Southeast Asian identity

Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).

The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.

This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX [1998] pp. 85–101).

Below, a recording featuring the voices of the composer and Asti Dewi Christianna.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music, Reception