Category Archives: MUSIC

‘That’s All Right, (Mama)’

On July 5 1954, Elvis Presley was halfway through his first recording session with Sun Records, when, during a break, he started playing a fast, lusty new version of blues number ‘That’s All Right’, and the world changed. Heard through an open door from the control room, owner Sam Phillips quickly realised he’d found something special: a white singer who could perform ‘black’ rhythm & blues.

My mama, she done told me, papa done told me too
“Son, that gal you’re foolin’ with
She ain’t no good for you”
But that’s all right now, that’s all right
That’s all right now mama, anyway you do

[‘That’s All Right‘]

Recorded that night, the single was broadcast by Memphis radio station WDIA two days later. The phone rang off the hook; callers loved the song, and they all asked the same question: ‘Is this a white singer or a colored singer?’… In a still-segregated and racist American society, what they were really asking was, ‘am I allowed to like this song?’. 

The announcer came on and said, “Here’s a guy who, when he appears on stage in the South, the girls scream and rush the stage.” Then he played “That’s All Right, Mama.”… I thought for sure he was a black guy.

[Paul Simon]

Elvis himself was deeply attached to African American culture. He was encouraged by Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King while living in Memphis. He shopped at Mr. B’s, the city’s leading store for African American fashion. He admired and absorbed the style and stagecraft of black singers such as Jackie Wilson and Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – the man who wrote and first recorded ‘That’s All Right’ in 1946. In Elvis’ own words:

If I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.

[Elvis Presley]

As a white singer, Elvis gave Americans cultural permission to love African American music. ‘That’s All Right, (Mama)’ was the rupture in the fabric, regarded by some as the ‘big bang’ moment when race and hillbilly music collided to become rock & roll… For the few weeks following its radio broadcast, Memphis teenagers greeted each other with Elvis’ scat singing from the song – ‘dee dee-duh dee dee de-lee-dee’ – as if it was a generational call to arms.

When I first heard Elvis’ voice,
I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody;
and nobody was going to be my boss.
He is the deity supreme of rock and roll religion
as it exists in today’s form.
Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.

[Bob Dylan, 1977]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgprZu4Hk4

Well, that’s all right now mama
That’s all right with you
That’s all right now mama, just anyway you do
That’s all right, that’s all right
That’s all right now mama, anyway you do

[Lyrics]

‘Blitzkrieg Bop’

Tommy Ramone, last surviving founding member of the Ramones, died yesterday. He had been drummer for a band often credited with the invention of punk rock:

The Ramones revitalized rock and roll at one of its lowest ebbs, infusing it with punk energy, brash attitude and a loud, fast new sound… The Ramones got back to basics: simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs… And though the subject matter was sometimes dark, emanating from a sullen adolescent basement of the mind, the group also brought cartoonish fun and high-energy excitement back to rock and roll. 

[Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]

‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was their debut single, released in April 1976. In less than three minutes it set the blueprint for punk rock. This was to be a music of ‘lightning war’, a supercharged outpouring of angry excitement. Co-written by Tommy Ramone, the track lives on.

Hey ho, let’s go
Hey ho, let’s go
Hey ho, let’s go
Hey ho, let’s go

[Lyrics]

‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’

An anxious and evocative exploration of the hedonic treadmill, ‘Satisfaction’ scandalised the 1960s establishment with its sexual connotations and anti-commercialism. According to Paul Gambaccini, ‘The lyrics to this were truly threatening to an older audience. This song was perceived as an attack on the status quo.’

I can’t get no satisfaction 
I can’t get no satisfaction 
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try 
I can’t get no, I can’t get no 

[Lyrics]

 

‘Something Better Change’

A classic punk anthem which opens with a grunt, ‘Something Better Change’ attacks the status quo through a ferocious tirade against apathy. Released as a single in July 1977, it taunts established sensibilities by flaunting the new punk order.

Don’t you like the way, I move when you see me?
Don’t you like the things that I say?
Don’t you like the way, I seem to enjoy it?
When you shout things but I don’t care

[Lyrics]

‘Valerie’

Any Winehouse did not write this song, but it remains one of her most uplifting performances. Her absence in the video now has an affecting resonance, signalling how her music has and will continue to live on. As more and more Valeries are called on stage they each experience their friendship through Amy’s vocals.

Since I’ve come on home,
Well my body’s been a mess
And I’ve missed your ginger hair
And the way you like to dress
Won’t you come on over
Stop making a fool out of me
Why don’t you come on over, Valerie?

[Lyrics]

‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

‘Every Sunday I would take a long walk to a deserted beach café to have a coffee and a jelly doughnut, two things forbidden in a home regimented by healthy food. I savoured these small indulgences, slipping in a quarter in the jukebox and listening to “Strawberry Fields” three times in a row. It was my private ritual and the words and voice of John Lennon provided me with strength when I faltered.’

[Patti Smith, Just Kids, 2011] 

Let me take you down, cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

[Lyrics]

‘London Calling’

The end of the world is feverishly anticipated by a bunch of punks set up on a barge in the middle of the Thames. According to Rolling Stone this is the best single to come out of punk rock. ‘We felt that we were struggling,’ Joe Strummer said, ‘about to slip down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails. And there was no one there to help us.’ ‘London Calling’ sounds like the Clash marching into battle.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared, and battle come down

[Lyrics]