Thursday, September 09, 2021

Andrew Hickey's History of Rock

Andrew Hickey's magisterial blog A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs has reached the era of the British Invasion and Motown, which is roughly where I came in.

As Blogger refuses to display its details properly when I try to add this blog to my favourite XI in the righthand column here, let me pick out a few recent episodes.

Episode 129: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones

Jagger is expressing the kind of aggressive sulk that pretty much every teenager, especially every frustrated male teenager will relate to. The protagonist is dissatisfied with everything in his life, so criticism of the vapidity of advertising is mixed in with sexual frustration because women won’t sleep with the protagonist when they’re menstruating.

It is the most adolescent lyric imaginable, but pop music is an adolescent medium.

Episode 128: Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds

There have been all sorts of hypotheses about what "Mr. Tambourine Man" is really about. Robert Shelton, for example, suspects the song is inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater. de Quincey uses a term for opium, "the dark idol", which is supposedly a translation of the Latin phrase “mater tenebrarum”, which actually means "mother of darkness" (or mother of death or mother of gloom). Shelton believes that Dylan probably liked the sound of “mater tenebrarum” and turned it into "Mister Tambourine Man". Others have tried to find links to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, or claimed that Mr. Tambourine Man is actually Jesus.

Dylan, on the other hand, had a much more prosaic explanation - that Mr. Tambourine Man was a friend of his named Bruce Langhorne, who was prominent in the Greenwich Village folk scene. As well as being a guitarist, Langhorne was also a percussionist, and played a large Turkish frame drum, several feet in diameter, which looked and sounded quite like a massively oversized tambourine.

Episode 122: A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
Cooke was very friendly with Ali, and also with [Muhammad] Ali’s spiritual mentor, the activist Malcolm X, and both men tried to get him to convert to the Nation of Islam. Cooke declined - while he respected both men, he had less respect for Elijah Mohammed, who he saw as a con artist, and he was becoming increasingly suspicious of religion in general. 
He did, though, share the Nation of Islam’s commitment to Black people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and presenting themselves in a clean-cut way, having the same vision of Black capitalism that many of his contemporaries like James Brown shared.

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