kayeaton: (huh.)
Kay Eaton ([personal profile] kayeaton) wrote2011-01-21 05:27 pm

ooc - kay's cultural context: rock music

Or, "this is why Kay hates your crazy modern music with its shouty singing and its loud guitars." (I'm not going to lie, this is only tangentially related to her, though it does address her tastes in music, is kind of relevant? IDK, theoretical reader (I am not convinced that anyone not me is ever going to read this, and that's probably okay), I just love writing up supplemental materials, and this is one of my favourite tricks in the world.)

When many Americans think of the music of the 1950s, songs like "Rock Around the Clock" come to mind. (Fun fact: While "Rock Around the Clock" is generally referred to as the first rock'n'roll song, "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner beats it to the punch by three years. Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" gets brought up on occasion, too, and quite a few other songs. Rock music: It is a fun, if murky, business.) Throw in some Elvis, some Little Richard, some doo wop, maybe a little Buddy Holly, and you can probably call it a day. That's the 50s in music.

(Did you know I love archive footage? Because I love archive footage. But that's a digression, lol. But seriously, if there's anyone reading this, do consider watching some of those youtube links, because there's such great value in seeing the actual performers around the time of recording.)

The way we talk about the 50s does a disservice to the decade, though. Talking rock'n'roll and rhythm'n'blues ignores what a huge swath of the public was listening to at the time. I'm not one to say "oh, but can't we think of the mainstream white adult audience some more?" in general, but to really understand the music of the 50s--and more importantly here, to understand Kay--I have to. So here, meet your new superstar:

This, my friends, is Lawrence Welk, who you might know from Saturday Night Live parodies. He was a big band leader who had a national radio show from 1949-1951, and from that point hosted The Lawrence Welk Show from 1951 until 1982. This man was wildly successful, and when it comes to what mainstream white adult America was doing with music in 1950s, Welk is the protoypical guy to look to.

(I'm about to use a lot of musical examples that are decidedly not from 50s episodes of the show, but because it was broadcast live, there are a lot fewer surviving episodes from those years. Thus, a lot fewer examples from the 50s on youtube. I've done my best to pick selections that would be fairly representative of the kind of thing he'd show in the 50s--no "One Toke Over the Line" renditions here. You'll have to go to youtube for that.)

This is the point where, if I was teaching your class on rock history, I'd be making you listen to a lot of youtube clips. Since this is the internets, we're on the honour system: I'm going to embed a bunch of stuff in an attempt to really give you an idea of what the world sounded like to someone like Kay. You don't have to listen to the whole thing, but try enough to get a sense of the sound of her world, and then listen to the last video I've embedded. It's something that was really illuminating for me when a professor had us do it in class, and I'm hoping it might be for you. (...That makes this sound really pretentious, I'm sorry. It's not that I'm hoping to confer all my Brilliant Knowledge To You Plebes or anything, it's just that I really, honestly think this is kind of awesome to think about. God, I'm making this so awkward, let's move on to the next paragraph.)

So what was hot shit in the 50s? Well, you saw Welk's main instrument up there; people fucking loved accordions. Loved them? Not just loved them, thought they were the wave of the future. I don't have my citations here, so you'll just have to trust me on this, but in 1958 or thereabouts, a futurist predicted that the accordion would be the instrument of the 1960s, because so many kids were learning it in the 50s. So Pepsi commercial about Jimi Hendrix honestly wasn't that far off. Except, you know, guitars overtook that shit like that.

But at the time, you could certainly expect to hear more than a little of stuff like this:

(If you, like me, think that song--which is called "Muskrat Ramble," btw--sounds an awful like the "Feels-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag", you wouldn't be alone. You would also be awesome, and we should be friends. The estate of the guy who wrote "Ramble" sued Country Joe and the Fish in 2001, and imo, completely justifiably, Jesus.)

Or this:

(That's the "Beer Barrel Polka." ROLL OUT THE BARRELS, WE ARE IN THE MIDWEST AND NEED TO DRINK OUR SORROWS AWAY. It's cool, I'm from the Midwest. Also, why did they bring an eight year old? IDGI.)

Of course, there was plenty of non-accordion music out there, like:

(Those're the Lennon Sisters. They also did a really sweet cover of "Unchained Melody"--love the harmonies!)

And there were, of course, plenty of other musicians out there who had nothing to do with Lawrence Welk. Here's a selection of hits from 1953 itself, when Kay is from. Take "No Other Love" by the wonderful Mr. Perry Como, for instance:

Or Patti Page, whose "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" was, I shit you not, the third most popular song on the Billboard 100 in 1953:

You've got an idea of the sound of the time, then. What's called traditional pop isn't antiquated by any means at this point, and Broadway is still more than capable of producing chart-topping hits (in 1953, we're only three years away from "On the Street Where You Live" and four years away from "'Til There Was You"). There are plenty of other things going on in music--hard bop in jazz, if I'm remembering my timelines correctly, and Johnny Cash is busy living out the plot of Walk the Line, while classical music has been fucking around with number-based compositions for decades now--but the sound I've tried to present above is the kind of stuff Kay listens to. She's one of a lot of Americans her age at that time, who like swelling strings underscoring her love songs and dance music that you can do the box step to.

And, of course, there's nothing wrong with that--considering how much I love this stuff (presumably it comes through above somewhat >>), I'll be the last to deride the overriding sound of white adult Americans in the 1950s. But consider how jarring--how loud, how raucous--something like Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" would have sounded by comparison:

And that, kids, is why stodgy old adults with less sense than indignation thought rock music was genuinely dangerous. In comparison to the music made for them, it sure as fuck sounded like it could be. And Kay's still two years away from "Maybellene." (There are plenty of other songs that we could use as examples here, some that are even chronistic, but I think "Maybellene" gives a pretty awesome contrast.)

So yeah, in comparison, your thrash metal sounds like nothing so much as a new and inventive form of torture to her. The musical evolution necessary to get there hasn't happened. For "mainstream" America in her time period, it hasn't even begun.

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