1. Introduction: When the world was monochrome.
I was born in 1948, we didn't get a television set until the mid-50s, our radio was limited to BBC stations, the only pop music show on TV (when we only had one channel) I can remember from that time is The 6-5 Special, and I didn't get a tranny (as in transistor radio, not the current usage) until about 1960-61 when I discovered the joys of Radio Luxembourg and, more or less, non stop pop music (plus Garner Ted Armstrong). I've also just remembered going regularly to the pictures (i.e. cinema) for the Saturday morning kids matinees where, before the show started, we used to sing pop songs with the words shown on the screen.
[At this point I'm going to interrupt myself. It's probably obvious that this post is being written and rewritten over several days and I'm looking at a number of these compilations on Amazon as I go. I've just discovered one which covers the era I mentioned above and bugger me if I can't remember a vast amount of names of the artists on it, more the names than the actual songs. Here it is-
When doing the search on Google Images it also threw up a number of similar compilations which I mention in case anyone is interested. Amazon threw up one called Calypsos, Boogies, Rockers, Ballads and Bluebeat: The Rise of Black Music in Britain. It's remarkable how many of those I remember and I may yet buy it. No image because the only one I could find was blurred.
So that was my mid to late 1950s.]
Interruption over. Please continue from the Introduction. Ta.
I should also note that Ace Records (UK) have an enormous range of reissues which covers much of what is reviewed here and their CDs have detailed authoritative sleeve notes and top quality remastering. But they're also notably more expensive.
+And they're all mono, though that's stating the obvious.
2. The CDs.
I mean, why would I want 400 tracks of something that is a fairly narrow musical sub genre which is basically a countrified version of the emerging Rock'n'Roll with the Blues taken out? It's very rhythmic, up-tempo with the guitar given prominence and a tendency for most of the male singers to sound like Elvis wannabees; maybe it was something in the water at the time. Whether it's a precursor of Country Rock is debatable. It's what I call primitive music in that it's direct, simple and unsubtle. It also happens to be enjoyable in its limited way and in small doses. So I picked this one on the grounds that it was probably the best of the lot. I mean, just look at the names on the CD cover -you can add Charlie Rich and Charlie Feathers as lesser known but important names (in other words, I've heard of them). Plus I've a fondness for Sun Records given Sam Phillips recording and promotion of Blues artists even if he did pretty much lose interest in them once he found Elvis.
Something often forgotten in these days when music is available as cheaply and easily as water from a tap, all the tracks on these CDs (not just Rockabilly) were originally released as singles and played to death while the buyer saved up to buy another one. They weren't, as Charles Shaar Murray pointed out in his book Blues On CD (way out of date but still interesting), intended to be listened to one after the other like eating peanuts or popcorn. So in this form it's inevitable that the parameters (or limitations if you will) become more obvious and the songs inevitably sound samey.
(And I'm skipping the track listings from this point. You know where to find them if you're interested.)
Coming out of post-war jump blues, jazz, and swing (Louis Jordan is here) is a collection of good time tracks running from 1947-1962. The inimitable Lightning Hopkins is in there too along with the more sophisticated Lowell Fulson holding up the Blues end which also includes the supper club Blues of Charles Brown. But mostly it's the West coast Black citified slick version of rock'n'roll with, as the compiler states, an emphasis on the the roll. And it's a whole very varied jumpin' load of fun. It's just good period pop. Interesting to compare it to the radically different Rockabilly. Me, I find its aesthetic much more appealing.
The 1950's were probably the last hurrah of the independent labels in the States as from the early 60's onwards more and more got bought up by what is known as the majors who were, much later, themselves swallowed by super giant megacorps like Sony and blandness ruled the world.
Federal Records, themselves a subsidiary of King Records, was, like just about every label with an all-black roster, run by white guys producing race records i.e. music by blacks for blacks, though that didn't stop hip white kids listening). In this case producer Ralph Bass with the assistance of Johnny Otis. Many people thought Otis was himself black but with a real name of Ioannis Veliotes er, no. But he could fake it very well and is one of the most important figures in popular music.
The overall dish here is black based rock'n'roll with a side order of R'n'B (not as it is understood today) and platter of Blues and Soul. It's more rocking (guitar) than the roll of Aladdin Records but if you like one...
There's more than the Blues to Vee-Jay (white owners/all black artists) but that's what it's primarily known for, especially the recordings of notorious label-hopper John Lee Hooker, but also Jimmy Reed, Billy Boy Arnold, and see above; but if you're looking for a Blues Vee-Jay collection I'd search elsewhere as this is more eclectic and not dissimilar to the Federal compilation above.
3. A Twist In The Tale.
I rather foreshadowed this at the beginning of this post but I listened to a few samples of a particular compilation and, bizarrely, bought it.
This is deeply ironic because it's music I generally had, at best, a perhaps condescending attitude towards it, believing it to be a crude even feeble attempt by British artists to imitate a far superior American product. Oh how I laughed at the names -Eager, Pride, Fury, Wilde, Faith, Steele.
Thank god for the Beatles and the Stones and the Searchers and the Hollies and all the rest of the emerging groups who consigned most of these bozos to the scrap heap. Only Cliff Richard managed to maintain a viable career over the following decades. Some, like Marty Wilde, maintained a career through 50's revival tours and by playing small clubs. Adam Faith, to the relief of many, went into acting and later became a financial wiz. Tommy Steele escaped into musicals. Shane Fenton reinvented himself in the 70's as Alvin Stardust. Many others just became the bloke next door. Billy Fury, a genuine talent, died young of heart failure.
And yet I still went and bought this-
-and had to change my mind. Well, a little, not a lot.
Some of it is exactly as I described it above. There's a Cliff track I've never heard of -Apron Strings- where he's blatantly imitating Elvis. And a few tracks later the obscure Don Lang sings an excruciating tribute to him -They Call Him Cliff.
But there is a vibrancy, an earnestness and some good singing among it. The opening track -Brand New Cadillac by Vince Taylor & the Playboys is, imitation or not (Cadillacs weren't exactly common even on the streets of London) is genuinely exciting. The second is Johnny Kidd and the Pirates on Restless, slower but with distinct similarities to Shaking All Over. Pity the rest of isn't as good, except intermittently, as these two openers.
4. In The End Is The Beginning.
This started out a few days ago as a review of Pioneers of the Electric Guitar, but, as a result of Amazon's recommendations, I ended up getting all the CDs I've just been talking about. At an average of less than a fiver each it was hardly breaking the bank. I've no regrets about buying any of them (except one which I've already sold). They'll be taking up permanent residence in the Animal Krackers van (see my cat rescuing blog) as they're great driving music and almost all the tracks are less than two and a half minutes long (which makes a change from 15 minute plus Grateful Dead jams).
But there's one last CD to mention which hasn't arrived yet.
Needless to say that most of these instrumentals are guitar led. There's a slight overlap with Pioneers, to which it works as a complementary piece. It includes the classic surfin' Pipeline by the Chantays but not, alas, Wipeout by the Surfaris. And, with Hank Marvin being an early idol of Neil Young's. it feels like time to be listening to the Shadows again after a gap of decades.
5. In a future post.
The Greatest Lullabies Of All Time, 3-CD box set. Can't wait to listen to Baa Baa Black Sheep again*.
*That was a joke. What I really want is a CD with people like Russ Conway, Dickie Valentine, Winifred Atwell, and Kathy Kirby on it.**
**So was that.***