Thursday, March 16, 2017


This post started off as a comparison of two sub genres of rock music. The problem was, as I tried to do some research on the subject, I found very little information or music on-line about it. So I just decided to mix it into a post about several other genres.

If you are on social media, you would assume, from reading all those stupid memes that your un-hip friends post, that Millennials listen to the worst music ever made. In doing some research for this, I found that the hipsters and Millennials are actually into some very interesting and technical, experimental music.

Also, I've noticed these memes usually come from one of three places 1) a country radio station or redneck humor Facebook site, 2) a classic rock - AOR radio station Facebook site or a 3) right-wing political - talk radio Facebook website. All three have an agenda.

Let's look back at the history of rock and roll and see if we can find any trends, that those who criticize the current music scene, bought into that could be scene as vomit inducing.

10. Rural Norwegian/Scandinavian accent novelty songs (70s - 80s): The Wurzels, Da Yoopers and the Bananas at Large. It started in the 50s with a comedian named Harry Stewart, who recorded under the name Yogi Yorgenson. His stuff was kind of fun. Then, in the 60s, came Stan Boreson and Doug Stetterberg doing parodies of popular songs with some rural Norwegian/Scandinavian humor, still okay. That was all. Then, the rural Norwegian/Scandinavian, sort of was revived by a group from England called the Wurzels, who did recorded a parody of "Brand New Key" as "Combine Harvester." Technically, their music was a British rural variation, but the elements were there such as beer and farm implements. In the 80s, some groups out of Minnesota and Wisconsin, began recording original songs, most of these were about two subjects: deer hunting and farting. The redneck crowd like these songs and, if you are in country radio you get request these songs. Ugh.

9. Acapella - Doo Wop Revival (80s - 90s): The Nylons, Take 6, 4 P.M, All-4-One, Boyz 2 Men, New Edition. It started with the Nylons and their covers of Steam's "Kiss Him Goodbye (Na Na Na Hey Hey)" and The Turtles' "Happy Together." It didn't immediately take off, but then New Edition gave us a cover of "Earth Angel," to coincide with its use in Back To the Future. From then on, all boy band (really they are vocal groups not bands, but that is what people call them) had to do some acapella variation of a doo wop, oldies hit or country hit. Even when they covered a song, with musical backing, there would be at least a few bars of acapella. I think Boyz 2 Men had a whole acapella CD. The last hurrah (and best song of this trend) was The Straight No Chaser version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."  

8.  American Ska - Punk (90s): Save Ferris, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Real Big Fish. In the early 80s, the Ska - Punk movement came out of England with bands like The Specials, The Untouchables, English Beat and Madness had some great songs. In the 90s, some American bands tried to revive the sound. The problem with these bands were their songs were usually too fast or just bad. Save Ferris (great name for a band) committed the ultimate sin by doing a cover of a song from the 80s that I HATE, "Come On Eileen." I also thought Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out" was one of the worst songs ever.

7. Big Band - Timeless Standards Revival (90s - Present): Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Michael Bubble, Puppini Sisters. This can be blamed on the short lived popularity of swing-dance. There has always seemed to be a push to bring back the Big Band era and the music of the pre-rock and roll era ever few years, but in the late 90s and early 2000's it almost succeeded. The groups doing original songs were on Alternative radio, where they sounded out of place. The more Timeless stuff helped kill off light AC and, when given its own radio format, it was the same songs over and over. Worse was how major stars (Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton, Bobby Caldwell, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon) recorded CDs of the "Timeless songs" and became un-cool.

6. American Blues Revival (Late 80s - early 90s): Omar & the Howlers, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jeff Healy Band. This is the subject that has caused me not to post in a while. I was going to compare the music of the late 60s British blues revival with the American blues revival of the late 80s. When I was in college, the local AOR station seemed to play a huge glut of these American blues revival bands. Out of all of the stuff being played, I only liked about three songs, "Bad To the Bone" & "Who Do You Love" by George Thorogood and "Smoking Gun" by The Robert Cray Band. There was also a tone of local blues bands around. I always preferred the late 60s British blues of Led Zepellin, Cream, Fleetwood Mac and Ten Years After. There was something made their interpretations of the blues different. Maybe it was help from acid, pot, Alistair Crowley and that person Robert Johnson met at the crossroads, but their blues was like atomic thunder from outer space. A new generation discovers it every year. The American blues revival of the 80s has largely become the in-house music of chain barbecue restaurants like Rib Crib and Famous Dave's. Here is the thing that caused my lengthy lack of post. Doing research on those bands was impossible, because I could find very little information about them on the Internet. I could track down very little of the music. I looked in an old Gold Disc AOR catalog from the 90s at work and only found a few names I remembered. Most of the groups had names like Jimmy Fudbucker and the Skillet Lickers. The only thing I found was a comment on the message board that summed up why these groups didn't have the impact of the British groups of the 60s. This person said "It lacked the feeling and soul that the blues is supposed to have. They made the blues bland and boring." 

5. Mummers String Bands (50s): Ferko String Band, Nu-Tornados, Quaker City Boys. If you wondered what in the world that photo at the top of this post represented, here it is. Sadly, I have to blame this one on one of my broadcasting media heroes: Dick Clark. The Mummers Parade has been a New Years Day tradition for over a century in Philadelphia. In the 50s, it was aired live on TV. This was also when American Bandstand was broadcast from Philadelphia.  The oddly dressed marchers and bands in the parade can only use string and percussion instruments. Some how they wound up catching the nations attention. Ferko String Band performed mainly instrumentals on records, but they had a hit. A vocal group, with a Mummers sanctioned banjo and glockenspiel, called The Quaker City Boys gave us "Teasin." 

The Nu-Tornados, on the other hand, gave us the dorkiest hit of the early days of rock & roll. A song called "Philadelphia U.S.A."It makes "Pink Shoe Laces" look like "Blowin In the Wind." The trend lasted roughly a year and thankful stayed in Philly after that.

4. Nostalgia - Camp (60s): New Vaudeville Band, Ian Whitcomb, Rainy Daze, Purple Gang, Bonzo Dog Band.  The Pop Art movement of the 60s lead to nostalgia for the pop culture of the past. In some circles, it was known as camp. Starting in about 1965, British Invasion artist Ian Whitcomb, known for his breathless hit "You Turn Me On," started reviving old ragtime songs like "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday On Saturday Night?" The next year, British composer Geoff Stephens, wrote a song called "Winchester Cathedral." He had it recorded by a studio group with a vocal by John Carter, the former lead singer of the Ivy League, singing through a megaphone, like singers of the 1920s. Using the name The New Vaudeville Band, the song became an unexpected hit and spawned some other records with that sound. Several older artist (Rudy Vallee, Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, George Burns and Tony Randall) and easy listening acts recorded cover versions, as well as bringing back more old songs from the 20s. It also spawn two bad copies that were blatant drug references. A band out of Denver used the nostalgia sound for their sledgehammer subtle minor hit "Accapolco Gold" and a British group called the Purple Gang recorded "Granny Takes a Trip." One group who started out doing the nostalgia sound revival act but left it behind was The Bonzo Dog Band. Here is one of those nostalgia tunes they recorded.


3. Death Songs (50s - 60s): "Teen Angel," "The Leader of the Pack," "Tell Laura I Love Her," "Last Kiss." This is one of those trends that have for years caused people to ask "WHY?". What caused the teenagers of the late 50s until the British Invasion to love such morbid songs. Many trace the beginning of this to be early 1959 and the death of Buddy Holly, Richie Valence and Big Bopper.  First came Mark Dining's "Teen Angel" and soon the Top 40 was filled with car wrecks (Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her" J. Frank Wilson "Last Kiss"), drownings (Jody Reynolds "Endless Sleep"), suicides (Pat Boone "Moody River", ghost girls ("Laurie"), a football team in a bus crash ("The Hero"), a girl eaten by a shark ("The Water Was Red") and a biker who may have hit a truck ("The Leader of the Pack"). This phase started to fade with the death of President Kennedy. Teens turned to the happy music of the British Invasion and Motown acts. The nail in the coffin (pardon the pun) may have been "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross. It was a parody that took things a little too far. Jimmy misses his dead girlfriend so much that he digs up he coffin and crawls inside with her. Of all of these songs, my favorite is "Johnny Remember Me" by Johnny Leyton. He never says what happened to the girl or really if she is dead or not, but, thanks to production from Joe Meek, she is a spooky as a Roger Corman Poe movie.


2. Spoken Word Recitations: (60s): "A Open Letter To My Teenage Son,""I.O.U," "Grover Henson Feels Forgotten," "History Repeats Itself," "The Americans (A Canadian's Opinion)," "Gallant Men." This may get me into trouble. Before there was talk radio and memes on Facebook, there were the spoken word recitations. Don't get me wrong, not all were preachy tirades. Some spoken word recitations were stories with a musical background, such as "Old Rivers" by Walter Brennan, "Ringo" by Lorne Greene, "Phantom 309" by Red Sovine, and "The Shifting Whispering Sands" by Billy Vaughan with Ken Nordine. The others give us lectures against burning our draft card and respecting our elders, the similarities between President Lincoln and President Kennedy, how Europeans and "smug self-righteous Canadians" need to respect Americans, the true meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, how kids need positive role models and how much your mother has done for you. 75 percent of these records used an instrumental version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" for a background. After the 60s, these type of recordings fell out of fashion because they don't gel well with the rest of the programing on music stations.  Imagine if you were listening to the radio today and between the latest hit by Beyonce and the latest hit by Katy Perry, the radio station played a cranky, old, white griping about how today's teenagers are stupid, people on welfare or illegal aliens . You understand. I will admit I do have two favorites that actually came along after the boom of these records in the mid to late 60s. One is 1999's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", which was credited to producer Baz Luhrmann, but the reading is by actor Lee Perry. The other is 1971's "Desiderata (Child of the Universe)" by talk show host Les Crane. What I like about these are the upbeat music and positive, affirmative tone.


1.  Answer Songs (50s - 60s): "He'll Have To Stay," "I'm the Girl From Wolverton Mountain," "I'll Save The Last Dance For You," "Tell Tommy I Miss Him," "I'm the Duchess of Earl," "Oh Neil," "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight," "Gary, Don't Sell My Diamond Ring," and "I'm Glad They Took You Away Ha-Ha!" The most ridiculous of all of these trends I mentioned has to be the answer song trend of the 60s. It's roots were planted in the early 50s on the rhythm and blues side when Hank Ballard & the Midnighters released "Work With Me, Annie" and on the country side with Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life." Etta James fired back at Ballard with "Roll With Me, Henry" and Kitty Wells snapped back at Thompson with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." For some reason the peak began in 1960 and lasted until the British Invasion hit (Let's face it, the British Invasion groups can be thanked for getting rid of awful stuff). Every time a male artist or group had a hit, another record company would release a bad re-write of the song with a female singer or group and visa versa. You can tell from the above titles that much of this was pure dreck (although "Oh Neil" was by Carole King, who Neil Sedaka wrote "Oh, Carol" about, so there was a point to that one).  The only ones that worked are Jan Bradley's "Mama Didn't Lie," an answer to The Shirelles hit "Mama Said There Would Be Days Like This," Katy Perry's "California Gurls," which was an answer to Jay-Z "Empire State of Mind" and, the grand daddy of all answer songs, "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynard Skynard, which was an answer to Neil Young's "Southern Man" and "Alabama." The reason these work is they are original songs that sound different than the songs they are an answer to not a carbon copy with the gender of the singer changed.
Some will, of course, holler "What about disco? What about rap? What about hair bands? What about psychedelic music? What about punk?" Those genres and styles had staying power, whether you like them or not. These are brief flash in the pans. Lucky for us they were brief.

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