Sunday, November 15, 2015

Listening Journal, Week 4

This week's listening focuses on the transition from the swing era into rock.  It also focuses on the increased popularity of country music.  As with previous entries, I tried to choose songs that varied from one another in order to offer the reader an idea of what was popular in this era (post WWI through the 1950's).

The first song that I listened to was Nancy, performed by a young Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra's voice is so pure at this young age.  It seems like it takes very little effort to accomplish the nuances (vibrato, large intervals are two examples) that he achieves in this song.  The melody is accompanied by what sounds like a large orchestra.  Mambo No. 5, by Perez Prado, sounded very familiar to me.  I confused it with No. 8, which is used at the beginning of one of my favorite movies, Office Space. Offbeats are very prevalent in this piece as you hear them throughout the band.  The saxophones often play very staccato, which would be strange in most songs, but fits the style perfectly here.  The musicians in the band actually sing toward what is mostly an instrumental piece.

Choo Choo Chi' Boogie sounds like a song that would be found in the swing era.  However, the raspy sound of the tenor saxophone solo is too "dirty" for the swing era.  This song is very much in the 12 bar blues form.  This piece is certainly swinging, but more like a shuffle in my mind than the style of swing from the early 1940's.  Hound Dog, performed by Big Mama Thornton, is the first song that I listened to where I felt like there was a big difference in style (compared to the previous songs).  I am accustomed to hearing Elvis Presley's performance of this song, but found Thornton's rendition to be pleasingly different.  An electric guitar is used throughout the song and there is clapping during the offbeats.  The tempo is more laid back than Presley's version and Thornton's voice is much more "dirty" than Presley's.  While this piece uses the 12 bar blues, the bass guitar tends to change the chord one beat later than what I expect to hear in the blues.

Looking at country music, I first listened to Bill Monroe's It's Mighty Dark to Travel.  This song is what I would classify as classic Bluegrass music.  The instrumentation, solos, chord progressions, and lyrics fit this type of music perfectly.  Monroe has a very distinct southern or Appalachian dialect.  Hank Williams Hey Good Lookin' seems much closer to a typical country song.  The rhythm section creates the classic "oom pah" feel.  I like the opening electric guitar solo and feel myself wanting to hear more fiddle, as it seems to be used more as an afterthought in this song.   Maybellene is classified as a rock song, but seems almost country to me because of the similar oom pah feel.  This song uses the 12 bar blues during the chorus, but stays on one chord during verses.  I thought that was interesting as well as the fade out at the end, which reminds me of 1980's songs.

Long Tall Sally was a very energetic piece, sung by Little Richard.  He starts off by himself with the band doing "hits" on certain beats. Once the first four measures are completed, the band jumps into a 12 bar blues played straight (not swung).  The tenor saxophone solo is a high point, which is accompanied by the piano playing straight eighth notes.  Little Richard's voice is all over the place in terms of range as he makes this piece very exciting to listen to.  Don't Be Cruel, sung by Elvis Presley, is a much more laid back sounding piece.  Like much of the above-listed songs, Don't Be Cruel uses the 12 bar blues, with swung rhythms.  The back-up singers harmonize with their "Bops" and "Ooohs".  The song ends with a chord played by the electric guitar.  Charlie Brown, by the Coasters, seems to be from a few years earlier, maybe due to the harmonizing of the singers.  This piece is in blues form (not swung), and highlights the phrase, "Why's everybody always pickin' on me?"  This is the most memorable part, and probably would be the "hook" of the song.

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