Saturday, May 15, 2010

Off-Genre: Calypso Blues

Marvin Gaye: Calypso Blues


Despite a strong performance by everyone this week, this really is a challenging theme. I had to leave the comfort of my own collection, and go shopping on Amazon to find a song for this post. And how do you do that search? I tried searching for tribute albums, and stopped when I found this one.

Many of the songs this week have been cases of artists trying to broaden their appeal once they were established, or to escape the straightjacket of their fan’s expectations. But sometimes, it takes an artist a while to find their sound, and their off-genre work occurs early in their career. Such was the case with Marvin Gaye. By the early 70s, What’s Going On was out, and Gaye’s success was assured. But, in 1965, he was still finding out who he was. That was when he took time out to pay tribute to one of his inspirations, Nat King Cole. I never knew this until I researched this post. Why would an artist do a tribute album when he hasn’t even established his own career yet? Remember that this was 1965, and artists released three albums a year, not the album every three years that is the norm nowadays. Soon enough, Gaye would be able to return to his own music.

My selection of Calypso Blues is intentionally ironic. This one would have been off genre for Nat King Cole as well. There was a calypso craze in the United states in the 1950s. That was when Harry Belafonte rose to fame. As far as I know, Calypso Blues was the only calypso song Cole ever recorded. And if you really want to go far off genre, try this. Years later, Damien Marley took Cole’s original vocal track and created a brand new instrumental track for it. So Nat King Cole became a reggae singer.

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