Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Musical Transformations: Let the Good Time Roll

Jimi Hendrix: Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)


Most popular songs are built on the same formula: the I, IV, V  structure. This, of course refers to the  commonly used chord progression of most popular music (as in  A=I, D=IV and E=V – counting up the scale from the “root/starting” note). For the most part, “they’re all the same”. What’s amazing is the fact that – despite the prevalence of the I-IV-V format – they don’t all sound the same.

The realm of the “mashup” (which I raised a month ago) seems to fit our current topic: a new song based on two or more pre-existing ones. But we’ll steer clear of that genre here. Likewise, as per our guidance, we steer clear of covers, wherein the musician(s) re-interpret the I-IV-V format of some previous troubadour – of which there are many that come to mind.

As J. David said earlier this week, it’s often times hard to separate influence from outright theft. And as  Joe Ross pointed out and as I noted recently in reference to Weird Al basing some of his work on others’, there are those who creatively take from others.

Then, there’s the collection of songs that aren’t necessarily deliberately borrowed, but, rather, include source material that is so much a part of the whole rock/pop genre that it’s hard to credit any specific artist with the original conceit: the two are so far apart.

Last week I based my selection about our related “Musical Quotes” on a rather flimsy two words: New York, New York. Moving up the scale this week, I present a song that would appear to be built on a few more words: we’re going for 8. Who knows who came up with the phrase “Let the good times roll”? Who knows who added “Come on baby” to the mix? A 1950s duo called Shirley and Lee are credited with a song that includes these 8 words back in ’56. Numerous others have used bits and pieces of it. However, it seems to me that none can claim to have transformed it the way Jimi did on Electric Ladyland. You tell me, is it the same stuff?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Musical Transformations: The Battle of Kookamonga

Homer and Jethro : The Battle of Kookamonga

Homer and Jethro (with June Carter) : Baby, It’s Cold Outside


As soon I heard about this week’s theme, one musical act immediately came to mind … namely, Homer and Jethro. The country music duo, popular in the 40s-60s, specialized in musical transformations with their comedic and satirical parodies of popular songs. Guitarist Henry "Homer" Haynes and mandolinist Kenneth "Jethro" Burns were both born near Knoxville, Tn. in 1920. They met each other at a radio station audition when they were 16 years old and first called themselves “Junior” and “Dude” (pronounced "Dude-ee"). When the WNOX program director forgot their nicknames during a 1936 broadcast, they became Homer and Jethro. While their schtick was hillbilly, they were actually excellent musicians comfortable with jazz, country and pop.

Most of the parodies were written by Burns. Their version of “Baby It's Cold Outside” (with June Carter) became a hit. Frank Loesser, composer of the song, permitted them to parody the tune with one condition -- the label had to read, “With apologies to Frank Loesser.” That got them onto WLS Chicago in 1950, a tour with bandleader Spike Jones, and several successful albums. In 1959, Homer and Jethro won a Grammy for “The Battle of Kookamonga,” a parody of Johnny Horton’ big hit “The Battle of New Orleans.” While Homer and Jethro passed away in 1971 and 1989, respectively, they did get inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Check out the many H&J audio files at this link. When it comes to musical transformations, these guys were spot on with their time. However, singing a politically incorrect song like “Let Me Go Blubber” could get you clobbered in this day and age.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Musical Transformations: Boogie With Stu

This week’s theme made me think about plagiarism. I’m not an expert on intellectual property, although I am professionally involved in matters concerning trade secrets and confidential information. As a music fan, I know that the issue of plagiarism has always been a concern. Mozart was not the first who was accused of it, and a popular Broadway show and movie explored that. George Harrison was found liable by a court for “subconsciously” copying another song. Sampling has raised concerns about stealing, and it is only getting harder to figure out what can and can’t be done now that pretty much all music is now available in easily manipulated electronic form.
In any event, it is hard to listen to almost any song and not recognize influences from other songs. It is clear that you can’t simply take a song, in total, and put your name on it, at least without getting permission (a “cover”). After that, it is all a matter of degree, and whether you get accused of plagiarism.
Led Zeppelin is one of the great rock bands. Their influence and popularity cannot be denied, and I love them. I saw them at Madison Square Garden in 1977, and it was an incredible show, even if critics say it was far from their best tour, and they actually messed up “Stairway to Heaven” (if I recall, Bonham came in early). They have also been accused of plagiarism many times. Of course, using classic blues riffs has always happened, but Zeppelin went a bit too far, too often. Google it, if you are interested, and you will find a great deal of discussion on this topic.
“Boogie With Stu” was a jam recorded in 1971 featuring Led Zeppelin augmented by Ian Stewart, a piano player best known for his work with another pretty famous band, the Rolling Stones. It is very obviously a version, of sorts, of Ritchie Valens’ “Ooh, My Head.” The band didn’t try to hide their “influence,” to be charitable, even including “ooh, my head,” in the lyrics. It also may be that they were just goofing around in the studio and never expected to release the song, but when they decided to add it to “Physical Graffiti, the writing credit was "Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham/Ian Stewart/Mrs. Valens.” This was, apparently, an attempt to give Valens’ mother a credit and some royalties.

That was not enough for Valens’ publishing company, which sued for copyright infringement, and an out-of-court settlement was reached.
The irony is that Valens’ song itself appears to “borrow” heavily from Little Richard’s earlier song, “Ooh! My Soul.” And was Robert Plant aware of this, when he mentioned, in “Boogie With Stu,” “tutti-frutti,” the title of another Little Richard song?