Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll (Part One)

The fact that it took this blog over 4 years to reach the landmark of 100,000 hits pretty much outlines the very notion of Un-Herd. This will never be a popular site (and let me just thank those few kindred souls out there who continue to visit and comment - it's both appreciated and comforting), and likewise most of the bands championed will tragically never be huge sellers, but neither of those dour predictions take anything away from the greatness of the music. So I'm using this occasion as an opportunity to offer some gratitude by returning to the primal source of the music I cherish.

Rock 'n' roll. It's a name that sounds so quaint and old-fashioned now, easy to forget that it started as a hip euphemism for sex. Every time I say it out loud I can't help visualize Dick Clark heartlessly uttering it just before introducing some anti-rock abomination on American Bandstand. Ol' Dick talked it, but sure as shit didn't walk it, and his show was quite obviously uncomfortable with the real deal and instead sought safety in whitewashed treacle by Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and their ilk and, ultimately (and predictably), sided with the cold, mechanical conservatism of disco over the untamed beast of rock 'n' roll.

I've long held the belief that a band is entirely worthless if they can't master the simple 4/4 beat of rock 'n' roll. It's seemingly so simple, usually scoffed at by musicians and prog fans, but here's the thing: most of the people scoffing can't do it. Oh, they can play a 4/4, but they can't make it move. It's like Bob Seger's attempted tribute to the music, "Old Time Rock & Roll." All the elements are there (and hey, Seger was a true fan with some stone cold classics to his credit) but in the years between "Rambling Gambling Man" and Night Moves Bob had lost the plot. As a result, "Old Time Rock & Roll" just lied there, static, unmoving. Devoid of swing. Dead on the carpet. A dusty museum piece that was more of an embalming than a celebration. I fucking hate that song so much, because so many people can't hear the difference between it and the real thing.

Another key element to a band's worth is a sense of humor. And that's not to mean comedic. A great rock 'n' roll band holds two key contradictory beliefs: 1) they take it utterly seriously, and 2) they know it's all a little ridiculous. Take as an example my fave band of all time, the New York Dolls. Their sartorial choices poked fun at the very notion of teen idol sexuality, turning the Jagger/Richards model into an awesome cartoon. You couldn't look at them without at least a smirk, and you could see them smirking back. And yet, those guys lived and died for the music (three fifths of them quite literally). You can extrapolate that same sentiment to all the greats along the continuum, from Elvis's self-parodying hip gyrations to the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rotten's simultaneous hatred for rock 'n' roll and his absolute commitment to singing it. It was funny, and they meant it, man.

True rock 'n' roll is about transcendence. It's about breaking out of the mortal bounds, both societal and psychological, however briefly. It taps into religiosity. That's why the lyrics are often incidental. Exhortations to dance, to rock, to roll, to get crazy; demands for more and, if not more, at least for something else. It's what that smug Steve Allen couldn't comprehend back in the day when he intoned the lyrics of "Be Bop A Lula" in an attempt to demonstrate its idiocy. Of course it was idiotic; that's what made it genius! Steve Allen only managed to show he didn't get it. Plus he helped draw the battle lines that still exist to this day (and if they've faded at all, I'm always available with my chalk to redraw them).

This mix, then, is straight rock 'n' roll. You'll hear a lot of the Holy Trinity of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Guitars, drums, bass, pounding 88s, saxophones that squeal and honk. Background vox as gang chants. Vocalists that whoop and holler and shred their larynx in the pursuit of that unexplainable Other. No genre splicing. No experiments. Just the real hairy deal.

This music doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel; this is the wheel.

I Never Washed Dishes In Macon, Georgia

1. The Yum Yums Let's Rock & Roll
2. JD McPherson North Side Gal
3. The Meows This Man's Crazy
4. The F1eshtones Hard Lovin' Man
5. River City Rebe1s Her New Man
6. Heavy Trash The Loveless
7. Barrence Whitfie1d & the Savages Hey Little Girl
8. De1 Moroccos I Want Some More
9. Two Wounded Birds Daddy's Junk
10. The Computers Se1ina Chinese
11. The Detroit Cobras Shout Bama Lama
12. Jim Jones Revue High Horse
13. Lucero Women & Work
14. The Bamboo Kids Bad Man
15. Brand New Hate Hoochie Coochie Baby
16. Nick Curran & the Low Lifes Baby You Crazy
17. Janis Martin As Long As I'm Movin'
18. The New Trocaderos Real Gone Kitty
19. Joe E1y & Sue Fo1ey Great Balls of Fire
20. Teenage Head You're Tearing Me Apart
21. Lars Fredriksen & the Bastards 6 Foot 5
22. The Outrageous Va1entinos Action Man
23. The Fondas Might As Well Go
24. The Dozen Dimes All I Wanna Do Is Roll
25. The Stompers Rock, Jump, and Holler
26. The Swingin' Neckbreakers Rip It, Rip It Up
27. Nikki Hi1l Strapped To The Beat
28. Screamin' Stukas Action
29. Chuck E. Weiss Jimmy Would
30. 1an Hunter Still Love Rock 'n' Roll