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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Relationship Between Art and Ritual

      The title of this book may strike the reader as strange and even dissonant. What have art and ritual to do together? The ritualist is, to the modern mind, a man concerned perhaps unduly with fixed forms and ceremonies, with carrying out the rigidly prescribed ordinances of a church or sect. The artist, on the other hand, we think of as free in thought and untrammelled by convention in practice; his tendency is towards licence. Art and ritual, it is quite true, have diverged to-day; but the title of this book is chosen advisedly. Its object is to show that these two divergent developments have a common root, and that neither can be understood without the other.


Harrison, Jane. 1913. Ancient Art and Ritual London: Williams and Norgate

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Racism and Popular Music in the 1940s

     The conventional wisdom when it comes to the creation of rock and roll is that it is a musical combination of country music and rhythm and blues: both of which have there own distinct categories.  The primary division in these categories was race: white people played country music and black people played rhythm and blues.     From the perspective of the music industry institutions during this period, they saw the audience in terms of race.  Racism in the marketplace was institutionalized to an extent that it almost apriori in any discussion of music industry institutions.

      When you look at the creation of a musical genre like rock and roll, you can't underestimate the impact of racism on the behavior of institutions.  Institutions are inherently conservative: amalgamations of people who share mental attitudes while being focused on the common goal of the 'bottom line.'

      Before Country and Western was called "Country and Western" it was called several different things by Billboard Magazine as well as the general public, following the lead of the institutions of the culture industry.  First of all, Country and Western was wholly subsumed within the larger category of "Folk" almost from inception.  In the 1940s, Billboard Magazine created a Folk category that included Hillbilly, Western and Americana.  The important fact to understand here is that Hillbilly WAS Country music.  It wasn't like, a sub-category of Country music- it WAS Country.

     Ok, now if you then stack up the economic impact of hillbilly music in the 40s and 50s up against rhythm and blues:  There's no comparison.  Hillbilly music was big business BEFORE Billboard started covering it in 1943.  Hillbilly music was big business before the recording industry itself grew to maturity.  Rhythm and Blues still didn't 'exist' in the same way.   This reality has been obscured by two generations of  music critics focusing on neglected blues artists.  The economic discrimination, explicit and overt, negatively impacted the ability of African American artists and business people to reach the mass media audience that had been invented by Radio and Television.

      The impact of racisim on music was to push African American artists towards experimentation and improvisation, while white artists were pushed toward increased sophistication of arrangement and vocal technique.  Undoubtably, the experience of racism in the day-to-day lives of skilled  African American musicians-artist-professioinals would induce the kind of creativity that has historically led to great art in many western settings.  Hillybilly music was different only because white artists  both shared some of the same values and methods as African American musicians in blues and jazz.   At the same time, the music industry was cognizant of the market value of Hillbilly music at a much earlier point in time then they were aware of a similar value in rythtym and blues.  The hits of the late 1940s are neither hillbilly nor 'race records' but hillbilly is a lot closer to breaking through.

    As a result of the percolation of African American artistic technique into the market for Hillybilly music, audience taste was transformed and developed a new found appreciation for the experimentation with vocals and instrurments that characterized the music produced by Hillbilly artists in the 30s and 40s.

    One of the areas to look at here would be the way that non-Hillbilly pop music in the 1940s incorporated vocal or insturmental techniques from Hillbilly recordings.  Presumably, there was a period before Hillbilly records were being marketed to the general 'pop' audience, where music industry professionals analyzed the techniques involved even as they eschewed the style itself and you would be able to observe some level of infiltration.  The incorporation of rawer techniques from blues into popular music would have to wait another decade, giving Hillbilly/Country a decade head start in impacting general audience taste in the United States market for popular music.

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Downtown Augusta Radio Tower
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Decca Records and *Rock Around the Clock* by Bill Haley



     It's worthwhile to just, you know, take a look at old hits.  Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and His Comets was released by Decca Records in the spring of 1954 as a b-side to Thirteen Women.  Decca Records was a major label that split operations between London and New  York City.    Rock Around the Clock was written by someone else, but offered to Bill Haley to record because he had another hit.  The initial decision to put Rock Around the Clock as a b-side.

    Rock Around the Clock became a hit record after obtaining placement in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle.  This significant fact demonstrates the pre-existence of film as a "hit maker" as well as the nature of the relationship between film and music in terms of audience impact.  Certainly, this fact is known to every music industry professional  The hit status of Rock Around the Clock was 'officially' secured in July 1955, when it became the 'first rock song to top the billboard pop chart.'

      One way to analyze the impact of singles vs. albums in the marketplace is to look at Decca's "Million Seller" list.   There is a list of something close to 60 records- 56 are singles, 4 are albums. (BILLBOARD 08/54 PG.46)

   It's important to emphasize the continuity in the music industry before and after *Rock Around the Clock*, rock and roll's first "hit" was released.  Rock Around the Clock was not  anexception for the sales itself, the chart phenomenon was already well established in 1954.  The scope of sales was not extraordinary.  Rather, it was the ability to attract a passionate new market to the marketplace for the wares of the major labels of the time.

  Perhaps the interesting question in the story of Rock Around the Clock is "How did a B side get placed over the opening credits of a Hollywood feature 9 months after release?"  In answering that question you might find an unsung genius of the music industry.  Another thing to note- that is a 78 playing up there- not a 45.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Invention of the 45 rpm single

       In February 1949, RCA Victor released the first 45 rpm single, 7 inches in diameter, with a large center hole to accommodate an automatic play mechanism on the changer, so a stack of singles would drop down one record at a time automatically after each play. Early 45 rpm records were made from either vinyl or polystyrene. They had a playing time of eight minutes. (WIKIPEDIA)




       

Rhythm and Blues Notes Billboard Magazine January 1955

  The Billboard is presenting in this issue its "Spotlight on Rhythm and Blues."  It is a survey of the r&b field, covering all types of activities of r &b artists, including recordings, one-nighters, talent r&b packages and much more. Articles and stories cover all areas of the country and are active in r&b, recordings including g New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
  This is an especially felicitous time to spotlight the r&b field.  For the swinging, infectious and melodic tunes that have come out of the r&b field have, over the past year, swept all before them.  Not even when country tunes were dominating Tin Pan Alley was there the same air of excitement and the commotion as there are today about r&b tunes and r&b artists.  At the moment and perhaps for a long time to come, r&b records are the pop records of the day and every single diskery (even those that never neew what r&b records were a few rears ago) are now issuing their own r&b styled disks.

(BILLBOARD MAGAZINE JANUARY 1955)

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