reason I’ve been churning through a lot of old, and great, records
that I’ve not played in a long time, and, as always with R&B and
Soul, how fresh and meaningful they still sound no matter how old
they are. Joe Turner’s original “Shake, Rattle & Roll” has surely
got the be the swingingest, busiest and lewdest number ever and
what a voice that guy had. Homer Banks’ “A Lot of Love” still has
that slightly sinister edge made all the more telling by the
slightly surreal lyrics, and Mary Wells’ “The Doctor” has to be
one of the sexiest songs ever. And the common thread amongst these
three highly disparate examples of Blackamerican music is that you
FEEL them and what they convey, rather than THINK about what they
And this, I reckon,
is where a lot of cultural critics go wrong. Maybe they’d like to
“feel” but can’t, so what’s the best defence against that? Why,
theory! You see, anyone can study theory. You can now get academic
degrees in all sorts of cultural subjects (even Pop music I
believe!), and, provided you attend lectures fairly regularly, and
write essays more or less affirming everything you’ve been told in
the lecture, you’ll come out with a degree at the end of it.
(Universities can’t fail too many students, it’d have such a dire
knock-on affect on their future funding).
And it is precisely
this, what I call, “academicisation” of culture that has had such
a deleterious effect in all areas. Much of the UK music phenomena
of the 60s and 70s was the result of the wonderful art school
system that used to exist. Any layabout, misfit or creative
dreamer could spend a few years in art college simple by taking
along a few samples of work, and convincing the interview panel
it’d be a rather good thing for him / her to be there.
You didn’t get a
degree at the end, merely a certificate saying where you’d been
for the past few years, but it allowed creative people time, space
and a bit of money to ponder if the creative life was really for
them. And often it was, as witness the case of David Hockney and
David Bowie, and many others too.
Then the control
freaks took over. They changed the rules and to go to art college,
you had to have all the necessary qualifications needed to go to
university. Goodbye dreaming, hello theory! The very people who
should have gone and would have benefited from going didn’t stand
a chance of acceptance.
And in some ways,
this culture of theory triumphing over creativity has resulted in
a certain soul-less culture where the outer form supersedes the
One of the great
things about R&B and Soul music is that it has always put the
inner before the outer. (Mind you, reactionary forces are
presently at work trying to amend this, but that’s another story).
I often smile to myself now when I hear certain oldies played on
the radio with enthusiastic accompanying them, because I think why
didn’t the Establishment say all this when the records were new,
and how come as new releases, you could count the number of air
spins they had on one hand?
Well, again, it’s
all to do with theory. Motown is now considered theoretically a
good thing. So’s Northern Soul. But anyone who was around when
these things were being born knows full well that theory had sweet
nothing to do with any of it! Both were the products of wayward
feelings - from people who mistrusted the intellectualising of
every last thing and yet who trusted what they felt!
We now have
theories that it was Motown almost single-handedly who brought
about the victory of the Blackamerican civil rights movement, and
remembering Emmet Till of course doesn’t play so well. And of
course, Chess-Checker, Okeh, Brunswick and so many others are
marginalised to footnotes because their story is a bit more
complex, less theoretical and the programme researcher probably
has only the vaguest idea of their existence.
But, Soul people
are special people (and god knows I’ve met hundreds in my time),
because they march to a different drum beat behind a different
banner. And the beat is a bit like Homer Banks, and the banner has
countless names on it!
Those of you who
are into authentic R&B or R&B when it was gradually moving on over
into Soul, must get Ace Records magnificent tribute to B. B. King
- a boxed set of four CDs culled from his days at Kent records in
the States, and with a superb booklet full of wise words, much
information and rare and fascinating pictures and memorabilia. B.
B. King, despite his persistence and longevity, had never in view,
been given quite the amount of praise and prominence he deserves,
but this set more than makes up for that omission. A great
collection from a truly great artist.
Time may soon be
running out for those “friends” of Soul music who put recordings
on their websites and make them available for free downloading.
Both The Library of Congress and The Recording Industry of America
are set to chase these thieves for royalty payments on the
copyright material. I somehow doubt that copping the “missionary
position” plea of doing all mankind a favour will wash with them,
(and since when have Black folks needed favours from White
folks?), and American copyright violations will be tried according
to American law. Retroactively!
Howard Berman, the
top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, the
internet and intellectual property is introducing a bill to combat
this. As he said, "Theft is theft, whether it is shoplifting a CD
in a record store, or illegally downloading a song."
Until next time,
Keep the faith!