Discussions, Interviews & Lectures Detail
:: Description :: Alan Lomax and Anna Wei Sung, on Fats Domino; Elvis Presley's appeal; Rockabilly; the Four Seasons; the Temptations as the apotheosis of Motown; hitmaking formula of the 1950s and some hits of the 1960s and '70s; Stevie Wonder and Prince; Michael Jackson; and the Bee Gees.
:: Project :: Cantometrics, Choreometrics, The Urban Strain
:: Date Range :: 01-01-1980 to 12-31-1995
:: Particpants ::
Lomax, Alan
Unidentified Wesleyan professor
:: Subjects ::
Pop hitmaking formula of late 50s to early 60s - high energy; rapid tempo; staccato; stiff, repetitive syncopation
Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"
Dozens and insult songs - "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog" and insult songs
Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife'" - performance style of
Everly Brothers "Bird Dog" - performance style of
Popular music - novelty songs of late fifties as manifestation of the search for new pop styles
Four Seasons' "Sherry" - performance style of
Temptations - "My Girl" as apotheosis of Motown
Simon and Garfunkel's performance style
Michael Jackson's performance style
Marvin Gaye's performance style
Jackson Five - performance style of
Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"
Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" - analysis of
Lionel Ritchie's performance style
Diana Ross - her performance style
Dance style - Disco, the Freak
Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" and "Superstition"
Drumming - tuned (African) versus untuned (European)
Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill", performance style of
Elvis Presley's "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel" - analysis of
Cultural continuity - singer with guitar as percussive accompaniment for dancing
Prince's "When Doves Cry"
Bee Gees' "Night Fever" - performance style
:: Cultures ::
African American
North American
:: Holdings ::
Media not yet available
:: Notes :: Brief comment on Fats Domino singing "Blueberry Hill." Alan Lomax: Anna Wei Sung, a pianist, has coded Fats' piano playing (featuring a walking bass in the left hand and arpeggios in the right) as "guitar." Black piano style is kin to boogie woogie, invented about 1915. Eighths or sixteenths are played in one hand and something slower in the other. Structure of "Blueberry Hill" - he sings a short phrase of banal text, but with two different meters, on piano, bass, and drums; with response and overlap and some sort of melodic reply. Typical of black music, very typical of the blues. Results of coding Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog,? and "Don't Be Cruel." The magic of Presley's appeal is his extremely varied style. He sings in the crooning style of Bing Crosby, using a "talking style" in Bing's melodious voice but prolonging notes in unexpected ways so that he is syncopated with the orchestra. His is an open, wide style with lots of rubato and heavy tremolo. Low pitch, some expressive nasality and rasp. There is an accompanying male quartet. "Hound Dog," the song that made him famous, is very up-tempo, with short phrases, and very raspy all the way through. It has a blues formula. There is staccato in voice and orchestra, and the phrases are bitten off. Accent is forceful. This is another Presley, telling off a girl, angry and rejecting. It had never been done before and girls liked it, it was a big hit. The melody is one pattern, the orchestra another. This is the blues "shouter" style. The style of the "dozens" (insult songs). The male chorus sings very prolonged vowels in a good blend in a contrastive tempo (the closest white groups could come to polyrhythm and derived from what groups such as the Platters were doing). "Heartbreak Hotel": here Presley uses a wide, open beautiful resonant voice, precise enunciation, with touches of harshness (rasp and nasality), projecting the confident, erotic, mature young male. He performs a blues shout in his open voice. There is lots of staccato, syncopation, vocal breaks, playful cooing, gasping, and whining. He uses strict rhythm; with polyrhythm, varied volume, and some improvised solos in the orchestral background. This is the origin of the youthful, jaunty rock style of the past decades. "Don't Be Cruel" is fast, staccato, and strophic with wide tonal intervals. He uses a wide, open, resonant voice, whose main quality is its positive ness. The piece is forceful. There are lots of glottal ornaments and leaping intervals, these are stock folk qualities. "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog" has the feeling of standard rock to come. The voice is playful, with Bing Crosby-like qualities, but with lots of glottal catches and ornaments that indicate a youthful quality - a little bit insecure, but real peppy. There are many Elvises. He could get up a different style every time. In films of his performances he moves from the middle, his pelvis is really swinging, and his arms swing. He knew girls found him attractive and he sang in a passionate voice, moving like a black man. The true rock revolution consisted in getting rid of the big band. Before Elvis dance music had been made by several instruments, with the singer as an occasional guest, singing a novelty number. This was often true even with black jazz. With Elvis the singer provides the short staccato rhythms of the dance. The tempo is set up so everybody could do the Lindy, as in black rural Mississippi, where one singer with guitar and percussion provided the dance music, as he urged everybody to forget the Puritan morality of the past and have as much fun as possible, after or even during the dance. The fast staccato rhythm is in the tradition of the "dozens," an early kind of rap: "You're a dirty mistreater / You're a robber and a cheater / And your mama does the Lordy-Lord." Analysis of "Mack the Knife." Lots of staccato and rapid tempo. Varied use of accent is the chief expressive resource of people speaking the English language. This is a typical kind of simple English song. The singer uses an almost speaking delivery at the start but then opens up to a clear baritone sound. The big pattern of from Elvis to 1959 is that of very tense use of staccato, stiff syncopation repeated over and over, and rapid tempo, with a lot of energy. This was the basic hit-making element of this period. Rockabilly: "Bird Dog" by the Everly Brothers. Hard driving, reminiscent of Presley's "Hound Dog." This is in the tradition of the "novelty song" of which there were many at that period, as singers experimented with moving away from standard popular song. This one has the strange device of a duet in perfect unison answered by a whiskey-soaked solo voice in an African-rhythm refrain. Song form is 16 phrase, and there is all kinds of double-entendre. Analysis of "Sherry" by the Four Seasons, an attempt to move to multi-parted polyphony, as was common in Africa, approaching pygmy style. The piece features different and very dramatic voice qualities: a "female" voice that is sweet but turns thin, nasty, and very raspy at certain points, vocal bass with lots of rasp and very wide and low pitches. Tremendous shifting of vocal colors, as there is in African singing, but this is all laid down and written out. Beat very strong. They sound like they learned it from a written arrangement. This is a novelty song type, there is maximal glissando and maximal melisma. Shadow Dancing. The Freak, Disco Pieces: voice qualities totally regimented, unison rhythms, very staccato, enormous precision. July 23. "My Girl" by the Temptations - the apotheosis of a male Motown singing. Very smooth, very gentle, could be a white quartet, but overlappy, with polyrhythm in orchestra. The tone, rhythm, and coordination are extremely good. Remarkable vocal style by the leader. Some hits of the late 1960s and '70s: Simon and Garfunkel, the Jacksons, and Marvin Gaye. All three feature the gentle, lyrical style that Motown made universal, with deep, sentimental emotions. Marvin Gaye is the most interesting, playing with blues harmony, gospel. Simon and Garfunkle polite, with modest syncopation, orchestra in strict temperament, no unusual harmonies or blue notes, lots of long notes, a middle-European approach, resembling Schubert [i.e., the hackneyed nineteenth century-type diatonic orchestral arrangements disliked by Alan Lomax]. Their voices are wider than most European voices, and their enunciation is slurred. The Jackson Five have a very wide, very sweet singing style, with lots of overlap, lots of vocal blend, slurred enunciation, and a tremendously wide range. They are European-American in their great variation of dynamics, African in constant syncopation, with playful variation of the voice, ocasional screaming in emotional moments, subtle overlapping of vocal parts. However, this is Motown's contribution to musical comedy. It's like a piece of opera. Sounds like a 30-person chorus. Led Zeppelin's "A Whole Lotta Love." The British can't match blacks in vocal blend and rhythmic complexity, so they resort to screaming "jungle" effects, trying to sound "barbaric." This is what British really thought of their colonies. Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." Very up-tempo, lot of tension, solo all the way through, strongly accented, screeching, raspy voice. Extremely bad vocal blend. Orchestra uses enormous amount of gliss, tremolo, electronically generated sound, and honking. The singer plays the role of a modern Odysseus, screaming out his romantic defiance against the background of the bitter, harsh picture of the streets. Alan Lomax: Stevie Wonder, in ?You Are the Sunshine of My Life," makes use of his fine-art accomplishments - multi-level writing, polyrhythm and counterpoint, performing a very dull, conventional strophe, in a wide, soft and ingratiating voice. The interest of the piece turns on its modern chords, complex progressions, and polyphony. The electronic synthesizer, used as a piano and xylophone, works against a very fast pattern of drumming. It must have been laid together from separate tracks. For the first time we have had full use of pan-tonal harmony by the orchestra and extended tones by both voice and orchestra. This marks the conquest of rock and roll music by, it seems to me, the half-learned use of modern harmony. I abominate it. "Superstition" sung in blues gospel style, is strophic, with polyrhythm by voice and orchestra all the way through. Exciting effects. Good deal of embellishment, glissando, and glottal effects used all the way through. The voice is really typical of the best of black singing style. It rests in about the middle range, is rather wide most of the time and with beautiful intermittent use of rasp and nasality for emotional effect. At one point in the song he goes very high and gives a very high bluesy cry. There the voice gets very narrow, and there's lots of nasality. The orchestra parallels him in this. There are lots of blue notes in both voice and orchestra. The baseline of the song is a steady input of short staccato notes in the orchestra with constant and predictable syncopation. There is a passage of vocal screaming. The orchestra in many ways imitates the voice in screaming and breaks. There is a litany passage and counterpoint between guitar and bass. The amazing thing is that it is now one of biggest hits of the decade, which probably wouldn't have been true earlier. It was number one for 13 weeks, the first time a straight black blues ever had such a position. Very folky quality but performed with more discipline. "When Dove's Cry" - a symphonic creation, performed by Prince - features wide cooing sounds, the whole thing begins to build up to a long passage where Prince sings, "Don't cry, don't cry," with many expressive effects. He's talking to his parents, his ancestors, African style. This is the work of an extremely accomplished musician with huge resources. Here rock and roll takes on an extremely complex, expressive form. Alan Lomax, however, is troubled by the monotonous drumbeat in the foreground, without the variation or color one would have in true African drumming, played until one wishes it would stop. The monotonous, flat, untuned drumset, in Alan Lomax's opinion, is a negative thing that blacks have picked up in America. Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross: soft-voiced vibrato, sometimes in unison sometimes solo, play rhythmically against each other. The same is true of the orchestra. The text is heavy. The phrasing constantly is disappearing in the overlap, a clear African trait. Other African traits are the use of polymeter and breaks in the instrumental part, the playful voice, the constantly shifting patterns of syncopation, metrical structure is very ornate, Wei thinks it's in something like a twelve-eight rhythm, but they are playing with it all the time. Here we have the survival into a contemporary diatonic, piano-accompanied, romantic, Broadway kind of love song of the whole complex of the African rhythmic style. 12/8 is a typical African rhythm. Michael Jackson in "Billie Jean" tops everybody. Overdubbed voices are a variation on hocketing. There is a soft, constantly embellished voice with a high degree of glottal, pitched very high, forceful, and with slurred articulation. A short-phrased litany appears in the coding of the melodic line. Another voice in mid-register sings a kind of three-phrased blues, with moderately short phrases, with moderate accent, and moderate enunciation, normal volume, and not as quick a tempo. There is African playfulness. The rhythm is simple, but there's a tricky little syncopated pattern that goes all the way through. The role of the orchestra is basically percussive with drum in the lead, as in Africa, and the chordophone, an electric bass, used percussively in polyrhythm. No song had been performed in this style prior to this recording. In addition to all these African characteristics, you have diatonic harmony and European instruments. The combination of soft, forceful, glottal, and embellished is remarkable. It would be interesting to know what the text of "Billie Jean" might be [apparently the lyrics were unintelligible]. Michael Jackson's dance style consists of fabulous, little, extremely precise jewels of movement. Parts of his body moving in different rhythms, from head to fingers. The end of the middle of the 1980s saw a heavy participation of blacks in the hit parade. Blacks have clearly taken the lead with use of various kinds of pop styles, using orchestra. Michael Jackson handled it in a way that would make any modern composer look to his laurels. His music that was selling records by the millions all over the world. The basis of this music was the black body style, enabling the performers to do things that were very difficult for whites. What came in 1985 and 1986 that could answer it? We must look to Bruce Springsteen and punk and the new things that have come out from white singers. Striking thing about "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees in 1978 is the ambiguity of the form - lots of little short bits, small isorhythmic pieces, giving the effect of isorhythm. It is not clear whether it is a strophic form or some sort of litany. Result is rather amorphous. The other thing about this record is the extremely fast and staccato precise rhythmic unison with very little ornamentation (perhaps dubbed) in the vocal. There are two groups, a high "female" voice, and a subdued, placatory low male group. This is a nearly contemporary continuation of the early Beatles unison style. The African characteristics are the litany quality, repetition of the text, slurring of the vowels, and dominance of a steady isorhythmic pattern in both voice and orchestra. Electronic effects: a steady rhythm in the orchestra, performed on what sounds like a scraper, goes all the way through and gives an African effect, since often African songs are led by simple idiophones



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