Thursday, 29 May 2014

I Love 50's Rock And Roll (and oh how I wish I had a jukebox, baby...)

Spot the girl not quite dressed for the right era...

For as long as I can remember, I've had a big soft spot for 1950's culture.  The big skirts, the emergence of rock and roll, the jukeboxes and the diners with their malt shakes and chequered floors...  I love it all.  

It all began when, as a child of around 8 or 9, I stumbled upon a cassette tape that belonged to my parents.  It was a collection of 50's rock and roll tunes, featuring classics such as Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino, Hound Dog by Elvis Presley, Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper and of course, Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode.  I unashamedly used to "borrow" that tape and play it over and over in my room.  Whilst my friends were listening to New Kids on The Block and Crowded House, I was trying to perfect my Elvis impersonation; not easy when you're a pre-pubescent girl.

Of course - and I'm trying not to sound pretentious here, so forgive me if I accidentally do - I was raised on all kinds of music and I loved a huge variety.  I'm still the same now; I can go from listening to the Manics, to crooning along to The Carpenters, to attempting to Irish Jig to B*Witched in the space of a few minutes.  And then I need to lie down, because I'm not as young as I used to be...

By the time I was 10 or 11, my parents had become fans of the TV show Heartbeat, with Nick Berry starring as handsome police officer, Nick Rowan.  The show was set in the 1960's and featured music from the period, as well as several songs from the 50's, too.  The show's theme song was a version of Buddy Holly's Heartbeat, which excited me, because I was already familiar with his music, thanks to my love of 50's rock and roll.  Although I quickly grew out of the TV show, my love of the music of the 50's and 60's never dimmed and when the popular musical film Grease was re-released in cinemas back in 1998 (if memory serves me right), I rushed to see it and fell in love with the fashion and the music of the era all over again.

Oh, the dresses...  Did I mention the dresses?!

Recently, I told a friend that La Bamba by Ritchie Valens has never ever made me not want to stop what I'm doing and dance like a mad thing.  Even if I'm driving in the car and it comes on (which it frequently does, because I purposefully put it on a CD...), I break out my in-car moves and I couldn't give two hoots whether people stare at me when I stop at the traffic lights.  Similarly, if It Doesn't Matter Anymore by Buddy Holly comes on, you will see a ridiculous grin appear across my face and a sigh escape my lips, because frankly, that's not only my favourite Buddy Holly song (nudging That'll Be The Day into a close second place), but one of my favourite songs of all time.  Indeed, today I bought a new car and have already named it Buddy in his honour.

Anyway, when I mentioned this to said friend, she simply shrugged her shoulders and replied "nah, that kind of music isn't my thing at all."  And I did this:

I looked better than usual, yes.

How?  I wondered, in all seriousness.  How can these songs not be to someone's taste?!  Rock Around The Clock?  Reet Petite?  And what about songs that I consider to be early prototypes for today's boy band-esque love songs - classics such as All I Have To Do Is Dream and Dream Lover?!  These are utterly inoffensive songs, with simple harmonies and an endurance to them that has made them sound fresh and fantastic half a century later!  How can you not LOVE them?!

And then of course, I remembered that music taste is subjective and that I was being an arse by forcing my tastes upon someone else.  Still, I did spend quite some time musing on it for several days afterwards.  And I reached the conclusion that - and yes, this will sound a bit pretentious to some of you and I can only apologise - the reason I love music from the 50's and 60's is because it feels so much purer than what we have today.  Yes, I love the Manics.  I adore Blur and I like the Kaiser Chiefs.  And yes, I love some modern pop music - Katy Perry, for example and of course Lady Gaga.  But listen to something simple like That'll Be The Day by Buddy Holly & The Crickets and you'll find yourself listening to something unadulterated - a couple of guitars, a bass and a drum.  No auto tune.  No modern-day special effects.  No hiding place.  The songs back then had to be good, because there was less to polish it all up with.  It was instruments and voices.  It was a short - I have a CD of songs from the 50's and 60's that is only 55 minutes long, but has 22 songs on it.  That averages out at around two and a half minutes per song.  Short and snappy - no room for ridiculous histrionics or unnecessary over-production.  And yes, that's somewhat ironic coming from someone who also counts Guns 'n' Roses' November Rain as one of her favourite songs of all time (a whopping nine minutes long).

Of course, there were some bloody awful songs released in the 1950's and 60's too, just as there are today.  I'd be lying if I said I liked everything from the era.  But for me, the excitement of rock and roll in its infancy has never dulled.  Without Elvis or Buddy Holly, The Beatles might never have been the band they were.  Without The Beatles, we wouldn't have had Oasis, one of the most important bands of the Britpop era - another musical period important to me (although I was a Blur fan!).  The songs from the 1950's and 1960's influenced music for decades to come and continue to inspire bands and artists right up to the present day.  Why?  Because back then, people were taking chances, creating something new and exciting and yet keeping it relatively simple at the same time.  You listen to the songs now and they're so evocative of the time that you're immediately transported back to the days of shiny Cadillacs and big skirts.  It's still fresh.  It's still exciting.  And honestly, I do wonder how much of today's music will be held in the same high regard fifty years from now.

Given a choice between One Direction and Elvis Presley, for me there's no contest.  I know which is a bigger heart-throb and whose music I'd rather be dancing around to.  So whilst I'm happy with my Manics albums and I still love a wide variety of bands, artists and genres, classic rock and roll will always have a very big, very special place in my heart.  Rave on.  ;-)

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