Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Beatles and musical history- "Baby, Let's Play House"

In addition to "Puttin' on the Style", another song by the Quarrymen was known to be recorded: Elvis Presley's "Baby, Let's Play House".

After listening to it more closely, I notice that they don't get the chords or the melody right. If it weren't for the words, you wouldn't be able to tell that it was "Baby, Let's Play House". But you know we ought to give John a break, since he was still playing his guitar tuned like a banjo and was probably only beginning to learn songs by ear...

Elvis Presley recorded and released "Baby, Let's Play House" on Sun Records in 1955. Any decent Elvis fan should know about it, since it was one of his earliest hits, and the first to enter the national charts. Weirdly enough, I'm more familiar with a live version on one of my rockabilly collections.

Elvis is one of the most famous rock stars around the world, and quite possibly the first '50s rocker that anyone gets introduced to. John and Paul took cues from his singing voice, especially Paul, which is particularly apparent in The Beatles' audtion for Decca. Elvis' band was one of the pioneers of rockabilly, and by extension rock 'n' roll, and guitarist Scotty Moore's style likely informed George's playing style. Paul has recorded several versions of "That's All Right, Mama" throughout his career.
In particular, John lifted the line "I'd rather see you dead, little girl" for his song "Run For Your Life", and George pretty much just rewrote the lyrics for his unreleased song "Goin' Down to Golder's Green" in 1970.

What is rockabilly, exactly? If you even have a passing interest in '50s rock music, you've probably heard it. Legends such as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison began their careers playing rockabilly. More often than not they recorded for Sun Records. The word itself is a portmanteau of "rock" and "hillbilly"- hillbilly music is pretty much energetic country music, popular in the '40s, and directly rooted in country blues. In essence, as previously stated, rockabilly is an uptempo mixture of country, folk, and blues music, with a sprinkling of many other genres. Music was such a boiling pot at the time that it's difficult to define what exactly influenced what, but I prefer to think that rockabilly was pretty much blues played by hyperactive hillbillies on electric guitar, upright bass, and drums.

Nowadays rockabilly revivalists are just as likely to be influenced by the decidedly less country-fried rock 'n' roll of Bill Haley and the Comets, whose music is more directly rooted in boogie-woogie and jump blues (an uptempo, danceable form of blues). I like to think of the music of Bill Haley- as well as the similar but far more obscure The Jodimars- as sort of a more urban subgenre of rockabilly with swing and boogie-woogie influences. Listen to the Brian Setzer Orchestra and you'll see what I mean.

The best collection of rockabilly music you'll probably ever get is That'll Flat Git It! Vols. 1-21 by Bear Family Records, although you're better off looking for the recordings of the more famous stars mentioned earlier on more official releases.

Although The Beatles certainly never played straight rockabilly, they went on to do so in their solo careers on occasion. The best example is probably George Harrison's contributions to the Carl Perkins special Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, although that obviously has almost everything to do with Carl Perkins, and a lot less to do with Elvis.

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