Thursday, August 19, 2010

Toon Music: America Sings- The Old West

The Old West- where you couldn't throw a rock without hitting somebody singin' a song about hittin' the trail, workin' hard, or that ol' gal I left behind me. This was the time of the Westward Expansion, the Transcontinental Railroad and COWBOYS DADBURNIT.

"Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill", a railway song first published in 1888, and one of those folk tunes that changes lyrics and even melody depending on who's performing it, if these wildly different versions are any indication.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Toon Music: America Sings- The Deep South

America Sings first section showcases the songs of the Southern United States, where popular music began, dramatically shifting the focus of music from classical composers to the melodies of the common man. It was also during this period that the nationalism movement began, and fully orchestrated arrangements of folk tunes began cropping up.

Just a little warning: some lyrics are a tad racist.

"Dixie", traditionally attributed to one Dan Emmett, 1859. Wikipedia, as usual, provides a detailed history that I couldn't possibly summarize.

Toon Music: America Sings- Intro and Send-off

If you've never seen America Sings, here's the basic rundown: At Tomorrowland in Disneyland (Anaheim) from '74 to '88, in the old Carousel of Progress building, Sam the Eagle and Ollie the Owl presented a revue of America's music, from the earliest folk songs to the rock 'n' roll era, sung and performed by animatronic cartoon animals.
Yeah, I know, not exactly animation, but the characters designed by Imagineer Marc Davis for the show might just as well be three-dimensional cartoon characters as far as I'm concerned. And hey, it's Disney!

The show is long gone, but if you want to see it, there is a two-part video on YouTube of the complete farewell performance, or you can just ride Splash Mountain and see the reused characters sing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah".

In this first entry, I'll be covering the beginning and end of the show, which both focus on the earliest songs known to Americans, some of which were inherited from our ancestors from the British Isles.

First up: Yankee Doodle. I think Wikipedia can explain this better than I ever could.

"Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", often heard and punned on in Looney Tunes. Written by Stephen Foster in 1854.

"Pop Goes the Weasel", another folk song of uncertain origins and even more uncertain meaning, best known as the tune that plays on every jack-in-the-box ever. Ollie sings the American lyrics, as any patriotic owl should. Alvin's first encounter with psychedelic drugs seems an oddly appropriate accompaniment:

"Auld Lang Syne", the "New Year's Eve song". Words written by Robert Burns in 1788, the music being a traditional melody. As she is wont, Julies Andrews provides a lovely, sincere rendition:

And finally, for the exit music, a lively '70s soul version of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", which I've already covered in a previous entry.

Next up: the Ol' South!

The Beatles and musical history: "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise"

"The World is Waiting for the Sunrise" is another older song, first published in 1919, and of course recorded by The Beatles in 1960. Unfortunately, I can't find a version on YouTube. In the meantime, have a listen to the most recent and popular version by Les Paul and Mary Ford, from 1949:

Les Paul, as many people know, is the namesake for the world famous Gibson Les Paul guitar. He's truly one of the those pioneers of popular music, having a hand in inventing and developing the solidbody electric guitar, defining the role that the electric guitar had as a solo instrument, and being the first to use multitrack recording. His style was a speedy and perky jazz, twangy yet vastly smoother and more refined than his contemporaries, influencing the first rockabilly guitarists and many a rock 'n' roll guitarist beyond that, including Jimmy Page.

I'm not so sure how much of an influence Les Paul had on the Beatles, seeing as his playing was highly technical and often incoporated overdubbed harmonies, runs played at twice their original speed, and your usual (or perhaps idiosyncratic) jazz melodies. He did influence guitarists The Beatles admired, though, so I assume then that his influence was indirect.

George wouldn't forget this song, and sung some words quietly along with Carl Perkins as he gazed admiringly at Carl's fingers as he played a fingerpicking version from A Rockabilly Session:

The Beatles and musical history: "I Will Always Be in Love with You"

Among the lesser known songs recorded by the Beatles in the spring or summer of 1960, they did a "jazz standard" called "I Will Always Be in Love with You". According to one source I found, it was first done by somebody named Morton Downey in the late '20s, but it's been speculated that the Beatles learned it from the version by Fats Domino.

This song is an example of The Beatles performing songs that predate the rock 'n' roll era, which are mostly pop tunes on the jazzy side, and reflect the influence of the music their parents knew. In particular, there's some possibility that Paul's father, who performed in a jazz band, taught him the song- or it could very well have been John's mother, who knew some chords on the banjo.

From the sounds of it, John was trying to imitate Elvis.

Unfortunately, for the life of me, I cannot find any recorded version available to listen to that predates the Beatles version anywhere, so I guess if you wanna hear it, you'll have to buy some Fats Domino collection... which makes me dubious about it being called a "standard". I managed to hear at least a sample of it on Allmusic's entry for Bear Family's Out of New Orleans, which I recommend for completists like me. I'm not so sure if the Beatles were trying to copy it, what with the Elvis stutter, but I don't see why they couldn't have learned it from his version...

Of course, if you're desperate, there are a couple covers on YouTube made after 1960.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Beatles and musical history: "Matchbox"

And so now we come to one of The Beatles' biggest influences: Carl Perkins. Carl Perkins is considered one of the many pioneers of rock 'n' roll, and is essential listening for any rockabilly fan. George Harrison was a particularly big fan of his, and his early guitar-playing style shows that Perkins' style was a strong influence- an admiration that lasted throughout his career, and clearly expressed by his involvement with the 1985 Carl Perkins special Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, where he played alongside with his hero.

The Beatles would play many of his songs early in their career, and "Matchbox" is the first that was recorded, as part of the 1960 home recordings.

Interestingly, Carl Perkins partially derived the song from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Match Box Blues". If you can make out his thick accent, you'll notice the opening lines from "Matchbox" make up the second verse:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Toon Music: "Kingdom Coming"/"The Year of Jubilo"

Song whistled by Daws Butler's wolf in the Tex Avery cartoons The Three Little Pups and Billy-Boy. Composed by Henry Clay Work c. 1863.

Sheet music: