138 episodes

A podcast which goes through the history of rock and roll music, one song at a time, starting in 1938 and ending up in 1999.

A History Of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs Andrew Hickey

    • Music History
    • 5.0 • 2 Ratings

A podcast which goes through the history of rock and roll music, one song at a time, starting in 1938 and ending up in 1999.

    Episode 110: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes

    Episode 110: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes

     
    Episode 110 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Be My Baby", and at the career of the Ronettes and Ronnie Spector.  Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
     
    Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys.
    Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
    ----more----
    Erratum
    I say Ray Peterson's version of "Tell Laura I Love Her" was an American number one. It wasn't -- it only made number seven.
     
    Resources
    As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.
    A lot of resources were used for this episode.
    Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara Miniskirts and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette by Ronnie Spector and Vince Waldron is Ronnie's autobiography and was the main source.
    Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson is a good overview of the Brill Building scene, and provided me with the information on Barry and Greenwich.
    I've referred to two biographies of Spector in this episode, Phil Spector: Out of His Head by Richard Williams and He's a Rebel by Mark Ribkowsky.
    And information on the Wrecking Crew largely comes from The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman.
    There are many compilations available with some of the hits Spector produced, but I recommend getting Back to Mono, a four-CD overview of his career containing all the major singles put out by Philles.
    If you want something just covering Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, The Very Best of Ronnie Spector  covers all the Ronettes hits and the best of her solo career.
    And the AFM contract listing the musicians on "Be My Baby" can be found here.
     
    Patreon
    This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
    Transcript
    Today we're going to take a look at the record that, more than anything, ensured Phil Spector's place in popular music history -- a record that changed the lives of several people who heard it for the better, and changed the life of its singer for the worse, and one which has the most imitated drum intro in the world. We're going to look at "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes:
    [Excerpt: The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"]
    Before I start this one, two things need saying. The first is that this episode, by necessity, deals with spousal abuse. As always, I will try to discuss the issue with sensitivity, and touch on it as briefly as possible, but if you worry that it might upset you, please either skip this episode, or read the transcript to see if you'll be OK listening to it. I imagine that very few people will be upset by anything I say here, but it's always a possibility.
    And secondly, I'd like to apologise for this episode being so late. I had a major disruption in my personal life over Christmas -- one of those really bad life events that only happens once or twice in most people's lifetimes -- and that made it impossible for me to get any work done at all for the last couple of weeks. I'm now able to work again, and this should not be anything that affects the podcast for the rest of the year.
    Anyway, enough about that, let's get on with the story.
    The story of the Ronettes begins when Ronnie Bennett, a mixed-race girl from Harlem, became obsessed with the sound of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers:
    [Excerpt: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"]
    Ronnie became the Teenagers' biggest fan, and even managed to arrange a meeting between herself and Lymon when they were both thirteen, but had her illusions torn away when he turned up drunk and made a pass at her.
    But that didn't stop

    • 45 min
    BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden

    BONUS: A Tribute to Gerry Marsden

    I just heard the sad news that Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, has died today aged seventy-eight. As the latest episode of the podcast is late due to personal issues, I thought I'd make this available to the general public – this is a ten-minute Patreon bonus episode I did back in October, on Gerry and the Pacemakers, so it's here as a little tribute. He'll be missed.
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    Transcript
    Today we're going to look at a group that were for a very short while arguably the most successful band to come out of Liverpool, one that set a record that wouldn't be broken for twenty-one years, and who deserved rather better than the reputation they've ended up with. We're going to look at Gerry and the Pacemakers, and at "How Do You Do It?":
    [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "How Do You Do It?"]
    Gerry and the Pacemakers were, in the very early sixties, one of the bands that was most strongly competing for the title of Liverpool's best band. They were so good that before he joined the Beatles, for a while Richy Starkey was considering quitting the Hurricanes and joining them, even though it would mean switching instruments -- Gerry's brother Freddy Marsden was the Pacemakers' drummer, but they didn't have a bass player, and everyone was sure that Richy could pick it up no problem. 
    The Pacemakers had been around before the Beatles, and they shared similar musical tastes, and even a similar repertoire -- the Beatles dropped "What'd I Say" from their sets because the Pacemakers were also doing it, and when Paul started to sing "Over the Rainbow" in the Beatles' sets, the Pacemakers responded by adding the old Rogers and Hammerstein song "You'll Never Walk Alone" to match it. Both bands played Hamburg backing Tony Sheridan, and both were playing songs by Arthur Alexander, Larry Williams, Richie Barrett and Carl Perkins. The main difference between the two was that the Pacemakers would have a slightly harder-edged sound -- the Pacemakers only had one real singer, Gerry, and so they couldn't do the kind of girl-group harmonies that the Beatles would do, and so they couldn't move off into the songs by the Shirelles or the Cookies that the Beatles performed, and instead had to fill out their set with bluesy songs like Little Walter's "My Babe":
    [Excerpt: Gerry and the Pacemakers, "My Babe (live)"]
    There was a friendly but real rivalry between the Beatles and the Pacemakers, so much so that when Mersey Beat had a popularity poll among its readers, the Beatles bought up as many copies of the magazine as they could and filled out the poll under fake names with themselves at the top and the Pacemakers at the bottom, to make sure they won and the Pacemakers only came second (Rory Storm and the Hurricanes tried filling out the poll with themselves at the top too, but Bill Harry disqualified forty ballots written in green ink in the same handwriting, posted from the same letter box, so they came in fourth). It even looked for a while like the Pacemakers would be the very first Liverpool band to release a record -- a local promoter called Sam Leach was planning to set up his own label and record them, before they realised he was better at coming up with plans than coming up with money. The Pacemakers also had their own PA system rather than just relying on the club ones, at a time when no other band did.
    Indeed, when Brian Epstein took the Decca A&R man Mike Smith to see the Beatles at the Cavern, when it looked like they would be signed to Decca, he seems to have taken Smith out for dinner before the show because the Pacemakers were the support act, and Paul McCartney was worried that if Smith saw the Pacemakers' set he might choose to sign them rather than the Beatles.
    So it made sense that when Epstein was looking to sign up some more artists to a management contract, he signed the Pacemakers. And it made sense that once the Beat

    • 11 min
    Apology for Delay

    Apology for Delay

    This is just a quick apology for the delay with this week's episode. I had some very, very bad news in my personal life last weekend, and haven't been able to focus properly. I hope to have the next episode up in a couple of days' time, and things should be back to normal, at least as far as the schedule goes, after that.​

    • 19 sec
    Episode 109: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul and Mary

    Episode 109: "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul and Mary

    Episode one hundred and nine of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Blowin' in the Wind", Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, the UK folk scene and the civil rights movement. Those of you who get angry at me whenever I say anything that acknowledges the existence of racism may want to skip this one. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
     
    Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by the Crystals.
    Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
    ----more----
    Resources
    As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.
     
    This compilation contains all Peter, Paul and Mary's hits.
    I have used *many* books for this episode, most of which I will also be using for future episodes on Dylan:
    The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald is the fascinating and funny autobiography of Dylan's mentor in his Greenwich Village period, including his interactions with Albert Grossman.
    Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography.
    Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin.
    Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades.
    I've also used Robert Shelton's No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan.
    Only one book exists on Peter, Paul, and Mary themselves, and it is a hideously overpriced coffee table book consisting mostly of photos, so I wouldn't bother with it.
     Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg has some great information on the British folk scene of the fifties and sixties.
    And Singing From the Floor is an oral history of British folk clubs, including a chapter on Dylan's 1962 visit to London.
     
    Patreon
    This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
    Transcript
     
    Today we're going to look at the first manufactured pop band we will see in this story, but not the last -- a group cynically put together by a manager to try and cash in on a fad, but one who were important enough that in a small way they helped to change history. We're going to look at the March on Washington and the civil rights movement, at Bob Dylan blossoming into a songwriter and the English folk revival, and at "Blowin' in the Wind" by Peter, Paul, and Mary:
    [Excerpt: Peter, Paul and Mary, "Blowin' in the Wind"]
    Albert Grossman was an unusual figure in the world of folk music. The folk revival had started out as an idealistic movement, mostly centred on Pete Seeger, and outside a few ultra-commercial acts like the Kingston Trio, most of the people involved were either doing it for the love of the music, or as a means of advancing their political goals. No doubt many of the performers on the burgeoning folk circuit were also quite keen to make money -- there are very few musicians who don't like being able to eat and have a home to live in -- but very few of the people involved were primarily motivated by increasing their income.
    Grossman was a different matter. He was a businessman, and he was interested in money more than anything else -- and for that he was despised by many of the people in the Greenwich Village folk scene. But he was, nonetheless, someone who was interested in making money *from folk music* specifically. And in the late fifties and early sixties this was less of a strange idea than it might have seemed.
    We

    • 45 min
    Episode 108: "I Wanna Be Your Man" by the Rolling Stones

    Episode 108: "I Wanna Be Your Man" by the Rolling Stones

    Episode 108 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "I Wanna Be Your Man" by the Rolling Stones and how the British blues scene of the early sixties was started by a trombone player.
    Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
    Patreon backers also have an eight-minute bonus episode available, on "The Monkey Time" by Major Lance.
    Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/
    ----more----Resources
    As always, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode.
    i used a lot of resources for this episode. Information on Chris Barber comes from Jazz Me Blues: The Autobiography of Chris Barber by Barber and Alyn Shopton.
    Information on Alexis Korner comes from Alexis Korner: The Biography by Harry Shapiro.
    Two resources that I've used for this and all future Stones episodes -- The Rolling Stones: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesden is an invaluable reference book, while Old Gods Almost Dead by Stephen Davis is the least inaccurate biography.
    I've also used Andrew Loog Oldham's autobiography Stoned, and Keith Richards' Life, though be warned that both casually use slurs.
    This compilation contains Alexis Korner's pre-1963 electric blues material, while this contains the earlier skiffle and country blues music.
    The live performances by Chris Barber and various blues legends I've used here come from volumes one and two of a three-CD series of these recordings.
    And this three-CD set contains the A and B sides of all the Stones' singles up to 1971.
     
    Patreon
    This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
    Transcript
    Today we're going to look at a group who, more than any other band of the sixties, sum up what "rock music" means to most people. This is all the more surprising as when they started out they were vehemently opposed to being referred to as "rock and roll". We're going to look at the London blues scene of the early sixties, and how a music scene that was made up of people who thought of themselves as scholars of obscure music, going against commercialism ended up creating some of the most popular and commercial music ever made. We're going to look at the Rolling Stones, and at "I Wanna Be Your Man":
    [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, "I Wanna Be Your Man"]
    The Rolling Stones' story doesn't actually start with the Rolling Stones, and they won't be appearing until quite near the end of this episode, because to explain how they formed, I have to explain the British blues scene that they formed in.
    One of the things people asked me when I first started doing the podcast was why I didn't cover people like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf in the early episodes -- after all, most people now think that rock and roll started with those artists. It didn't, as I hope the last hundred or so episodes have shown. But those artists did become influential on its development, and that influence happened largely because of one man, Chris Barber.
    We've seen Barber before, in a couple of episodes, but this, even more than his leading the band that brought Lonnie Donegan to fame, is where his influence on popular music really changes everything. On the face of it, Chris Barber seems like the last person in the world who one would expect to be responsible, at least indirectly, for some of the most rebellious popular music ever made. He is a trombone player from a background that is about as solidly respectable as one can imagine -- his parents were introduced to each other by the economist John Maynard Keynes, and his father, another economist, was not only offered a knighthood for his war wor

    • 47 min
    BONUS: I Read The NewsToday Oh Boy: The Kennedy Assassination

    BONUS: I Read The NewsToday Oh Boy: The Kennedy Assassination

    The third in the occasional series of ten-minute looks at topics in the news during the time we're looking at covers the Kennedy assassination. Click through for the transcript:
    ----more----
    Welcome to the third episode of "I Read The News Today, Oh Boy". As I explained in the previous episodes, these are ten-minute bonuses looking at news events that happened at the time we're looking at in the main episode, to provide some background on the cultural context in which the music we're looking at is being made. Today's is on something that one sort of expects everyone to know about, but the Kennedy assassination was almost sixty years ago now, and it's entirely possible that many people have only the vaguest idea of what happened, or why it is important in twentieth century history. I should also say, given that this is about someone's death, that the theme music I use for these episodes is not meant to imply that they will always be about actual good news -- I don't think Kennedy's murder was a good thing.
    Obviously, there isn't much room in ten minutes to tell the full story, but here's the basics.
    John F Kennedy was elected President in 1960, in a very closely-fought campaign, one of the first modern Presidential campaigns in which the TV played a big part -- in his debates with the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, people listening to the radio tended to think that Nixon had won, but people watching on TV, seeing handsome young John F Kennedy debating with a jowly man who looked much older -- though in truth Nixon was only four years older than Kennedy, thought Kennedy had won. When he was elected, aged forty-three, he became the youngest person ever elected President.
    He was also the first Catholic to be elected, and this made him unpopular with a large chunk of the public. He actually had to make public statements in his campaign that he would be working for the American people, not the Pope. Kennedy eventually won the election by an extremely narrow margin -- he won the popular vote by 0.2% -- and there were widespread accusations by Republicans that he'd won by voter fraud, though these have largely been debunked.
    Kennedy was, by and large, a popular President once in office. He was charismatic, intelligent, and young. He was a war hero and a Pulitzer prize winning writer (though it's later been revealed that his prize-winning book was ghostwritten by one of his speechwriters), he had a broadly popular programme of mild liberal reforms on the domestic side coupled with strong anti-communism in foreign policy. His election at the start of a new decade was widely seen as a sign of hope -- and in his inaugural speech he spoke of how "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century".
    But he made enemies. In particular, he had enemies in two overlapping groups. One was the Mafia -- Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy, was strongly rumoured to have ties to organised crime, and the Mafia had been supportive of Kennedy's Presidential run, but when he came to power he and his brother Robert, who became Attorney General, started a crackdown on organised crime, which the Mafia saw as a betrayal. The other group was white supremacists. Kennedy had been publicly supportive of the civil rights movement -- as most white supremacists were also anti-Catholic, it's easy to see how Kennedy would have been unpopular with them.
    On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was in Dallas, Texas, to give a speech, and was driving through the city in an open-topped car, when he and the governor of Texas, who was travelling in the same car, were shot. Kennedy was killed. It's hard to understand now just how shocking this was to most people -- people broke down and wept in the streets, and the stock market plunged. The TV stations all went to rolling news formats, cancelling normal programming for several days, and many of the t

    • 7 min

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Monumental project

If you have any interest in late 20th century pop music, this is the series for you. And if you think you already know something about it, Andrew Hickey will probably make you think again. Every time a story comes round that I think I know, it turns out there’s a fascinating angle that I hadn’t considered, or that the received account doesn’t do justice to the facts. I’m not even a particular fan of 50s music (which is as far as we’ve got at time of writing) and still every episode is riveting.

Hickey has a keen eye for cultural context and a nice line in finely-judged irony (“in the future, everyone will have been lead singer in The Drifters for fifteen minutes”; a particular song “wasn’t even the best song Tommy Steele recorded that afternoon, and the bar doesn’t get any lower than that”). It takes the journey nice and slowly, and you’ll feel you’re getting to know the landscape intimately as you go. And you will definitely find your ears opened to music you disregarded or dismissed, even to music practically lost to posterity. This is a labour of love but also of deep, lifelong research, and it’s monumental in ambition and execution. Outstanding.

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