189 episodes

Andrew Hickey presents a history of rock music from 1938 to 1999, looking at five hundred songs that shaped the genre.

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs Andrew Hickey

    • Music
    • 4.9 • 19 Ratings

Andrew Hickey presents a history of rock music from 1938 to 1999, looking at five hundred songs that shaped the genre.

    July 2022 Q&A

    July 2022 Q&A

    While I'm still on hiatus, I invited questions from listeners. This is an hour-long podcast answering some of them. (Another hour-long Q&A for Patreon backers only will go up next week).

    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/

    There is a Mixcloud of the music excerpted here which can be found at https://www.mixcloud.com/AndrewHickey/500-songs-supplemental-qa-edition/

    Click below for a transcript:


    Hello and welcome to the Q&A  episode I'm doing while I'm working on creating a backlog. I'm making good progress on that, and still hoping and expecting to have episode 151 up some time in early August, though I don't have an exact date yet.

    I was quite surprised by the response to my request for questions, both at the amount of it and at where it came from. I initially expected to get a fair few comments on the main podcast, and a handful on the Patreon, and then I could do a reasonable-length Q&A podcast from the former and a shorter one from the latter. Instead, I only got a couple of questions on the main episode, but so many on the Patreon that I had to stop people asking only a day or so after posting the request for questions.

    So instead of doing one reasonable length podcast and one shorter one, I'm actually doing two longer ones.

    What I'm going to do is do all the questions asked publicly, plus all the questions that have been asked multiple times, in this one, then next week I'm going to put up the more niche questions just for Patreon backers.

    However, I'm not going to answer *all* of the questions. I got so many questions so quickly that there's not space to answer them all, and several of them were along the lines of "is artist X going to get an episode?" which is a question I generally don't answer -- though I will answer a couple of those if there's something interesting to say about them.

    But also, there are some I've not answered for another reason. As you may have noticed, I have a somewhat odd worldview, and look at the world from a different angle from most people sometimes. Now there were several questions where someone asked something that seems like a perfectly reasonable question, but contains a whole lot of hidden assumptions that that person hadn't even considered -- about music history, or about the process of writing and researching, or something else.

    Now, to answer that kind of question at all often means unpacking those hidden assumptions, which can sometimes make for an interesting answer -- after all, a lot of the podcast so far has been me telling people that what they thought they knew about music history was wrong -- but when it's a question being asked by an individual and you answer that way, it can sometimes, frankly, make you look like a horribly unpleasant person, or even a bully. "Don't you even know the most basic things about historical research? I do! You fool! Hey everyone else listening, this person thinks you do research in *this* way, but everyone knows you do it *that* way!"

    Now, that is never how I would intend such answers to come across -- nobody can be blamed for not knowing what they don't know -- but there are some questions where no matter how I phrased the answer, it came across sounding like that. I'll try to hold those over for future Q&A episodes if I can think of ways of unpicking the answers in such a way that I'm not being unconscionably rude to people who were asking perfectly reasonable questions.

    Some of the answers that follow might still sound a bit like that to be honest, but if you asked a question and my answer sounds like that to you, please know that it wasn't meant to.

    There's a lot to get through, so let's begin:

    Steve from Canada asks:

    “Which influential artist or group has been the most challenging to get information on in the last 50 podcasts? We

    PLEDGE WEEK: “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

    PLEDGE WEEK: “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

    This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to patreon.com/andrewhickey and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear.

    Click below for the transcript



    Transcript

    Just a note before I begin, this episode deals with mental illness and with the methods, close to torture, used to treat it in the middle of the last century, so anyone for whom that's a delicate subject may want to skip this one.

    There's a term that often gets used about some musicians, "outsider music", and it's a term that I'm somewhat uncomfortable with. It's a term that gets applied to anyone eccentric, whether someone like Jandek who releases his own albums through mail order and just does his own thing, or someone like Hasil Adkins who made wild rockabilly music, or an entertainer like Tiny Tim who had a bizarre but consistent view of showbusiness, or a band like the Shaggs who were just plain incompetent, or people like Wesley Willis or Wild Man Fischer who had serious mental health problems.

    The problem with the term is that it erases these differences, and that it assumes that the most interesting thing about the music is the person behind it. It also erases talent, especially in the case of mentally ill artists.

    There are several mutually incompatible assumptions about creative artists who have mental health problems. One is that their music should be treated like a freak show, and either appreciated for that reason (if you're someone who gets their entertainment from someone else's suffering) or disdained (if you don't want to do that).

    Other people think that the mental illness *makes* the music, that great art comes from mental health problems, while yet others will argue that someone's art has nothing at all to do with their mental health, and is not influenced by it in any way.

    All of these positions are, of course, wrong. Mental illness doesn't stop someone from making great art -- except when it takes away the ability to make art at all of course -- people like Brian Wilson or Vincent Van Gogh are testament to that, and their best work has nothing to do with a freak show. But nor does it grant the ability to make great art. Someone with no musical talent who develops schizophrenia just becomes a schizophrenic person with no musical talent.

    But to say that mental illness doesn't affect the work is also nonsense. Everything about someone's life affects their art, especially something as important as their mental health.

    And the real problem with these labels comes with those artists who don't manage to develop a substantial body of work before their illness sets in. Those with real musical talent, but who end up getting put in the outsider artist bucket because their work is so obviously affected by their illness.

    And one of those is Roky Erickson, of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.

    Erickson started his career aged fifteen with a group based in Austin, Texas, called the Spades -- and I hope that this wasn't intended as a racial slur, as the word was sometimes used at this time. Their first single, "We Sell Soul", released in 1965, shows the clear influence of "Gloria" by Them:

    [Excerpt: The Spades, "We Sell Soul"]

    That was a regional hit, and so their second single, the first song that Erickson had ever written, was recorded in the same style:

    [Excerpt: The Spades, "You're Gonna Miss Me"]

    But by December 1965, Erickson had left the Spades, and joined Stacy Sutherland, Benny Thurman, and John Ike Walton, the members of another band called the Lingsmen. They were joined by a fifth man

    Pledge Week: “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass

    Pledge Week: “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass

    This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to patreon.com/andrewhickey and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear.
    Click below for the transcript

    Transcript
    Today we're going to look at a record which I actually originally intended to do a full episode on, but by an artist about whom there simply isn't enough information out there to pull together a full episode -- though some of this information will show up in other contexts in future episodes. So we're going to have a Patreon bonus episode on one of the great soul-pop records of the mid 1960s -- "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass:
    [Excerpt: Fontella Bass, "Rescue Me"]
    Fontella Bass was actually a second-generation singer. Her mother, Martha Bass, was a great gospel singer, who had been trained by Willie Mae Ford Smith, who was often considered the greatest female gospel singer of the twentieth century but who chose only to perform live and on the radio rather than make records. Martha Bass had sung for a short time with the Clara Ward Singers, one of the most important and influential of gospel groups:
    [Excerpt: The Clara Ward Singers, "Wasn't It A Pity How They Punished My Lord?"]
    Fontella had been trained by her mother, but she got her start in secular music rather than the gospel music her mother stuck to. She spent much of the early sixties working as a piano player and singer in the band of Little Milton, the blues singer. I don't know exactly which records of his she's on, but she was likely on his top twenty R&B hit "So Mean to Me":
    [Excerpt: Little Milton, "So Mean to Me"]
    One night, Little Milton didn't turn up for a show, and so Bass was asked to take the lead vocals until he arrived. Milton's bandleader Oliver Sain was impressed with her voice, and when he quit working with Milton the next year, he took Bass with him, starting up a new act, "The Oliver Sain Soul Revue featuring Fontella and Bobby McClure". She signed to Bobbin Records, where she cut "I Don't Hurt Any More", a cover of an old Hank Snow country song, in 1962:
    [Excerpt: Fontella Bass, "I Don't Hurt Any More"]
    After a couple of records with Bobbin, she signed up with Ike Turner, who by this point was running a couple of record labels. She released a single backed by the Ikettes, "My Good Loving":
    [Excerpt: Fontella Bass, "My Good Loving"]
    And a duet with Tina Turner, "Poor Little Fool":
    [Excerpt: Fontella Bass and Tina Turner, "Poor Little Fool"]
    At the same time she was still working with Sain and McClure, and Sain's soul revue got signed to Checker records, the Chess subsidiary, which was now starting to make soul records, usually produced by Roquel Davis, Berry Gordy's former collaborator, and written or co-written by Carl Smith. These people were also working with Jackie Wilson at Brunswick, and were part of the same scene as Carl Davis, the producer who had worked with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, Gene Chandler and the rest. So this was a thriving scene -- not as big as the scenes in Memphis or Detroit, but definitely a group of people who were capable of making big soul hits. 
    Bass and McClure recorded a couple of duo singles with Checker, starting with "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing":
    [Excerpt: Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure, "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing"]
    That made the top forty on the pop charts, and number five on the R&B charts. But the follow-up only made the R&B top forty and didn't make the pop charts at all. But Bass would soon release a solo recording, though one with prominent backing vocals by Minnie Ripperton, that would

    PLEDGE WEEK: “I’m Henry VIII I Am” by Herman’s Hermits

    PLEDGE WEEK: “I’m Henry VIII I Am” by Herman’s Hermits

    This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to patreon.com/andrewhickey and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear.

    Click below for the transcript



    Transcript

    Today's backer-only episode is an extra-long one -- it runs about as long as some of the shorter main episodes -- but it also might end up containing material that gets repeated in the main podcast at some point, because a lot of British rock and pop music gets called, often very incorrectly, music-hall, and so the subject of the music halls is one that may well have to be explained in a future episode. But today we're going to look at one of the very few pop hits of the sixties that is incontrovertibly based in the music-hall tradition -- Herman's Hermits singing "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am":

    [Excerpt: Herman's Hermits, "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am"]

    The term "music hall" is one that has been widely misused over the years. People talk about it as being a genre of music, when it's anything but. Rather, the music hall -- which is the British equivalent of the American vaudeville -- was the most popular form of entertainment, first under that name and then under the name "variety", for more than a century, only losing its popularity when TV and rock-and-roll between them destroyed the market for it. Even then, TV variety shows rooted in the music hall continued, explicitly until the 1980s, with The Good Old Days, and implicitly until the mid-1990s.

    As you might imagine, for a form of entertainment that lasted over a hundred years, there's no such thing as "music-hall music" as a singular thing, any more than there exists a "radio music" or a "television music". Many music-hall acts were non-musical performers -- comedians, magicians, acrobats, and so forth -- but among those who did perform music, there were all sorts of different styles included, from folk song to light opera, to ragtime, and especially minstrel songs -- the songs of Stephen Foster were among the very first transatlantic hits.

    We obviously don't have any records from the first few decades of the music hall, but we do have sheet music, and we know that the first big British hit song was "Champagne Charlie", originally performed by George Leybourne, and here performed by Derek B Scott, a professor of critical musicology at the university of Leeds:

    [Excerpt: Derek B. Scott, "Champagne Charlie"]

    If you've ever heard the phrase "the Devil has all the best tunes", that song is why. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, set new lyrics to it and made it into a hymn, and when asked why, he replied "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?" The phrase had been used earlier, but it was Booth who popularised it.

    "Champagne Charlie" also has rather morbid associations, because it was sung by the crowd at the last public execution in Britain, so it often gets used in horror and mystery films set in Victorian London, so chances are if you recognised the song it's because you've heard it in a film about Jack the Ripper or Jekyll and Hyde.

    But the music hall, like all popular entertainment, demanded a whole stream of new material. The British Tin Pan Alley publishers and songwriters who wrote much of the early British rock and roll we've looked at started out in music hall, and almost every British popular song up until the rise of jazz, and most after that until the fifties, was performed in the music halls.

    We do have recordings from the later part of the music-hall era, of course, and they show what a wide variety of music was perform

    PLEDGE WEEK: “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells

    PLEDGE WEEK: “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells

    This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to patreon.com/andrewhickey and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear.

    Click below for the transcript



    Transcript

    In today's main episode we look at the career of Bobby Fuller, who many have speculated died because of in some way upsetting the Mafia. So in this bonus episode we're going to look at someone who had a much longer, more successful, career, and did so because he managed *not* to upset the Mafia. We're going to look at the involvement of Morris Levy in the birth of bubblegum, and at "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells:

    [Excerpt: Tommy James and the Shondells, "Hanky Panky"]

    The original lineup of the Shondells started out when Tommy James was only twelve years old, and still going by his birth name Tommy Jackson. They performed for three years under various names before, in 1962, recording their first single, "Long Pony Tail", under the name Tom and the Tornadoes:

    [Excerpt: Tom and the Tornadoes, "Long Pony Tail"]

    That was actually a cover version of a song originally recorded by the Fireballs, a group that Norman Petty had produced a couple of minor hits for at that point, and who would go on to have a number one with "Sugar Shack", but who are now best known for being the group that Petty got to overdub new instrumental backing on Buddy Holly's acoustic demos so he could keep releasing posthumous hits.

    "Long Pony Tail" was not a hit, and soon the group had changed their name to the Shondells, inspired by the local one-hit wonder Troy Shondell, who had had a hit with "This Time":

    [Excerpt: Troy Shondell, "This Time"]

    The group continued making records on tiny labels with no promotional budget for several years, until they recorded a song called "Hanky Panky". That song had been written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and released as a B-side by Barry and Greenwich's studio group The Raindrops:

    [Excerpt: The Raindrops, "Hanky Panky"]

    That record had never been a hit, supposedly because the song to which it was a B-side, “That Boy John”, made people think of John F Kennedy, who was killed shortly after the record's release.

    But a copy had been picked up by a musician in Michigan, who had added the song to his group's live set, and it had become popular. Another local group, the Spinners -- not the vocal group from Detroit, or the British folk group, but another group of the same name -- saw the reaction that band had from the song, and added it to their own sets. They hadn't got a copy of the record themselves, so they didn't know all the words, so they just made new ones up, other than "My baby does the hanky-panky".

    When Tommy James saw the reaction the Spinners had, he felt he had to grasp an opportunity. Back in 1960, Joe Jones had recorded "California Sun", a song written by Henry Glover, on Roulette Records:

    [Excerpt: Joe Jones, "California Sun"]

    Another group on the same local scene as the Shondells, the Princeton Five, had been playing that song in their sets -- and then a third local group, the Playmates, renamed themselves the Rivieras, ripped off the Princeton Five's arrangement of the song before the Princeton Five could record it, and made the national top ten with it:

    [Excerpt: The Rivieras, "California Sun"]

    The lesson was clear -- if a local band starts doing well with a song, it's winner-takes-all and whoever gets into the studio first gets the hit. So the Shondells went into the studio and quickly cut their version, based on what they could remember of what the S

    PLEDGE WEEK: “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis

    PLEDGE WEEK: “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis

    This episode is part of Pledge Week 2022. Every day this week, I'll be posting old Patreon bonus episodes of the podcast which will have this short intro. These are short, ten- to twenty-minute bonus podcasts which get posted to Patreon for my paying backers every time I post a new main episode -- there are well over a hundred of these in the archive now. If you like the sound of these episodes, then go to patreon.com/andrewhickey and subscribe for as little as a dollar a month or ten dollars a year to get access to all those bonus episodes, plus new ones as they appear.

    Click below for the transcript



    Transcript

    Today we're going to take a look at someone who had two big hits, one of which has entered into American pop culture to a ludicrous extent -- long before I ever heard the song I was familiar with references to it in everything from the Simpsons to Stephen King books -- and the other of which is known all over the world, but about whom there's almost no available information, outside the liner notes to one CD. We're going to look at Shirley Ellis, and at "The Name Game":

    [Excerpt: Shirley Ellis, "The Name Game"]

    When I say there's almost no available information about Shirley Ellis, I mean it. Normally, with someone who had a couple of major hits in the mid-sixties, there's at least a couple of fan pages out there, but other than a more-perfunctory-than-usual page on Spectropop, there's basically nothing about Shirley Ellis, possibly because unlike most of her contemporaries, even though she lived until 2005 she never hit the nostalgia circuit.

    The information that is out there is contradictory as well. Some sources have her being born in 1941, while others place her birth much further back, in 1929. I suspect the latter date is more accurate, and that she trimmed a few years off her age when she became a star.

    Pretty much all the information I'm using here comes from the liner notes of the one CD currently in print from a legitimate source of Ellis' work, and that CD also has a problem which will affect this episode. Ellis released two albums, "In Action" and "The Name Game", which had nine tracks in common. On "In Action", they were overdubbed with crowd noises, more or less at random, to make them sound like they were live recordings, while "The Name Game" had the unadorned studio recordings. Unfortunately, the CD I'm using, for some unfathomable reason, chose to use the fake-live versions, and so that's what I've been forced to excerpt.

    Ellis grew up in the Bronx, in a family with roots in the West Indies, and started out as many young singers did, winning the talent contest at the Harlem Apollo. But her initial success came as a songwriter, when she wrote a couple of songs for the Sh-Booms -- the group who had formerly been known as the Chords before legal problems led them to rename themselves after their biggest hit:

    [Excerpt: The Sh-Booms -- "Pretty Wild"]

    She also wrote "One Two, I Love You" for the Heartbreakers, which pointed the way to the kind of novelty song based around counting and clapping rhymes with which she would have her biggest hits:

    [Excerpt: The Heartbreakers, "One Two, I Love You"]

    But while she'd had these minor successes as a songwriter, it wasn't until she teamed up with a more successful writer that she started to make the records for which she was remembered. Ellis was introduced by her husband's cousin to Lincoln Chase, who became her manager, record producer, and writing partner.

    Chase had already written a number of hits on his own, including "Such a Night" for Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters:

    [Excerpt: The Drifters, "Such a Night"]

    which had also been a hit for Johnnie Ray, and "Jim Dandy" for LaVern Baker:

    [Excerpt: LaVern Baker, "Jim Dandy"]

    As well as songs for Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown and others.

    Chase and Ellis spent a couple of years releasing unsuccessful singles under Ellis' full married name, Shirley Elliston, before releasing "The Real Nitty Gritty". B

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
19 Ratings

19 Ratings

Bmr63 ,

Absolutely fascinating perspective on the development of Rock n Roll

This podcast is a deeply fascinating perspective on songs that are indicative of the development of Rock n Roll music. I’ve found episodes on songs I’d never heard of interesting, and even found reasons to rethink my dislike for some songs that are covered.

Each episode is densely packed with facts; I’ve found at times I’ve been listening whilst doing something and found that had to review a segment as I hadn’t been listening closely enough.

I find it a joy with each new episode.

Kiwimacd ,

Must listen for music fans

Well and truly hooked. If you love modern music this is wonderful.

Drayton Brenssell ,

Quite simply changed my life

I was born after The Beatles broke up so their music came to me fully packaged, out of order and complete with a narrative that they were just the best band in the world and “if only I was born ten years earlier”…
In 100 episodes Andrew gave me the hype, hysteria, and time travelled me to a place where I was literally on the edge of my seat listening to Please Please Me and She Loves You! And that’s just the two episodes onThe Beatles. Every single episode is so well researched and so informative this work has become essential listening.
Andrew is wonderful, kind, intelligent, and officially my first pick for “who would you invite for dinner” list. I wish him well.
Just THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

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