142 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
    • 4.7 • 213 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 114: "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie

    Episode 114: "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie

    This week's episode looks at "My Boy Lollipop" and the origins of ska music. 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 "If You Wanna Be Happy" by Jimmy Soul.
    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 usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode -- a content warning applies for the song "Bloodshot Eyes" by Wynonie Harris.
    The information about ska in general mostly comes from Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King by Lloyd Bradley, with some also from Reggae and Caribbean Music by Dave Thompson.
    Biographical information on Millie Small is largely from this article in Record Collector, plus a paywalled interview with Goldmine magazine (which I won't link to because of the paywall).
    Millie's early recordings with Owen Gray and Coxsone Dodd can be found on this compilation, along with a good selection of other recordings Dodd produced, while this compilation gives a good overview of her recordings for Island and Fontana.
    Patreon
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    Erratum
    I refer to "Barbara Gaye" when I should say "Barbie Gaye"
    Transcript
    Today, we're going to take our first look at a form of music that would go on to have an almost incalculable influence on the music of the seventies, eighties, and later, but which at the time we're looking at was largely regarded as a novelty music, at least in Britain and America. We're going to look at the birth of ska, and at the first ska record to break big outside of Jamaica. We're going to look at "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie:
    [Excerpt: Millie, "My Boy Lollipop"]
    Most of the music we've looked at so far in the podcast has been from either America or Britain, and I'm afraid that that's going to remain largely the case -- while there has been great music made in every country in the world, American and British musicians have tended to be so parochial, and have dominated the music industry so much, that relatively little of that music has made itself felt widely enough to have any kind of impact on the wider history of rock music, much to rock's detriment.
    But every so often something from outside the British Isles or North America manages to penetrate even the closed ears of Anglo-American musicians, and today we're going to look at one of those records.
    Now, before we start this, this episode is, by necessity, going to be dealing in broad generalisations -- I'm trying to give as much information about Jamaica's musical culture in one episode as I've given about America's in a hundred, so I am going to have to elide a lot of details. Some of those details will come up in future episodes, as we deal with more Jamaican artists, but be aware that I'm missing stuff out.
    The thing that needs to be understood about the Jamaican music culture of the fifties and early sixties is that it developed in conditions of absolute poverty. Much of the music we looked at in the first year or so of the podcast came from extremely impoverished communities, of course, but even given how utterly, soul-crushingly, poor many people in the Deep South were, or the miserable conditions that people in Liverpool and London lived in while Britain was rebuilding itself after the war, those people were living in rich countries, and so still had access to some things that were not available to the poor people of poorer countries.
    So in Jamaica in the 1950s, almost nobody had access to any kind of record player or radio themselves. You wouldn't even *know* anyone who had one, unlike in the states whe

    • 47 min
    Episode 113: "Needles and Pins" by The Searchers

    Episode 113: "Needles and Pins" by The Searchers

    This week's episode looks at "Needles and Pins", and the story of the second-greatest band to come out of Liverpool in the sixties, The Searchers. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
    Patreon backers also have a sixteen-minute bonus episode available, on "Farmer John" by Don and Dewey.
    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/
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    Resources
    No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many recordings by the Searchers. 
    My two main resources for this episode have been the autobiographies of members of the group -- Frank Allen's The Searchers and Me and Mike Pender's The Search For Myself. 
    All the Searchers tracks and Tony Jackson or Chris Curtis solo recordings excerpted here, except the live excerpt of "What'd I Say", can be found on this box set, which is out of print as a physical box, but still available digitally. For those who want a good budget alternative, though, this double-CD set contains fifty Searchers tracks, including all their hits, for under three pounds.
     
    Patreon
    This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
    Transcript
    Last week we had a look at the biggest group ever to come out of Liverpool, and indeed the biggest group ever to play rock and roll music. But the Beatles weren't the only influential band on the Merseybeat scene, and while we won't have much chance to look at Merseybeat in general, we should at least briefly touch on the other bands from the scene. So today we're going to look at a band who developed a distinctive sound that would go on to be massively influential, even though they're rarely cited as an influence in the way some of their contemporaries are. We're going to look at The Searchers, and "Needles and Pins":
    [Excerpt: The Searchers, "Needles and Pins"]
    The story of the early origins of the Searchers is, like everything about the Searchers, the subject of a great deal of dispute. The two surviving original members of the group, John McNally and Mike Pender, haven't spoken to each other in thirty-six years, and didn't get on for many years before that, and there have been several legal disputes between them over the years. As a result, literally everything about the group's history has become a battlefield in their ongoing arguments.
    According to a book by Frank Allen, the group's bass player from 1964 on and someone who took McNally's side in the split and subsequent legal problems, McNally formed a skiffle group, which Mike Pender later joined, and was later joined first by Tony Jackson and then by a drummer then known as Chris Crummey, but who changed his name to the more euphonic Chris Curtis. 
    According to Pender, he never liked skiffle, never played skiffle, and "if McNally had a skiffle group, it must have been before I met him". He is very insistent on this point -- he liked country music, and later rock and roll, but never liked skiffle. According to him, he and McNally got together and formed a group that was definitely absolutely not in any way a skiffle group and wasn't led by McNally but was formed by both of them. That group split up, and then Pender became friends with Tony Jackson -- and he's very insistent that he became friends with Jackson during  a period when he didn't know McNally -- and the group reformed around the three of them, when McNally and Pender got back in touch.
    The origin of the group's name is similarly disputed. Everyone agrees that it came from the John Wayne film The Searchers -- the same film which had inspired the group's hero Buddy Holly to write "That'll Be The Day" -- but there is disagreement as to whose idea the name was. Pender claims tha

    • 46 min
    Episode 112: "She Loves You" by The Beatles

    Episode 112: "She Loves You" by The Beatles

    This week's episode looks at "She Loves You", the Beatles in 1963, and the start of Beatlemania in the UK. 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 "Glad All Over" by the Dave Clark Five.
    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/
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    Resources
    As usual, I have created a Mixcloud playlist containing every song heard in this episode (except for the excerpt of a Beatles audience screaming, and the recording of me singing, because nobody needs those.)
    While there are many books on the Beatles, and I have read dozens of them,  All These Years Vol 1: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn is simply the *only* book worth reading on the Beatles' career up to the end of 1962. It is the most detailed, most accurate, biography imaginable, and the gold standard by which all other biographies of musicians should be measured. I only wish volumes two and three were available already so I could not expect my future episodes on the Beatles to be obsolete when they do come out. There are two versions of the book -- a nine-hundred page mass-market version and a 1700-page expanded edition. I recommend the latter. 
    I have read literally dozens of books on the Beatles, and used bits of information from many of them, but the ones I specifically referred to while writing this episode, other than Tune In, were:
    The Complete Beatles Chronicle by Mark Lewisohn, All The Songs: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Release by Jean-Michel Guesdon, And The Band Begins To Play: The Definitive Guide To The Songs of The Beatles by Steve Lambley, The Beatles By Ear by Kevin Moore, Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald, and The Beatles Anthology.
     
    "She Loves You" can be found on Past Masters, a 2-CD compilation of the Beatles' non-album tracks that includes the majority of their singles and B-sides. 
     
    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 record that is one of the most crucial turning points in the history of rock music, and of popular culture as a whole, a record that took the Beatles from being a very popular pop group to being the biggest band in Britain -- and soon to be the world. We're going to look at "She Loves You" by the Beatles:
    [Excerpt: The Beatles, "She Loves You"]
    When we left the Beatles, they had just released their first single, and seen it make the top twenty -- though we have, of course, seen them pop up in other people's stories in the course of our narrative, and we've seen how Lennon and McCartney wrote a hit for the Rolling Stones.
    But while we've been looking the other way, the Beatles had become the biggest band in Britain.
    Even before "Love Me Do" had been released, George Martin had realised that the Beatles had more potential than he had initially thought. He knew "Love Me Do" would be only a minor hit, but he didn't mind that -- over the sessions at which he'd worked with the group, he'd come to realise that they had real talent, and more than that, they had real charisma. 
    The Beatles' second single was to be their real breakthrough. "Please Please Me" was a song that had largely been written by John, and which had two very different musical inspirations. The first was a song originally made famous by Bing Crosby in 1932, "Please":
    [Excerpt: Bing Crosby, "Please"]
    Lennon had always been fascinated by the pun in the opening line -- the play on the word "please" -- and wanted to do something similar himself.
    The other influence is less obvious in the finished record, but makes sense once you realise it. A lot of Roy

    • 45 min
    Episode 111: "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas

    Episode 111: "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas

    Episode one hundred and eleven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginnings of Holland-Dozier-Holland. 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 "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels.
    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/
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    Resources
    As usual, I've created a Mixcloud streaming playlist with full versions of all the songs in the episode. 
    For Motown-related information in this and other Motown episodes, I've used the following resources:
    Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George is an excellent popular history of the various companies that became Motown.
     To Be Loved by Berry Gordy is Gordy's own, understandably one-sided, but relatively well-written, autobiography.
    Women of Motown: An Oral History by Susan Whitall is a collection of interviews with women involved in Motown, including Martha and the Vandellas.
    I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B by J. Andrew Flory is an academic look at Motown.
    The Motown Encyclopaedia by Graham Betts is an exhaustive look at the people and records involved in Motown's thirty-year history.
    How Sweet It Is by Lamont Dozier and Scott B. Bomar is Dozier's autobiography, while Come and Get These Memories by Brian and Eddie Holland and Dave Thompson is the Holland brothers'.
    And Motown Junkies is an infrequently-updated blog looking at (so far) the first 694 tracks released on Motown singles.
    Girl Groups by John Clemente contains potted biographies of many groups of the era, including Martha and the Vandellas.
    And Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva  by Martha Reeves and Mark Bego is Reeves' autobiography.
    And this three-CD set contains all the Vandellas' Motown singles, along with a bunch of rarities.
     
    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 career of one of the great girl groups to come out of Motown, and at the early work of the songwriting team that went on to be arguably the most important people in the definition of the Motown Sound. We're going to look at "Heatwave" by Martha and the Vandellas, and the beginning of the career of Holland, Dozier, and Holland:
    [Excerpt: Martha and the Vandellas, "Heatwave"]
    By the time she started recording for Motown, Martha Reeves had already spent several years in groups around Detroit, with little success. Her singing career had started in a group called The Fascinations, which she had formed with another singer, who is variously named in different sources as Shirley Lawson and Shirley Walker. She'd quickly left that group, but after she left them, the Fascinations went on to make a string of minor hit records with Curtis Mayfield:
    [Excerpt: The Fascinations, "Girls Are Out To Get You"]
    But it wasn't just her professional experience, such as it was, that Reeves credited for her success -- she had also been a soloist in her high school choir, and from her accounts her real training came from her High School music teacher, Abraham Silver. In her autobiography she talks about hanging around in the park singing with other people who had been taught by the same teacher -- Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, who would go on to form the Supremes, Bobby Rogers and Claudette Robinson, who were founder members of the Miracles, and Little Joe Harris, who would later become lead singer of the minor Motown act The Undisputed Truth.
    She'd eventually joined another group, the Del-Phis, with thre

    • 44 min
    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.
    ----more----
    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

Customer Reviews

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213 Ratings

213 Ratings

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The gold standard of music podcasts

Deeply substantive discussions of artists and songs, their influences and their legacies. Each podcast episode contains numerous excerpts of recordings, which are well chosen and fascinating. This series is already a monumental accomplishment, with so much great stuff still to come.

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The Best!

This is by far one of the best music history podcasts available. The host is unbelievably knowledgeable about music history and puts that knowledge into the important greater context of the cultural history of the time. I walk away from each episode knowing so much more than I ever could have hoped. Despite the informative nature of the episodes, the host does a wonderful job incorporating humor and personality, for an extremely enjoyable effect.

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A History of Rock Music In 500 Songs

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