Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crimes Against Rock and Roll, Pt 1: The Gelding of Louie Louie (and others)



Whatever popular music was before the rock and roll era, it was generally considered adult music. Even with the rise of the first teen idols in the '20s, pop music was still jazzified music your grandparents could pop a finger to. By the thirties the bobbysoxers had discovered Swing and Sinatra and the rift of the so-called generation gap began in earnest.

By the sixties this rift would become revolutionary. Rock acts were ghettoized to spots on the occasional variety show or special or the few dedicated radio stations. Ed Sullivan would make a point to introduce The Beatles and The Stones as for "the youngsters." Most mainstream shows like Johnny Carson shunned rock acts entirely. All was emblematic of the elder generation's reluctance to warm to the new sound. So to bridge the rift, the genre of pablum rock was born.

This is rock rubbed smooth as a soap remnant, engineered and neutered to gently swim in your earholes and drop the listener into a deep chill like an aural elephant dose of Prozac. It’d also became the ubiquitous background music of shopping centers, elevators, and dentist offices. It wasn't all just musical wallpaper, it had a sinister purpose too: Research showed such music could also have a psychological effect: ... slower, more relaxed music tends to make people slow down and browse longer.


A prime, insidious example is this battered and baked cover of Louie Louie. Exoticized with Spanish lyrics, novocained with a hymnal tempo, and beaten into soft submission with the lilting voices of the popular '60s group The Sandpipers (active from '66 - '75). Who would've imagined this once beloved garage classic and smutty tale of shore leave (I go over Louie's legend here) could be fashioned into something softer than Justin Beiber's chin? 



Bachelor pad music for those not quite ready to rock – slightly modernized sounds to go with your newly grown mustache and sideburns. 

The jazzy vamp lent Light My Fire to some buttery arrangements. This one by Swing Era band leader Woody Herman possibly desperate to sell some records:




Ananda Shankar, the nephew of Ravi known for fusing Western music with Eastern styles, goes a little south.



These arrangements stay close to the originals which makes one wonder, does adding horns or sitar or ethereal female choruses where the vocals should be really make the pill so much easier to swallow?




Multiple offenses here: Sterilized MOR rock cum disco and the pixieish sounds of a flute stripping away any vestiges of a wild side: While his peers struggled to sell jazz in the rock age, Mann made a fortune pablumizing popular rock hits.


Ella goes (awkwardly) psychedelic:



Then came the Age of Irony:






Sebadoh's Lou Barlow does Foreigner with more respect than irony folding it back on itself and in the process bringing more nuance to the song than we ever knew existed:




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