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Tony Grist

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Musical Roots [Sep. 7th, 2009|09:35 am]
Tony Grist
There was no youth culture when I was a child. Popular music (we didn't call it "pop") was universally smooth and bland. At the high end were Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doris Day. At the low end there was Max Bygraves. Big bands were still in vogue- and a band leader called Billy Cotton headed up one of the premier light entertainment shows on the BBC.  Billy Cotton was fat and bald - and about as happening as Mr Pickwick. For the hepcats there was jazz- but we didn't listen to that in our house.  The kids were catered for in a once-weekly radio request programme called "Children's Favourites" hosted by a person known as Uncle Mac.  He played lots of novelty records like Sinatra's "High Hopes" and a thing called "Sparky and the Magic Piano" which had a spoken narrative and stretched over several discs. Uncle Mac only ever played us the first side- the bastard!- so I never found out what happened to Sparky-  and could only speculate that it was too emotionally scarifying to be aired.
My mother had a big stash of pre-war 78s left over from her girlhood. I had license to play those on wet afternoons. There were selections from operetta, some Christopher Robin songs, a baritone singing Old Father Thames (Britain's answer to Ol' Man River) and (my favourite) someone (possibly Jack Buchanan) singing Cole Porter's "Miss Otis Regrets". 

At school we sung Victorian hymns and patriotic "folk" songs like "Hearts of Oak"- and my schoolmates were into singers like Tommy Steele and Adam Faith who- for all their youth- were as vacuous as Day and Crosby, but without the style.

Occasionally something a little spikier would weasel its way through the privet. My father had a passing crush on the French chanteuse Juliet Greco (a crush I have inherited) and I got to hear a little Brecht/Weill. "Pirate Jenny"- ohmigod!

This was my musical education more or less. I can see how it has shaped me. Most of what I heard through childhood was slop and I learned- from my parents, I guess- to take it or leave it- mostly leave it- which is why I missed out on rock 'n' roll and it took me until halfway through the sixties to realise they was something extraordinary going on.  I still don't listen to music much- and when I do it's because there's something I specifically want to hear. I don't do music as wallpaper. Whatever it is- and it could be anything from Schubert to Lily Allen-  it's got to really grab my attention- as Porter and Weill did- for me to prefer it to silence.

[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2009-09-07 11:18 am (UTC)

Ah, Victorian hymns

The rich man at his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them high or lowly
And ordered their estate

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-07 11:55 am (UTC)

Re: Ah, Victorian hymns

What a beauty!

And that's one of the better ones- by which I suppose I mean one of the less dreary ones.

My favourite hymns are pre-Victorian- for example Addison's "The Spacious Firmament on High" which is pure Deism. I also like Watts and Wesley. There's a freshness, a liveliness about them- maybe because they really believed in what they were saying. The Victorians, on the other hand, mostly knew the game was up- even if only at an unconscious level- and their statements of faith are correspondingly dusty, flatulent and insincere.
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[User Picture]From: pariforma
2009-09-07 07:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Ah, Victorian hymns

I think Wesley is one of the finest hymnodists, combining deep devotion and sincere faith with a good head for theology and a versifier's gifts.

OTOH, some of those Victorian hymns are (unintentionally, of course) *hilarious*.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 09:40 am (UTC)

Re: Ah, Victorian hymns

Wesley is the Lennon and MacCartney of hymn writers- turning out hit after hit after hit.
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[User Picture]From: suzilem
2009-09-07 01:04 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-07 04:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

And there was I hoping the piano would drag him off to hell at the end of their tour together. Ah, well...
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-09-07 01:36 pm (UTC)
My dear husband wants me to buy him some Lily Allen. He's never heard or seen her, but heard her described as "Chas and Dave in tights". For some perverted reason this appeals to him.

By the time I became conscious of pop music, the Beatles were splitting up.

I saw part of that programme last night with Cliff Richard looking extraordinarily embarrassing, both now and back when.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-07 03:32 pm (UTC)
"Chas and Dave in tights" is an excellent description of her act. She's music hall for the 21st century, Marie Lloyd's great-great-granddaughter.

I missed a programme with Cliff in it? Oh, what a shame!
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[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2009-09-07 02:44 pm (UTC)
*finds Pirate Jenny on youtube and favorites it* Awesome, thanks!

I love Miss Otis Regrets! :)

Music has been a huge part of my life.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-07 03:37 pm (UTC)
I love the sophisticated music of the 20s and 30s- Brecht/ Weill, Cole Porter, Noel Coward...
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-09-07 04:53 pm (UTC)
Have you heard Nina Simone's version of Pirate Jenny? The lyrics are here: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/n/nina+simone/pirate+jenny_20100640.html

It's rather like Billie Holiday's version of Strange Fruit: pretty well definitive.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 09:43 am (UTC)
I don't know Simone's version. The ones I'm familiar with are Greco's, Lotte Lenya's (the great original) and Marianne Faithfull's.

Oh yes, I love Holliday's Strange Fruit. My landlady in Sheffield (of all people) introduced me to it when I was 20.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-09-08 02:29 pm (UTC)
Lenya's is fabulous.

Simone basically adds a racial discrimination gloss to the song so that you can hear the simmering hatred of the slaves and children of slaves for their masters. It's devastating.

Holiday appeals/appealed to a remarkably wide range of people. I know people who can't stand any kind of jazz but like her.
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From: wokenbyart
2009-09-07 06:31 pm (UTC)
I was brought up on a mix of stuff. My dad introduced me to classical music from about 4yrs old and I used to sit listening, avidly, to each record, several times over, picking out each instrument on each listen - so it always sounded different to me! My faves as a child were Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Smetana (or do I mean Smetena? One's a composer the other's a dairy product!), and Grieg. Then I would listen to my sister's collection of strange albums - all the songs were covers of pop hits of the 50's - and yes, as you say, most of it was bland, but I liked Doris Day when I was a small child! Some better ones were the likes of Harry Belafonte. And then there was the rock'n'roll... Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.

Later on, on telly, the Billy Cotton Band Show had guests that were worth watching such as Scott Engel (formerly of The Walker Brothers). I remember watching it in a rather sedate English holiday hotel on the South coast, in the equally sedate sitting room with all these elderly people (who mostly lived there - you know the odd, somewhat pissed colonel) and Scott singing 'My Death' by Jacques Brel...

Only thing I know about Lily Allen (whose 'music' I don't rate, personally) is she's the daughter of Keith Allen.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 09:52 am (UTC)
We didn't have much classical music in my house- though I remember my father coming home one night with an LP of Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges. I've no idea why he suddenly wanted to listen to that.

I like Doris Day too. I think my favourite song from that era is Que Sera, Sera- partly for its associations with Hitchcock.

Lily Allen is energetic and fun. I like her for much the same reasons I like George Formby
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From: wokenbyart
2009-09-08 10:42 am (UTC)
Doris Day's Que Sera Sera is one of my favourite songs from childhood. My mum used to sing it to me.

Anyway, this is probably my last comment as Woken By Art. I'll come by from time to time and might have to comment as 'anonymous' but I'll endeavour to put my name!

Be well. Thank you for reading (and enjoying) my journal.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 02:14 pm (UTC)
It's been a pleasure.

I'm sorry you're leaving LJ, but it's good news that you'll still be browsing.

Stop by anytime. :)
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From: algabal
2009-09-07 07:18 pm (UTC)
There's no adult pop anymore because the youth culture is *the* culture. We're all kids now. Forever.

There was an extremely healthy intersection between jazz, pop, Broadway and easy-listening that had a huge hold until the 1960s. At its best, it's incredibly tasteful, witty, alluring and artistically superior. Patti Page, Crosby, Day et. al could sping mediocre novelty records at a dizzying pace, but they never stopped doing amazingly good jazz-influenced work.

But then, something happened circa 1962. White based blues-music has come to completely dominate the imaginations of heterosexual adult males for the last forty years. Some of it's good, but I can't say I truly get the majority of it. The Beatles were talented, but listening to a real singer like Helen Merrill perform their songs, you can hear the inherent structural weakness of their songs.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 10:01 am (UTC)
I'm afraid I have to disagree. I think Crosby et al had become stale- and that the popular music of the 50s was a lot less interesting than that of the 40s, 30s, 20s.

Mind you, the same thing is now true of guitar-based pop. It's old and tired and I keep waiting for something to come along and sweep it away.
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[User Picture]From: richenda
2009-09-08 08:21 am (UTC)
I can't remember what the collection was called, but we sang (in an English school) Scottish and Welsh songs - e.g. Barbara Allen, Mimstrel Boy, Men of Harlech - oh and Cornish e.g Shall Trelawny Die? This would have been early to mid 1950s
There were also lessons about the orchestra, illustretd from Peter and the Wolf, Saint Saens (the animals) and Debussy
Oh and a very scratchy recording of Kathleen Ferrier
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-09-08 10:07 am (UTC)
We sang those songs too. I guess there must have been some sort of political agenda at work- binding the Union together by getting the English, Welsh and Scots to sing one another's ditties.

Do today's kids still listen to Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals? I doubt it.
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