Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

May 21, 2014

I'm Ready Ready Teddy to Folk 'n' Roll

If the weather holds out I'm aiming to make my busking debut tomorrow. I've rehearsed three sets, cut about ten songs I adore but simply aren't up to snuff, and am doing a final run-through this evening. The cuts still leave me with 33 songs: a mix of originals, covers and a few Benvereens chestnuts too.

The goal was to find something representative of every decade from the 1950s to the 2000s. Why those boundaries? Well, on the front end, Sour Landslide used to have a ten-year rule for covers: if it's under ten years old, it's too recent. Old habits die hard and besides, I know few songs from the 2010s and almost none by contemporary artists. As for the back end, I've always been a rocker through and through, so anything pre-1955 is out. I don't do standards, swing, torch songs, country, blues, ragtime, or what have you. It's all prehistoric to these ears and of no interest. And truthfully, finding even one song from the '50s was tough. For me, the excitement starts with Dylan and The Beatles. Anything before that gets lumped in with the fossils.

It's funny. My parents were '50s children, and hey, hep cats, they loved that old-time rock 'n' roll—so much so that they force-fed me generous helpings when I was a boy. I couldn't stand it. You name it: Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, The Platters, Fats Domino ... heard 'em all, hated 'em all. I mean, I was five years old and this music still struck me as infantile. "But what about the greats?" I hear the Dave Marshes of the world scream. "Come on! Sun Records: Elvis. Jerry Lee. Carl Perkins. Johnny Cash, for Pete's sake." No, nope, negatory, and I'm one of the six people in the world who's not into The Man in Black. The best I can do for the '50s is give a lukewarm "meh" to the Everly Brothers.

In desperation I checked online lists ("Top 100 Songs of the 1950s," that sort of thing) only to uncover all the dross I loathed as a kid. Finally I turned to my younger brother—who, ironically, took a shine to much of the parents' music—for advice. One song was all I needed. I thought I had my one, but "Hello Mary Lou," which Captain Seventies only knew from the CCR cover on Mardi Gras, turns out to be from 1961.

With help from the bro, I found it: Buddy Holly's "Every Day." Even I had to admit that here was a pretty melody anchored by cool chord changes, clever wordplay for the time, and the song actually had two distinct parts. (Much of my beef with '50s music comes from verses and choruses sounding identical, insipid lyrics, and God forbid there be a bridge—what do you think this is, jazz?)

Of course, "Every Day" is still the '50s, so the song needed a cosmetic facelift or three to render it playable by yours truly. First of all, who decided to prominently feature a glockenspiel, and worse, to make it the solo instrument? Me, I'm firing that producer. Next to go was the wispy, oh-so-subdued arrangement. I've rocked it up and upped the tempo. The final improvement was to ditch the "a-hey-heys" that were Buddy's trademark. Everyone in the '50s thought they needed a gimmick (or their producers/overlords did; not sure which). The hiccup-y thing was Holly's, Chuck Berry had the duck walk, Little Richard the nonsense syllables, Elvis the "wella-hella-hella" rockabilly vocal tics. Again: why?

So, Mom and Dad, when I play "Every Day" I'll fondly remember you and hope I'm doing you proud. After which I'll get the heck out of the '50s and serve me up some Byrds or Small Faces with a side of Moby Grape.

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