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November 29, 2007

Happy Music

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Two fab contributions from wonderful YouTube uploader Gatorrock786.

A young Ray Charles performs a roof-raising "What'd I Say?":

Goodness gracious: Did that man ever command a lot of sexual power. And weren't those go-go dancers doing an awfully fine job?

Ricky Nelson keeps things swinging in a cornier, mellower, yet still toe-tapping way with "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" (Backup singing by -- yes! -- The Four Preps.) I do love a lot of easygoing, bland-o, whitebread, 1960ish crooning ...

Was Ricky Nelson the Bing Crosby of '50s teenyboppers?

Here's the Ricky Nelson website, and here's Wikipedia reports that one of the Four Preps went on to write the song "Tainted Love," and that another Prep created the TV show "Battlestar Gallactica."



COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Don't miss the wrasslin' match over at Marginal Revolution.

posted by Michael at November 29, 2007


With no disrespect to Ricky Nelson, I think you're under-rating Bing; at least at the beginning of his career during the late 1920s and early 1930s, when he managed to record with a bunch of rather significant jazz figures, including Duke Ellington. As one account puts it:

In the early 30’s Crosby’s chumming around with the jazz greats of the day helped him pick up on jazz phrasing. He claimed, "I used to hang around The Dorseys and Bix and Bunny Berigan and Glenn Miller and Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang - all the musicians I admired - and I was having a helluva good time. I really had no idea that I was learning anything. But I certainly was."

The talents of those he admired definitely affected his style. Ralph Gleason a noted Jazz writer once described Bing as “the personification of the whole Jazz movement – the relaxed, casual, natural, uninhibited approach to art.”

I can't imagine anyone making a similar remark about Ricky Nelson. (Again, I'm not knocking old Ricky.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 30, 2007 2:44 AM

I'm going to chide you every so gently, too, Michael.

Ricky Nelson was great, and Bing Crosby was one of the gods. This is a bad habit, writing off great musicians because they had the misfortune to be born white.

I'm also a fanatical Ray Charles fan.

Here's a really important bit to remember. You might not even know that Muddy Waters existed if not for the diligent efforts of Keith Richards and The Band to bring him to the attention of another generation.

When I think of Myrna, I always remember this great Ricky Nelson lyric:

Pretty Polynesian baby over the sea
I remember the night
When we walked in the sands of Waikiki
And I held you oh so tight

What difference, really, does the race of a musician matter? This discussion is a relic of the 60s that we would all do well to discard. Nobody stole anything from anybody. We all shared it.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on November 30, 2007 9:59 AM

Those go-go dancers are amazing.

I'm currently reading Bob Dylan's memoir, and it's funny to see him writing (sympathetically) about Ricky Nelson as a contemporary. It's easy to forget just what wider culture Dylan was a part of.

Posted by: JMW on November 30, 2007 10:54 AM

FvB, ST -- Bing was major, couldn't agree more. But my comparison had nothing to do with ranking Bing vs. Ricky, and everything to do with the roles they played in the popular-music genre they were part of. Bing was Mr. Swinging-and-Mellow (in jazz). Ricky was Mr. Swinging and Mellow (in '50s-style pop). That's my only point in the comparison. Love that "pretty Polynesian lady" song!

JMW -- Imagine being a pop star of that era and having, er, easy backstage access to all those cute go-go girls. Whew. How is the Dylan book? Some seem to love it, some seem to hate it ... I wonder how the new Dylan movie is too ... A friend tells me the little black kid does the best Dylan impersonation of all the actors who play Dylan.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 30, 2007 11:07 AM

MB, pardon the self-promotion, but my take on the Dylan movie is here:

I enjoyed it. I'm also liking the memoir. It's not great, but it's good -- quick, entertaining, and much more intimate than I thought it would be (in some ways).

Posted by: JMW on November 30, 2007 3:43 PM

I know you're being serious here, but com'n. rather than Charles' primitive shrieks I enjoyed looking at the guitarist behind him. Brains is always sexier than muscle. and those junkies on stage? marionettes, with no dancer's training.

Posted by: Tat on December 1, 2007 8:30 AM

Best crooning I ever heard from Bing is also something I liked a lot from Frank (maybe not his best): "What a Swell Party This Is" from "High Society". May have been Grace Kelly's last flick, but its classic for their remarkable duet. And its not so bland-o at all, is my point. Ricky Nelson really was the defintion of bland-o in terms of singing style.

I never quite got into Ray Charles--I even watched the movie and everything. But you've got to dig "Hit the Road, Jack" and his version of "America the Beautiful".

And go-go dancers...they don't really even exist anymore. "Access to go-go dancers backstage..."---boy, are you proclaiming your birth year as earlier than 1957 or what? But its taken a wonderful story line away. Goldie Hawn "started as a go-go dancer" on "Hullaballoo". Nobody has that story line anymore!!

Posted by: annette on December 3, 2007 11:26 AM

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