Sunday, September 21, 2008

Novelty and deeper truths



Ok, this one is The Gourds, who also do a truly amazing cover of Gin and Juice, which, sadly, is a topic for another day.

I'm sorry to those of you that merely find these annoying. It comes down to my love for both novelty records and my love of country music. I know, as a member of decent society under the age of 50, you're supposed to pretend to not like country music. Everyone says it, but almost all y'all are lying... and in your hearts, you know it.

Now, I enjoy novelty records that are just a joke. I'm a sucker. What can I say?

But then a really good novelty record is actually novel, and I think a record that actually makes you rethink a song or musical form that you thought you knew is actually novel.

Here are examples for anyone who has heard them. In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy by Pat Boone is just a giggle. It's worth a single listen and not much more. Nothing on there made me rethink my original ideas of the songs from the original records. Rock Swings by Paul Anka, on the other hand, is both a terrific record and worth giving plenty of spins for purely musical reasons but also reinforms ones notions of the songs he performs with his twist. Or so I think.

So, here's what occurs to me listening to that cover of "Miss You" (or Paint it Black by Hayseed Dixie): There's no way to make an interesting country cover of a song by The Rolling Stones.

Ok, any version of Brown Sugar in which the lyrics are easily understood is going to be edifying to a good deal of people, but that's a whole different kind of interesting...

For this experiment, let's begin by eliminating "No Expectations", "You Can't Always Get What You Want", "Wild Horses", "Dead Flowers", "Angie", etc. These are country records already. Period. Include the hits on that list among the reasons most people who claim not to like country music are lying.

(I was really tempted to put "Ruby Tuesday" on that list. It is most certainly a country song, but one could argue - obviously I wouldn't - that the jangly '60s pop guitar sound on it makes it something else. I doubt, however, that they'd feel the same if the exact track were playing under a more traditional country singer singing the song.)

Even without the country songs, I still can't find any that raise any interesting challenges in singing in a country motif in my head. Frankly, "Paint it Black" is a nearly perfect example. One would think that with the Brian Jones sitar part and psychedelic lyrics that it would be a challenge, and yet there it is, sounding strangely unaltered.

My speculation on the reason for this? I think it's because The Stones wear their love of American roots music on their sleeve, and frankly American roots music doesn't differ as genres in nearly the same ways Americans imagine. We collectively pretend that we understand why Jimmie Rodgers is country and Leadbelly is blues, but I defy anyone to tell me what difference there is in their actual musical styles that would matter to a lay listener, because I don't hear it. I can only tell that they are two different races.

The '50s and, to a lesser extent, the '60s would go some distance to take down the notions of segregating music entirely by race, but the '70s would go about almost completely undoing that progress, to an extent that society's perspective has only barely begun to recover.

The Stones, however, were always above that. During the period where records were segregated in nearly every record stores, they released Some Girls, which has no place outside of a section called "rhythm & blues", and its placement in "rock" sections only served to prove that the labels had nothing to do with labeling the music itself, but merely the race of its performers.

Not that I'd suggest they did that with on purpose. As I said, they were above that... or they were merely oblivious to it.


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