It’s hardly surprising that The Beatles’ very first professionally recorded song wasn’t a sophisticated and original masterpiece such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Yesterday’.
They were a young rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. And when this song was recorded in 1961, they didn’t even have Ringo on board.
But I like this a lot. Paul’s bass playing is creative and nimble, and Lennon’s singing is impassioned, adding a rock star growl to what was originally a very tame 20s pop song.
The list of acts which have covered the song is too long to include here, but it was originally penned in 1927 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen. A famous version from that era is the mellow and pleasant Gene Austin version – but it was covered by rock acts in the 50s too.
The Beatles version came out in 1964, although they did a 2nd version in 1969 which showed just how far they had progressed in 10 years musically!
Sons of Negus is a group led by Ras Michael. Many of the big acts from Jamaica such as Bob Marley were devoutly Rastafari. But few were quite as intensely and single-mindedly spiritual in their music as Ras Michael was.
He was one of the musicians who brought traditional Rastafari Nyabinghi music to wider audiences.
The many layered drums play a key role in those songs. I’ve not heard a flute in one before though!
The flute adds a further esoteric touch – the electric piano is another innovation. A welcome innovation too, as the song is rich with melody, dripping with musical colour, and infused with fluid rhythm.
The track was released in 1968 – it’s got that classic raw 60s reggae sound…
Bob Dylan actually wrote this in 1967. But he didn’t get around to releasing his (stereotypically Bob Dylan, with harmonica and country guitar) until 1971.
It’s a great song, of course. In many ways, though, I prefer this laidback 1968 cover by The Byrds.
The song has even more country character, with a walking bass and steel guitar. Makes sense really, because it was released on an album called Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.
It’s a pleasant, easygoing song. The vocal harmonies on the chorus are very 60s, and I don’t miss Dylan’s harsh harmonica on this!
The Byrds obviously loved working with Bob Dylan, having had success previously with “Mr Tambourine Man”.
Still, there was a bit of controversy when The Byrds’ version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” fluffed the lyrics, singing ‘pack up your money, pick up your tent’ instead of the original ‘pick up your money, pack up your tent’.
Then Bob Dylan, in his version, sang ‘pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn’!
Wild Honey, the 1967 album which “Country Air” appears, was initially panned by music critics, which tells you all you need to know about the sheer pretentiousness and groupthink of much of that cohort…
But it’s one of the bands most powerful albums. It departs from much of their earlier material, featuring a more stripped back sound – less of their harmony singing, more piano/singer combos.
It really proves the ability of the band to conjure up enduring melodies. I like the song’s simple lyrics, too.
Before reggae, before ska, before soca, there was calypso.
Calypso directly descends from the musical styles brought over from African due to slavery. It blends many different styles – it sounds much closer to the music of the Spanish and French Caribbean.
Lord Kitchener, born in Trinidad in 1922, was a leading figure in the development of modern, popular calypso from the traditional folk styles.
This song shows how Calypso was often used to circumvent the moralistic censorship of the day. Double meanings had been used to allow criticism of whites, but soon grew to encompass all kinds of topics. Baudy innuendos being one!
I won’t tell you what the song is about. You’ll probably figure it out soon enough. And if you can’t, then good for you!