Z is for Zilch

Originally, I was going to pass on the letter Z, because I saw so many Russian tanks displaying this letter, and this was going to be way of protesting their invasion of Ukraine.  Next, I decided that Z would be for zither, which is a stringed instrument, but then I came up with something better.  It seems like the more I learn about music, the less I actually know about it, as there is always something else left to learn, so today Z is for zilch.  Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  This post is dedicated to my good friend Fandango, who wrote about the Beach Boys song ‘Surfer Girl’ on Easter, and he wrote that the “Wilson song had the same 32-bar form, also known as the AABA song form, as The Dion & The Belmonts song had.”  I responded, “Great choice Fandango, but looking at the lyrics, I don’t see the AABA rhyming pattern.”  To which he said, “Well, I wouldn’t know an AABA rhythm pattern if it hit me in the head, but that ‘fact’ came from Songfacts, and I did listen to the Dion & The Belmonts song and there were similarities, so I ran with it.”  I did some research and realized that I needed to apologize to my good friend, so I wrote back saying, “My mistake, as I just found out that you are correct.  The song ‘Surfer Girl” by The Beach Boys is in AABA form, and this has nothing to do with a rhyming pattern.”  My bad assumption was that AABA form was comparable to poetry, and it related to a rhyming scheme, something like what is shown below.

I got out of bed
Fell on my head
I wasn’t hurt
And I wasn’t dead
Thus “bed, head and dead” would have the A rhyme and “hurt” was the B rhyme.  In music, sometimes you don’t pick the instrument, sometimes the instrument picks you.  Since I have never been able to play an instrument, perhaps my talent lies in writing about it, so others can learn along with me.

Since the AABA has nothing to do with rhyming, I have to figure out what these letters stand for, and my best guess is that these letters represent parts or sections of the song.  I was not familiar with the 32-bar form of a song, but I have often heard of the 12-bar blues song.  I know it when I hear it, but I don’t know it well enough to describe it yet.  What I do know is that the beat is a single rhythmic unit of measurement in music.  A measure or bar is a section of a piece of music that contains a specific number of beats, depending on the piece’s time signature, which is represented by what looks like a fraction.  Bars are made up of beats in a segment of music, so you can look at the beat as being a letter, and a bar as being a word.  Since the Time Signature identifies how many beats are in a bar of music and measures help group beats into patterns and organize the music for both the composer and the performer, this helps us count beats.  Most songs have 4 beats in a bar, and this is called common time.  If a 32-bar song is grouped into four parts or sections by the AABA form, then it is a good bet that each one of these four parts or sections is made up of 8-bars.

The object of the bar-line is to indicate the position of the strong accent, which it should immediately precede.  Bar-lines and time-signatures, have no effect on the music, they merely draw attention to what is already there.  During the 1960’s and 1970’s, composers started to write music in what was called free-rhythm style, without time signature and bar lines.  In order to keep track of where they were, musicians started adding their own bar lines to the music.  Composers eventually returned to the practice of incorporating both time signature and bar lines.  If the Time Signature is 4/4, the top number in the fraction is telling us that there are four beats, or steady pulse, so this would have four steady pulses per measure.  The bottom number tells us what type of note receives one beat, and since this number is also a four, the quarter note is one beat.  The rest is just math, as the time signature indicates how many beats there are in each measure and what note counts as one beat.

In music, form designates the pace and manner at which we move through a particular piece.  Every piece of music has an overall plan or structure, and this is called musical form and each major section is usually labeled with letters.  The first section is the A section and the next piece that is very different from this A section is labeled B, so in our case of AABA form, three of the sections are very similar being repeated sections of music and the third section is different.  If the A section deviates slightly, it will be labeled A’ (pronounced “A prime”).  The A’ section can also incorporate another variation which is called A” (pronounced “A double prime”), and so on.  Sections that are not like A are labeled B or C, and so on.  Let’s say that the A section is a verse in a song, and the B section is the refrain which has a different melody, different chord progression, and often a bigger, more complex texture than the verse.  Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western music.

Different verses in a song will have the same melody, even when they have different lyrics, so these are often labeled as A sections.  Refrains consist of a line or two (often at the end of each verse or the beginning of each chorus), so these could be considered to be B sections in songs.  A bridge section is new material that appears late in the song, usually appearing only once or twice, often in place of a verse and usually leading into the refrain and it will start on a different chord from what the verse and chorus were using.  The first two A sections (A1 and A2) are verses with similar chords and a similar melody, while the lyrics often change.  The following bridge builds a contrast to the A sections using different chords, a different melody and different lyrics, before it transitions to another A.  This last A section (A3) is a repeat of the first two A sections, with similar chords and a similar melody.  This bridge section is usually 4-8 bars, and it could easily end up being a C section of a song.  A verse can be 8 bars, 16 bars, 24 bars, or even 32 bars depending on how the music is structured.  If a song has 3 verses or more, each verse will probably be 16 bars, and if a song has 2 verses, it will probably be 24 bars.  A hook or chorus is 8 bars.  An intro or outro is 4-8 bars.  Music forms are not sets of rules that composers are required to follow, but when they exist, they give us important clues that help us understand and appreciate the music.

Music that is composed with repeating structures, or songs that repeat the same basic multi-phrase unit throughout are in strophic form (sometimes abbreviated AAA, because the same basic material, A, is repeated), and the basic unit that is repeated is called a strophe.  Strophic form is more common in early rock-and-roll (1950s–1960s) than in the 1970s and beyond.  The strophe can be thought of as being the musical equivalent of a verse in poetry.  What is important in strophic form is that strictly speaking, the underlying harmony and melody of each strophe or musical block remain the same.  The lyrics can change, and most often do.  In strophic form (AAA), strophes are the only core sections, and thus do not participate in a functional progression.  Functional progression takes place on the phrase level within the strophe.  The strophe sections themselves tend to set a stanza of text each with music that is self-contained and harmonically closed.

For much of the 20th century, the dominant form in popular music was the AABA or 32-bar form, not the verse/chorus form as it is now.  This form started becoming a trend after the first world war and by the mid to late 20’s this had become pretty much the form of choice for popular music.  This 32-bar form, also known as the AABA song form, American popular song form and the ballad form, is a song structure commonly found in Tin Pan Alley songs and other American popular music, in the first half of the 20th century.  Early rock-and-roll was often composed in AABA form, or 32-bar song form, because of some of the features of earlier “Golden Age” songs that make use of this structure.  AABA form, like strophic form, relies on the strophe to communicate the main lyric and musical ideas of the song, but it adds a contrasting bridge section in the middle.  The A sections contain the primary melody we associate with the song while the B section provides contrast and is often called the bridge or middle eight.

Explaining a complicated topic is probably best done with an example, so we are going to look into the Flintstones theme song, which was used from season 3 on.  This is one of the most recognizable theme songs ever, and it is an example of a 32-bar song form.  It was inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 (movement 2), which was composed in 1801.  This song was composed by William Hanna, Joseph Barbera, and Hoyt Curtin in 1961, and recorded with a big band and the Randy Van Horne Singers.  ‘Meet the Flintstones’ conforms harmonically to the rhythm change structure (another name for classic AABA 32-bar form), derived from a chord progression that was contained in George Gershwin’s 1930 jazz standard composition, ‘I Got Rhythm’.  In this song ‘Meet the Flintstones’, the first A section (measures 1—8) is immediately repeated (measures 9—16).  It is then followed by a contrasting B section (measures 17—24), which, in popular music, is sometimes referred to as the bridge.  This is then followed by a return to the A section (measures 25—32).

(A1, Verse 1, Measures 1—8)
Flintstones, meet the Flintstones
They’re the modern Stone Age Family

(A2, Verse 2, Measures 9—16)
From the town of Bedrock
They’re a page right out of history

(B, Bridge, Measures 17—24)
Let’s ride with the family down the street
Through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet

(A3, Verse 3, Measures 25—32)
When you’re with the Flintstones
Have a yabba-dabba-doo time
A dabba-doo time
We’ll have a gay old time

‘I Got Rhythm’ became the perfect vehicle for jazz improvisers.  Swing and bebop musicians thrived on the formula of a memorable 32-bar AABA structure and irresistible chord progression, especially Charlie Parker.  It’s amazing that ‘Meet The Flintstones’ is basically ‘I Got Rhythm’ with a different tune.  Song form terminology is not standardized, and besides the bridge, the B section could also be the middle eight, the Release, or the refrain.  This wraps up the 32-bar AABA song structure, and the next time that one of these songs hits me, or Fandango in the head, at least we will have a clue what hit us.

I am not trying to be like Columbo, but there is one last thing that I want to go over, since I mentioned the 12-bar blues song earlier in this post and said that I was not able to explain it, thus I will discuss it now.  The term 12-bar refers to the number of measures, or musical bars, used to express the theme of a typical blues song.  Nearly all blues music is played with a 4/4-time signature, meaning that there are four beats in every measure or bar and each quarter note is equal to one beat.  The 12-bar form consists of three four-bar phrases and the lyrics create a call-and-response effect during the first two phrases with a conclusion during the third phrase.  The 12-Bar Blues form is based on a chord progression that takes place over 12 bars, or measures.  Simply stated, a chord consists three or more single pitches heard simultaneously, or a group of notes that are played as a basis of harmony.  The chord progression uses only the I, IV, and V chords of a key, also called the tonic, subdominant, and dominant, respectively.  These three chords get used more than any other chords in a major key, so they are called the primary triads or primary chords.  The I chord is built on the first note of the key, while the IV chord is built on the fourth note of the key, and the V chord is built on the fifth note of the key.

Since there are 12 major scales, there are 12 major keys.  The key of C major is spelled C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, where the first note is C, the fourth note is F, and the fifth is G.  The I, IV, and V chords in the key of C are a C major triad, an F major triad, and a G major triad, but to simplify this, you would say, “The chords are C, F, and G.”  The 12 bars are broken up into three groups of four.  The progression, and form, of the 12-bar blues song is structured with bars 1-4 containing I – I – I – I, bars 5-8 having   IV – IV – I – I and bars 9-12 being V – IV – I – I.  The 12-bar blues form of music has influenced a lot of the stuff that I listen to and once you know this, it becomes easy to spot.  We create and become the music, and we are, because we all have the music inside of us.

Since I love to end my posts with a song, but it is not easy for me to pick just one 12-bar blues song, as I could go with the Chuck Berry song ‘Johnny B Goode’, or the B. B. King song ‘Rock Me Baby’.  I hope that everyone enjoyed my April A to Z posts this year and I decided that I will leave you with the Robert Johnson 12-bar blues song ‘Sweet Home Chicago’.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

Y is for Yodel

Yodeling is a form of singing which involves repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register (or chest voice) and the high-pitch head register or falsetto.  This post is not about the cream-filled cakes made by the Drake’s company.  When someone sings normal notes with very high quick notes in between, they are yodeling.  Although this type of singing is typically associated with the high warbling of the Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers, other forms of yodeling can be found in several cultures, including African, Persian, and cowboy singers in the United States such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.  There is something magical about yodeling, as it makes your whole body start to vibrate and you become absorbed a certain sense of happiness.

The English word yodel is derived from the German (and originally Austro-Bavarian) word jodeln, meaning “to utter the syllable jo” (pronounced “yo” in English).  Shouting the word “jo” at a mountain would produce an echoing effect that would make the sound come back to you.  Before the word “yo” became part of the hip-hop culture to say “what is up with that”, the word “yo” was a slang interjection that stood for people greeting each other and it was originally popularized by the Italian-American community in Philadelphia, just like the way Rocky Balboa would shout at his wife Adrian.

In the 4th century C.E., the Roman Emperor Julian complained about the wild, shrieking songs that were coming from the northern mountain people.  In the 1500s, shepherds begin using these distinctive calls to round up cattle and communicate with others across the Alps.  Up in the mountains it is not so easy to talk to each other, so the Alpine shepherds would yodel to each other, as a way to call across from one mountain to another.  Certain sounds and notes actually meant words, so in a way, yodeling began as a kind of melodic language of the mountains.

In the 1965 musical The Sound of Music, the character Maria attempts yodeling in the song ‘The Lonely Goatherd’, which is fun to watch, but this is not real yodeling.

In the 1937 film Heidi, Shirley temple playing the main character does a much better attempt at yodeling.

To prepare for the role, actor Johnny Weissmuller reaches back to his Allegheny Mountain roots and incorporates his childhood yodeling skills into what became Tarzan’s iconic wail.  I used to try and make this sound every time I watched a Tarzan movie, but the yell I produced, never resulted in any elephants following me.  The Tarzan yell became one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and iconic sound bites.  In 1932, Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller donned a loincloth and defined the role of Tarzan with his yell.  Weissmuller said his Tarzan yell was inspired by the yodeling of his German neighbors, along with his own success in a yodeling contest he’d won as a boy.

In 1936, Jimmie Rodgers recorded ‘T for Texas’, which features some nice yodeling.

Carol Burnett revived the Tarzan yell and she did a much better job at this then I ever did.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

X is for Xylophone

The xylophone is a percussion instrument like the glockenspiel, and it essentially consists of a set of tuned keys arranged in the fashion of the keyboard of a piano.  The main difference between a xylophone and the glockenspiel/metallophone is the material that is used for the bars, and the xylophone uses wood whereas the glockenspiel and metallophone use metal.  The name Xylophone comes from the Greek words ‘xylon’ and ‘phone’ which translates as the phrase ‘wood sound’.  A xylophone is an idiophone, a type of percussion instrument that produces sound by vibration of the entire body of the instrument.  Triangles and cymbals are other examples of idiophones.  The xylophone belongs to the subgroup of idiophones that are played with mallets.  The xylophone is a struck idiophone, rather than being a plucked idiophone like the mbira and the Jew’s harp are.  Stuck idiophones produce sound when they are struck either directly or indirectly.  The xylophone is called a pitched percussion or tuned percussion instrument, because it can play different pitches and it allows the xylophonist to create complex melodies and harmonies.

The xylophone is an incredibly old instrument, with a complex past.  There are many mallet type percussion instruments that the xylophone could have evolved from, which makes the history very difficult to trace.  The xylophone has changed over thousands of years from its primitive roots into the much more refined instrument that we call the xylophone today.  Most historians believe that the first xylophones appeared in eastern Asia, whence they are thought to have spread to Africa.  The first evidence of the instruments is found in 9th century south-east Asia.  In around 2000 BC, a kind of wood-harmonicon with 16 suspended wood bars that could be struck to create sound is said to have existed in China.  At the same time a xylophone-like instrument called the ranat is reputed to have existed in Hindu regions of Thailand.  Proof that xylophones were widespread in south-east Asia is provided by numerous temple reliefs depicting people playing such instruments.

The xylophone was introduced to Europe sometime during the Crusades, and it became very popular in Europe due to its use in folk music.  However, these xylophones were still very simple and did not have resonators.  Xylophones vary in complexity from the pit xylophone, which features a few wooden bars placed over a pit or trench, to the leg xylophone, which has a several bars that are laid across the lap and played.  The leg xylophone evolved into what is called the log xylophone, in which the bars are loosely laid on two parallel logs.  Sometimes an earth pit was dug under the instrument to function as the resonating chamber, allowing the sound to echo and project.  Later, the bars of the xylophone were made fast, either to a stand like a table (table xylophone), or to a frame which hung at the player’s waist, suspended from his neck and held away from his body by a semicircular hoop (bail xylophone).  A trough xylophone is a portable design where the keys are laid over a box.  The addition of resonators at the bottom of the bars to boost the longevity of the generated notes was a great improvement.

The beauty of a xylophone is that not only is it an instrument that can be heard, but the vibrations that it makes can be felt.  The xylophones of today tend to have their keys across two rows, similar to that of the piano and they are mounted on a stand which has grooves cut underneath it, which helps reverberate the musical tones around the room.  The two-row xylophone was first introduced in the late 19th century by Albert Roth, and they were mass produced in the early 20th century by American John Calhoun Deagan.  The bars of the xylophone also come in different lengths, which results in the production of different sounds, with longer bars generating lower notes and shorter bars eliciting higher notes.  The mallets are made out of different materials, and each one makes a sound with different characteristics.  Most mallet players start out by holding two mallets, but as they gain experience and confidence a lot of them graduate to holding two mallets in each hand.

There are not many xylophones in rock music, but Oingo Boingo uses Rumbaphones, which are custom-made balafons (gourd-resonated xylophones) created by Leon Schneiderman and Danny Elfman for use in their band.  The instruments were usually played during live performances by Elfman and either Kerry Hatch or John Avila depending on the era.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

W is for Woodwind

Woodwind instruments are Aerophones, because the initial sound is produced by a vibrating mass of air.  Brass, and free-reed instruments are also classified as Aerophones.  Despite the name, a woodwind instrument may be made of any material, not just wood and brass instruments were made out of wood, so this gets confusing.  At one time all woodwind instruments were made of wood, but today, they are made of wood, metal, plastic or some combination.  Brass instruments were originally made of wood, tusks, animal horns or shells, but today they are all made of brass.  Brass instruments are essentially very long pipes that widen at their ends into a bell-like shape.  The pipes have been curved and twisted into different shapes to make them easier to hold and play.  In a brass instrument the player vibrates their lips by buzzing them against a cup, or funnel-shaped mouthpiece, which causes the initial vibration of an air column.  The brass family of instruments includes the trumpet, French horn, trombone, and the tuba.  A free reed aerophone instrument produces sound as air flows past a vibrating reed (sometimes called a flexible metal tongue) in a frame.  Air pressure is typically generated by breath or with a bellows.  Examples of free-reed instruments include harmonicas, accordions, and concertinas, among others.

A woodwind instrument requires a reed to produce sound as the musician blows on a reed (in some instruments there are two), which then causes the air in a chamber to vibrate.  The air then escapes through holes to create a certain note.  They are all basically narrow cylinders or pipes, with holes, an opening at the bottom end and a mouthpiece at the top.  You play them by blowing air through the mouthpiece (that puts the wind in woodwind) and opening or closing the holes with your fingers to change the pitch.  Metal caps called keys cover the holes of most woodwind instruments.  The back of the reed is flat and is placed against the mouthpiece and this thin strip of material that vibrates to produce a sound.  There are many other instruments in the woodwind family, but the main ones are flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones, bassoons, and bagpipes.

A major type of woodwind instruments are flutes, which vibrate air in a given space, and those that use a reed, or small piece of wood, to vibrate the air to create the note.  The flute is one of the oldest musical instruments made by man, being basically a length of hollow material that provides a way of moving air inside.  This is usually accomplished by blowing air into it, or by blowing air across a mouthpiece to create movement of the air inside.  Flutes are open to the outside air at both ends and they come in seven different varieties consisting of the Piccolo, Alto Flute, Bass Flute, Wooden flute, Eb Soprano Flute, c Flute, and Plastic Flute.  The most common form used today are side-blown flutes, also called a transverse flute which is held horizontally or sideways when played.  The player blows across the embouchure hole, in a direction perpendicular to the flute’s body length.  You have to hold the instrument with both fingers while blowing across the hole to play a flute.  The pitch is altered by using your fingers to open and close the keys.  Originally, the flute was made with only six holes, but now some of them have up to 17 holes.  Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull introduced the flute to rock music.

Another type of flute is the end-blown flute or top blown flute, where the player blows into the end of a tube or pipe.  The rim-blown flutes, and duct flutes are both end-blown flutes.  The rim-blown flute is also known as the notched flute.  When playing the rim-blown flute, the player blows across the top of a tube, which has a notch or a sharp edge, this causes the air to split.  The pan flute differs from other kinds of flutes in that it has multiple pipes.  The pan flute is blown from the top, and each pipe creates a different note.  The recorder belongs in this group, and it is known as an internal duct flute, or directly blown flute.  These flutes use a whistle mouthpiece, so they belong in the category of fipple flutes.  Besides recorders the other fipple flutes are whistles, tin whistles, the flutophone, and an ocarina.  The recorder is an example of an open-ended flute.  A recorder can be distinguished from other duct flutes by the presence of a thumb-hole for the upper hand and seven finger-holes: three for the upper hand and four for the lower.

Oboes are considered to be one of the hardest instruments to play.  It first takes some time until the player can even produce a sound, and even then, a beginner has little ability to control it.  The oboe is a complex woodwind instrument that can produce a beautiful, sweet, haunting sound, and it is not all that different from the flute, except for its double-reeded nature.  It’s known to produce extremely clear and sharp sounds in the soprano range.  The main controllers are the lips, the mouth, the tongue, and your breathing, requiring skillful lipping or embouchure.  To play it, you need to keep on switching the fingering to vary the notes and avoid monotony.  Manipulating the fingering is the most complex part of playing the oboe, as well as being able to control your breathing at the same time.  The oboe has a larger relative known as the cor anglais, which is sometimes called the English horn, but it is not English and it is not a horn.

The clarinet is a relative newcomer to the woodwind family of instruments, which is thought to have been invented at the start of the eighteenth century.  Clarinets are the only reed instruments with cylindrical bores, which means that the empty space inside the instrument remains the same diameter through the whole length of the tube.  The clarinet was developed to maintain a rich and powerful sound throughout all three registers.  The clarinet also has more tone holes and keys so the clarinet can play a wide range of notes.  The clarinet produces sound by means of a single reed attached to the mouthpiece.  A number of physical finger keys are attached to the cylindrical section (known as the body) and are used to vary the pitch.  Most clarinets are made out of plastic and wood.

The saxophone is the only instrument in wide use today that was invented by a single individual, the musical instrument designer Adolphe Sax, hence the name saxophone.  The saxophone was always made of brass, but since it generates sound with a single reed, it is grouped in the woodwind family of instruments, and this is the only metallic woodwind instrument besides the flute.  The saxophone has a wide range of emotional expression and it can produce a sound that is surprisingly similar to the human voice.  Just about everyone loves the sax.

The bassoon is the largest woodwind instrument, and due to its folded structure, it Has the ability to expand to roughly 102 inches when it is fully extended.  It is a double reed instrument just like the oboe.  The reed is attached to a curved metal mouthpiece called a crook or bocal which is joined to the main part of the instrument.  The standard bassoon has 20-keys and it requires the use of every finger, including thumbs, to be played properly as it has nine keys dedicated for the left thumb and five for the right.  There are French bassoons (Buffets) and German bassoons (Heckels).  The modern instrument is typically made of maple.  Bassoons can be extremely expressive and most bassoonists craft their own reeds.  The bassoonist will often use a neck strap to help support the weight of their instrument while playing, because the bassoon can weigh up to 7.5 pounds.

Bagpipes are a weird instrument which people usually enjoy, or they find the sound to be abrasive, but they are woodwind instruments, because they utilize reeds.  The bagpipe dates back to around 1000 BC and they are believed to be invented by the Egyptians and they were used by the Hittites.  It was then passed onto the Greeks who then gave it to the Romans and it eventually made its way to Scotland, where it became their national instrument.  It’s believed that the music from a bagpipe can be heard as far as 10 miles out.  Once you start playing a bagpipe, there’s a constant stream of air flowing that isn’t controlled with fingers, so you get continuous notes, and you can’t have a break between one note and the next.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

V is for Video

A music video is the marriage of music and images in a short form.  Video killed the radio star, because humans are visual creatures, with half of our brain being directly or indirectly devoted to processing visual information.  Since our brains can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds and we have a remarkable ability to remember pictures, we have learned to rely on our vision to make sense out of the world.  For most humans, seeing is believing and we are unwilling to believe without adequate evidence.  If a DJ possessed commendable broadcasting abilities, yet their physical appearance was less appreciated, they would be told that they had a face for radio.

In 1925, the animated sound-on-film series “Song-Car Tunes” let audiences follow a cartoon bouncing ball and sing along with the lyrics that it pointed to.  Until the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, all movies were silent, because engineers had not figured out how to synchronize the sound into the picture.  This became the first feature film that was originally presented as a talkie, even though it contained limited dialog.  Al Jolson performed six songs in the movie including ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo’ Bye)’, ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘My Mammy’ and others.  In the 1928 Walt Disney animated short film Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse steers a steamboat down a river.  He entertains his new passenger, Minnie, by playing music out of the menagerie on the boat.  Minnie accidentally drops a ukulele and some sheet music for the song ‘Turkey in the Straw’, which are eaten by a goat.  The two mice use the goat’s body as a phonograph, which they play by turning its tail like a crank.

In 1935, The Academy Awards started handing out Oscars for Best Score, and I think a few of these pictures deserve mention.   In 1940, Herbert Stothart got this Oscar for The Wizard of Oz, where Judy Garland sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ and this song was named #1 on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.  The American Film Institute also ranked “Over the Rainbow” the greatest movie song of all time on the list of “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs.”  During World War II, the Andrews Sisters sang ‘Shoo-Shoo Baby’ in the 1943 film Three Cheers for Boys.  The 1953 film Casablanca is about politics and war, but it contains a lovely tune ‘As Time Goes By’ which becomes the love story of Ilsa and Rick and this song was voted #2 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs special, commemorating the best songs in film.

Some people credit Tony Bennett with inventing the music video in 1953 with his song ‘Stranger in Paradise’.  Tony was shot walking in Hyde Park along the Serpentine while this song was played.  The clip was distributed to all the local TV stations in the UK and America, where it was aired on shows like Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.  According to some music historians, singer and songwriter Jiles Perry Richardson, who went by The Big Bopper, became the first person to use the phrase “music video” in a 1959 interview.  In 1958, he recorded three music videos ‘Chantilly Lace’, ‘Big Bopper’s Wedding’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.

Some great music came out of Hollywood in the 50’, with the Gene Kelly song ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ from the 1952 movie with the same name.  In 1953, Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  The 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle featured Bill Haley & His Comets performing ‘Rock Around the Clock’.  In 1957, Elvis Presley sang ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in movie with the same name.   In 1958, Maurice Chevalier sang ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’ in the film Gigi.  In 1958, Mitzi Gaynor & Giorgio Tozzi sang ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ in the romantic musical film South Pacific.

Music movies became a big thing in the 1950s, and 1956 was a banner year for this having four music movies coming out.  In the 1956 film Don’t Knock The Rock which featured Little Richard performing ‘Long, Tall Sally’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’, as well as other songs by The Platters, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Bowen, Nappy Brown, Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers, The Cadillacs, Bill Haley and Alan Dale.  In this film a disc jockey tries to prove to teenagers’ parents that rock ‘n’ roll is harmless.  In 1956, Shake, Rattle, And Rock with Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino was released and this is about a disc jockey who dreams of opening a club where teenagers can rock out.  Also in 1956, The Girl Can’t Help It with Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Julie London, Fats Domino and Johnny Olenn featured some good music.  In this picture a gangster hires a down-and-out press agent to make his airheaded girlfriend a singing star.  In 1956, Rock, Rock, Rock! featured LaVern Baker, Chuck Berry, The Johnny Burnette Trio and Connie Francis.  In this movie a teenage girl attempts to convince her parents to buy her a strapless gown for prom.  The 1957 movie Jamboree which featured Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Slim Whitman, Frankie Avalon, Fats Domino, Count Basie and Joe Williams, two young people attempt to find love and success by making it in the music industry.  I think the 1959 film Go, Johnny, Go!, which features Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, The Flamingos, Jackie Wilson and Eddie Cochran is the best of these music movies.  This film stars DJ Alan Freed playing a talent scout who is searching for a future rock and roll star.

In the 60s, The Beatles harnessed the power of film to market their records and express themselves as artists.  They made two full-length features Help and A Hard Day’s Night, and they recorded dozens of promotional clips that were broadcast in England and overseas.  They created a clip for ‘We Can Work It Out’ which was played on Top of the Pops, and it could be substituted for in-person TV appearances and they also created short videos for ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Rain’.  The Beatles worked with Swedish director Peter Goldmann on films that saw the band climbing trees and riding horses in matching red coats for their 1967 double-A side ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ / ‘Penny Lane’.  The Monkees had a big impact on music videos with their TV show which was aired from 1966–1968.  This show followed the adventures of a zany, Beatles-like band who were created entirely for TV, and they became so popular that their albums outsold the Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ albums combined.  The Partridge Family was another musical TV show that aired from 1970–1974.  This family band was inspired by the Cowsills and many of their songs still remain popular.

The Bee Gees made a music video of their song ‘Lonely Days’ in 1970.  The Rolling Stones were also were visual pioneers recording ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)’ in 1974.   In 1975, Queen debuted ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which is considered to be an early example of what music videos would become.  It is credited as one of the first singles whose accompanying video was essential to its marketing.  In 1979, Devo made an independent short film, In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution, where they featured ‘Secret Agent Man’.  The music video for Blondies 1979 song ‘Heart of Glass’ made its premiere on the morning television show Good Morning America,

In 1976, long after The Monkees had expired Michael Nesmith released a single called ‘Rio’ and to promote it, he put together a stylish video clip.  It wasn’t the first music video, but it grabbed lots of attention for its surrealistic imagery and engaging wit.  Nesmith called his short films “popclips” and soon people discovered that they were more interested in the video than the single he made.  This short video won the first-ever Grammy given for a music video.  PopClips became a music video television program that aired weekly on Nickelodeon from 1980-1981, because Nesmith’s song caught the attention of John Lack, an executive at Warner Communications.  The first VeeJay, a term that did not exist yet, was Charles Fleischer, a comedian best known as the voice of Roger Rabbit.  This eventually led to MTV being formed in 1981, a channel showing nothing but music videos 24/7.

MTV is no longer interested in playing music videos these days, but it helped define eras and careers and became a phenomenon in pop culture & commercials.  In the early 90s, MTV slowly started playing shows with different content as they introduced The Real World and Bevis and Butthead and over time, they gradually phased out their music programing, as they found success in these other types of shows.  VH1 kicked off in 1985, because of the success that MTV had for showing music videos.  They focused on the lighter, softer side of popular music and they had Pop up Video and Behind the Music, where they took a look at a music artist, and made a short documentary of their history.  VH1 also got away from being only a music channel, phasing out their music programing, as they delved int different content, but they still do play music.  YouTube started out at the end of 2004 as an online video sharing and social media platform and people soon began uploading music videos there.  In 2009, 15-year-old Justin Bieber released his music video ‘Baby’ on YouTube, and it remains one of the most-disliked videos ever.  YouTube became the medium for artists to share their music, so that sort of put NTV and VH1 out of business as people were able to watch what they wanted to see, when they wanted to watch it, without having to wait for it to be in rotation.

The Michael Jackson music video ‘Scream’ was the most expensive one ever filmed costing around $7,000,000.  The children’s music video song ‘Baby Shark’ received the most views ever racking up more than 1.6 billion views.  The 1983 Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ is considered to be the most successful music video ever made and it is currently the only music video preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.  ‘Like a Prayer’ by Madonna, ‘Karma Police’ by Radiohead, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, and ‘Sledgehammer’ by Peter Gabriel were also very successful music videos.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

U is for Upbeat

Upbeat references the general mood of the song and I would classify any music that makes you feel happy as being upbeat.  A bouncy tune that puts you in a good mood and makes you feel good about life, would be upbeat.  Music comes in different styles and sometimes you might prefer to listen to songs that are emotionally depressing, mellow, morose, or somber, instead of something that is upbeat.  Upbeat has other definitions, like the way a musician would see an unaccented beat or portion of a beat in a musical measure, being at the end of the bar where a conductor punctuates this with an upward flick of his baton, as opposed to downbeat which is the start of the bar.

To me, upbeat is the overall feel of the music that comes from beautiful, catchy, energetic, euphoric, exciting, exhilarating, glorious, groovy, inspirational, lively, magical, melodious, perky, rejuvenating, rhythmic, stimulating, thrilling tunes.  Upbeat music usually has a fast tempo, or beat, or tone, that makes you want to dance with the song. it has energy and it makes you want to smile.  Upbeat music would encourage you to sing along with it, and this music has a certain attitude that elicits a happy emotional response from the listener.

Music therapy is used for treating cancer patients, as it may help reduce anxiety and improve their mood, which should alleviate their depression.  The various musical elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and tempo stimulate a cognitive and emotional response that comprises the affective component of pain, which helps to positively affect mood and results in improved healing.  A UK study has found that songs by Queen, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley are among the most effective for music therapy patients.  Queen’s classic ‘We Will Rock You’ came out on top, with Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ making the top five.

Sad songs can bring tears to our eyes, while melancholy music can deepen and amplify feelings of sorrow and lossJoyful music will move us in fascinating ways, as it has the power to make us happy, letting us feel better about ourselves.  When you are in a happier mood that could benefit your physical health, it can be linked to making a higher income, and it may have an association for greater relationship satisfaction.

The classification of music can be a difficult task since the emotional reaction between listeners can be fairly different for a given song.  Faster tempos are associated with high-energy songs and the higher energy moods such as happy, exuberant, and energetic all have generally higher amounts of intensity, timbre, pitch, and rhythm than songs with lower energy moods.  Some audio analysts measure the emotional impact of music by using a psychological concept called valence, a basic building block of emotional life that derives from the human mind’s capacity to engage in the process of valuation (or judging whether something is helpful or harmful).  Songs no matter what genres, tend to get grouped into clusters.  Musical attributes revealed three categories, which are labeled Arousal, Valence, and Depth.  Arousal describes intensity and energy in music, where valence describes the spectrum of emotions in music (from sad to happy), and depth describes intellect and sophistication in music.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

T is for Trending

Trending is related to social media and it is used to judge the rise in popularity, so viewers are able to see what’s happening, and that helps them to decide what music they want to listen to.  Trending is the name given to a topic or event that is being frequently talked about on social media.  When an audio starts gaining popularity, people will eventually begin talking about it, and it becomes a hot topic, by receiving a lot of publicity at the present moment, or at least enough to capture people’s attention and improve engagement.  The key for trending is tracking the momentum that the audio has gained, when people suddenly start buying, downloading and listening to the specific audio, it has more of a chance of going viral.  When a song has content that feels novel, it may trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, touching the right emotions (excitement, surprise, nostalgia, arousing), which could make you feel like you are fitting in with the rest of the world.

Buzzfeed is a good example of a news and entertainment website that covers a large number of topics, including politics, business, food, music, sports and the latest technology.  Buzzfeed uses quizzes to collect data on what is popular, and the same thing is done by TikTok, Reels and Instagram.  YouTube also has a Trending section, which can potentially direct thousands of views to a video.  Their intent is to showcase videos that they feel a wide range of viewers would find interesting.  Trending is possible because computers are able to collect massive amounts of data, and data scientists create automated scripts that scrape that data.  As technology keeps improving, computers will continue invading our lives with trending topics that serve as a platform for conversation.  Celebrities often encourage their fans and followers to use a particular hashtag to promote their new product, music album etc.

Hashtags are a huge component of the “trending” system, being essentially keywords that enable Twitter users to search quickly for the relevant topic using one simple phrase.  Once the hashtag has been searched for, a list is compiled of every tweet, post and share that contains the hashtag.  Hashtags have also made their way over to Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.  Hashtags create engagement, especially if your post receives a ton of likes and comments, it’s more likely to be featured in the top posts of a trending hashtag.

Trends are determined by an algorithm, and they can be tailored for you based on who you follow, your interests, and your location.  The algorithm identifies topics that are popular now, rather than topics that have been popular for a while, or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter.  Social sharing buttons have popped up everywhere on the internet to encourage people to share their posts, and by making it easier, this increases the number of shares.  Most people share because they want to belong, gain acceptance, attention, or support and this is an emotional need that most humans have.  Following trending topics gives people their own place where they can feel a personal connection to on social media.

Music charts that offer an in-the-moment view of the biggest songs, albums, and artists as they pop up is a great way to see what is trending, as they provide an unfettered glimpse into what’s really happening.  Looking at the Billboard Hot 100 could give you a good idea of what is trending in music.  Rolling Stone magazine has survived, but it is no longer a place where anyone would go to discover new music.  Rolling Stone offers five charts, the Rolling Stone Top 100 Songs, the Rolling Stone Top 200 Albums, the Rolling Stone Artists 500, the Rolling Stone Trending 25, and the Rolling Stone Breakthrough 25.

I am not interested in trending at all, because I feel that most of the music being made these days bites the big one, but my musical taste is stuck in the last century.  I often wonder how music went from the Beatles to Justin Bieber, from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears, from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga and The Kinks to Katy Perry.  Trends in music will always evolve, but it seems to get worse every year, because musicians keep on using the exact same combination of keyboard, drum machine, sampler and computer software, which sucks the creativity out of their music.  To me, it all sounds the same and there is no originality contained in any of the newer music.  The “millennial whoop” has taking over pop music and even though these songs are being played in different keys, using different arrangements, and different styles, they all contain the same progression.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

S is for Streaming

Streaming music, or more accurately, streaming audio, is a method of feeding audio content to your device directly (originally computers before mobile devices entered the picture), without requiring you to download files from the internet.  Content is recorded and broadcast in real-time to destinations like an embedded player on a website, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, or Vimeo.  When streaming music, you listen to songs in “real time” instead of downloading and storing the file to a device, so that you can listen to it later.  Purchasing a song gives you a license for your own personal use, it does not allow to play it on a live stream, because that is considered public use.  If you paid for the song, you would still need permission to play it on your live stream.

In January of 1993, Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA) was launched as the first free online music archive of MP3 downloadable songs.  It allowed unsigned musicians to share music, communicate with their audience, and distribute their music to fans while avoiding record labels.  Since unsigned artists were looking more for exposure rather than sales, this free online archive was a great method of marketing their music.  When only 15 million people were on the internet, IUMA became the online repository for upstart bands, where they could upload and advertise their tunes, build their own pages, sell merchandise and, eventually, let people play tracks right from the site.  Bands could choose whether to charge or give away their music, in order to build a following for live shows.  IUMA inevitably encountered technical roadblocks like slow internet connections, which made the process frustrating to its users, and record industry labels who that the free flow of music could undercut their business, started flexing their legal muscles and lobbying lawmakers for more favorable royalty conditions.  IUMA was eventually bought out, but they are a slice of musical history, that pioneering the online music business and launched the careers of artists who moved on to bigger and better things.

An MP3 file is an audio file that uses a compression algorithm to reduce the overall file size.  The MP3 format came into existence in 1993 and it was a breakthrough in audio technology achieved by Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).  MP3 enabled compressing sound sequence into small file sizes for digital storage and transmission.  In 1998, eMusic was established as a digital music service for independent-minded music lovers, and it was one of the first sites to sell DRM-free MP3s.  eMusic Members signed up for a monthly subscription that allowed them to discover, download and own more music for less.  At its most basic level, digital rights management DRM puts restrictions on how you can use a digital file that you own.

In 1999, when the Y2K bug had everyone thinking that their computers would no longer work, the music industry changed forever, as Napster showed the world how easy it was to pirate music.  They were a peer-to-peer music sharing website that started gaining traction amongst American college students, who used the online service to share MP3 files of songs amongst one another for free.  Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is the distribution of digital media such as software, videos, music, and images through an informal network in order to upload and download files.  One of the most notable features of Napster was that it provided a platform for music lovers to not only download albums for free, but also gain access to rare live versions, alternate cuts, and demo versions of their favorite artists.  Napster was eventually forced to shut down in 2001, because of ethical issues regarding the copyright and ownership of the music they gave away.

On 23rd October 2001, the iPod was born.  iPod was a Mac-only product when it was launched, which meant it was compatible with either Mac OS 9 or Mac OSX 10.1.  Due to its small size and ease of usage, it stood out from competition which resulted in higher sales.  At the time of its launch, music could be added to an iPod from CDs and other online sources.  The initial success of the iPod and a line of Apple’s successive products fueled the explosive growth of this humongous company.  The iPod became the music system most people wanted at home, in the car or on the go.

At the end of 2001, Rhapsody became the first streaming on-demand music subscription service to offer unlimited access to a large library of digital music for a flat monthly fee, a concept advocated by business theories such as the Open Music Model.  Rhapsody Stream was originally intended to create music for YouTube videos and streams.  After seeing the constant abuse of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) system on all major platforms by large record-labels, the choice was made to provide the full library, for free, to everyone.  Rhapsody is now Napster.

Last.fm launched in January of 2002 as a platform that uses a music recommendation algorithm called “Audioscrobbler” to build a detailed profile of each user’s musical taste after recording details of the tracks that they listened to.  The site offers numerous social features and can recommend artists similar to the user’s favorites.  Their technology that analyzed music taste, preceded many of the future music recommending algorithms on current streaming services.  In April 2003, Apple unveiled the iTunes Store when they realized that music could be easily transferred from online sources and CDs to iPods.  Their aim was to provide listeners with a legitimate source of accessing music by purchasing individual songs for as low as 99 cents per song without any subscription fees.  This became hugely popular since it not only enabled burning songs onto unlimited number of CDs for personal use, but also allowed listening to songs on an unlimited number of iPods. Users could also play songs on various Mac computers and use songs in any application on the Mac.

In September of 2005, Pandora Radio was launched aiming for a separate, individualized radio station for each user to be able to access just “good” music without the “junk” that other users prefer.  It was a first of its sorts in offering personalized music streaming experience.  After its initial vision of producing customized radio stations, it repositioned itself as an online streaming website to offer free content/music to users albeit with advertisements, allowing listeners to tune into preset genre stations or other users’ preferred stations or they could create their own.  Pandora was airing ads between songs, and eventually offered a paid, ad-free option for listeners.

In 2005, Sony BMG started sneaking rootkits into music CDs in the name of digital rights management.  They secretly installed Extended Copy Protection (XCP) and MediaMax CD-3 software on millions of music discs to keep buyers from burning copies of the CDs via their computers.  The software was undetectable by anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, but it ended up opening the door for other malware to infiltrate Windows PCs unseen as well.

In 2007, SoundCloud was launched as a service for images and YouTube for videos.  This is a platform for sound sharing among artists that started as a project to let different artists around the world collaborate.  It gained credibility based on the fact that it is a sound sharing portal for users all across the globe.  Bandcamp formed in 2007, and they launched their online music store in 2008, as a platform for promoting independent artists.  Its core feature is a customizable microsite where artists can upload music, and either share them for free or offer an option to purchase the track or album at their preferred price.  Bandcamp had some interesting features that are great for listeners, allowing them to find new music and artists outside of the mainstream, and offer them critical support.  It is free, but it does have a Pro membership for artists that includes new features, including more pricing options and advanced analytics.  Bandcamp has apps on iPhone, Android, and Sonos devices, all of which are free to download and use.  Sonos is the ultimate wireless home sound system, being a whole-house WiFi network that fills your home with brilliant sound, room by room.  WiFi was invented and first released for consumers in 1997 and this facility allows computers, smartphones, or other devices to connect to the internet or communicate with one another wirelessly within a particular area.

The 2007 release of the iPhone was even more of a game-changer, with these formerly desktop-only apps offering a mobile option.  The iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, but it was the ultimate always-connected MP3 player.  That made it rival iTunes even more and consumers weren’t beholden to Apple for music download or streaming options.  By 2008, Apple would be the largest music seller in the US, but streaming was still wide open.  Apple has two music subscription services available that work with the iCloud Music Library, and they are iTunes Match and Apple Music.  iCloud Music Library is used for storing your personal music, iTunes Match allows users to have a cloud backup solution for their music, and Apple Music is a streaming music service that provides access to all the music in the iTunes Store for a flat monthly price.  Apple Music was launched in June 2015 with the intention of becoming a “cultural platform” and a “one-stop shop for pop culture”.

In 2008, Amazon Music became a music streaming platform and online music store operated by Amazon.  It became the first music store to sell music without digital rights management from the four major music labels, as well as many independents.  Amazon Music is included with a Prime membership at no extra charge.  For Prime members it features 2 million songs, including thousands of stations and top playlists, plus millions of podcast episodes.  Amazon Music is available on all Amazon Echo devices, along with FireTV, Fire Tablets and many other Alexa-enabled devices, and you also can listen on your mobile device or computer.

In October of 2008, Spotify was launched as a freemium service that offers music streaming with DRM protected content from record labels and media companies, and it allows you to listen to music and play millions of songs and podcasts for free.  Freemium offers basic or limited features to users at no cost and then charges a premium for supplemental or advanced features.  The basic features do have advertisements, and premium features would include improved streaming quality and offline music downloads.  Spotify lets users create, edit, and share playlists on social media and make playlists with other users.  It provides access to more than 30 million songs and is available in various parts of the world.  It is one of the largest music streaming service providers with over 406 million monthly active users, including 180 million paying subscribers, as of December 2021.

YouTube started out in 2005 as an American online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google.  In 2015, YouTube Music was launched as a music streaming service that provides a tailored interface for the service, oriented towards music streaming, allowing users to browse through songs and music videos on YouTube based on genres, playlists, and recommendations.

With over 50 million songs under their grip, Apple Music and Spotify have the power to expose listeners to music they otherwise wouldn’t have discovered with their algorithms.  Most streaming music services have some base-level commonality, such as letting you create customizable channels, but a handful stand out from the very crowded pack due to their unique feature sets.  For example, Amazon Music Unlimited, Primephonic, Qobuz, and Tidal pride themselves on sound quality, delivering premium Hi-Res Audio tunes that feature uncompressed audio that surpasses your typical music stream.  Free accounts typically limit your ability to skip songs to just six per hour, and they feed you ads in either audio or video form.  The free tiers are for more casual listeners or people who don’t find it worth spending a dime on music.

In the wake of the Corona-19 pandemic, physical sales in the music industry dropped, which is not surprising because a lot of the retail stores were closed.  The way people are listening to music is changing as more consumers are using home applications on TVs and smart devices.  Oddly, the pandemic significantly reduced the consumption of audio music streaming in many countries, as it was anticipated that demand for digital streaming services would surge with many people forced to stay at home to social distancing.  Less commuting time caused a decline in music consumption and people were spending less money, because many had lost their jobs.  YouTube’s music streaming platform did very well during the pandemic.  Easing of many COVID-19 restrictions in late April and early May of 2020 gave a partial rebound to streaming volume.  As waves of cancellations and postponements, including major summer festivals and concert tours continue to be announced musicians responded rapidly to governments’ social distancing restrictions during the pandemic by providing streamed concerts that are called Corona Concerts.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

R is for Rock

Before 1954, when disc jockey Alan Freed coined Rock and Roll to be a form of music, rock meant to move back and forth and it was often linked with musical rhythm, but roll has been associated with having sex since the Middle Ages, when people would go for a roll in the hay, or be rolling under the sheets.  Among African Americans, rock and roll meant to have sexual intercourse, and it was often used as a euphemism with a hidden meaning that appeared in song titles and dance music that had a strong beat since the early 1930’s.  This was found in blues, jazz, and gospel songs and on what was then called race records, but would eventually be termed rhythm & blues.  When the two terms, “rock” and “roll”, merged together, they formed a double entendre, referring to suggestive or scandalous dancing.  In the early 1950s Freed discovered that increasing numbers of young white kids were listening to and requesting the rhythm & blues records that he played on his nighttime program in Cleveland, and that is when he began to call these records rock ’n’ roll.  Freed promoted concert tours featuring black artists, playing to a young, racially mixed audience, and he promoted them as rock ’n’ roll revues.

The rise of rock ’n’ roll in the mid-1950s cannot be traced back to one particular song or event, as it was a gradual transformation of the landscape of American popular music.  Before the 1950s teenagers listened to the same music of that their parents did, but when rock and roll came on the scene teens swarmed to it.  The parents of this decade were listening to Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Big Bands, their children started moving to a new beat, twisting, thrusting, bumping, and grinding to the sounds of rock and roll.  Most parents despised this new music, thinking that it was corrupting their children.  The new audience was dominated by the so-called baby boom generation born immediately following World War II and they were able to use their money to buy records and phonographs, which brought enormous changes to American popular music.  Sam Phillips saw things changing after he founded Sun Records and Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, and he went on to produce recordings by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Howlin’ Wolf.  ­ ­

The purchase of rock ’n’ roll records by kids in the 1950s proved a way of asserting their generational identity through rebellion against adult standards and restrictions.  This music made sense to them, because it was about their world, with high school sweethearts, wild parties, and fast cars, which they could all relate to the experience of growing up during this age.  Now they were a part of their own distinct culture that included school and fashion and dancing and teenage love.  Elvis Presley did a lot for rock ’n’ roll, becoming one of its earliest stars, because of his appeal to teenagers.  Elvis was known for his gyrating hips, being called Elvis the Pelvis at a time when dancing was far more conservative, and some people thought this display was vulgar, and CBS decided to censor his animalistic on TV, filming him only from the waist up.  Elvis may never have been dubbed the King of Rock and Roll if it wasn’t for the raw energy and exciting guitar work that Scotty Moore did on his songs.

Once adult overreaction to Elvis changed, he was thought to be a likeable guy that rose to fame from humble beginnings.  Elvis was kind, generous, honest, humble, respectful, deeply religious and for these reasons, along with his clean-cut image and good looks he was adored his fans.  Presley’s records racked up astronomical sales from 1956 on into the early 1960s, establishing him as the biggest-selling solo artist of rock ’n’ roll, and then as the biggest-selling solo recording artist of any period and style, and Billboard ranked Presley as the 13th Greatest Artist of all Time. ­ ­ ­

Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino were prominent African American pioneers of rock ’n’ roll.  Chuck Berry was the most complete rock ‘n roller of them all, a songwriter/performer who addressed his songs to teenage America (white and black) in the 1950s.  His style and guitar riffs set the template for every other lead rock guitarist to follow.  John Lennon said, “If rock ‘n roll had been given another name, it might have been called ‘Chuck Berry.’”  Little Richard cultivated a deliberately outrageous performance style that appealed on the basis of its strangeness, novelty, and sexual ambiguity, becoming the most flamboyant of the early rock performers.  He whipped audiences into a frenzy, and brought a level of excitement to rock music that never left.  Fats Domino was the earliest of the three to become an established performer and he created some amazing music, ultimately achieving more hits than the other two put together.  Fats felt rock & roll was simply a new marketing strategy for the style of music he had been recording in New Orleans since 1949.  The explosion of rock ‘n roll that these three artists gave birth to, helped change the culture of the world forever.

Bill Haley became known as the man who brought rock and roll to the world when he recorded ‘Rock Around the Clock’ with his Comets.  Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, the Everly Brothers, and Carl Perkins were also part of the rock and roll scene in the ‘50s.  From its earliest inception, rock & roll label covered a broad musical terrain, encompassing soulful sounds to neo-barbershop harmonies of “bird groups” like the Orioles and the Crows and the kid sound of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.  Lloyd Price who was known as “Mr. Personality” anticipated the shifts in popular music and culture, and his smash hit ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ became a pivotal moment in the development of rock and roll.  Rock and roll may not have existed if it wasn’t for Buddy Holly, as him and his band released hit after hit in the late 50s.  Ritchie Valens had a big influence on the course of popular music, as he paved the way for different ethnicities, having several hits and he didn’t even live to see the Sixties.  Eddie Cochran also had his life cut short, but in the 50’s he was a real guitar hero.

Rock and roll was embraced with open arms in the 60s, as this was a time of upheaval in society, fashion, attitudes and especially music.  So many things changed after President Kennedy was assassinated, with the Vietnam war escalating and the Civil Rights Movement starting to make progress.  The British Invasion, Motown and a new kind of social dancing, inspired by ‘The Twist’, gave rock ’n’ roll music something unique and distinctive.  The Beach Boys emerged from California, led by­ Brian Wilson and they achieved national chart hits within a year.  Their buoyant surf-rock vibe and heavenly harmonies embodied the sun-kissed dream of California with song lyrics about surfing, cars, and romance, which helped them to create something truly different and unique.

The Beatles are better known for being a rock band, but sometimes they were considered to be Pop, which is short for Popular culture and that term originated in the early 1950s.  They had a dramatic impact in popularizing the guitar-electric bass-drums format for rock bands, and they also inspired the fan phenomenon of “Beatlemania”.  The Beatles gained a mass following in the early 60s, which opened up a world of possibilities to energized teenage fans who had the disposable cash and leisure time to follow them.  Their success allowed other bands, like The Rolling Stones, to become huge in the US.  The Moody Blues, The Yardbirds, The Who, and The Kinks were all part of rock and roll in the early 60s.  Teenage Brenda Lee became known as “Little Miss Dynamite”, making her wonderful rendition of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ a classic, that was recorded with members of Nashville’s A-Team, Hank Garland and Grady Martin on guitar, Boots Randolph playing swinging saxophone, and the Anita Kerr Singers contributing backing vocals.

In Detroit, Berry Gordy Jr. created his own songwriting/producing/marketing organization called Motown.  Motown recordings featured Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, The Temptations and The Supremes, who were all backed by the Funk Brothers.  The music that came out of that label would yield hits that have a special place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and in millions of lives.  Out in Los Angeles the Wrecking Crew was established in the early 60s and they were a loose collective of session musicians whose services were employed for thousands of studio recordings, including several hundred Top 40 hits.  Producer Phil Spector created the wall of sound in 1964, which made him one of the most influential studio producers of all time.  In 1960, Rick Hall took over sole ownership of Florence Alabama Music Enterprises and he shortened the name to the acronym FAME and moved to Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  This studio was moved to Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals and they produced many hit records by overlooking the issue of race and becoming known as colorblind.  Leon Russell is said to have originated the nickname for their rhythm section being called the Swampers, but that didn’t take off till Ronnie Van Zant used it in the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in 1974.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.

Q is for Quality

Higher quality music should sound better, but sound like beauty is a subjective opinion, and like the Scottish philosopher David Hume argued, “beauty does not lie in things but is entirely subjective, a matter of feelings and emotion.  Beauty is in the mind of the person beholding the object, and what is beautiful to one observer may not be so to another.”  Quality in music is also defined as a term denoting the particular choice of third, fifth, and seventh in a chord, thus being a major, dominant, minor, tonic minor, half-diminished and diminished, but I don’t think that anyone wants to hear me try to describe a major third, and a perfect fifth, or a dominant seventh chord, so let’s move on to something that is easier to understand.  Sound quality or timbre describes those characteristics of sound which allow the ear to distinguish sounds which have the same pitch and loudness.  Timbre is then a general term for the distinguishable characteristics of a tone.

The primary things that contribute to the quality, or timbre of the sound that a musical instrument is able to produce, are harmonic content, attack and decay, and vibrato/tremolo.  Harmonic content is the raw DNA of sound, this is the fundamental building blocks from which all sound and music is constructed.  Musical notes are complex tones consisting of a fundamental frequency, and higher harmonics (or partials) that are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency.  Adding upper harmonics, can introduce a fuller, grittier, brighter character to a sound. depending on the original signal, of course.  Plucking a guitar string, or striking a cymbal with a stick will become a sudden attack to a sound wave, which is almost instantaneous and will be characterized by a rapid rise to its peak amplitude.  The decay rate will be long and gradual, depending on the frequency.  Vibrato is a musical effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of pitch that is considered to be a desirable characteristic of the human voice, as long as it is not excessive.  It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music.  The term tremolo is used to indicate periodic changes in the amplitude or loudness of the tone.  This is a modulation effect that rhythmically changes the volume of your signal producing sound that rapidly raises and lowers, which creates a sensation of motion.

Audiophiles are an exceptional breed of people who are fascinated by pure audio, motivated by sound quality and addicted to audio gadgets.  Audiophiles take their passion for music to the extremes, with their curiosity about how songs are recorded, and getting into discussions about the science behind how sounds are reproduced.  Many audiophiles prefer vinyl to digital in terms of sound, but from a technical standpoint, digital CD audio quality is clearly superior to vinyl.  CDs have a better signal-to-noise ratio (i.e. there is less interference from hissing, turntable rumble, etc.), better stereo channel separation, and have no variation in playback speed.

Many audiophiles argue that vinyl has a more thrilling sound, which compels them to listen, but sound quality is dependent on the source instruments and the amplifiers that the musicians are using.  You need a proper recording environment in the sound studio, the microphones, the tape machine, the mastering and lacquer-cutting process and vinyl pressing. the playback system, and the level of your hearing are all a big part of recording a record.  Lacquer cutting is the process of transforming an audio recording into physically cut grooves on the surface of a lacquer disc via a machine called a lathe.  Getting the right digital mastering engineer who is skilled in the practice of taking audio musical content that has been previously mixed in either the analog or digital domain as mono, stereo, or multichannel formats and preparing it for use in distribution, whether by physical media such as a CD, vinyl record, or as some method of streaming audio is a key part to putting out quality music.

Garth and Wayne felt that they were not worthy to meet Alice Cooper, and some musicians are probably not worthy to play a Stradivarius.  A Stradivarius is one of the violins, violas, cellos and other string instruments built by members of the Italian family Stradivari, particularly Antonio Stradivari, during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Some of these instruments could be worth hundreds of thousands to several million U.S. dollars at today’s prices.  They are renowned for their supposedly superior sound when compared to other instruments.  The most important things to consider in manufacturing a musical instrument is to get the right set of resonant frequencies and vibration modes, while considering the musician that has to play the instrument.

Written for the April A-Z challenge.