01 February 2009

Bo Diddley by Bo Diddley

I don’t usually write much about music on this blog, unless it has some connection to swing dancing, but music suffuses my life. I always have music playing in my apartment when reading or writing or doing anything at all that doesn’t involve watching a movie. The creation of soundtracks to go along with the novels I write is a crucial part of the writing experience for me (it helps me develop my tone for the book).

I love many types of music (and there are a few I can’t stand, but I’m not putting any negativity in this post), especially film scores and jazz. But, like many people, the first “mature” music I started listening to as a child after graduating from kids’ recordings like Free to Be You and Me (come on, fess up, you had a copy too) and “Puff the Magic Dragon” were “Oldies,” that sort of catch-all term for early rock through about the mid-‘60s. I still love “Oldies,” although now I tend to divide the broad genre up into different types of rock, such as “Roots” rock, rockabilly, surf music, early Motown, etc.

One thing hasn’t changed, however. My favorite ‘50s rock number is still “Bo Diddley” by, uhm, Bo Diddley. The late great Bo Diddley. The first time I heard this song, on a album of “Oldies but Goodies” that had no particular theme (“Dead Man’s Curve,” “Hang On Sloopy,” and “Where Did Our Love Go” also appeared on it; I think the producers grabbed whatever they had the rights to), something electric happened. The first few seconds of pounding and slamming just made my head explode. It wasn’t like any kind of “Oldies” rock I had heard before as a kid. My dad told me the song was a favorite of his because it had the most killer rhythm he had ever heard. I agreed with him. I only found out later that Bo had taken African rhythms and “hambone,” a kind of street singing where the singer slaps parts of his body while singing, to create the crazy, driving sound of the piece. Sure, the lyrics made no sense at all—you can barely make them out—but that’s true for about 80% of all rock songs anyway. The lyrics did have a cool catch to them, since I could tell right away that they came from the depressing nursery rhyme “Hush Little Baby.” And Bo made it mad wicked cool.

I still can’t get enough of this song. Every time I hear it, it’s like a massive jolt of energy. It could shake the roof off any house in the world.

Now, if that private eye can’t dig, he better not take the ring from me.