Hi, kids! Are you back for more? Okay then, let’s settle in for another weekly mix brought you by yours truly! This time, Mix Sixers, we’re going to explore a question that’s in almost every “Intro to Philosophy” class: “What is rock ‘n’ roll?” Wait. I meant to say that it’s a question that should be asked in every “Intro to Philosophy” class. Sorry. Let’s get started, okay?
Mos Def, “Rock-n-Roll”
This week’s mix started with the rapper/actor Mos Def. I bought Black on Both Sides when it came out in 1999 and have listened to it off and on since then. The other day I was just kind of flipping through my CDs to see what struck my fancy, and “Rock-n-Roll” just sort of happened. I haven’t listened to this CD in a couple of years, but I was pleased by the diverse styles he was able to throw into the mix. Then I started thinking about what makes rock ‘n’ roll, well, rock ‘n’ roll. And because this is a mix, my mind started to think about good segues from this song to the next (more on that in a moment). With Mos Def, he was definitely trying to stake out the “blackness” that informs music by promoting what he considers more authentic forms, and dissing those who have become successful by adopting those forms for themselves. So, the Rolling Stones don’t get any love, Elvis gets called soulless, and Korn gets waved away. Rock has always been known to piss people off by laying the smack down on cherished idols, so Mos Def is just upholding that tradition.
Pretenders, “Bad Boys Get Spanked”
Transgressing norms is also rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s face it, for a long time the “norm” has been that men dominate the rock genre. Chrissie Hynde is not the first woman to play a guitar and rock it, but to me she is by far one of the most unapologetic ass kickers in the business. “Bad Boys Get Spanked” is great not only because of the furious rhythm, but also because she does one of the best rock screams since Roger Daltrey let it wail in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
David Bowie, “Don’t Bring Me Down”
Shifting identities? Well, Bowie’s got that one locked up, doesn’t he. However, while he’s known more for theatrics, this song may raise an eyebrow for its blues based form. I’m sure Mos Def would tack Bowie up there on his list of “fakers,” but I think Bowie really plays against type in this number with great success.
Love, “Seven and Seven Is”
If there’s a dictionary of proto-punk somewhere, Arthur Lee and Love have be on the first page. I mean, if you look at musical offerings in 1966, it would be difficult to find anything that is as weird (in the lyrical sense) or as kick ass (in the musical sense) during that year.
James Brown, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”
What did you think the term “rock ‘n’ roll” meant, anyway? Washing clothes?
Ike and Tina Turner, “Proud Mary”
One of the things that makes this song so very rock ‘n’ roll is not only Tina’s “pull-out-all-the-stops” vocals, but the way in which the original form of the song is acknowledged and then kicked into high gear — taking it in a direction that one had never heard before. The effect is sublime because the song ceases to be a cover and really becomes their own.