Monday, March 7, 2011

Folk Rock

Folk Rock Week: Part 1

Being a hybrid of folk music and rock music, folk rock is yet another genre of music that developed in the mid-1960s. An ancestor of this genre came from the American folk music revival, which, interestingly, was influential on the music of The Beatles and other British Invasion bands (their beat music). Also, pre-British Invasion American rock 'n' roll from the late 1950's, like some tunes by Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, affected the development of folk rock as well. Folk rock is known for its clear vocal harmonies and a generally "clean" (distortion-free) guitar sound, especially influenced by the jangly ringing of Beatle George Harrison's 12 string Rickenbacker guitar.

One of the first big hits of a folk rock song was the revolutionary single from 1964, "The House of the Rising Sun," by the British blues/rock band The Animals. Originally an 18th century American folk song, "The House of the Rising Sun" was actually recorded by folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (pictured above) in 1961, however, when he later heard The Animals' version on the radio, he jumped out of his seat since he liked it so much and gracefully withdrew his recording from the singles charts! With the combination of the famous electric guitar arpeggio intro by Hilton Valentine, Eric Burdon's soulful lead vocals, and Alan Price's pulsating organ part, the song was a trans-Atlantic chart-topper and is included on the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Recorded in only one take in May of '64, here's the song that helped shape rock 'n' roll history.

Another group that contributed to the developing folk rock sound was The Beatles with "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" from their 1965 Help! album. Interestingly, The Beatles were fascinated by Bob Dylan, and this song was John Lennon's attempt at sounding like Dylan with a slightly more raspy voice and writing the song in folkish form with mainly acoustic instruments and light percussion. (Side note: while The Beatles were on their first tour in America in '64, they met Bob Dylan who actually introduced them to, you know, cannabis, which eventually had an impact on their future songwriting, ahem.) With the incorporation of the tenor and alto flutes, this was the first Beatles' song to feature an outside musician. This clip comes from The Beatles' hilarious (well, I think so), second film, also titled Help!, and was inspired by the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup, as well as a parody of James Bond films.

The first folk rock smash hit that ignited the explosion of the genre in the 1960's was "Mr. Tambourine Man," the debut single in April 1965 by The Byrds. Although it was written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan (who actually endorsed The Byrd's cover), the term "folk rock" was first coined by U.S. music press to describe The Byrd's sound. The band was the first to combine the elements of the rock beat, the 12-string guitar jangle (inspired by The Beatles), and poetic/socially observant lyrics, which became the successful template for folk rock music throughout the 60's and still continues to influence bands (ya know, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks and R.E.M.). With Jim McGuinn singing lead vocals, and backed by Gene Clark and David Crosby (yeah, that guy that later formed Crosby, Stills & Nash), McGuinn attempted to modify his singing style to fill in the gap between John Lennon's and Bob Dylan's sound. Another song featured on that 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, here's a great performance with another audience of too many crazy girls.

And so who's this Bob Dylan guy I keep talking about? Initially a folk-singer, the American singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, was extremely influential in the development of folk rock, as well as the direction of rock 'n' roll in the 1960's. Considered the #1 greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" from July 1965 was his transition from folk to folk rock with the use of electric instruments. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where Dylan "went electric" premiering this song, the crowd even booed him because of his "betrayal" of folk music, however, it was a important turning point in Dylan's career, as well as rock history. Significant in the protest-song/anti-establishment movement, Dylan was a true poet in this "put-down toward a down-and-out society girl" song, with the unique, cynical sound in his voice. Why, oh, why it is so hard to find a live performance of this song on YouTube, I do not know. So, "how does it feel?"
 Check back soon for MANY more folk rock songs to come!

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