May 28, 2009

Blue Suede Shoes

Every now and then The Ad Contrarian reserves the right to abandon the horrors of advertising and write about whatever the hell he feels like. Today it's music.

I was listening to some early rock music the other day.

While I'm no musicologist, it seems pretty obvious to me that rock music was built on a three-legged stool:
Blues: Southern rural black music
R & B: Northern urban black music
Rockabilly: Southern white country music, played fast
One of the common elements in all these genres is the 12-bar blues.

It's not just the foundation of its eponymous form, it's essential to R&B and Rockabilly as well. Early R&B players like Chuck Berry and Little Richard built their songs almost exclusively on the 12-bar blues structure, as did early rockabillys like Elvis Presley (Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock) and Buddy Holly (Peggy Sue, Oh Boy)

One of the songs from this genre, Blue Suede Shoes, is a very typical 12-bar blues rockabilly tune (except for the two weird 6/4 bars at the very beginning.) It became a classic of its type. It was written and recorded by Carl Perkins, and covered quickly by Elvis Presley and then by every band in existence.

However, there's something about Blue Suede Shoes that makes it special. Listening to it last week, it occurred to me that it might have been the first song with pure rock 'n roll attitude.
You can knock me down
Step on my face

Slander my name all over the place

Do anything that you want to do

But, uh uh, honey lay offa my shoes

Most early rock music was about the usual stuff -- love, hurt, dancing, sex (the double entendre kind) and money.

But Blue Suede Shoes is totally about attitude. It's about who he is, and proclaims that being who he is is more important to him than all the crap everyone else cares about.
Well you can burn my house
Steal my car
Drink my liquor from my old fruit jar
Do anything that you want to do
But, uh-uh, honey lay offa them shoes
While couched in pseudo-comic lyrics, its tone is unambiguously defiant with the silly shoes a metaphor for individuality. It delivers the kind of clear, rebellious message that ignited rock attitude and that continues to be a key component of popular music even today. The message: Don't f**k with me.

Carl Perkins with an amazing back-up band and an equally amazing hairpiece.

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