View Full Version : "Traditional" songs
I'm listening to Boiled in Lead's From the Ladle to the Grave, which contains a recording of the classic "The Spanish Lady" with a coda adapted from a polka called "The Britches Full of Stitches". It's an awesome track, absolutely wonderful, and enough to bring me to mind of an old Bradbury short.
The album actually features a number of adapted traditional pieces; "Sher" is a track originally recorded in 1916; "Cuz Mapfumo" is a combination of three pieces, one from Thomas Mapfumo ("Shumba") and two from Cuz Teahan ("All My Grandchildren" and "The Teahan Clan"); an Egyptian piece called "Ma Alee" is worked skillfully into a cover of The Hollies "Stop! Stop! Stop!"; a Turkish tune called "Bahcevancio" makes the cut; "The Pinch of Snuff" opens the album; a song called "My Son John" closes the album, taken from an earlier version by Hart and Priors, and combined with a traditional tune called "Mrs. McGrath". In fact, as I look at it, only two of the fourteen songs are identifiable originals, and especially during this phase of their songwriting, that's beside the point. ("The Microorganism" is pseudo-Irish, while "Pig Dog Daddy" is ... well, we'll leave the sheep out of it.)
But not only did they pick a plethora of traditional tunes, they played them well.
Raise a glass; so-called "Traditional" arrangements are, quite often, among the best drinkin' music.
So ... anyone listen to "traditional" arrangements among their library? Do so; it puts rock and roll in a new light, that's for sure.
Unfortunately, a sample of the superior recording of "The Spanish Lady" is unavailable, but some of the album can be sampled through Omnium Records (http://www.noside.com/Catalog/CatalogAlbum_01.asp?Album_ID=4).
09-16-04, 05:14 PM
"Traditional" songs -- what we anglophones like to call "folk music" -- are just the popular songs of some earlier generation. Some of them are compositions by long-dead songwriters, others are accretions over the years onto a short lullaby or work gang song that somebody made up, or a prayer other spoken-word poem that a pianist or lutenist set to music.
For one reason or another -- usually having to do with universality instead of topicality -- a few songs from each era appeal to people of the next era and they keep them alive.
Since the advent of music reproduction technology, the number of songs composed in any one year has skyrocketed over what it was in earlier centuries. It will be interesting to see if the same percentage of the songs of our lifetimes are carried forth by our descendants, or if there's only so much good music in a generation and the rest is all forgettable.
Many of the Beatles' tunes are already showing up on "music for children" albums. That's a good sign. Songs that we learn as children are the ones we'll teach to our children.
As for the arrangements of earlier music styles... Music has become very constrained because it simply all has to be rock and roll. Back in the 1960s, when rock already unquestionably ruled, there were still popular songs made in other styles and we didn't mind them, even welcomed the variety. But now, country music, commercial jingles, show tunes, movie soundtracks, tv show theme songs, even the nervous jitters they play at the beginning of newscasts -- everything has a backbeat.
You're not the only one getting a little tired of it and welcoming a break. I love rock as much as the next fraggle but I don't mind hearing a waltz or a klezmer riff or some raucous Chinese stuff or even -- gasp -- a symphony once in a while.
Aw, heck. Just because: "The Spanish Lady" by Boiled in Lead (.m4a)
I just feel the need to share. The link can only stand for a few days, however, out of deference to the band.
Update: The link is broken; I have removed the track from the server.
09-16-04, 10:17 PM
What about Alice's Restaurant? Does that count as Folk Music? Because I like that song.
Depends. In the U.S., at least, yes. But that sort of folk music is what leaves me calling "traditional" what Fraggle notes as "folk".
Depending on who you ask, Belle & Sebastian and Toad the Wet Sprocket both are called folk; Tanita Tikaram, as well.
By the "traditional folk" idea, though, it's merely a recycling of fundamental forms; much of modern pop music finds its roots there, but it doesn't stay as "pop".
One of my favorite modern songs (1980s, I think), is called "Jesus Was Once A Teenager Too", and is essentially nothing more than a puffed-up "Amazing Grace". Not folk, not quite traditional.
The first notes of Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast" are "When the Saints Go Marching In"; definitely not traditional. The classic lead from GnR's "Sweet Child O'Mine" is an arpeggio dating back several centuries. Not traditional.
On the other hand, I'm not sure "The Spanish Lady" was intended as a polka. (It's not quite, but there's a polka woven into it.)
But it's traditional.
Steven Brust's "I Was Born About Ten Million Songs Ago"? Traditional, despite the entirely-new lyrics. Try it out a couple times, I bet you can guess what song it is:
Well I was born about ten million songs ago.
I'm the guy what first invented rock and roll.
I saw Peter, Paul and Mary
Singing "Puff, the Magic Fairy",
And I'll dose the guy who doesn't like my show.
I'm the guy what taught Chuck Berry all his licks.
I showed Ringo how to hold a pair of sticks.
I gave Morrison the choice
Of a blues or country voice,
And kept Janis from a life of turning tricks.
I told Goodman he should write about a train.
I told Brian Wilson not to go insane.
When Mick was very young,
I cut off half his tongue,
And tried to keep poor Buddy off the plane ....
It should be noted, however, that Mr. Brust has written, of his solo album, A Rose for Iconoclastes (http://dreamcafe.com/rose.html), "(this) is my first and probably last attempt a solo record. I supposed you'd call it politically incorrect folk music; at any rate, it sounds like folk music and a good deal of it is humorous--in intent, at any rate." I won't trouble you with the lyrics of "Neil Gaiman Pastiche #27". (A song by the Flash Girls, "Neil's Reel", which includes the Irish tune "The Star of the County Down" is a much better affectionate nod to Gaiman.)
(Oh, and even though it's not traditional in any sense I can figure, the Rheostatics also snag a tremendous adaptation of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" in the form of a song called "You Are A Treasure".)
Anyway, I'm just rambling. I have no real thesis for this topic.
09-17-04, 02:20 AM
LOL from growing up in california /w a sister who would listen to ton TONS of green day that tradtional for me =P
09-19-04, 06:51 PM
Steve Goodman. At the dawn of the Amtrak era, critics called "City of New Orleans" the last great American folk song about trains, and many of them called Goodman the last great American folk singer. Even though he wrote all of his own material and performed no "traditional" songs. I wonder what they think of Ani di Franco and the rest of the new generation.
I saw Peter, Paul and Mary
Singing "Puff, the Magic FairyIt's "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
Was he just trying to be silly? He was so accurate with everything else.
Peter, Paul, and Mary are a good example of the conundrum over defining "folk music." The songs on their first album (I've still got the vinyl) all qualified by any definition. Old, public domain, and the kind of old songs that "folk singers" perform -- as opposed to Gregorian chants or arias from old operas. But later they started covering songs written by people like Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan was considered a "folk singer" even though he wrote most of his own material. He was even invited to the Newport Folk Festival although he had the bad form to bring a rock and roll band with him the last time. Does folk music have to be old? There's no precise definition as far as I know. As many of the neo-folk singers (and I won't even try to define that) of the 1960s used to say, "Folk music is just music for folks." If it is written or can be performed in a "traditional" style, many people consider it folk music. If it fools the listener into thinking it's an old song, even more so.
The problem is that you get into cultural norms. The Bob Dylan Newport flap was all about amplified instruments and drums. The people who regarded themselves as the curators of American folk music maintained that folk music is not performed on drums. The management of the Grand Ole Opry during that same era, who were the curators of country and western music, which had a lot in common with folk music including the difficulties of defining it during a turbulent era, ruled the same way. Bands like Buddy Holly & the Crickets and the Everly Brothers were not allowed to perform at the Opry unless they left their drummer on the bus. In other words, Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan and the Texas Playboys, or Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys, two of the premier exponents of Western Swing, were not pure enough "country and western" to perform at the Opry.
What a silly definition. Had they never been to a performance of Indian folk music, which was becoming quite popular? Indian folk bands always had several drummers. Some bands had no other instrumentation.
Was he just trying to be silly? He was so accurate with everything else.
Yes, that's just Steven Brust. I have tried three times now, and no explanation of the joke I've come up with can claim enough actual knowledge to be anything less than foolish. Thus, I won't put any of us through it. Suffice to say that the magic-fairy bit might actually be a small amount of contempt aimed at PP&M.
09-22-04, 06:57 PM
The magic-fairy bit might actually be a small amount of contempt aimed at PP&M.Geeze, the dude would have to be a major iconoclast to be contemptuous of Peter, Paul and Mary. They seem lame now because music and our entire culture have been growing for forty years. But at the time their music was a breath of fresh air.
There were plenty of folk singers -- as Martin Mull quipped about fifteen years later, "Geeze, that crap almost caught on!" But PP&M were special. They had about the most purely beautiful sound of the whole lot of them. Some of them wrote original music, some of them had a lot more to say, many of them were quite a bit angrier. Many got into the great political and social issues of the era. Many latched onto (or became) dynamite rockin' bands and slowly merged themselves into the world of rock and roll.
But through it all, PP&M sang primarily traditional "folk" music in three-part harmony with simple acoustic instrumentation, with a few original songs tossed in that were indistinguishable from the authentic old stuff except to people who used a magnifying glass to read the songwriting credits on the album label.
The only band I can think of today that makes me feel the way PP&M did is the Indigo Girls. Angelic voices, harmony tighter than Shakira's pants, fabulous guitar work, songs about folks. But they've already begun working with a solid rock band, and I have to confess that I like their new stuff a whole lot better than their earlier work.
Some experiences can't be recreated.