OK… so I can finally make the announcement official.
In exactly one week, my podcast, A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs, will start up, I’ll post a link here, but it’ll be available from 500songs.com and all your usual podcast sources (iTunes and so forth), though it may take a while to percolate through to them all. I’m still working on trying to get a logo together and things like that, but I’ve got the domain bought and a host worked out and I’ll have the domain linked to the backend in the next day or two.
I’m starting with a soft launch intro episode, and the first few episodes will not have perfect professional production (though I’ve got good reason to think that may change starting in November — we’ll see how that goes) but I’ve got enough of it done now that I can let you all know what the first month and a bit’s worth of episodes will be. Except where noted they’ll be around 25 minutes long.
Monday 1 Oct: 0 – Introduction
A ten minute or so introduction, laying out my plans for the series.
Mon 8 Oct: 1 – Flying Home
Looking at Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Ilinois Jacquet and more
Mon 15 Oct: 2 – Roll ‘Em Pete
Looking at Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner
Mon 22 Oct: 3a – Disclaimer, or Why I’m Not Talking About Spade Cooley
A brief five-minute podcast on my attitudes towards important artists and their at-times abhorrent behaviour.
Mon 22 Oct: 3 – Ida Red
Looking at Bob Wills, the Texas Playboys, and the Light Crust Doughboys
Mon 29 Oct: 4 – Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie
Looking at Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.
I think people are going to like this a lot, even those of you who don’t like my music writing but do like, say, my comics writing, and here’s why.
There are two types of writing I do on this site. One is the kind I do most often, where something needs to be said or I’ve found something interesting to talk about. That’s often (I hope) interesting, but that’s all it is.
The other kind, though, is the kind that I did when I wrote An Incomprehensible Condition or Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! or California Dreaming — it’s non-fiction, but it almost feels like fiction when I’m writing it. I start to get inspired and see patterns in things — even things I’ve known about before for years, I suddenly see new stories there, and new links between things I never thought were linked.
And that’s definitely happening here. Let me tell you a little bit about how I put this together. I had the idea for doing the podcast a few months back, and started making notes then, and my original set of notes had a rough list of what songs I’d want to do for the first few. But it wasn’t a very firm list — it went something like:
1) Flying Home
2) Some early R&B or boogie thing
3) Something Western Swing like Bob Wills, or maybe a Jimmie Rodgers song
4) Louis Jordan song — Caldonia? Choo-Choo?
That kind of thing. But as I started narrowing these down slightly — and I’ll admit right now that I chose “Roll ‘Em Pete” simply because it’s namechecked in a good book on pre-rock music called “Before Elvis” and it kind of fit the slot I had there, I could have chosen half a dozen more in its place — and writing about them, I realised that just by telling each of these separate stories — and they are, *completely*, separate stories — I was telling a much bigger story that had a lot of other stuff in it, a story that centres around the legendary jazz concerts at Carnegie Hall that started and ended 1938. A story about crossing of racial lines and black and white musicians collaborating despite segregation.
Motifs keep popping up — those first six episodes, over five weeks, will feature stories about novelty boogie-woogie records, and tuberculosis, and about entertainment strikes and plagiarism and stolen credit and Communism and racism. We’ll hear about how a white man is usurped by a good man, who’s beaten by a disabled black man. We’ll see *many* appearances by John Hammond who’ll still be in the story in several hundred songs’ time, and you’ll learn about hokum songs and a blackface performer who inspired one of the greatest black musicians ever. With special appearances from Billie Holiday, the Marx Brothers, Governor Pappy O’Daniel, Les Paul, and a boogly-woogly piggy.
I think you’ll like it.
For each episode, I’m going to attach a blog post at 500songs.com, which will contain the script I’m reading for the podcasts plus links to a few sources and some errata (I’ve already noticed one in episode two, for example). I’ll also link to a mixcloud mix containing full versions of every song I excerpt in the shows.
The plan is that I’m going to get one of these out every week for about ten years, and that every two years I’ll collect rewritten versions of the essays into books — A History Of Rock Music In 500 Songs, Vols 1 – 5. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking for me, and it’ll come to about two million words in total. It’ll be my magnificent octopus. It starts the week of my fortieth birthday, and should finish (allowing for a few skipped weeks or non-song episodes) around the time of my fiftieth.
I’ll also be starting a second podcast a week or so after this — a fiction podcast in which I read my short stories. I’ve already got a bit of that recorded, but don’t have a name for it yet, and I’m open to suggestions.
Also, while I’m talking about my music writing, just so people know I *will* be posting more Nilsson stuff soon. I’m also planning to write reviews of the new box set version of Imagine by John Lennon (the MP3 version only, as I don’t have a Blu-Ray player), the new box set of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (again, the MP3 version, this time because there’s only so many times you can buy the same album on physical media), and the new Monkees Christmas CD. I won’t, though, be reviewing the new six-disc White Album box set unless someone buys me a copy or my Patreon donations increase *wildly* — I’ve taken an income drop from my freelance income recently, and I don’t have a spare hundred and forty quid to spend on it, much as I desperately want to.
This blog post — and my podcasts! — are brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?
I’m so very excited for this. The production quality on what I’ve heard is already fantastic, anyway.
What’s the appropriate forum for suggestions, by the way?
Oh, anywhere — here, email, Twitter, Patreon, whatever.
I was wondering about the late 80s/early 90s “alt-rock” boom, as distinct from grunge, and what song(s) could represent it, and I came up with Cactus or Gigantic by The Pixies, Summer Babe by Pavement, or Teen Age Riot by Sonic Youth. Just some thoughts, though I’m sure you’ve got your own (better) ideas.
Thanks. I’ll definitely make a note of those. That’s one of those areas where, because that stuff was *far* more popular in the US and I wasn’t paying too much attention to the charts at that time, I’m less sure on the story, so I may well end up using those, though not for another six years or so ;)
A new Monkees Christmas album? I have mixed emotions.