Saddle #4: Tunes in Exile

Of course, I had to inject some music into the mix. Sensing that my students might not be grasping the whole derivative concept, I casually mentioned the Grammy Awards the other night on TV and how Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” had walked off with a boatload of trophies.

I played a few bars of the mega-hit song before explaining that Daft Punk’s sound isn’t as new as they might believe.  (Hey, if you want to get a rise out of a generation, challenge its taste in music!) I then proceeded to play excerpts of songs that I believe influenced Daft Punk (regardless of whether Daft Punk even realizes it).

However, before the first song, I told a story about my own coming of age as a music appreciator.  ‘Twas the Summer of 1972, or … The Summer of Exile on Main Street!  Having just graduated from Hyde and oblivious to the buzz saw awaiting me in the form of my first semester of college, The Rolling Stones guided me through three blissful months of reckless abandon.

I then played the first verse and chorus of “Stop Breaking Down” off the Exile album.  As an 18-year-old, I had no idea that it was actually a cover of an old, a very old song.  After I got to college and heard Robert Johnson’s version of the same song from the 1930s, I realized that Mick and the Boys were not breaking new ground so much as they were honoring and updating old traditions.  Then I laid Johnson’s version on the class.

From there, I went DJ-crazy:

A 1930s recording of a Mississippi prison chain gang singing “Rock Me Mama” (recorded by the legendary Alan Lomax) segued into Jimi Hendrix’ 1967 version of “Rock Me Baby” at the Monterey Pop Festival.  (Like their teacher almost a half-century ago, the kids in my class were surprised that Jimi’s version was actually a cover!) Cream’s version of “Spoonful” (off their debut album Fresh Cream) segued into Howlin’ Wolf’s earlier version.

The Grateful Dead’s version of “Big Boss Man” segued into Jimmy Reed’s version.

Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” sequed into Big Mama Thornton’s version.

Then we “went country” with Hank Williams’ classic “Move It On Over” segueing into George Thorogood & The Destroyers’ cover.

I then hit them with Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train.”  (That is, after telling them that the Duke gets my vote as “Coolest American of the 20th Century.”) We wrapped it up with a few odds and ends:

– “I Wanna be Sedated” and “Rock & Roll High School” by The Ramones;
– Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You get Enough;”
– Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U;”
– Some Old Skool Rap: The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.

My nod to rap also included Kanye West’s sampling of Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” on his song “Champion.”  (The kids were surprised that Kanye didn’t write, produce, and record every aspect of the song.) In conclusion, I said, “And finally, when I hear Daft Punk, I also hear some of this…”  I then hit them with a verse of “Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees.  I may have been hearing voices by then.  Perhaps we all were.

“Everything’s Derivative.” Whether my students agree, I figure I’m doing my job if they’re at least confused.

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld