BLACK LIVES AND ROCK & ROLL
Why do basically all recording artists support the Black Lives Matter movement? Because it seems like the obviously humane position to take, of COURSE. But, what else?
Just scrolling through the artists on the first rock playlist on Spotify, I don’t see a single Black artist. But not one rock artist in the entire Spotify catalog can say Black music hasn’t influenced them.
When I think of all my modern rock influences, the majority of them are white. (I have plenty of Black influences in other genres). When I trace it all back to my influences’ influences, they usually always include The Rolling Stones/Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Also white. But it’s when you take it one step farther back that shit gets real.
In the 60s, The Beatles were among many artists influenced by Motown. Its presence was most prevalent on the “With The Beatles” album. The album featured covers of Motown hits such “Please Mr. Postman,” “Til There Was You,” “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Money (That’s What I Want).” Many of their other original songs of this period had a strong Motown influence most notably on “All My Lovin’.”
Some of my favorite stories of the Black influence on Rock N Roll revolve around The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger’s first band covered songs by Black rock and blues artists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. While learning and performing songs by another artist nurtures a hella-fertile ground for influence, there is an instance of even more direct influence. In 1964, director Steve Binder debuted the Teenage Awards Music International with the Rolling Stones booked as the headliners. The artist that opened for them was James Brown. The Rolling Stones acknowledge following Brown on this show was the biggest mistake of their careers. Both the band and Binder did not know how popular James Brown was and certainly did not know about his live performances. (Watch some on YouTube! There may never have been a more fierce and unique performer! He is still being blatantly copied today!) When The Stones took the stage, Mick Jagger upped the intensity of his performance to a level the band had not seen prior, moving in ways he had never moved before. Jagger’s signature sliding dance moves over the course of the last fifty years can be directly traced to that performance.
These are two of infinite examples of the Black influence on rock music and rock performances, but no example will do justice to the soul that Black music has contributed to rock. (No, I don’t mean the genre of soul, although that influenced rock as well.) For one thing, although there are many sub-genres and movements in rock, one thread has always tied everything within the genre together- the attitude of rebellion against the establishment. That quality is gentler in folk rock like the poignant work of Bob Dylan, and at times so elemental that it has been built right into band names like Rage Against the Machine. When it comes to rebelling against an establishment, there has to be an inequity, injustice or oppressing force to rebel against in the first place. With the Black Lives Matter movement, non-Black eyes are opening to the harsh reality that Black lives have always known- no one knows more about inequity, injustice and oppressing force than Black Americans. Who better to inspire the highly-emotive, rebellious, unrelentingly resilient music of Rock N Roll? It is long overdue, but better late than never, for us to come together, use our voices, and take action to support our Black brothers and sisters in the fight for their lives.