Monday, October 6, 2014

The biggest of the big beats: an appreciation

Yes, this was the stupidest-possible pun I could think of. Yes, I'm proud of it.

"Extraordinary how potent cheap music is."
-Noel Coward

I must be a slow learner. It took me until today to realize that Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" is basically the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" on steroids.  It's that beat, man, that insistent boom-BAP-boom-BAP-boom-boom-BAP-boom-BAP, that makes those songs work so well. Apparently, the rest of the world already knew this. Here's what that fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, has to say on the subject:
Co-written by Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Bowie providing the music (written on a ukulele), and Pop the lyrics, the song is known for its opening drumbeat (played by Hunt Sales). The drumbeat has since been imitated in numerous songs, including "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet and "Selfish Jean" by Travis; however, Sales's use of the drumbeat was not original, as it was itself derived from "You Can't Hurry Love", released in July 1966 by The Supremes, and "I'm Ready For Love", released in October 1966 by Martha and the Vandellas.
Lotsa interesting stuff here. For instance, I'm pretty sure I knew at one time in my life that David Bowie cowrote this one, but I must not have held onto that detail too tightly over the years. The ukulele thing is news to me. Hunt Sales? That's Soupy Sales' kid. Soupy was kind of a legend in Michigan when I was growing up because he'd really made his reputation as a kids' show host out of Detroit. That show was mostly before my time, but MST3K did some references to it now and again. Soupy also did a cool novelty song called "The Backwards Alphabet," which wound up in a John Waters movie, A Dirty Shame. He was on Sha Na Na, too, which I can remember watching on Saturday afternoons with my dad. 

Anyway, Hunt Sales was interviewed on Marc Maron's podcast not too long ago, and I think he brought up the "Lust for Life" thing. Again, my brain didn't hold onto that little nugget. I've sadly never heard the Martha and the Vandellas song, which is a shame because I love Martha Reeves and would probably like that song if I heard it. The ones by Jet and Travis don't ring a bell either. But I think the same basic beat shows up in a '90s rock song called "Can't Wait One Minute More" by Civ, which I recall from Beavis & Butt-head. (Don't remember the boys' reaction to it, though.) It was apparently in a Nissan commercial, too. The kicker to all this is that I think I've found an even older record which has the same basic beat. It's called "Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)," and it was a Top 10 hit for a guy named Ernie Maresca in 1962.

Here's Ernie's record. It's like an embryonic version of the big beat. Call it Big Beat 1.0.



Here's the Supremes from four years later:



Here's Martha and Vandellas, the same year as the Supremes:



And then Iggy Pop in 1977:



And, finally, CIV in 1995:



My point in all this? I don't really have one. I'm just grateful for the Big Beat. To whomever came up with it, thanks. You did the human race a solid.

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