[feature] New Year’s Count-Up: 1959 in five songs

Amazing jazz, beautiful instrumental, lustful rock 'n' roll, and that goddamn song heard at every Bar Mitzvah ever.

- Nov 8, 2012

As the new year draws closer, we’ve decided to take a look the music that’s gotten us to where we are today. So in an effort to broaden our musical horizons and our understanding of contemporary artists, we’re counting down 2012 by counting up from 1952, taking a look at a handful of songs from a different year every day until January 1st. You can find the full list here. Today we’re heading back to 1959!

Ray Charles - "What'd I Say"

Ray Charles - What'd I Say Pts. 1 & 2

If you only listen to one Ray Charles song ever, it should probably be "What'd I Say," his first huge hit. While the composition brought some new flavour to the traditional 12-bar blues, the song's popularity can be largely attributed to it's sexual nature. While it seems tame by today's standards, the lyrics (i.e. "Come and love your daddy all night long," "Baby shake that thing") got the song pulled from airwaves. One of Charles' biographers, Michael Lydon, best explains the impact of the song as "a monster with footprints bigger than its numbers. Daringly different, wildly sexy, and fabulously danceable, the record riveted listeners. When 'What'd I Say' came on the radio, some turned it off in disgust, but millions turned the volume up to blasting... [It] became the life of a million parties, the spark of as many romances, and a song to date the Summer by." For the rest of his career, this is the song Charles would close his gigs with.

Isley Brothers - "Shout"

The Isley Brothers - Shout

Lazy event DJs owe a collective debt to this ubiquitous Isley Brothers single (see: Bar Mitzvah 1Bar Mitzvah 2wedding 1wedding 2wedding 3wedding 4, and that's merely the first page of one YouTube search). It's been played to death over the past fifty years, yet kinda still holds up. In a mind-numbing, visions-of-old-white-people-dancing way.

John Fahey -"Sligo River Blues"

John Fahey -"Sligo River Blues"

One of the first true indie artists, John Fahey recorded and produced his first record Blind Joe Death himself with some cash borrowed from an Episcopal minister. He only pressed 100 copies so it never really made a mark, but his playing and DIY ethic is quite remarkable album from a historical perspective. He spent much of his later life in poverty and poor health. Fahey re-recorded the album in later years, but the song's inception makes the original version something special.

Santo & Johnny - "Sleepwalk"

Santo & Johnny, Sleepwalk, 1959

This is one of the songs that encouraged me to start this feature in the first place; it has a unique, genuine sentimentality lacking in the sappiest songs from this sap-fest of a decade. And it doesn't even have any words. The chord progression and 'singing' slide guitar are incredibly affecting, and moreso than most similarly structured 50's pop songs ("Earth Angel," for instance), "Sleepwalk" feels cursed by sadness, a longing for something out of reach. Or maybe I'm projecting, but that's for my therapist to decide.

Ornette Coleman - Lonely Woman

Ornette Coleman - Lonely Woman

In 1959, innovative jazz composer Ornette Coleman released The Shape of Jazz To Come, an album that was at the time (as its title implies it would be) incredibly shocking. Though many found the lack of chords and structure to be repulsive, the record ushered in the free jazz movement with its relentless rule breaking. Make sure to listen to the 2:30 mark and beyond to hear some of Coleman's shrieking saxophone - the dissonant yelps feel like a foreshadow for the civil unrest to come in the following decade.


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