bobhowe pointed me to a strangely clueless article on washingtonpost.com reacting to the National Review’s recent listing of 50 conservative rock songs. There’s plenty to criticize on that list, ranging from taking the Georgia Satellites seriously (clue: the singer doesn’t think it’s a good thing when she says “no huggy, no kissy until I get a wedding vow”) to thinking that idiocy equates to conservativism (“I Can’t Drive 55” is on the list) to flatly misunderstanding songs like Bowie’s “‘Heroes'” to believing that “Wake Up Little Susie” has a political message.
But Jabari Asim’s reaction is even more clueless. He opens the column by asking,
Exactly when did rock ‘n’ roll, once the province of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, become so white?
From the beginning, of course! Rock&roll is a genre founded on racism and in particular on the fear of white girls being attracted to black performers. Chuck Berry is the founder of the genre, but he was never really allowed in the door, and was principally heard on rock radio via covers of his songs by white artists like the Beatles and the outright theft of his riffs by bands like the Beach Boys. Other pioneers like Joe Turner and Little Richard and Big Mama Thornton were also left at the back of the musical bus.
Rock and roll was born when (as Asim points out) a white radio DJ took an African American slang phrase for sex and used it to label the music of white singers who were dressing up black R&B with a little country music and, unlike the originators, getting played on white radio stations. Rock and roll has chosen its king, a talented but nonetheless larcenous young man who fulfilled Sam Phillips’ dream of finding a white boy who could sing “colored.” The rock radio stations of my childhood were more segregated than South Africa ever was, and MTV refused to play black artists, saying it was only airing rock videos, until Michael Jackson got too big to be ignored, artists like David Bowie began asking pointed questions on the air, and guitarists like Rick James and Prince began playing better rock&roll than any of the white kids.
Asim proves my point with his list of “five progressive rock songs.” It consists of four soul/R&B songs and one jazz tune, not one of which has ever been played or ever will be played on a rock radio station, and the singers of which are probably unknown to the majority of rock fans, with the possible exception of Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. Rock&roll is party music for white kids, and you can’t get more conservative than that.