Open Line Friday: A Question on the Evolution of Pop and R&B Music
May 27, 2016
RUSH: Here’s Edward, Washington, DC. Great you called, Edward. Hello.
CALLER: Hello, Rush. Good afternoon, and happy Memorial Day.
RUSH: Thank you, sir. Same to you.
CALLER: Thank you very much. Hey, Rush, I want to kind of turn away from politics if I could and ask you a question that I’ve been really kind of dying to ask you for a long time. And it has to do with your career as a disc jockey when you started out your career in radio. You know, one thing I have noticed — and it has to do just specifically about music, I’m curious, my question is, what has happened to the quality of pop and R&B music that was present in the late sixties and early seventies that has never been able to be reproduced in pop and R&B music since that time?
The people I’m speaking of are like Al Green, the Detroit Spinners, Stylistics, there is that kind of great period of music that still endeared to this day, and it’s my belief that pop music has never reached that height anymore. And I even see that reflected in comments from younger people that I hear who are acquainted with that music that you used to spin, but they say, “I wish I could have grown up in that era. I just wish we had that kind of music.” There’s just not those types of names like Barry White anymore. And I’m curious, I have a theory on it, but I’m curious from your point of view, as someone who was in that arena, why that is.
RUSH: Well, you know, a lot of this is generational. My parents, when the Beatles hit, were asking, “Why aren’t there people like Frank Sinatra anymore?”
CALLER: Yes. Yeah.
RUSH: So part of this is just generational. You’re specifically asking about R&B and how did it morph from that to hip-hop and rap?
CALLER: Yeah, and, you know, that is like a classic, you know, when you — Al Green, you know, it’s like a classic R&B.
RUSH: Oh, yeah, the artists. There’s Roberta Flack. There’s Donny Hathaway.
RUSH: There’s James Ingram. There is any number of them.
CALLER: How about the recently deceased Billy Paul?
RUSH: Oh, yeah, Billy Paul. Billy Paul had one of the greatest versions of Your Song.
RUSH: That was on the Me and Mrs. Jones album, and Me and Mrs. Jones is one of the great, all-time classics about adultery.
CALLER: Oh, God, yes.
RUSH: Classy adultery, if there is such a thing. Lush production. You had the whole Philadelphia sound. You mentioned it. You had Gamble and Huff, right, producing stuff — and you had Motown.
RUSH: And Patti Austin. Sadao Watanabe and Patti, a great crossover duet: Any Other Fool. Look, you know, I just chalk it up to generational. I think the popularity of sixties, seventies, and, in some cases, eighties music, radio stations still play it. Satellite’s still devoted to it. It still has an audience. Obviously, it’s a different quality. But I don’t know why. I mean, why does music change in any generation?
CALLER: Well, even, you know —
RUSH: What’s your theory? What is yours?
CALLER: Okay, I’m a musician, and I have a theory from a musical standpoint. At that time, you had different influences of music that were all present. You had talent that was available from the gospel, singers of gospel music. You had the jazz era, and you also had classical. And I kind of feel that all three of those integrated into one sound that used strings.
RUSH: That would explain Barry White, Love Unlimited Orchestra. Right.
CALLER: Yeah, the orchestral part, the jazz influence. You know, there’s a lot of great jazz players at that time. And then the real soul that I felt, that’s from gospel. And I felt the kind of… This is maybe… I’d like your opinion, really, on this last point, is that that was also the period when the Vietnam War was going on, and I’m wondering if that was some emotional kind of — was an emotional catalyst.
RUSH: Well, it might have been. That’s an excellent point, because you go back and listen to Marvin Gaye in the 1960s, all love songs. In 1971, Marvin Gaye comes out with an album called What’s Going On.
CALLER: Yeah, I know that.
RUSH: It’s all about war, it’s all about death. And Edwin Starr, Motown, comes out with a song called War. “What is it good for?” So the Vietnam War, there’s no question it served as a transition — lyrically, anyway — from going to sweet, beautiful love ballads into social commentary songs that were still R&B in flavor.
RUSH: And people have said, “Well, you know, Rush, rap is the result of real circumstances in ghetto neighborhoods and how to get out of there and what you had to do to survive and so forth.” But the Watts Riots were going on when all this music you’re talking about was being produced. The Watts Riots were 1968, and some of the great R&B stuff you’re talking about dates back to then. But I know exactly the music you’re talking about. I can’t explain the metamorphosis of it. Who can explain the culture? Nobody can predict it.
You look back, and I’m sure, if somebody wanted to do a study, they could find it. What’s the first rap group that really put themselves on the map with it? The Sugarhill Gang. But then you had the NWA guys with the kill-the-cops stuff, before Run-DMC. The early rappers were just rhythm rappers. There wasn’t a whole lot of social commentary in it, but it didn’t take long for that to evolve. But, look, bottom line: I miss it. I still listen to all that stuff, because I can still hear that. I listen to it ’cause all of that — even though I’ve lost my hearing — my memory, my brain supplies the melody.
My memory supplies the melody when I listen to that stuff, and it remains the exact R&B-type music you’re talking about. It remains many of my all-time favorites. Sister Sledge and Nile Rodgers back then with Chic, one of my all-time favorite sounds, and Gamble and Huff; then you had Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Remember all that stuff? Just classically good stuff. I don’t know rap. I need closed-captioning to even understand it anymore. But it’s now taken over. I mean, hip-hop is it, right? When it comes to Top 40 on pop, hit radio. Anyway, Edward, that’s great. I’m glad you held on, and I appreciate it.
I’m a little long. I have to go because we’re out of time.
Yeah, here we go, Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On. And you know there was another tune on this album called Mercy, Mercy Me, that was the same thing. It was an anti-war tune. Yeah, Mercy, Mercy Me was our… You’re right. It was environmental. Mercy, Mercy Me was environmental. This is anti-war. And, you know, this is Marvin Gaye coming off, I Heard it Through the Grapevine. I mean, he went from R&B love ballads to message music in a jiffy. Yeah, I think he did. He went back to sex. What was that? Something something part one? Let’s Get It On, yeah. The whole thing is just a bass line. The whole song is a bass line. You barely hear what he is singing in the mix.