Rhythm & Blues
A Site About British Rock and Blues
Got rockin' pneumonia? Need a shot of rhythm 'n' blues?
Amplified. Rhythmic. Based on blues roots. A strong instrumental content featuring electric guitars, bass and drums, together with vocals.
This site will include rock and pop music more generally, and being based in Britain it will reflect that fact.
It will also include material on musical instruments and other technology used in this music.
The Early Years
In the 50's the British pop music scene was dominated by American music. In fact, most of what was played on the radio was cover versions of American records. You were lucky to hear the real thing.
Early British performers from 1956 onwards were Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan. Tommy Steele went down the path of musicals and shows and disappeared from the limelight. Lonnie Donegan influenced a lot of people and became a living legend, though not popular in record sales.
Move It by Cliff Richard and the Drifters and written by British guitarist Ian Samwell is regarded as the very first all-British rock and roll singles. It was released in August 1958, was their first single, and reached number 2 in the Top 20. Other notable all-British rock/pop songs were Shakin all Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates in 1960, written by Johnny Kidd and featuring one of the early guitar legends Mick Green. Also Picture of You by Joe Brown and the Bruvvers was a great original British song of the era. What is more he is still performing well.
In the very early sixties instrumental music was quite popular, and it was not unusual for instrumentals to become big hits. The Shadows' Apache was a notable example, and still a classic. Apart from the Shadows there was Walk Don't Run by the Ventures and Telstar by the Tornados.
Also in the early 60's in London there was a small movement of interest in the traditional blues music from the old black bluesmen of America. Jazz band leader Chris Barber was fond of blues music and invited some of the authentic bluesmen to perform in this country. Other early pioneers of Blues were Alexis Korner, Cyril Davis and Long John Baldry.
Around 1962 the Beatles and the Rolling Stones began to emerge, together with the whole Mersey Beat sound and other rock and pop groups from London and elsewhere.
Cliff Richard and the Shadows
For more on Cliff Richard and
This article looks at their British record releases.
The Beatles material is on a separate page. Please click the link below.
The Rolling Stones
This article on the Rolling Stones looks at their British record releases through the sixties and early seventies, and reveals where the songs can be found on CD.
The Rolling Stones material is on a separate page. Please click the link below.
Mike Pender and John McNally both singer-guitarists formed a duo in Liverpool in 1961, and called themselves the Searchers (anecdotally said to be named after the film with John Wayne). Tony Jackson (bass) and Norman McGarry (drums) joined the same year. Chris Curtis replaced the drummer the next year. In their early career they played at some of the same places as the Beatles - the Cavern in Liverpool and the Star Club in Hamburg.
They were discovered by Tony Hatch and signed to Pye records. They were very successful and three of their first four singles reached number one, with the other reaching number two. The one which shows the greatest lasting merit was Needles and Pins written by Jack Nitsche and Sonny Bono. It shows their great all-round musical performance ability, but perhaps the most notable thing is the excellent drumming which is about the closest thing to perfection you can find in a hit record. It is supportive, has just enough prominence to play a valuable part in the song, but without dominating. It is surprising because the previous singles did not show such drumming excellence, despite the fact that the band's drummer, Chris Curtis, was unchanged. Around this time some records were starting to use session musicians. All I can say is that whoever the drummer was on Needles and Pins, he was damn good and excellent drumming can be found elsewhere in the songs of the Searchers (e.g. Love Potion No 9).
The Searchers distinguished themselves as sounding a bit more serious than the other pop groups of the time with some good instrumental content, a great sense of rhythm and some songs with a moody emotional feel. For a time in the early 60's were on a par with the Beatles, but the Searchers did not have much success with their own compositions Much of their material was of American origin but previously unknown in Britain. They did a successful cover of Jackie de Shannon's Don't Throw Your Love Away. Another interesting songwriting source was Tepper and Bennett (who notably wrote They Young Ones and other songs for Cliff Richard and The Shadows). They also covered a Jagger Richards song, Take it or Leave It from Aftermath.
Chris Curtis left in the late 60's and went on to form Deep Purple.
Later the Searchers spit into two bands both contending for the name.
This is a great site based in Germany which has more material on the Searchers than I could produce.
The official Searchers site:
They started in the early 60's as a local band of friends. Unusual for such a group to stay together and prove to be all talented contributors. They were initially successful in the singles charts and had some respectable albums.
Guitarist Pete Townshend wrote many of their songs. Roger Daltrey was the lead singer. John Entwistle played bass and the eccentric showman Keith Moon was the best drummer in the world to play in the Keith Moon style. Pete Townshend proved to be a major musical talent when he wrote the 'Rock Opera' Tommy. After writing I Can See for Miles he recognised that (as he later said) "it was the best thing I could possibly write" and started thinking of writing a rock opera. There was an early mini-opera called A Quick One While He's Away, which took up only part of one side of the album of the same name. He later wrote Tommy which is his masterpiece and contains many excellent songs including The Who classic single Pinball Wizard. It also reveals the brilliant guitar playing of Townshend with a style of his own based on highly elaborate strumming rather than the more usual blues styles which were fashionable at the time. There was a superb double album (shown below) and later a film (see below).
The next album was Live at Leeds which is a good representaton of their live act at its best. It includes some Rock 'n' Roll standards and some of the Who's big hits.
The next studio album was Who's Next which represented a considerable change of style, and indeed is quite diverse, but contained two great songs which continued to play a big part in their subsequent live acts, Baba O' Riley and Won't Get Fooled Again. Both include a sequenced synthesiser, something new for The Who, but Won't Get Fooled Again is also magnificently dramatic with that long synth riff going on and on, powerful drums, and that great scream. I think it's their best song, taking into account not just the songwriting, but the performance too.
Quadrophenia, the album was released in 1973. Another musical story along the lines of Tommy in some ways, but musically different and (for me) not so good. It was later made into a film (see below).
Tommy - the film
In 1975 Tommy was made into a major cinema film directed by Ken Russell. Tommy was always meant to be a Rock Opera, and although it had a story, it was so far only ever presented as an album and Who concert. The film starred Roger Daltrey as Tommy, Oliver Reed, and Ann Margret, with short contributions by Robert Powell and Jack Nicholson. It had a totally re-recorded soundtrack based on the original songs and featuring many stars including Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner, and of course The Who. (Pinball wizard by Elton John was a hit single from the film).
The story of Tommy is not important. (For some, the synopsis of the story is all they want to know, and it can put people off, seeming somewhat tasteless). The real value and excellence is in the music, but also in the imagery of psychological turmoil. In the spirit of grand opera there is no dialogue in the entire film. From the start, the film launches into an extravaganza of non-stop music, dazzling and packed with instrumental virtuosity. Only after half an hour of this there is a brief moment of silence after the mighty crash of an icon falling to the floor in church. Then the music gets off again together with some spectacular imagery of Tommy's bizarre treatment by Tina Turner, and then those BEANS! Hokum threatens to eclipse the music towards the end, but the music wins through again in the end with a great finale.
Tommy, the film, is powerful, dramatic, spectacular, exciting, totally avant garde.
There was a double vinyl album of the soundtrack which was excellent in itself, but now you can do much better and get the DVD, complete with all that music in full CD quality, and indeed in Dolby surround sound. (It was one of the first films of any kind to have it).
Later the Who made the film Quadrophenia which is a much more conventional type of film. It does not have music throughout like Tommy does, but there is some great music in it, especially towards the end where it starts to resemble Tommy slightly at times. Later, Pete Townshend called Quadrophenia "Our towering triumph".
Keith Moon died on 7th September 1978. Kenny Jones became the new drummer but was a different style and nobody could replace the unique Keith Moon.
Much later, quite recently, John Entwistle died too, leaving only Daltrey and Townshend as original members. They still perform as The Who and appear with Daltrey and Townshend as a kind of front line duo, but with an excellent, and larger, backing band behind them with a reasonably stable line-up and including Zak Starkey as Drummer, who they regard as being about as good a replacement for Moon as they could possibly hope for.
Endless Wire released in 2006 was their first studio album for 24 years.
The Who in moving pictures.
Right from their early days the Who's management had plans to use the band for films, and this came about in other unexpected ways through Tommy and Quadrophenia in particular. Fortunately, perhaps because of their visual presentation, there is a lot of video material of The Who's live performances available on DVD.
Searching for Pete Townsend ? Surprisingly it's actually spelt Townshend. John Entwhistle ? It's Entwistle.
John Mayall was a blues singer and instrumentalist, but his real strength was to recognise the talent of other blues musicians and to incorporate them into his ever-changing band John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the second half of the 60's.
Many blues guitarists of the 60's rose to prominence in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and several bands had most of their membership formed from Bluesbreakers. Often nearly the whole band had already played together in some edition of the Bluesbreakers. Examples are Fleetwood Mac and Colosseum.
The Albums of John Mayall
Some important albums and the principal musicians who went on to other major bands.
Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix
with brief details of other British guitarists.
Vinyl versus CD
Some record enthusiasts claim that music sounds better on vinyl records than on CD. This raises some questions. Is it true, and if so why?
In theory, if sound is made digital and put on CD it is indistinguishable from the original sound. Modern music is recorded digitally in the first place and the CD is exactly what was recorded, and gives excellent sound quality. With older material things can be a bit different.
The ruthless accuracy of a CD can contain such great clarity that defects in the original recording are more evident. However this does not truly represent inferior sound quality.
There may be cases where there really is inferior sound on a CD. Firstly, old recordings contain a certain amount of background noise or hiss, and may be processed to remove it before transfer to CD. This inevitably causes some loss of the wanted music, especially the high treble.
Secondly, CDs are recorded from some sort of master tape. Tape recordings deteriorate with age and it may be that the master tapes have deteriorated more than some well preserved copies of vinyl LPs. Certainly the type of deterioration with tape will differ from that of an LP so the two types of media will have different shortcomings. Some people may prefer the inadequacies of vinyl to those of an imperfect master tape.
The Beatles' Please Please Me sounds better to me on vinyl, whereas Rubber Soul is excellent sound quality on the CD, which I am convinced could not be equalled on vinyl. Much of the early Stones material, and nearly all their 60's singles sound poor on CD, and seem worse than I remember them to be on their original vinyl versions at the time. That beautiful song You Better Move On, as on December's Children CD, has what I can only call gross distortion. The original vinyl EP also has the same distortion but seems to sound better because the inherent lower quality of analogue reproduction makes the distortion more tolerable on the EP. In this case at least, the fault seems to be with the quality of the original recording, and not due to deterioration of the master.
The introduction of the CD has led to a lot of old material being re-released. However it seems to be also responsible for some dubious practice by some budget record companies.
It was always the case with vinyl records that collections of hits were sold which did not have the original artists. In more recent years CDs have been sold as "original hits" or "original artists", but in some cases these are re-recordings. Sometimes there is a kind of disclaimer that states that the songs have been re-recorded in the interest of sound quality. I don't think so! The real reason is that the recording rights to the original hit are owned by somebody else and it is cheaper to re-record it than pay the royalties. There is a certain kind of magic which makes a hit record, and that fortunate combination of circumstances which went to make the original hit is never repeated, i.e. re-recordings are never as good. Sometimes the performer may now be many years older. In the case of a band, the band may not be the original members. To say that such work is by the original artist may be OK, but the term "Original hit" should mean the actual recording, not just the song.
Other tricks are to present alternative takes made at the time of the original recording. Also live versions.
Something I have seen on compilations by various artist is to have an album or famous songs by famous artists, but where the songs are performed by a different famous artist from the one who made the song famous.
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Written by S. J. Farthing, Portsmouth, England.
e-mail steve1 @ rhythm-n-blues.co.uk
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Text on this page is Copyright S. J. Farthing, 1999-2005.
Illustrations of album covers were obtained from various sources. The copyright of these illustrations is acknowledged and the images will be removed if requested by the copyright owners.