The Song Family Tree

In the book, I allude to a euphemism I call the “song family tree.’ One of the unavoidable tenants of rock ’n roll is that much of the music evolves from time-honored favorite songs sometimes borrowed from the distant past.

In the pre-hard rock days, there was a amalgam of spiritual, folk, rhythm and blues that eventually coalesced into Earth Angel and Rock Around the Clock. By the time the Beatles hit the stage and they were rolling over Beethoven, rock had become a synthesis of much of what came before. The new waves of rockers added their twists to the mix but, to be sure, the recycling of favorites is ingrained in the music genre.

The Jersey shore was an incubator for music and a virtual gumbo of styles. A perfect read to understand how rock builds on its predecessors is Gary Wien’s book Beyond the Palace. (I have a hard time fighting off adding “hemi-powered drones”  every time I hear that title) Consider what Wien has researched. You realize that all that rock from the Jersey shore, especially from 1965 to 1985, the period Wien writes about was connected much like the synapses in the brain like balls of interconnected wire.

Many bands played each others’ songs. Most started as cover bands. The ones with the desire and chops struck out on their own. Think of bands like the Smithereens. They refused to do covers so their success took time, but their perseverance paid off. Many of the other bands covered tunes and cross-pollinated.

Bruce was fortunate because he could write his own music but what he did so successfully, was to build his new songs with endless references to past favorites. Instead of taking the obvious easy songs with references to “raise your hand” and “the little pretties raised their hands,” I’m going to select Land of Hope and Dreams to demonstrate what I call the “song family tree.” One of the interesting aspects of the root music that Bruce borrowed from was a notion about  Sister Rosetta Tharp who was an  American singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist, popular in the 1930s and 1940s. As Wikipedia puts it: her “unique guitar style blended melody-driven urban blues with traditional folk arrangements and incorporated a pulsating swing sound that is one of the first clear precursors of rock and roll.

On my song family tree the date I used was the earliest written or recorded date associated with the song. That’s a bit flawed because a song can be part of a repertoire for months, or years, before the song is finally recorded by that particular artist. I would also allow that a song can be related even without similar or identical lyrics if it carries the same mood and basic kernel of an idea, especially if is part of a handed-down tradition. So here I try:

Song Family Tree