Where our music comes from

Yesterday I presented the once obscure lyrics of the 1960s’ rock song, Louie Louie, revealing they are not – as once thought – vulgar. But there is something even more important about this song. The lyrics are the words of a (black) Jamaican sailor. The song was written by Richard Barry, a black man. This underscores the importance of older black Americans in the development of modern music.

A profound example: The success of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as songwriters doesn’t need to be driven home. The two made a deal early on: any song written by either or both of them would be credited to both. But if we look at their first two albums we’ll find a third, silent partner.

Who wrote the most songs on the Beatles’ first two albums? John? Paul? John and Paul together?

The answer is, none of the above. Twelve of the songs on the Beatles’ first two albums were either written or first performed by older American musicians. All but one was black:

Anna (Arthur Alexander); Chains (The Cookies); Boys (The Shirelles); Baby It’s You (The Shirelles); A Taste of Honey (Bobby Scott); Twist and Shout (The Isley Brothers); ‘Til There Was You (Meredith Wilson); Please Mr. Postman (The Marvelettes); Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry); You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles); Devil In Her Heart (The Donays); Money, That’s What I Want (Barrett Strong).

If the Beatles borrowed from the treasury of American black music, the Rolling Stones robbed the bank. Jagger and Richards wrote only five songs for their first two albums. Seventeen were borrowed from older black Americans:

Route 66 (Nat King Cole); I Just Want To Make Love To You (Willie Dixon); Honest I Do (Jimmy Reed); Mona (Bo Diddley); I’m a King Bee (James Moore); Carol (Chuck Berry); Can I Get a Witness (Lamont Dozier); You Can Make It If You Try (Ted Jarrett); Walking the Dog (Rufus Thomas); Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (Solomon Burke); Down Home Girl (Arthur Butler); You Can’t Catch Me (Chuck Berry); Down the Road Apiece (Don Raye); Under the Boardwalk (The Drifters); I Can’t Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters); Paine In My Heart (Naomi Neville); Susie Q (Dale Hawkins).

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