How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music

By Elijah Wald | Go to book overview

11
WALKING FLOORS AND JUMPIN’ JIVE

Bob Wills, who was from Texas and played the fiddle, said to me, “Pee Wee, how in the hell
can a Polish boy from Wisconsin play the accordion, write ‘The Tennessee Waltz’ … and lead
the country’s most popular western swing band? It just doesn’t add up.”

I said, “Bob, all you got to do is please the people and sell records.”

PEE WEE KING

In some ways the early 1940s was the most mixed-up, disorganized, and exciting period in American popular music. It was a time when Ernest Tubb, a rawboned Texas guitar strummer and bar singer accompanied by a whining electric lead guitar and a bass could hit with a honky-tonk lament called “Walking the Floor Over You” and go head to head with a brassy Dixieland version of the same number by Bing Crosby with the Bob Crosby Orchestra. And Cab Calloway, the sharpest cat in Harlem, could hit with a mess of uptown patois called “Jumpin’ Jive” and see it reworked into a cheerily lightweight harmony number by three Greek-NorwegianAmerican sisters named Andrews.

Bing and the Andrews Sisters, separately and together, waxed a repertoire that touched all the extremes of the era. Crosby had established himself simultaneously as a hip jazz singer and an exemplar of homespun Americana, and he ranged with legendary insouciance from slangy novelties to sentimental cowboy ballads. The Andrewses came on the scene in 1938 with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” an English-language version of a song some Jewish music mavens had heard a black duo sing in Yiddish at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, then scored the following year with a cover of an import from Nazi Germany—though the irony was not noted at the time—the “Beer Barrel Polka.” A few months after that, they and Crosby collaborated on both an Italian song, “Ciribiribin,” and the bizarrely self-explanatory “Yodelin’ Jive.” Their biggest record in between was a number called “Hold Tight (I Want Some Seafood Mama),” the first top-ten pop hit about oral sex—the sisters insisted they had no idea, but Fats Waller’s gleeful original left no doubt that he was hep—and by 1940 they had also scored with the Russian “Pross-Tchai,” the Cuban “Say ‘Sí, Sí’ (Para Vigo Me Voy),” and another of the era’s oddball fusions, the “Rhumboogie” (rumba and boogie-woogie).

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How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Amateurs and Executants 13
  • 2 - The Ragtime Life 25
  • 3 - Everybody’s Doin’ It 36
  • 4 - Alexander’s Got a Jazz Band Now 49
  • 5 - Cake Eaters and Hooch Drinkers 60
  • 6 - The King of Jazz 71
  • 7 - The Record, the Song, and the Radio 84
  • 8 - Sons of Whiteman 97
  • 9 - Swing That Music 111
  • 10 - Technology and Its DisContents 126
  • 11 - Walking Floors and Jumpin’ Jive 138
  • 12 - Selling the American Ballad 150
  • 13 - Rock the Joint 166
  • 14 - Big Records for Adults 184
  • 15 - Teen Idyll 199
  • 16 - Twisting Girls Change the World 213
  • 17 - Say You Want a Revolution… 230
  • Epilogue - The Rock Blot and the Disco Diagram 248
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 281
  • Index 291
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