Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17: Eddie Cochran, "Summertime Blues"

Artist: Eddie Cochran
Song: "Summertime Blues"
Album: Love Again/Summertime Blues (single)
Year: 1958

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Much like the random formula for "what" makes a song a hit, history works in just as strange a manner when it comes to which artists will be remembered forever.  More specifically, the history of music is littered with tragic stories of musicians who passed away far too early in their lives, and yet many of the most important have been largely forgotten when compared to others who, in many cases, did not have significant an impact on music as a whole.  While most people can recall the events leading to the death of names like Holly, Hendrix, and Hoon, it is truly tragic how few people can recall the circumstances and influence of one performer who was take at the age of twenty-one.  Unquestionably in the same company as early rock legends like Gene Vincent and Ricky Nelson, one simply does not have music in the state that it is without the music and influence of the one and only Eddie Cochran.  Though he died at a very early age, he had already found success with a handful of singles, and one can easily argue that he was poised to be one of the most famous performers in history, as his sound and image were exactly what was "selling" at the time.  Blending together R&B, blues, and country, in his short career, Eddie Cochran managed to write some of the most timeless songs in history, and the fact of the matter is, many of them sound just as good today as they did when he recorded them more than fifty years ago.  Standing high atop this list of singles stands what may be his greatest song, and many are not aware that it was Eddie Cochran who is responsible for the classic 1958 single, "Summertime Blues."

While his name may have become somewhat lost overtime, the fact of the matter is, "Summertime Blues" is one of the most heavily covered songs ever written, and it remains one of the most instantly recognizable songs in every aspect.  From the iconic bass riff to the simple "rockabilly" sound to the universal lyrics, in many ways, it is not surprising that "Summertime Blues" has remained such a timeless song over the decades.  Strangely enough, "Summertime Blues" was not even considered to be a possibility for success, as it was originally released as a B-side to "Love Again" in July of 1958.  While the A-side found moderate success, "Summertime Blues" shot into the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic, and propelled Eddie Cochran into the highest ranks of music stardom.  Musically, "Summertime Blues" stands as one of the many songs that proves "simpler is better," as it is little more than Cochran's guitar, a bit of bass, drums, and hand clapping.  The fact that this uncluttered, straightforward instrumentation still finds a place in the modern music scene serves as a testament to the true perfection found in the musical arrangement.  Drummer Earl Palmer is present on the track, and though he played alongside everyone from Little Richard to Tom Waits, one can make the case that it is his work here for which he will be best remembered.  The other side of the percussion, the hand clapping, was performed by Cochran's fiancĂ©, a woman who co-wrote songs for both Nelson and Brenda Lee among others, Sharon Sheeley.  Rounded out by the steady bass and perfectly toned acoustic guitar of Cochran, "Summertime Blues" perfectly captures a moment in time, and yet resonates just as wonderfully more than five decades later.

Along with the music of "Summertime Blues" being instantly recognizable, Eddie Cochran's voice and lyrics still have a similar amount of easy identification.  Like other artists of the time, Cochran's voice is a perfect blend of grit, attitude, and true talent that made famous names like Presley, Lewis, and so many others.  Within his voice, Cochran perfectly encapsulates the angst and spirit of rebellion within the youth, as well as the agony that so many face in trying to balance making some sort of money with having fun and "being young." This frustration in finding that balance is perfectly captured in one of the most iconic lines in history when Cochran sings, "...every time I call my baby, and try to get a boss says, no dice son, you gotta work late...."  It is ideas like this that helped to propel the song to success, and also why the song remains relevant to this day, as every generation can relate to the sentiments about which Cochran is singing.  However, within this classic song, there is a bit of history that is buried, as Cochran slips in a bit of a rallying cry against the government.  In the final verse, when he sings of taking this "problem" of not being able to work and "be a kid" simultaneously, Cochran sings, "...well I called my congressman and he said Quote: I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote..."  While it may seem nothing more than an amusing line, the fact of the matter is, at the time the song was written, there was a growing movement in the U.S. to have the legal voting age lowered from twenty-one, and the fact that Cochran was able to slip this line in certainly gave the song an even wider appeal, as it was "rebellious" in nature within the time it was first released.

Throughout the long history of recorded music, one would truly be hard pressed to find a pop song that has been covered by more people in more genres than Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues."  Artists ranging from Alan Jackson to De La Soul to The Clash to Cheech Marin have all put their own spin on the song, and there are well over 300 different covers of the version from the past five decades.  This in itself should be "enough" to prove what a significant song "Summertime Blues" remains, and yet it's writer and original performer, Eddie Cochran, is somehow still a "second note" in discussions of the overall history of music.  The fact that his name often follows the likes of Ricky Nelson and Glen Campbell simply makes no sense, as while the two may have achieved greater recognition in their time and certainly are amazing artists in their own right, it is the song of Eddie Cochran that remains most relevant all these decades later.  In nearly every aspect, "Summertime Blues" is a "perfect" song, as the instrumentation is simple yet unforgettable, Cochran's voice is pure and powerful, and the lyrics represent the feelings of literally every generation of youth, nearly anywhere on the planet.  Furthermore, one can make the case that "Summertime Blues" is, in fact, the greatest and most concise "summer style" record ever recorded, as no other artist has come close to so simply and perfectly capturing the emotions found on this song.  Though it has been covered and reworked countless times over the decades, one cannot argue that nothing beats the original, and that the appeal of Eddie Cochran's monumental 1958 single, "Summertime Blues" will never go out of style.

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