Monday, February 8, 2010

Dan Aykroyd and Pat Boone - heroes, or demons?

I was listening to Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and had a heretical thought - namely, thet the Blues Brothers' cover version had something that the original version didn't have.

Namely, the backing vocals of Dan Aykroyd on the choruses.

You know..."SOUL man."

I've thought of Dan Aykroyd's musical resume a lot lately, and the remake of "We Are The World" reminded me that Aykroyd was one of those present at the original "We Are The World." In a sense it was an odd choice, because in that one recording studio you had the singer of "Thriller," the singer of "All Night Long," the singers of a number of classic hits...and the singer of "Rubber Biscuit."

Two sources state that Aykroyd was invited to the session to represent the film industry, but his contributions to the music industry are as significant as those of some of the others that were invited to the session that evening.

Of course, it's technically incorrect to say that Dan Aykroyd sang on the Blues Brothers albums...because Elwood Blues was actually the singer. To say that Dan Aykroyd was a member of the Blues Brothers is like saying that Bob Dylan was a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

Well, whoever it is that's singing, judge for yourself:

Needless to say, "Rubber Biscuit" was not a Blues Brothers original. The song was originally performed by the Chips, and apparently was their only recording.

And there were a lot of songs that the Blues Brothers played and helped popularize. Which is great, or it's not great, depending upon your point of view. You see, the Blues Brothers share something in common with Pat Boone - a controversial history:

How do you solve a problem like The Blues Brothers? They’re the goofy novelty duo whose enduring popularity says a great deal about our country’s thorny racial history and the commercial cooption of great American art form. To people around the world the Blues Brothers have become the face of blues: the pale, pasty, Caucasian, half-Canadian face of a deep strain of black music. The Blues Brothers leave behind a deep and complicated legacy.

They helped popularize blues and gave crucial career boosts to an army of blues, soul and R&B legends by covering their songs and featuring them in The Blues Brothers and to a much lesser extent, The Blues Brothers 2000 yet it seems both sad and inevitable that millions of Blues Brothers fans would rather hear standards performed by a pair of enthusiastic white amateur chuckle-merchants than grizzled old black professionals.

The Blues Brothers have been lionized as heroes and icons and demonized as cultural parasites.

For historical perspective, go here to see someone who demonizes Pat Boone. For a more balanced view, see Gary North:

Pat Boone's career is one of those fork-in-the-road stories. He launched his national career as a cover artist, serving as a kind of Pied Piper for America's middle-class white teenagers, gilding rock and roll's lily. Little Richard said that kids in 1956 had Pat Boone's records in the top drawer, where parents might find them, and his versions in the bottom drawer. I suspect that the truth is different. They bought one of Boone's versions, then bought Richard's, and put Boone's in the closet.


Rock and roll's parallel cultures did not last long. Teenagers found out about the artists and the original songs that were being covered.

Well, some did - and some didn't. Perhaps some people explored the history behind certain recordings by the Blues Brothers...and by Pat Boone...and by the Beatles...but there are probably many others who think "Money" is a Lennon-McCartney original.

But can the artists themselves be blamed for that?
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