Ignored Obscured Restored
I had this idea to write a post that featured a few of my favorite rock songs with a Latin flavor. But not the obvious ones performed by Latin artists like Santana. As I listened to them, I realized I didn’t have the technical expertise to properly describe them. Were they Samba, Rhumba, Bossa Nova? How do you tell the difference?
I strive for factual accuracy in these posts (though I’m sure I’ve made mistakes) so I gave a list of my selections to my high school friend, Dan D, who has a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) and teaches courses in trumpet, Chamber Music, Music Theory and The Beatles. I asked Dan for help. Here’s what he had to say:
So I gave a listen to these (songs) with your question in mind. The Samba, Rhumba, and Bossa Nova all share similar characteristics and each one of these works are not completely defined by the Latin genre – they are Latin-infused rock tunes. The genre not closely identified in any of them as rhumba. The conga sound is prevalent in any of them. For rhumba, the Beatle cover of “Mr. Moonlight” by Roy Lee Johnson fits that bill. Samba and Bossa Nova are closely allied. Often, the Bossa Nova is associated with jazz idioms. I could identify a jazz flavor in the Guess Who and Steely Dan tunes but it is not really that strong to differentiate. So with all that said, I am most apt to describe these tunes with a Samba flavor. Whew! A long, winding answer!
Thanks, Dan! So here are a few tunes I like that are loosely tied together through “a Samba flavor.”
“Undun” was the B-side to The Guess Who’s “Laughing.” Written by Randy Bachman, it reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. (“Laughing” rose to #10.) In an interview with Ear of the Newt, Bachman was quoted saying “I remember the joy of hearing that (“Undun”) on the radio, figuring ‘Wow, a song with more than three chords,’ you know, ‘with lyrics that don’t rhyme.’ “
He goes on to describe the inspiration for the song came when he learned about a woman who went into a coma after taking some bad acid at a party he attended in Vancouver.
“Sunlight” comes from one of my favorite Buried Treasure albums – Elephant Mountain (1969), by The Youngbloods. Lester Bangs endorsed the album in his review for Rolling Stone. Written by Jesse Colin Young, “Sunlight” is an ode for a special woman.
Have you seen the sunlight pouring through her hair
Felt her warm mouth on you in the summer’s air
Running in a field of brown
Laughing rolling on the ground
Smiling as she pulls you down
That’s the way she feels about you
Three Dog Night, who in their early days were masters at finding great songs to record, covered “Sunlight” on their 1970 album Naturally.
Steely Dan’s “Only a Fool Would Say That” (1972) has often been interpreted as a dig at John Lennon’s utopian worldview as professed in “Imagine.” This position was recently described in an article in Far Out, by Sam Kemp.
I’m not sure I buy into Kemp’s thesis. Steely Dan’s lyrics are always cryptic and subject to varied interpretations. To me, it’s a cynical knock on hippy idealism more generally.
Wait until the very end of the song where you can hear laughter and someone utter the phrase “Jiji, solamente un tonto lo mencionara”, “Only a fool would say that” in Spanish!
Enjoy… until next week.