by Kevin Burton
This week on Flying Colors, a shoutout to all things black.
Some people think of black as an un-color, being the absence of light and all. You get a bit of that idea from our bonus track, “My Little Town,” by Simon and Garfunkel. It contains the lyric, “And after it rains there’s a rainbow and all of the colors are black. It’s not that the colors aren’t there. It’s just imagination they lack.”
In painting a picture of small-town life S&G uses black to mean dull. But black is anything but dull in the songs we’ll look at today. Now the countdown:
8. “Black Boy,” by Roebuck Pops Staples. This song tells the story of a boy in the times of school integration in the 60s who is the only black child at his school. Can’t think of a song that says more by saying less in the chorus. Well, well, well-well-well.”
Want to study how and why gospel music permeates rock and roll? Start with the Staples Singers.
7 “A Walk In The Black Forest” by Horst Jankowski. Yes you do know this song, just not by its name. Get it on You Tube. In 1965 this instrumental hit number one on the US Easy Listening chart and 12 on the Hot 100. The song is from the million-selling album “The Genius of Jankowski.”
6 “Black Water,” by The Doobie Brothers. This serious great rocking group went to number one with a song propelled by an a capella section. Everywhere you turned in 1975, people were singing “I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland. Pretty mama come and take me by the hand.”
5 “Paint It Black,” by The Rolling Stones. The sitar heard around the world was played by George Harrison on “Norwegian Wood.” But “Paint It Black,” was the first song featuring a sitar to hit number one.
The song talks about depression but is far from depressing. Lead singer Mick Jagger called it “kind of a Turkish song.”
4 “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress,” by the Hollies. One of the few Hollies tunes without three-part harmony it sounds more like a Credence Clearwater Revival song. So much so in fact, that Credence’s John Fogerty sued for plagiarism of his song ”Green River.” The suit was settled out of court with Fogarty getting half the proceeds from the Hollies song.
3 “Blackbird,” by the Beatles. The classic guitar part for this song was adapted from a piece by Yohan Sebastian Bach. “He’s got good tunes he’s almost a pop star for his day,” songwriter Paul McCartney said of Bach.
McCartney wrote the song thinking of racial oppression in the American south. “For me there was a civil rights aspect. Blackbird was a symbol of a black woman in the south. That’s why I like it so much and I’m proud of it,” McCartney said.
Some notes before going to the top two:
Thumbs down: “Black Slacks,” by Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. The singers make a noise that sounds like a sewing machine. “Black slacks make a cool daddy-o” The song says. I don’t get it.
Thumbs every which way: “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud,” by James Brown. I wish Brown had put this great message in a better tune. Ironically, the backup singers who sing the words “I’m black and I’m proud,” don’t sound very loud to me. As a civil rights anthem, I much prefer the number two song on our list.
Bonus Track “My Little Town,” by Simon and Garfunkel.
2 “To Be Young, Gifted And Black,” by Nina Simone. The message of this 1969 song resonated in the home and in the classroom, not in the streets. With lyrics by Weldon Irvine, projected by the strong voice of a leading activist, the song became a call for black achievement. Simone, also heavily influenced by Bach, spent much of her life outside the US because of discrimination.
1 “Black Velvet,” by Alannah Myles. The way Canadian singer Myles sings “Mississippi,” at the start of this song is like a one-punch knockout. She grabs you with one word and never lets go.
It’s a sultry sound that takes over, just as Elvis had. Myles tells the story of what it must have been like to be caught up in that first wave.
Didn’t see your favorite black songs listed? Please mention them in comments below.