Documented instances of appropriation in American popular culture is not a matter of taste, but of race. Yup, that four letter word has been permeating throughout our society at a increasingly intensifying rate as instances of revelation and discovery are made available. Because firsthand information is introduced into the collective American lexicon, revealed by the tempestuous back and forth between mainstream culture and counter culture, things that could only be speculated upon before are now fact.
Quincy Jones is the Dude, not just as a nickname but in fact as far as American music is concerned. His resume goes without saying. So much so that the things that he said in his highly publicized conversations with Vulture and GQ magazine are unquestionably fact in the mind of most. Though much of the discourse upon the conversation centers upon things of a more salacious manner, I was struck by what he had to say about American pop music, about the Beatles, particularly.
The Beatles arrival in America in the '60s was called the “British Invasion”, and if what Jones had to say about how completely unqualified the Beatles were as musicians is true, they might be bigger frauds than Milli Vanili.
“That they were the worst musicians in the world,” Jones told the reporter. “They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it. I remember once we were in the studio with George Martin, and Ringo.
The song, and album, are more than a bit gloopy. had taken three hours for a four-bar thing he was trying to fix on a song. He couldn’t get it. We said, “Mate, why don’t you get some lager and lime, some shepherd’s pie, and take an hour-and-a-half and relax a little bit.”
So he did, and we called Ronnie Verrell, a British jazz drummer. Ronnie came in for 15 minutes and tore it up. Ringo comes back and says, “George, can you play it back for me one more time?” So George did, and Ringo says, “That didn’t sound so bad.” And I said, “Yeah, motherfucker because it ain’t you.” Great guy, though."
The Beatles 1 Video Collection is out now. Available on: http://www.thebeatles.com/ Written by John as an expression of his love for Yoko Ono, the song is heartfelt and passionate.
There are a myriad of contemporary examples of black producers working with or introducing white performers of black rhythms in some way, Eminem being the most obvious of them. But Pink, who recently performed at the Super Bowl, was introduced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The prior instances also show how appropriation is often more two-sided than folks like to pretend. There's always a black hand involved in the giving.
To help put this into a more of a perspective, Jones toured with Dizzy Gillespie, arranged Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" and Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz, led his own groups, scored films and TV shows, and showcased his knack for pop-leaning production on records like Big Maybelle's "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and a string of four consecutive Top Five singles for Lesley Gore in 1963 and 1964. Here is his response when asked about his creative process.
“…You go song by song. The songs are the power. They take it home. From what I learned, the melody is the voice of God. That's what you look for. I have never ever in my life made records for money or fame. That's how you blow it. 'Cause God walks out of the room if you're going after money. And you don't know how to go after money – it doesn't work like that. You have to go with your first intuition. If there's anything I've learned at age 84, it's how little we have to do with most things. It's divine intervention.”
Though the entire paragraph is telling, what stood out to me is the manner that Jones likened music to a heavenly thing, a thing he says “walks out of the room if you’re going after money”.
Indeed, could it be that in telling us how the soul gets stolen, and who stole it, he’s also telling us why black music innovators are continuously marginalized, and its mainstream "replicants", disconnected from the experiences that created these rhythms, is godless? Paul McCartney, now considered a Knight of the British Crown, was a talentless hack. His true advantage being white privilege. Perhaps a bridge too far, perhaps not.