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Monday, September 5

Old School Week at Pundita Blog

You could understand the lyrics on the first hearing. You could sing along with the tune. You could sing it with your grandpa and your mother and your kids. You could dance to it at dance clubs and family picnics. 

There were no sexually explicit themes. There were a few political statements but more the kind everybody mentioned at the lunch counter: I know none of ya'll satisfied the way prices have been goin' up on things.  

There were female singing groups and individual singers who had big hits, but the music that the hip-hop generation dubbed Old School in deference to their parents was dominated by male harmonizing groups, groups like the Dells, Stylistics, Spinners, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes. 

Many of these harmonizers learned to sing in church and their music held onto its church roots. Even if the lyrics were sometimes a tale of love lost, this was music to remind you that no matter how tough things got, life was worth living. 

What happened to the music? What led to its eclipse in popularity on the charts? Oh, you could get Sociological about it and make it into a very sad song.

A song of what was happening to American blacks in city after city, as politics hacked away at religion, as television news and dramas made nihilism and rage the emblems of the larger American society, as record companies and MTV producers made fortunes transforming pop song performances into soft pornography, as the drug cult wormed its way into the lives of even young American children, as the rap music favored in the prison parolee subcult began to impose itself on dance clubs in the poorest urban neighborhoods, as the numbers in the subcult skyrocketed.

Strangely, though, Old School music had its heyday in the 1970s, which saw very bad times in the big American cities. The violence wasn't quite at the level as today in, say, Chicago's worst neighborhoods, but there was a lot of violent crime, and there were race riots and a general breakdown of what armchair sociologists like to call the social fabric.

So maybe, if you had to pick just one explanation, it's that great singers who can harmonize don't grow on trees. 

The good news is that Old School never really went away. Just about every major American city probably still has a 'black' radio station that plays the music, and it's retained a following among urban whites who jumped off the hard-rock wagon and didn't like 'country and western' pop music.

And just when it seemed hits by rap/hip hoppers and prima-donna screechers who for some reason can only hold a note if they sing through their sinuses were going to shove Old School tunes off the daily playlists at the black radio stations, along came along the highly interactive YouTube. There a young generation of Americans -- black, white, you name it -- discovered tunes like this:       

"Bad Luck" - 1975 - Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes  

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