Sunday, February 20, 2011

Layer 448 . . . The Magic of Music, Education, Beatles, Chords, Phonics, Egypt, Dignity, Courage, Death and Tax Avoidance

All You Need Is Love - The Beatles

Sky Arts 1 is re-running the Tony Palmer series of classic documentaries - All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music. Last week it was the programme about the Beatles - their rise and shine.

It's taken me years to  understand the magic of the Beatles's MUSIC. Yes - they were dynamic, funny, good-looking, loveable moptops - but what was so special about their music?

They sang well, they could do incredible harmonies, they were great individual vocalists, they wrote good lyrics, they recorded good songs, they were influenced by great rhythm and blues and rock n roll artists - but was there a special quality in the music itself?

It's dawned on me that their early records were powerful and arresting through being very simple - using a standard chord pattern (I - IV- V) - but using those chords in an inventive and playful way. They also played songs in upbeat major keys - never minor keys in those early songs.

What this means in practice (I think I now understand) is there's something special about those three-chord sequences, spacings and patterns. Common examples are E A B(7); A D E; C F G; G C D; D G A; - all using chords based on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of a given key ( E, A, C, etc,) but not necessarily played in aphabetic order.

This will all be completely obvious to anyone with any musical knowledge, but I'm not writing for the few who are musically educated. I'm writing in the hope of encouraging the far bigger number of people who've had NO musical education to pick up a guitar or sit down at a keyboard - chording their way to an improvised accompaniment to their voices singing the melodies. And singing is good for the soul.

Schools are failing their kids if they don't show them how simple it is to play the basic major and minor chords on guitars and keyboards, and don't teach the chord structures of the world's greatest rock, pop and blues music.

As for the early Beatles albums, they really only contained a few great songs. Lots of good ones - but few really great ones, which were very carefully sequenced on the vinyl for maximum impact.

Please Please Me
The first Beatles album very cleverly began and ended both sides with its 4 strongest tracks.

I Saw Her Standing There - E  A B7

Please Please Me - C F G

Love Me Do - G C D7

Twist And Shout (by Phil Medley & Bert Russell) - D G A

Four very different songs, but each of them following the chord formula I IV V. It just works. Waka waka.

With The Beatles
Side Two is the heart of the With The Beatles album. In the middle it has "You Really Got A Hold Of Me, by Smoky Robinson, and "I Wanna Be Your Man" (E A B7), which was written by John & Paul (and given away to the Stones for a hit single). Good, solid stuff. But the tracks that grab you are the first and the last on the second side - Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" (E A B7) and the climax of the whole album - Berry Gordy's "Money" ( E A B7 ). 'Beethoven' is a joyful announcement that the times they were a'changing. John's vocal on 'Money' is a leering, sarcastic, ironic challenge to the orthodoxies of the day - we could see clearly the wink and the joke in Gordy's lyrics. It's a great song, which Lennon obviously loved singing.

Chuck Berry, of course, was the king of the 3 chord rock n roll classics - Beethoven, Johnny B Goode (E A B7), Rock N Roll Music (D G A7), Sweet Little Sixteen (C F G), Maybelline (A D7 E7) , You Can't Catch Me ( D7 G7 A7) , and so many others. No other songwriter of the day was more prolific than Chuck; no-one wrote so consistently with such wit, and nobody performed with more charisma and originality. Bill Wyman says going to watch Chuck Berry perform on stage changed his life forever, and Bill was a founder member of what's arguably the world's greatest ever (and most enduring) rock and roll band. To have been a massive influence on both the Beatles and the Stones, and on both the Lennon-McCartney and the Jagger-Richards songwriting partnerships, is an incredible achievement.


Education News

Just when you think the levels of stupidity in our education system have touched rock bottom, along comes someone to send you into even deeper pits of despair.

Say hello to the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb MP. 

Reading test for six-year-olds to include non-words

A number of made-up words such as "koob" or "zort" are to be included in the government's planned new reading test for six-year-olds in England.

The UK Literacy Association said the plan was "bonkers" as the purpose of reading was to understand meaning.

Note the past tense here. Clearly the purpose of reading is no longer to understand meaning.

This former chartered accountant is about as ignorant as it's possible for an 'educated' person to be.

New minister Nick Gibb upsets teachers – already

Disciplinarian Gibb says he'd rather see an Oxbridge graduate with no PGCE teaching physics than a qualified teacher with a degree from a 'rubbish university'

With his penchant for old-fashioned discipline in schools – complete with strict uniform policies and rules that pupils should stand when teachers enter the classroom – it was never likely to be long before Nick Gibb provoked the ire of the profession.

But even the new schools minister's harshest critics didn't expect him to manage it within just three days in the job.

Gibb is reported to have told officials in the Department for Education on Friday, the day after his appointment: "I would rather have a physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE."


On the side of the Pharaoh

It is an act of bad faith for Jews to respond to Egypt's revolution with fear instead of hope

"In Egypt it was the moral force of nonviolence, not terrorism, not mindless killing … that bent the arc of history toward justice once more." Borrowing the language of Martin Luther King, President Obama's response to Hosni Mubarak's departure invited us to see Egypt's stirring 18-day revolution not only as a political event of significance but as part of a grander moral and spiritual drama.

I recognise the notion of bending "the arc of history toward justice". It forms part of my understanding of a Judaic vision for humanity. So I was saddened by the predominantly muted and apprehensive response to these uplifting events from many of my fellow Jews in the UK and in Israel. How is it possible, I have wondered, not to be moved and inspired by the sight of a people finding its voice to join protests against decades of dictatorship, corruption, brutality and repression? Protests that were remarkably peaceful given the suppressed fury that must reside in the hearts of so many at the conditions they have had to endure.

How is it not possible to rejoice when, as in 1989, the tide of history enables a swath of humanity to liberate themselves from hard-hearted rulers and move towards a more life-affirming and just ordering of society? Is it because this begrudging Jewish response has been dictated not by a recognition of the power of the human spirit to overcome oppression, but by fear?

It's as if fear is soldered to our soul. Fear that past patterns of prejudice will be repeated and thereby determine our future. I find this kind of fearfulness both dispiriting and a betrayal of the Judaism I hold dear.

For our response to these events to be dictated by our fears, rather than our hopefulness about the human spirit, is an act of bad faith: it reneges on the spiritual vision of our Judaic heritage. In secular terms, it puts us as Jews on the wrong side of history – it puts us on the side of repression and brutality. It puts us, so to speak, on the side of Pharaoh rather than Moses. In religious terms, it fails to understand that the biblical phrase that we lovingly repeat each year when we tell our own story of liberation, "Let my people go … ", is the voice of the divine, of God, of the sacred principle that freedom from oppression is the right of every people.

That is the vision at the heart of prophetic Judaism: freedom from oppression, each person to have the opportunity to sit under their vine and their fig tree where no one shall make them afraid. Isn't that what the people of Egypt want too?

Fear is a great dictator – to overthrow its tyranny within us is a spiritual challenge. Yes, Egypt has a long way to go: the transition from military to civilian rule will no doubt be bumpy. But as a Jew I celebrate, as Obama was celebrating, the movement of the human spirit towards freedom. All that those crowds possessed was, as the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif put it, "words and music and legitimacy and hope". We have seen what powerful weapons these can be when wielded with determination, courage and vision.


Egyptian dignity in the face of death

It was only when we protesters risked being shot that revolution in Egypt truly took hold

by Nawara Najem

The masses that confronted security forces were not the Facebook youth and neither were they the internet activists. Rather, they were segments of Egyptian society whose anger had been ignited by seeing the dead bodies, and so suddenly and unexpectedly they decided that they would risk being shot. Repressive forces want to kill hundreds in order to terrorise the millions, and the only way to foil such a plan is for millions to make the collective decision that they do not fear death. This was the key to both the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

Why did the people not fear death? No one knows. It was not only religion, because some of those who died were not believers. It was not only poverty, because many of those who faced death were from the comfortable classes. It was not only despair, as the millions who came out onto the streets were full of hope for change. Perhaps the answer is human dignity. No force, no matter how tyrannous, is able to deprive human beings of this. People broke through the fear barrier, and Christians discovered that the Muslim's are not terrorists while Muslim's discovered that Christians are not agents of the occupation. The poor discovered that they have rights and the middle classes discovered that freedom from counterfeit gains releases the soul. And discovered that they do not need either a leader or commander. Indeed, they don't even need security forces to maintain "security and stability". This revolution is a people's revolution. Whoever claims leadership of it is a liar and whoever claims to be its instigator is a vagabond. Leadership was and remains the property of the masses.

The Egyptian revolution is not yet over. The people have toppled the head of the regime and still they strive to cleanse the pockets of corruption. Let the dictatorships, international forces and beneficiaries clamour. No one can exert control over the will of nations once they have flared up.


Middle East: Ten days that shook the world

The echo of Egypt's revolution is rocking despotic regimes from Algiers to Damascus



Corporate tax avoidance: Impoverishing the public

Bankers' determination to minimise their contribution to public funds is matched by the lavishness of the benefits they have enjoyed at public expense


It was the high priest of free markets, Adam Smith, who warned that joint stock companies encourage negligence. Limited liability is a terrific privilege for which companies ought to expect to contribute generously to the community's coffers. Many fail to do so, including banks that have only recently drawn heavily on a common resource. Whatever the spin, they are coming to be seen – in another of Smith's phrases – as "a conspiracy against the public".

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