My biggest problem with the new Star Wars movies (Because you were wondering) is that I don’t want to have to explain them to our kids. For a while I felt vindicated in my anxiety about it because things seem to be trending towards moral ambiguity, but then I thought about all the records I own and love.
One of the most memorable parts of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a quote near the beginning:
People worry about kids playing with guns and teenagers watching violent videos; we are so scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – Literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and pain and rejection and loss.
Right and wrong have been a central theme as long as there has been music. I think there’s a correlation between rock and roll’s descent into absurdity and its moral certainty and snootiness. Most classic blues and country records follow a straight line on subjects like infidelity and revenge but carry a “common touch”. The introduction of satire into these themes just created convoluted, confusing messages, as in the Lovin Spoonful’s “Money”:
I’ve noticed there’s less ambiguity in a lot of old records. For instance, its no real surprise that the slighted husband in Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer” takes revenge. Today a singer-songwriter would have to develop some narrative tension and the husband would have to think about it before killing the Philadelphia lawyer. And they’d all have names. The song would have been called Myron H. Ball Attorney at Law”*.
Soul singers understood that moral dilemmas sold records. I thought about songs that fit this theme for a few seconds and one of the first I remembered was Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You is Wrong I Don’t Want to be Right”. I also remembered a Ry Cooder instrumental I played in the shop recently, a guitar version of an old soul song. Every time I hear another recording of this song I remember its one of my favorites – Here’s James Carr’s original 1967 recording of “The Dark End of the Street”, followed by I think an appropriate choice, “I Don’t Want to do Wrong” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
*Presumably of Ball & Weed. Funny? Here’s 9 more funny law firm names.