Post by Dean F.
Why in the hell would you resurrect this ridiculous old discussion?
How about this one, Dean?
Dean F. 'DAVE MARSH on Scarlotti'...rec.music-rock-pop-r+b 1950s, 29 May
Some time ago, Diane suggested that I e-mail my acquaintance, rock
critic/journalist Dave Marsh, about Scarlotti. I never actually did it,
though, until last night. I'm still not sure why; perhaps Scarlotti's
alternate-universe dissection of "Sh-Boom" was the final straw.
Whatever the case, last night I conducted a Google search, from which I cut
and pasted a half-dozen or so of what I considered vintage Scarlotti
postings. I also provided Marsh with some background info on the situation
in our newsgroup, and asked if he would consider reading the material I was
enclosing and commenting on it.
Not only did Dave comment, but he did so in a fair amount of detail. His
e-mail to me is below. Hope you enjoy!
Oh, so it was Dean F. who knows Dave Marsh... I'll need to look at more of
this in the archives...
Feel free to circulate this:
You can't actually argue with a white supremacist. They can't afford to
admit error in any detail, otherwise their entire pseudo-intellectual house
of cards falls apart. For the benefit of anyone who isn't a cement-headed
bigot, I offer the following:
The Orioles had TWO big pop chart hits ("It's Too Soon to Know" #13, "Crying
in the Chapel" #11 by the reckoning of Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories
1890-1954; I know of no scholar of pop music in America who considers this
anything but definitive). The influence of the Orioles on early doo-wop is
obvious to anyone who bothers to listen--as is the influence of the Ink
Spots, whose approach is to my ear considerably different, having in the
first place much less gospel to it. However, since Scarlotti virtually
boasts of not bothering to listen, who can refute his ignorant ass?
"Who put the R&B style into the mainstream" is pretty well documented. It
wasn't the Ink Spots. I'd suggest that anyone who is interested-this
wouldn't include Scarlotti of course, because to He Whom All Things Are
Already Revealed, mere scholarship would be demeaning-read the account by
Philip H. Ennis, a Columbia University sociologist, in The Seventh Stream.
Ennis was there at the time, he studied the thing in greater depth than
anyone else, he does not discount white pop at all (in fact, he includes
some streams-e.g., Latin, at least by incorporation-that virtually no one
else does). Also see Gillett's The Sound of the City and Charles Hamm's
Yesterdays. (I would like to see Scarlotti try to discredit Hamm, a full
professor at Dartmouth, head of their music department and scholar not only
of Tin Pan Alley - he wrote a book about Irving Berlin, straight-up
musicology-but of Charles Ives, than whom nothing is more
But Scarlotti is beyond reasoning.
<< If a group's songs -- relegated to "race records" and a limited, insular
market - receive no airplay on the mainstream stations, can they be said to
have had a direct and profound effect on mainstream music? (The answer is
This is, quite simply, stupid. First, it misunderstands what DIRECT means as
to influence. Go thumb through Elvis Presley's record collection some time
(I once did); it is full of the kind of music that Scarlotti insists does
Second, he misunderstands what "profound" means. It means deep
and awesome-as in "profound silence," "profound deafness" (the latter
particularly apropos in this context).
Neither of these qualities requires actually being present on
the pop charts. And in any event, there was plenty of black pop music on the
charts in the period in question (Ink Spots, Nat Cole as solo and more
pertinently with Trio, et cetera).
Third, Scarlotti makes an assumption about charts that is
completely anachronistic. Charts then were not what charts are today. First,
they were much more limited in the period 1938-1954, and there were several
different charts-not just one, including stuff like Juke Box Play, Best
Selling Records and Disc Jockey Charts. Much of what sold was undocumented.
Bob Rolontz, who was a Billboard reporter in the early '50s (he wrote the
Billboard review of "That's All Right Mama" for instance) once estimated to
me that Little Willie John's Fever outsold Peggy Lee's on the order of three
to one, but that the system of weighting airplay into the charts and of
stores "reporting" what was good for their main vendors skewed the chart.
Another anachronistic attitude is that radio airplay was
anything like as monolithic as it now is. Disc jockey shows, as I am old
enough to recall even if ample documentation didn't already exist, had great
latitude in what they played; regional hits were incredibly important and
that meant that a hit in the North was not necessarily a hit in the South,
Midwest, Southwest or Northwest; distribution was incredibly uneven so that
records made west of the Rockies even if they got a good deal of airplay
would not show up strongly on the charts.
Fourth, you can't altogether trust the charts because-like disc
jockey needle time-chart positions were to a great extent for sale. This is
also readily documented, in similar histories.
Fifth, looking at records won't tell you the history because,
until very late in the game, records were toys. The real business *and the
real artifacts of that business* were sheet music and live performance, and
success there told a very different story. Somehow, you know, huge fortunes
were made by Ralph Peer and Roy Acuff/Wesley Rose in Nashville, even though
only a tiny percentage of their records (and even, songs) ever got covered
as pop hits. You think they made it all off "Tennessee Waltz," which is what
you would think from the charts? Not so.
The case for Johnnie Ray is interesting and not original. It doesn't really
work. At best, what one can say is that Ray anticipated much that would
follow, and that he had some influence on the dramatic stances of early
rockers. But was he more "influential" than say, Lowman Pauling, who
contributed two key songs ("Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Think"),
recentered the instrumental side (which Scarlotti seems totally uninterested
in) from sax to guitar, and who did much more to bridge the sacred-secular
gulf than anyone until Ray Charles? (Robert Palmer is devastating good about
Pauling and his group, the Five Royales.)
In part, Scarlotti exposes himself by insisting that there must
be *a* "'father' of the mass cultural giant" (what a bloated phrase!). There
were many. Johnnie Ray owns no real primacy of place over Louis Jordan, over
the Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds and (particularly) Swan Silvertones,
over the work not only of Hank Williams but of Moon Mullican, Bob Wills,
Bill Monroe and Lefty Frizzell. Ralph Gleason argued that the basic beat
came from Jimmy Lunceford's great (black) big bands; you can hear some of
that. Ahmet Ertegun says the whole thing comes out of "Pinetop's Boogie
Woogie," and if you listen a while, you might hear what he means (without
thinking it's anywhere near that simple).
The origin of rock 'n' roll is a non-sexual process. It is
PROCESS, though, above all, and as such has no simple lineage such as this
discussion mistakenly tries to create. A product of such process has a
heritage whose chart resembles not so much a tree as a bush. Johnny Ray has
a place on that bush. So do 30 or 40 others, and most of them are black.
Hell, even a fascist mug like Lee Atwater knew that much.
A major problem with Scarlotti's case is that he lacks an understanding of
that process. Consider:
<< In the 20s, 30s, and 40s when a new song came out everybody covered it --
and the best version (hopefully) became the hit>>
Presuming I understand him correctly in his use of "hopefully," he seems to
have the idea that the system itself somehow harbored such hopes. In fact,
there is ample evidence-and none of which I am aware to the contrary-that
the system, and almost everyone within the system, hoped that their version
became a hit, whatever its relative aesthetic merit. Second, "everybody"
covered it applies to a very narrow spectrum of music. "Everybody" didn't
cover "Oklahoma Hills." "Everybody" didn't cover "Muskrat Ramble."
"Everybody" didn't cover "Tennessee Waltz." "Everybody" didn't even cover
"Stardust." People who thought they could do well with it-mainly,
economically do well, but also, people who had an idea of how to make a
different flavor of "Stardust"-they "covered" it. (The use of "cover" is
another anachronism. The cover had a VERY specific meaning then, it meant
trying to kill off the versions done by others, simultaneously. Scarlotti
uses the word where it simply means "do another version of.")
Second, Scarlotti seems under the mistaken impression that this
process stopped after the '40s. It clearly did not. LaVern Baker went to a
Congressional hearing and complained about Georgia Gibbs knocking off her
R&B hits (a very precise example of "cover")-if Scarlotti had read ANY good
history, he'd know that. (Of course at this point, one has to realize that
one is dealing with a man both smug enough to think his preference for
Georgia Gibbs above all other female singers is aesthetically beyond
challenge, and so socially isolated that he can't imagine the gales of
laughter erupting from the knowing at this statement. Hey, Cub Koda and I
used to argue all the time about him liking Gary Lewis and the Playboys, but
Cub never tried to claim that Gary ran a better band than the Stones.)
The "cover" process he's talking about didn't end until the '60s
with the advent of Motown and the Beatles. The basic reason that it ended
was that the music world finally made the transition-then and only then-from
thinking about the "song" as the main property to thinking about the
*performance* as the main property. There were dozens if not hundreds of
versions of Michelle and Yesterday. None were "covers," because the people
who made them understood that they had not a prayer of
eclipsing-commercially, if not aesthetically-the Beatles' versions. That was
a huge change.
There is a great deal more about the process of which he is
It is very, very likely that *over the span of years* during
which Etta James's "The Wallflower" has been reissued about 25 times for
every once that lame-ass Gibbs version has been, James outsold Gibbs *by
This is an argument about influence. Influence is ongoing-again,
part of a process. But even at the time, if "influence" is what one is
talking about, simply ask yourself this: Five years later, or even three
years later, were there more singers on the charts who sounded like Etta
James or more singers who sounded like Georgia Gibbs. Scarlotti is ignorant
because, in large part, Scarlotti is too lazy (arguably too stupid but why
get into that?) to think the issue through.
There is something to be said, also, about the way in which "rock" has
replaced "pop," as Scarlotti claims. But to really analyze what happened,
you would also need to take into account the various subsets who use the
term much more restrictively. You would have to divine that "pop" today does
not mean what "pop" meant yesterday. In short, you'd have to do some work,
which Scarlotti is obviously too indolent to take on. (I've written about
this issue off and on for 30 years. It is an issue and a meaningful one.
Scarlotti understands it about the same way that a man coming out a bar
blind drunk would understand a horse if he slipped and fell into a pile of
horseshit. He'd know the beast had been there, but nothing about its actual
size, appetites and other particulars.)
Scarlotti plays rather fast and loose with terminology, while attempting to
aggrandize all definitions of it. Anyone who thinks that the Flamingos and
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers weren't doo-wop is so ignorant of doo-wop
that he is not really entitled to a voice in a serious discussion (which the
dialogue obviously isn't, just a couple of sincere people trying to debate
a self-centered blowhard.) Consider
<< Buddy and Chuck, that is. Since my thoughts on them are similar, I
figured I'd just combine them>>
In the history of narcissism, it would be very difficult to find a better
example of how it works. My thoughts about Scarlotti and Dennis Miller are
similar-both are self-satisfied, know-it-all pinheads-but that doesn't mean
that Scarlotti once appeared on Monday Night Football. Or that what I think
about comedians who don't barge into discussions of pop music with
assholeian theories makes a whit of difference to someone who actually knows
something about comedy. Or football hosts. Who CARES if Scarlotti thinks the
same of Chuck and Buddy? He seems to think it matters but why do any of YOU?
Ignore the son of a bitch, or call him sixteen kinds of cocksucker-I
certainly would-and try to drive his dipshit presence out of your
I could pick this shit apart all day-Pat Boone almost certainly wasn't the
"second most popular" rock star of the '50s. Fats Domino charted many more
records, he was on the charts first and he was on way, way beyond when Pat
went back to seminary or got caught fucking Red Foley's daughter and had to
get hitched, whichever came first. Again, he assumes some fallacies-that the
charts tell all, that the pop charts matter and the R&B charts are
I don't know why anyone would bother mentioning this to Scarlotti, who would
undoubtedly simply gobble another Cheeto, fart and start masturbating to
some other tune. There is no one who has done their homework, and isn't a
lazy belligerent Internet schmuck, who thinks what he thinks. If I couldn't
boot his sorry ass out of the discussion, I'd go start a discussion
somewhere else. Or dare the shithead to try to get his "theories" published
and suffer the various consequences (ridicule, failure to get ms. accepted
by any reputable publisher, much more specific refutation than I have time
for here). Just every time he opens his pompous stupid fool mouth, tell him
"Go try and peddle it. You believe that quantity is quality" - a fascistic
belief, I might add-"go try to find a 'market' for this nonsense. And if you
can't, shut the fuck up."
STEPHAN PICKERING / חפץ ח"ם בן אברהם
Torah אלילה Yehu'di Apikores / Philologia Kabbalistica Speculativa
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