Photo by Tom Taylor

The First Rap Song?

I had a dream about Frank Zappa the night before last. That led me to start listening to some of his music again.

"Trouble Every Day" is a personal favorite of mine. It appeared on FREAK OUT, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention, released in 1966. "Trouble" was a song Frank wrote in response to seeing the 1965 Los Angeles Watts Riots on television. The song isn't a typical Zappa song; it's a pretty straight forward blues based rock song with none of the elaborate instrumentation or arrangements of later recordings. What's different about it are the vocals. Frank was never a "singer" per se. But the lyrics in this song are delivered in a very fast, staccato style, in rapid fire succession. The lyrics deal with urban strife and racial conflict (sadly not sounding all that dated today) and also offer Frank's cynical observation of television news coverage. (Also still pretty timely.) In fact, the lyrical themes and the delivery have sometimes led people to conjecture if this might not be the first--or at least one of the earliest--rap songs. Of course Zappa's music didn't have a lot of appeal across racial lines, professional musicians excepted. So I doubt if many of the rap artists who pioneered the genre in the late 70s had ever heard the song, let alone been influenced by it. The music is certainly, clearly rock. Still, it's another case of where Frank was ahead of his time. And as the world continues to become increasingly absurd, I continue to miss Frank's observations some eighteen years after his passing.

posted by Jim Chadwick @ 10:45 PM, , links to this post

About Me

Jim Chadwick is a native New Yorker who has been living in southern California for the past 20 years. Jim has worked in comic books, publishing, toys and video games for way longer than he'd care to admit. That's because he is way older than he would like to be.

Jim is an editor for DC Comics, working out of the company's west coast office in Burbank, California. But if you came here looking for industry dirt, forget it. I like my job and I'd like to keep it. While I may sometimes talk about comics, this is mostly dedicated to my other interests.

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The title of the blog comes from an old Elvis Costello song that originally appeared on the album (and I can say "album" because I originally bought it on vinyl) called Blood and Chocolate. It's not my favorite Elvis song (though I like it a lot), but I chose it because in the lyrics, the subjective speaker is telling someone that they are now going to have to essentially shut up and listen to what he has to say. Which seemed kind of appropriate to the nature of blogging.

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