What Makes a Great Rockabilly Song?

By Buster Fayte, Featured Author, Sad Man’s Tongue

As a song writer, I’ve written many rockabilly songs. Some of them have been  fairly good (in my opinion!), some admittedly not so great. Many of my songs  I’ve played in live shows and some have been well received by the audience while  others have fallen a little flat. So I’ve often contemplated the question, “What  makes a great rockabilly song?” In trying to find the answer to that question,  I’ve looked to the great rockabilly songs of history. In this article, I’ll talk  about a couple of the answers I’ve found. Of course, this is all my opinion and  you may have different ideas about what makes a great rockabilly song, but it  should be fun to explore the subject together.

One of the obvious aspects of rockabilly that made the music so exciting back  in those early days was that it was fresh, new, and different. For us modern  rockabilly songwriters, we no longer have that element of surprise working for  us and that may seem to make the job more difficult. But in reality, it wasn’t  the freshness alone that made those songs great. In fact, the truly great songs  still sound great even though we’ve been listening to them for 60 years! They  still sound fresh and exciting, so there must be something to them beyond the  simple novelty of a new art form. If our modern rockabilly songs don’t measure  up, we can’t hide behind the excuse that the genre isn’t fresh!

If I had to choose one word to describe this music, it would be energy. Great rockabilly music has a different kind of energy. Even the  slower numbers keep you energized–like you never know whether the song’s going  to stay slow or suddenly explode into rockabilly madness. And it doesn’t seem to  matter how many times you’ve heard a song; you still anticipate the explosion.  For me, no other music has the same energy as rockabilly. It’s a positive, happy  energy that makes me smile every time I experience it!

Another important aspect of rockabilly is what I call “sleeper simplicity.”  Or perhaps you could call it “sleeper complexity.” Rockabilly songs are  generally quite simply constructed. The chord progressions are pretty  predictable. The song section structure is usually a simple alternating between  verse and chorus with a musical break or two tossed in. Bridge sections are  rare. Not many surprises there. But this structural simplicity hides the  complexity of the musical talent behind it. The guitar work is usually far from  simple. Complex chord-based solos intertwine with single-note leads that can  jump back and forth between minor and major musical scales at any time–not only  within the same solo, but in fact even within the same section of the solo! Carl  Perkins was a master at this type of soloing. And it’s not just the guitar  breaks. Listen to how the lead guitar often weaves around and intertwines with  the vocal. It’s not just a picker randomly firing off riffs. The player seems to  almost be able to make the guitar a part of the vocal and it’s a complex  talent!

The bass also adds its own unexpected complexity–especially on recordings or  live performances that don’t use drums. The slap-bass style of many rockabilly  bass players turns the bass into a double-duty instrument. The bass notes hold  the bottom end while the slapping rhythms can get quite complex indeed. But in  some ways, things get more complex with the bass when there is a drummer because  now the drum and bass have to work together so they don’t compete with setting  the rhythm. While this is true with the interplay between bass and drum in any  type of music, the slap-bass rockabilly bassist has that additional aspect of  percussive rhythm to consider. The bassist must ensure that those slaps  integrate perfectly with the drummer’s rhythms. If they don’t, things get real  sloppy real fast!

OK; those are just some of my thoughts on what makes a great rockabilly song.  I certainly don’t have it completely figured out yet and I’ll keep studying it  in my quest to get to the root of the answer. If you’re like me, you’ll find  that analyzing the music in this way adds to the joy of rockabilly music!

Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.

Article Source: EzineArticles.com

About Sad Man's Tongue: Rockabilly Bar & Bistro - Prague

We are a Bar and Bistro where old school meets the new school, dedicated to preserving the roots of rock and roll and it's modern adaptations as well as preserving the cultural identity of our neighborhood through our food, the the principles of the slow food movement. A little bit of rockabilly and retro combine with the kustom kulture of today, in an atmosphere devoid of Pretension.
This entry was posted in 1950s, Carl Perkins, Culture, Elvis, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash, Music, Music History, Rock n Roll, Rockabilly, Rockabilly Bands & Music, Sun Records and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Makes a Great Rockabilly Song?

  1. Pingback: What Makes a Great Rockabilly Song? | Rockabilly | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: What Makes a Great Rockabilly Song? | The Vault of Terror and Vintage Glamour | Scoop.it

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