Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No. 214: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley

Band: Bo Diddley
Album: Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Bo Diddley introduced and perfected certain rhythms to rock and roll. They were beats that have stuck around, even making an appearance in big-time pop music ("I Want Candy" being the operative one). His influence on early rock and roll should not be discounted.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Putting two albums into one (it was released as a joint CD upon reissue) is kind of a cop out.
Best song: Any song where Bo mentions himself ("Bo's Guitar" on "Go Bo Diddley" and the title track, "Diddley Daddy" and "Hey! Bo Diddley") makes me happy. "Hey! Bo Diddley" is probably the best of the four. His versions of some of the blues classics ("Before You Accuse Me," "I'm A Man," and "Who Do You Love?") are fantastic.
Worst song: "Pretty thing" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: A little bit of Bo Diddley goes a long way, but everyone should at least have "Bo Diddley."

In a similar situation to The New York Dolls, in that I knew of Bo Diddley from a very famous Nike ad wherein Bo Jackson inexplicably plays tennis, basketball and hockey. Then, he plays guitar badly and Bo Diddley tells him "Bo, you don't know Diddley!"


Because this is a written blog, as opposed to a podcast, I can't really adequately describe the Bo Diddley beat. However, our good friend Wikipedia has a description that is pretty fitting:

In its simplest form, the Bo Diddley beat can be counted out as a two-bar phrase:

One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and

The bolded counts are the clave rhythm.

That's Bo Diddley. The songs "Bo Diddley" and "Hey! Bo Diddley" use it in the best way on his self-titled record.

So, outside of the Bo Jackson ad, Diddley's probably most famous for that beat. It's used over and over (Our good friend Wikipedia lists "Mr. Brownstone," "Not Fade Away," "1969" and "Panic In Detroit" as songs with the Bo Diddley beat). It's as distinctive as it is catchy and it's pretty damned catchy.


I guess, on some level, I have Diddley to blame when I complain about the fact that rhythm has replaced melody in a lot of dance music today. The popular "My Humps," "Drop It Like It's Hot" and -- especially -- "Hollaback Girl" use huge beats and chanting in lieu of actually producing a melody of note.

But, that's like blaming the inventor of the wheel for car accidents. Diddley's introduced big beats to rock and roll, he didn't use them in lieu of actually having a melody. In fact, Diddley's guitar playing is considerably better than many give him credit for. His voice has the grit of a classic blues singer while still maintaining the integrity of the song. In short, he was a great musician, more than just chanting over loud drums.


Outside of the songs about himself (later in his career, he did "Bo Diddley's Dog"), Diddley's treatment of some blues classics is what surprised me most. "Before You Accuse Me" is considered to be a B.B. King song at this point, but Diddley blows King's version away. It's more of a slow burn (odd for Diddley, indeed), but his voice is more impassioned than King's ever was. Certainly, he's not the guitarist that King is; Few are. But his version is more interesting, if only because it's not as clinical.

Similarly, his "I'm A Man" relies on Diddley's use of big beats comes to the forefront. Like Muddy Waters, he takes the old blues beat and adds some motion to it. His voice peppers the easy harmonica and guitar perfectly, nearing Waters' version as the best of the song.


Bo Diddley's records don't deviate much from the formula. Even so, I found "Bo Diddley" to be incredibly fun and still haven't tired from it. It's like Pac-Man or Frogger; It's simple compared to what we have today, yet still timeless.

1 comment:

kellydwyer said...

You PURRRR-dy thang. Now I'm going to have that in my head for the rest of the day. Nothing wrong with that.