Listen first, then we’ll talk…
Now what if I told you “Rumble” by Link Wray and His Ray Men was released in 1958, before distortion became the sonic texture of choice for rockers? What if I told you that the distortion that you hear is the result of punching holes in the speaker cone of Link Wray’s guitar amplifier? Pretty amazing, huh?
Here’s perhaps the most interesting piece of trivia: “Rumble” was banned on many airways for contributing to the delinquency of minors. It’s an instrumental! Let me repeat that again: “Rumble,” a song without lyrics, had such a dangerous vibe that it was banned on many U.S. radio stations. That’s quite a feat.
Why did mainstream radio fear this song? Simple. This song made people feel either exhilarated or uncomfortable, depending on their disposition towards the status quo. Exhilarated and uncomfortable were completely unacceptable emotions for a 1958 audience, as deemed by a group of people whom I’ll call the powers that were. Mostly it was the teenagers who were exhilarated and the powers that were who were uncomfortable.
Not until The Beatles came to America in 1963 did the powers that were concede that teenagers — the sons and daughters of Americans who saved the world from Nazi oppression — will have their way and become the powers that are. Link Wray and His Ray Men helped prime American audiences for things to come.
“Rumble” changed things for many important rock guitarists too. Pete Townsend claims that without “Rumble” he would have never played guitar. Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin said that Link Wray’s sound influenced his rock vision. Those are two rock legends citing Link Wray as an influence.
Many TV shows and movies have used “Rumble” to create an edgy vibe. For me, the most notable movie is Pulp Fiction.
Oh, and here is one last piece of trivia. “Oddball” was the original title to “Rumble.”
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Nice post, Earle. (Pam sent me the link since I wrote a column about book banning today.)
Of course, being of our generation, I hit play and immediately said “Pulp Fiction!” before reading anything you wrote.
I didn’t know how controversial it was, though, or that guitarists like Townsend and Page saw it as formative. Good stuff.
And now I want to watch “Pulp Fiction” again…
Thanks Eric! Any excuse to watch a Tarantino movie is a good one.
I love the idea of an instrumental song being banned! OK, I don’t actually “love” the idea, but you know what I mean … that a song is so powerful and generates such a feeling in listeners that is scares all the grown-ups. That is awesome.
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