Metamusic for the Meta-Dinner

For the seven-course meta-dinner, I put together a five hour list of mostly metamusic. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have taken a step back to examine how I use the prefix “meta-.” Is a rock ‘n roll song about rock n’ roll — for example, Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” — meta? Metaclass participants agreed that it was and Ian Latta pointed out that it is much more common for music (and poetry) to contain meta elements, references to the art form, than for fiction and film, which tend toward a more naturalistic presentation, the illusion that what you are reading or seeing is “real” and what actually happened. With stories, we want to be fooled. With music and poetry, we don’t mind being reminded that we are listening to or reading an artificial creation.

I Love Rock ‘n Roll, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

The lyrics from Joan Jett’s sexy meta-song:

I saw him dancin’ there by the record machine
I knew he must a been about seventeen
The beat was goin’ strong
Playin’ my favorite song
An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, yeah me
And I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Till he was with me, yeah me, singin’

I love rock n’ roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock n’ roll
So come an’ take your time an’ dance with me

Perhaps making a distinction between soft-meta and hard-meta would be useful, as Omar Rodriguez Rodriguez suggested in his post Meta-Films: An Introduction. He suggested films about the “business and / or creative process” of making films are soft-meta, while films “that at some level acknowledge that they are films themselves” are hard meta. We could make the same distinction about music. Songs that refer to music can be call soft-meta, while songs that refer directly to themselves are hard-meta.

Other songs from our playlist about rock that might be considered soft-meta include:

Rock and Roll, The Boswell Sisters.

This may not be what you think of as rock ‘n roll, because rock ‘n roll originally was not the slamming music of Joan Jett, it was a kind of swing music that gently rocked and rolled “like a rocking chair.”

Rock and roll, roll and rock away,
Up and down, round and round we sway,
We’re the swell
In the spell
Of the rollin’rockin’ rhythm of the sea!

Rock and roll, roll and rock along,
My, ’tis sweet, greet it with a song,
While we dance
There’s romance
In the rollin’rockin’ rhythm of the sea!

Chuck Berry is the one who took us from blues to rock, and so his song Rock and Roll Music is especially appropriate.

Just let me hear some of that rock’n’roll music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a backbeat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be rock – roll music
If you wanna dance with me
If you wanna dance with me

I have no kick against modern jazz
Unless they try to play it too darn fast
And change the beauty of the melody
Until it sounds just like a symphony
That’s why I go for that rock’n’roll music

As suggested above, rock is just an extension of the blues, so songs about the blues could also fit the category of soft-meta:

I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, Billie Holiday

I gotta right to sing the blues
I gotta right to feel low-down
I gotta right to hang around
Down around the river

A certain gal in this old town
Keeps draggin’ my poor (old) heart around
All I see, for me is – misery

Many songs talk about the power of music to alter moods or even to save lives:

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, Indeep

Last night a D.J. saved my life
yeah

’cause I was sittin’
there bored to death
And in just one breath he
said: You gotta get up

You gotta get off
you gotta get down
girl . . .

You’ve got me turning to another man.
Called you on the phone
no one’s home –

Baby
why’d you leave me all alone?
And if it wasn’t for
the music I don’t know
what I do.
Last night a D.J. saved my life

Last night a D.T. saved
my life from a broken
heart.

Some songs are meta just because of their titles:

Rockin’ in Rhythm, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Often song titles refer to the singer:

Billlie’s Blues, Billie Holiday
Calloway Boogie, Cab Calloway
Bob Dylan’s Blues, Bob Dylan

Other songs that fit in this category of soft-meta from our playlist:

The Blues Never Die, Otis Span
Hoochie Coochie Man, Muddy Waters
I Chose to Sing the Blues, Ray Charles
Good Rockin’ Mama, John Lee Hooker
I Got Rhythm, Ethel Waters
I Want to Rock, Cab Calloway
Rock ‘n Roll is Here to Stay, Sha-Na-Na
Roll Over Beethoven, Chuck Berry
Rock Me Amadeus, Falco
Let it Rock, Chuck Berry
Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits
Rock ‘n Roll Suicide, David Bowie
Bang the Drum All Day, Todd Rungren
Rock ‘n Roll Babylon, Love ‘n Rockets
Hot Patootie — Bless My Soul, Meatloaf (from Rocky Horror Picture Show)
I Dig Rock ‘n Roll Music, Peter, Paul and Mary (A parody of the famous rock ‘n rollers of their day.)
Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed (“And the colored girls go . . . “)
Rock ‘n Roll High School, The Ramones

Of course the list could go on and on. Stay tuned for another list of meta-songs from the meta-dinner.

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