The history of metal and rock music occurred because of some serious copying. My favourite saying has always been that all “progress is derivative.” What I mean by this term, is that all the music we love is an amalgamation of music that has come before. In a lot of the cases, this amalgamation involved some serious copying. To use a common term that is banded about today, the history of music as I know it involved a lot of “stealing.”
Previously, I posted on “The Kashmir Effect” in hard rock and heavy metal music. This was my take on the legacy that the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir” had on hard rock and heavy metal.
In this post, I am focusing on that descending bass line that I first heard on the George Harrison penned “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The way that it descends is that it goes down by a whole tone first and then four semi tones in a chromatic progression. So if the song was in the key of Am, then the progression would be A – G – F# – F – E
Since the Sixties, that descending passage has appeared in countless songs that are all seen as classics in this day and age.
Recently it was “Trial Of Tears” from Dream Theater that triggered this study into the descending bass line.
So where do we begin. The beauty of progress in music never begins in one place. It begins in many places and then there is always a creator or an artist that starts to bring it all together.
In one instance, it all started in the fifties when an unknown folk singer by the name of Anne Bredon wrote a song called “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” By 1962, Joan Baez had popularised the song.
In another instance, in 1966, an American band called The Loving Spoonful released a song called “Summer In The City”, that had a verse riff in the key of Cm that descended.
Also in that same year, a British band called The Kinks released “Sunny Afternoon.”
Both songs have a lot of similarities, especially that descending bass line. Back in those days it was common for artists to release similar sounding songs across two continents, or for artists to cover a song that was popular on one continent and unheard of in the other.
In 1967, the mighty Cream released “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” another “progress is derivative” gem that featured a similar bass line to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” and a vocal melody inspired by Judy Collins’ version of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
Then in 1968 came “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles with a definitive guitar solo from Eric Clapton, who had more or less worked out a similar solo the previous year on the “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” song.
So at this point in time, you have two separate stages of music happening. The US “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and Summer In The City” stage and The British “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” stage.
In 1969, another British band by the name of Led Zeppelin took these two stages and merged them together in their re-interpretation of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. A perfect example of progress being derivative.
That is how the language of music is learned. We imitate our influences. Some will call it “theft” and others will call it “inspiration.” In the end, there is a saying that goes something like “Talent Imitates, True Genius Steals.”
However, the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect doesn’t end there. An American band called Chicago more or less copied the aggressive part of Led Zeppelin’s version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” for their song “25 or 6 to 4.”
It was just another song that proved successful using the same descending bass line that I will always know as the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” bass line.
So moving on, in 1971, The Grass Roots released “Temptation Eyes”. Another song that proved successful that was tied up with the descending bass line and the “Summer In The City” groove established years earlier.
Culture is all about emulation. Copyright is about governments intervening and this is when Copyright started to become a force to be reckoned with.
Up until 1971, music culture had 11 years of unbelievable progress by copying what came before and making it better. Look at the quality of music released around a descending bass line.
It didn’t end there. I am sure there are many other examples in between, however to my knowledge the next time the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect was heard occurred in 1975. At this time Styx released “Suite Madame Blue.”
The Eighties had a real pop element to it.
Then in 1993, I purchased an album called “Countdown To Extinction” from Megadeth. The opening track, Skin Of My Teeth had a chorus riff that reminded me of The Beatles classic. Dave Mustaine was well known for taking his influences from the Seventies and converting them to thrash and metal music. He even got a mention for the Kashmir influence in the song “In My Darkest Hour.”
Then in 1995, Oasis released “She’s Electric” and there it was again. The “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect was in action again in the Nineties after going largely unnoticed in the Eighties.
Green Day then released “Brain Stew” in 1996 and there it was again, the definitive descending bass line.
The following year, 1997 saw two releases that had the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” descending bass line. This time is was progressive masters, Dream Theater and their song “Trial Of Tears”. Pop rock band Texas also had a song called “Black Eyed Boy.”
Remember songs are not created in vacuums.