Les Baxter's Teen Drums

Les Baxter
Les Baxter's Teen Drums 7" (Capitol France, 1960)

Attempts by "old folks" to appeal to the young crowd often fall flat...or so we think. We've been told that rock & roll is the music of youth, that it was the first music created by young people by young people, and that it was the start of a youth revolution. Those words are the accepted history of Rock & Roll as told by the respectable in the form of PBS and Rolling Stone and the muttly in the person of your acid casualty of an uncle who can't stop about how "Woodstock saved a nation, man." Forget those words because they contain a big lie. Sure, the main consumers of rock & roll were young people, uh actually make that young White people..Black people off all ages were listening to rock & roll from the music's origins. As I was saying, yes, the main White folks consuming rock & roll were youth, but the people producing it, Black & White, were the old crowd, the over 30s and over 40s and even, gasp, the older 50s! Working musicians and the record industry saw a music and a market. They knew that as long as market was being served music packaged to appeal to that market the music would sell. Part of the packaging of rock & roll, one that worked was wrapping it up in youth. So groups like Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and singers like Ricky Nelson were pushed up front, while their writing teams and producers, twenty years their elder worked in the back. Even the big stars - Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison - were at least ten years older than their White fans. And if we want to get to the origins of rock & roll, back to when rock & roll was Black and White working class, we find that the music's themes were definitely adult. Rock & roll was about working, paying bills, partying, blowing off steam, fighting with your other, and, most of all, fucking. The phrase rock & roll was slang for fucking. So if we go back to where the music started, rock & roll wasn't about youth or a youth revolution. It was about being an adult in a confusing, fucked up world.

But then we have the marketers and they wanted to make it the music of youth. Part of the marketing of rock & roll as youth music meant trying to figure out how to sell kids and what were the sounds that they would dig. The record labels tapped everyone for ideas. One of those people was Les Baxter. By the time Baxter made his first "teen" record, he was an old man of 32 years old and had already established himself as one of the princes of Exotica and a duke of easy listening. He had backed Nat King Cole & Frank Sinatra. He helped create Yma Sumac's classic the Voice of Xtabay. His classic exotica records, Ritual of the Savage and Tamboo!, were released. He was a success. Still, Capitol tapped him for a teen record and Les Baxter's Teen Drums was made.

Teen Drums comes off as a surf record. The cover shows two flat topped surf dudes in a classic car full of bongos (and congas) and girls (actually, school marms). The song titles are hip, full of the jargon of the day. Though if you leave aside the growling guitar, the sound is more bebop than rock & roll. And that is fine by me. What I'm gonna give you are two songs off a four song ep, culled from the LP, for French consumption. Barbarian has a cool fuzz guitar and a really nice lowdown line going though it. The topper for me is the funky drum/sax masterpiece, I Dig.

I dig this a lot!
Again you manage to suprise me
with something special.
Always happy to find some Les Baxter,
but this is really crunchy stuff!

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