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Noel Coward, Proto-Rapper

About a year ago, I mentioned Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in a post about Joe Cocker and Leon Russell and the tour and  album that were named with a piece of Coward’s phrase. The original song is an amazing piece of music, which is above. It can be seen as one of the grandfathers — or perhaps great grandfathers — of rap and hip-hop.

Coward was unique. This is how John Kenrick opens a section of his site, Musicials 101, that is dedicated to the all-around talent:

Of all the remarkable figures who peopled the 20th Century, none was even remotely comparable to Noel Coward. Born the son of an unsuccessful piano salesman, Coward had no more than a few years of elementary school education. Even so, by early adulthood he was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as the personification of wit and sophistication. Successful as a composer, lyricist, actor, singer, director, novelist, painter . . . small wonder friends and colleagues called him “The Master.” (Continue Reading…)

A well written profile appears at iMDB:

Noel Coward virtually invented the concept of Englishness for the 20th century. An astounding polymath – dramatist, actor, writer, composer, lyricist, painter, and wit — he was defined by his Englishness as much as he defined it. He was indeed the first Brit pop star, the first ambassador of “cool Britannia.” Even before his 1924 drugs-and-sex scandal of The Vortex, his fans were hanging out of their scarves over the theater balcony, imitating their idol’s dress and repeating each “Noelism” with glee. Born in suburban Teddington on 16 December 1899, Coward was on stage by the age of six, and writing his first drama ten years later. A visit to New York in 1921 infused him with the pace of Broadway shows, and he injected its speed into staid British drama and music to create a high-octane rush for the jazz-mad, dance-crazy 1920s. Coward’s style was imitated everywhere, as otherwise quite normal Englishmen donned dressing gowns, stuck cigarettes in long holders and called each other “dahling”; his revues propagated the message, with songs sentimental (“A Room With A View,” “I’ll See You Again”) and satirical (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “Don’t Put Your Daughter On the Stage, Mrs. Worthington”). His between-the-wars celebrity reached a peak in 1930 with “Private Lives,” by which time he had become the highest earning author in the western world. With the onset of World War II he redefined the spirit of the country in films such as This Happy Breed (1944), In Which We Serve (1942), Blithe Spirit (1945) and, perhaps most memorably, Brief Encounter (1945). (Continue Reading…)

Below is the happy tale of “Uncle Harry,” which offers the same dismissive attitude toward British rectitude as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”

(Homepage photo: Allan Warren)

Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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