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Discovering music: the blues
Discovering music: the blues

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2 What makes a tradition?

Consider for a moment the music of the Beatles: a band that in the 1960s achieved an iconic status. A band like the Beatles may need little introduction, but their place, and indeed the place of their music in a tradition, may be quite hard to pin down. If you are familiar with the Beatles, you may know that they have continued to influence popular music today and therefore that they might be thought of as ‘traditional’. Indeed, one meaning of tradition is that it is something that is handed down and becomes a point of reference or implied authority. The use of a particular group of instruments for a particular type of music may also place it in a tradition, so a singer, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums might be considered traditional for a rock band. Sometimes the word tradition is used to imply something that is not new. If you had been asked about musical tradition in 1964 when the song ‘Can’t buy me love’ was released, you would probably not have even thought of the Beatles as their music would have been ‘of the moment’. Today we can look back at more than half a century of rock and roll music, but does that mean it is a tradition?

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Figure 2 The music of the Beatles

Although the music of the Beatles was very much of its time, it was also deeply reliant on earlier musical styles and practices and in particular on the blues. ‘Can’t buy me love’ is a good example. In musical terms, you could say that it draws on earlier traditions. In this course you are going to unpack what the blues tradition means by investigating some of the music that was so attractive to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and many other famous bands of the 1960s and 1970s.