The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #280: Hey, Bo Diddly by Bo Diddly (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #280: Hey, Bo Diddly by Bo Diddly.

The importance of Bo Diddly and what he contributed to the evolution of Rock n’ Roll music, as we know it today, cannot be understated. As I have written many times throughout the course of writing these posts, the foundation of modern Rock music can be found in the Blues. And, when it come to the Blues, Bo Diddly is one of the titans of the genre. When folks speak of the legendary Bluesmen, they often speak of people like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King, Robert Johnson and Bo Diddly. But, as much as I write about Rock evolving out of the Blues scene, I have never specifically given an example of when that bridge from one genre to another took place. Well, that changes today. The man often credited with being the one who gave Rock n’ Roll that Bluesy beat that is so characteristic of early Rock music was none other than, Bo Diddly. In fact, (and you can even look this up if you are interested), they have even named that early way of playing Rock n’ Roll the “Bo Diddly Beat”. I am going to do my best to describe it in a way that makes sense and that captures the essence of a musical innovation that transformed music as we know it. *If any of my friends who are actual musicians and guitar players wish to add corrections or more detail to what I am about to say, please feel free to do so.

The beat of a song helps give it rhythm and power. The faster the beat, the more energy a song tends to emit. In Indigenous cultures around the world, a drum beat signifies a heartbeat and, as such, it is a very primal sound that comes from the core of one’s being. Consequently, a beat, in a piece of music, is one of the most fundamental aspects of that piece of music. When songs are constructed, musically, the beat count tends to be in a pattern that often repeats so that if you were to look at a sheet of music, you might see, for example, a 2/4 or 4/4 at the beginning of it. That would indicate that the beats pause a little during each measure (2/4) or they are continuous (4/4). The pace or frequency of the beats helps to define the structure of the song and, among other things, helps the audience to know when to clap or jump along with the song as it plays.

Anyway, what Bo Diddly did, waaaaay back in the 1950s was to create a beat that worked on an “off-beat” or, simply, beat pattern that was not every beat (4/4 time) or every other beat (2/4 time). The best way I can describe his beat structure is to refer you to the old song line, “Shave and a haircut….two bits!” In school, we often help children learn about the concept of a syllable by having them clap out the parts that they hear. In the case of “Shave and a haircut….two bits”, you can clap that out and see that the “Shave and a haircut” part has a certain rhythm but that the , “two bits” section has a quicker, sharper rhythm. Once you understand that, think about how it would sound if, instead of clapping, you separated the syllables with thick, bass guitar notes played in the same style and at the same speed as your clapping. When you watch the video and hear Bo Diddly play, pay close attention to the “thump-de-thump-thump…THUMP-THUMP!” structure that lay beneath his sounds. The beat structure has two differing parts which gives it the name, “off beat”. That “Bo Diddly Beat” was the beat that changed music forever! It was the beat that inspired the first wave of rock n’ rollers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. In fact, Berry’s song, “Maybelline”, which we profiled in an earlier post, was constructed, almost note-for-note, using the Bo Diddly Beat.

Bo Diddly never had a chart-topping hit in his entire career yet, he is considered one of the most legendary musicians of all-time. In 1963, The Rolling Stones opened for him during an American tour! When he died a few years ago, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards spoke at his funeral and both commented on what a tremendous influence he was on them becoming musicians and on how his innovative guitar style paved the way for all who followed in his wake. Bo Diddly is enshrined in every conceivable musical Hall of Fame you can think of. In each case, his induction was made during his first year of eligibility. To think it all happened because of his desire to play a beat that drew upon his Latin and African and Bluesy roots….the core of whose he was….. and because of who he was, he changed everything for everyone! What an enduring legacy! What a musician!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to present, the legendary Bo Diddly with one of his most well-known songs, “Hey, Bo Diddly”. Enjoy. And don’t forget to listen for that Bo Diddly Beat structure. It is the true foundation upon which Rock n’ Roll was built.

The link to the video for the song, “Hey, Bo Diddly” by Bo Diddly, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Bo Diddly, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the best artists and music since….well, almost forever. The link to their official website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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