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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Six Worst Musical Thefts by White People

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 11:03 AM

  • Keith Richards early in his career.

February is Black History Month, the mere existence of which is a reminder that white people have spent a majority of America's existence being total dicks. When it comes to popular music, Caucasians are like a race comprising Winona Ryders who have no problems blatantly stealing. Here are the six worst musical thefts by white people.

6. Funk

Conceptually, there's nothing wrong with white people playing funk. There's something cross-culturally admirable about white kids showing reverence for James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton and the like. The issue is in execution. "White funk" has become an oxymoronic insult that defines the lameness that occurs when slap bass or scratchy guitar chords are abused. This is a slow epidemic, worsened in the early 1990s with the rise of jam bands and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Naturally, there are exceptions; the bookish Talking Heads made genuinely funky records (even before hiring half of Funkadelic as a back-up band), and black people are totally capable of playing white funk. But every time a suburban high schooler in a Pink Floyd shirt steps on a wah pedal and imitates the opening theme to Shaft, Bootsy Collins' platform shoes drop down an inch.

5. Graceland Paul Simon's Graceland is considered a landmark album because it introduced a strand of African pop to the Western world. One could argue that his motivations were noble, that he used his status to bring certain musicians into a limelight that was previously unavailable. At the same time, you could accuse Simon of trotting the globe with a manifest destiny approach to songcraft, pillaging cultures of their music to brand as his own; after Graceland, he scoured Brazil for Rhythm Of The Saints, and there's probably some Indonesian Gamelan Paul Simon record called Java For The Soul that Warner Brothers shelved in the early '90s. The truth is probably somewhere between these extremes, an off-putting album with good intentions. The racial dissonance of Graceland was resurrected a few years back by Vampire Weekend. Ironically, the precedent that justified the Ivy League misfits' bleached Afro-pop was a Paul Simon album named after the estate of one of the worst offenders of cultural thievery.

4. British Blues Cream, Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Bluesbreakers and tons of other British white guys made big bucks in the 1960s by cranking up their amps and playing music written thirty to forty years earlier by African Americans. Their only contribution to the style was using electric guitars and, frankly, not playing as well as the original artists. This is not to dog on these bands or doubt their legitimacy, but their best works were made when they found their own voice rather than amplifying Robert Johnson's.

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