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February/March 2017

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: The Age Of Aquarius

by Rob Burns

Deep Thinking: The Age Of Aquarius

In this issue I am looking at a tune from a musical I saw when I was 15 years old. It was one of the reasons I became a professional musician in the ’70s, and it has been covered by some great people. The musical was called Hair and, for its time, it was a real shock to the crusty theatre world. It contained some very direct commentaries on the American socio/political situation in the late 1960s and it also had its share of sex and drugs and rock ’n roll (acknowledgements to the late Ian Dury). All in all, it was considered shocking for a bunch of reasons I won’t go into here, look at what is said on Wikipedia or ask your mum and dad!

Anyway, when I dropped out of school a couple of years later and became a pro musician, it was partly because I had watched the musicians in this musical, some of whom were the top session players in London, and I was fortunate to work with some of them over the years.

Hair – The Rock Musical was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and the music was composed by Galt McDermot. The score is a mixture of funk, rock and soul, and the bass lines drew on the music of the period.

The band played on stage on the back of a flat-bed truck and not in the pit, so I spent most of the musical glued to what they were doing.

Aquarius is probably the biggest hit from the musical although there were others, such as Let the Sun Shine In. You should check out a cover of these songs done as a medley on YouTube by the Fifth Dimension. Joe Osborne’s bass part (the Wrecking Crew played the music on the recording) was left purposely loud as it is so good.

This version of Aquarius comes from the 1979 film of the musical directed by Milos Forman. The first two bars of this are played as a ’vamp’, which means you keep playing them while there is dialogue on-stage/film and you watch for a cue at which point you play the last bar. Most of the line is more or less the same as that on the film with a couple of small variations. I haven’t put TAB in this time because the line just follows a basic groove and you can also follow the guitar chords once you have listened to the recording a few times. It can be played between the nut and fret 5 (except bar 5 where you need to go between frets 7 and 9 on string one).

NZM171-deep-thinking aquarius

Also, in bar 5 there is a low D meant for a five string. If you play a four string, just play the E to D phrase up an octave.

There are several sections that were obviously influenced by James Jamerson, especially the descending rakes (bars 4, 5 and 7) and the chromatic passing notes in bars 6 and 9. The YouTube film recording also has some pulled notes that weren’t used very much in 1967 (except perhaps by Larry Graham!) but they certainly were in 1979, so feel free to include them.

There are some great new musicals out there at the moment with some excellent songs that demand top bass playing, so get your reading together and you could find yourself in demand.

(Dr. Rob Burns is an Associate Professor in Music at the University of Otago in Dunedin. As a former professional studio bassist in the UK, he performed and recorded with David Gilmour, Pete Townsend, Jerry Donahue, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, James Burton, Ian Paice and Jon Lord, Eric Burdon and members of Abba. He played on the soundtracks on many UK television shows, such as Red Dwarf, Mr. Bean, Blackadder, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. Rob is currently a member of Dunedin bands Subject2change and The Verlaines.)