We All Know Diddley

The passing of rock ‘n’ roll originator Bo Diddley today marks the loss of one of the artists who defined what the music would sound like. His trademark, primal rhythm, that went, “Bomp—Bomp—Bomp—Bomp-Bomp,” was one of the building blocks of early rock, and it has remained an influential beat. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987, you can read his entry on the Hall’s website here. Here, then, is a list of ten songs I like that use the “Bo Diddley Beat.” There are thousands out there (Just check out Diddley’s Wikipedia entry for a few dozen of them), so leave a comment with your own favorites.

“Not Fade Away,” Buddy Holly – Covered by everyone from the Grateful Dead to Springsteen, this is probably the best known non-Diddley use of his beat.

“She’s The One,” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – Bruce’s finest album is arguably Born To Run, on which he combined his love for 50’s rock with an equal affection for the grand 60’s production style of Phil Spector. This song steals unapologetically from Diddley.

“Willie & The Hand Jive,” Johnny Otis, Eric Clapton, others – This tune recognized the playful nature of the beat and gave it lyrics to match.

“Magic Carpet Ride,” Steppenwolf – John Kay and company were a garage band gone wild, and this swirling masterpiece of Hammond organ gets its energy from Diddley’s beat.

“Magic Bus,” The Who – The British were ahead of the curve when it came to recognizing the potency of the early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers (See the Rolling Stones’ take on “Not Fade Away” ), this is a great example of that potency put to psychedelic use.

“I Want Candy,” Bow Wow Wow (originally done by the Strangeloves)– One of the unforgettable one-hit wonders on the border of punk and New Wave, even a supposedly ‘hip’ MTV-era act had to borrow from the best.

“Faith,” George Michael – Say what you will about Wham! and Michael’s well documented offstage escapades, this hit was the best thing he ever did.

“Desire,” U2 – Their Rattle and Hum album was a tribute to American rock and blues, and who better to honor than Bo Diddley, with this Bono-ization of the beat?

“Love Is A Battlefield,” Pat Benetar – The beat’s a little buried in the mix, but it surfaces at all the right places on this 80’s hit from pop queen Benetar. I once had an extended 12” single of this song on which one side was just the beat, over and over again.

“How Soon Is Now,” The Smiths – Ubiquitous on the college radio airwaves of the mid-1980s, this Smiths song slows the beat down, but even at half speed it dominates the track.


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