Calling some of this stuff "rock" is a bit of a stretch, but all these songs in this month's playlist take the Indian musical concept of the raga—a scale around which a structured improvisation is based—out of that traditional zone and onto Western instruments. I’ve included older stuff and some that is from the past year or two—this approach to music hasn’t been a passing fad.
Some of these tunes (a couple by the band Television, for example) are pretty tightly structured. Others are more improvised than a traditional raga in India might be—but even those that seem loose are adhering to structures as they build and develop along somewhat prescribed paths.
Other cultures have musical frameworks similar to ragas: there is a huge variety of music in the Arabic cultures that are similarly built on scales and improvisation—not written music and harmony, as we might be used to in the West.
George Harrison and the Beatles may not have been the first to incorporate some Indian sounds and scales into their music (the Kinks single “See My Friends” may have been earlier), but the Fab Four helped popularize it.
Here are the Byrds at a press conference:
The very first concert in a theater that I saw as a young man was the late Ravi Shankar at the old Lyric Opera House in Baltimore. That Ravi Shankar was selling out regional symphony halls around the U.S. tells me something: that this way of organizing music was becoming widely accepted, and would soon manifest in all kinds of music. His daughter Anoushka carries on the flame.
In the ‘80s, Talking Heads even invited Indian violin virtuoso L. Shankar (no relation to Ravi) to improvise an extended solo on one of our funk tracks, “Making Flippy Floppy.” His beautiful playing was trimmed for time on the vinyl release (one had time constraints on vinyl releases) but was included on the, umm, cassette version—the cassette version!