Review Summary: M. A. N. Maaaaan.
I can think of no better way to describe Bo Diddley's music other than that every facet of it is thoroughly caked in pure, unfiltered swagger
. For as much as artists like Elvis possessed an excellent natural presence, both on stage and in their music, the ease with which Bo rolls through song after swingin' song on his self-titled debut record is unparalleled. Most musicians would sell their soul for the groove and feel achieved on Bo Diddley
. To Bo, it's as easy and second-nature as taking a hot shower.
Folks remember the music of Bo Diddley primarily for the African "hambone" rhythm that characterized his self-titled debut single and numerous other tracks of his, hence why the rhythm has been referred to as the "Bo Diddley beat" for decades. But Bo's contribution to music extends far beyond popularizing a rhythm. At a time when many rockabilly artists were trying to push boundaries as far as "acceptable conduct" in music was concerned, Bo's music exuded badassery without the need for leather jackets or biker gang imagery. The man certainly puts no effort into hiding his success with women, but the machismo
of such success is almost poked fun of with the absurdity of many of the album's lyrics. Consider how much Bo draws out these lyrics from the track "I'm a Man", extending each letter to a full measure's worth of music:
I'm a man
The whole premise is wickedly stupid, and that's the fun of it. (Also note that despite the masculine bravado on display here, Bo was actually one of the first rock artists to include women in his band: guitarist Peggy Jones plays on several cuts on this record.)
This isn't to say that Bo Diddley's musicianship holds no value in his music, of course. The man was ahead of his time when it came to creating memorable guitar tones -- the tremolo effect in the title track is its most distinct feature besides the iconic beat -- and his emphasis on rhythm at the expense of chord variety was enormously influential on countless rock artists after him. But before approaching Bo's music, one must understand that you do not come to Bo Diddley for any kind of a cerebral experience. This is dumb fun; joyously dumb fun at that, with a hefty dose of influence on the side. It stands to reason, then, that in a genre like rock & roll that is chock-full of "dumb" music, Bo Diddley
is an absolutely essential record in the canon.