ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC * CHUCK BERRY * LONDON 8531 * UK
That this number by Chuck Berry is both simple and sophisticated is no contradiction, the simplicity and sophistication in the lyrics is what gives it beauty. In fact the very title is an undemanding yet clever statement, a tautology that carries with it a critique of the then antagonism and ill formed condemnations aimed at Rock and Roll. By naming it Rock And Roll Music he is saying the same thing twice, Rock and Roll is of course music, but at the same time he is wedding the two words together in peoples minds, declaring Rock and Roll's true identity in the cannon of musical phenomena. It must be remembered that at the time, hard as it is to believe now, many musical experts and spokespersons for music, as well as sections of the public were so vehemently against this music (and, more to the point, what it represented) that they refused to accept that it was even music at all! This is no unique thing, it was true of Punk, and the same psychology operates elsewhere; as in art. Of course its a cliché to say that even Impressionism was once not accepted as 'proper' art or even art at all, and so on through the various art 'movements', as it was with conceptual art most experts and art lovers refused to accept the 'validity' of those works when they first appeared but now fall over them selves to praise the lame formulaic aesthetics that pass for it. What is interesting for me with the above record is the difference between the quality of Chuck Berry's song, and to some extent his singing, and the backing, given the provenance the music itself is tame in the extreme. It's functional, that is to say it does it's job well enough, but in my opinion it's definitely not inspired. This might be due to a number of different factors or a combination of them, personally I don't think the musicians at Chess, if indeed it was them, were that committed to Rock and Roll as such, preferring something more rhythmic or bluesy, or it could be because Chuck Berry by this time was quite successful in the white Pop market (which meant big sales) so Chess gave him lots of studio time, potentially damaging spontaneity, aggression and urgency, or the music was deliberately 'toned' down for this other audience, whatever the reason that 'tinkling piano' Chuck Berry mentions in the song ain't no Jerry Lee Lewis pumping and pounding those ivories. In fact as far as Rock and Roll goes, this is happy clappy MOR Rock and Roll, and yet it still has grace and beauty, all, I think, due to the poetry and art of the man Chuck Berry.
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