Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chuck Berry, RIP

The king of rock is dead, long live the king! We love Chuck Berry and all that he did for music. Basically inventing the rock n roll template and inspiring generations of musicians from Elvis to The Beatles to The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Motown, and Chuck D.

A trickster, a visionary,  a true artist and trailblazing performer. 

Maybe the first rock star to tell the world "the kids are alright" with a guitar and a wink, he also was a crossover pioneer who bridged the world of black and white music.

A great analysis of what Chuck Berry did for pop music and the records we love:

"Rock and roll songwriting was a reimagining of pop song style that recognized the transformative effects of both crossover and recording technology. That songs such as Chuck Berry's "Maybellene," "Thrty Days," and "You Can't Catch Me, " for example, were amalgams of country and R&B became apparent only in the form of their recordings. Records conveyed emotion, style, sound, and persona [...]

Among Berry's songwriting strengths  were his timely lyric wit, which spoke directly to the new audience, a knack for reinventing blues as pop, and an awareness that the sense of a song lay, ultimately, in its manifest expression. Before he made his first record, he already understood the effect of singing songs "in their customary tongues": ... This sense of aural language infused his songwriting with a sonic dimension perfectly in accord with a "songs as records" mentality Berry grasped intutively that rock and roll songs contained four interrelated dimensions: words, music, performance, and sound. Sound recording was a medium not only for turning music into commodity but for implementing a new conception of songwriting. 

Most of Berry's hits used some sort of blues variant in their harmonic sequence, yet their sound was nothing like his deep blues label-mates at Chess --men such as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, or John Lee Hooker. Berry mixed in melodic and rhythmic elements from pop and country to leven the blues effect, which gave the songs a broader base of appeal. Such songs as "Maybellene," "Carol," and "Rock and Roll Music" used a blues chorus as a recurring refrain, periodically punctuating the song's narrative. Each song, however, employed the technique in a different way [...]

Although he was a thirty-year-old father and husband when he became a rock and roll star, Berry's lyrics, which dipped into memories of his own high school years, engaged central themes of youth culture with cleverness, metaphor, and wry humour. In such songs as "School Day," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Sweet Little Sixteen," and "Rock and Roll Music," he described features of teenage identity in rock and roll terms. "School Day" traced the teenager's day from the drudgery of the classroom to rock and roll transcendence before the jukebox. "Roll Over Beethoven" celebrated the thrill of irreverent iconoclasm and the power of the new to overthrow the hallowed past. "Rock and Roll Music" was an anthemic rallyng cry. It shouted that in the musical universe rock and roll was the fundamental reality."  
---from I Don't Sound Like Nobody: Remaking Music in 1950s America by Abin Zak

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