Rock’n’Roll is ranked among the most popular music genres of the twentieth century. Rock’n’Roll, the style with African American roots, had survived many changes related both to themes and forms of musical expression. The given paper discusses Rock’n’Roll about three music legends: Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles.
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Chuck Berry: The Pioneer of Rock’n’Roll
Chuck Berry’s Life: St. Louis and Chicago
Known as one of the pioneers of Rock’n’Roll, Chuck Berry was among the most popular songwriters and singers in the United States in the 1950s. Berry is regarded as one of the first musicians who shaped an innovative style of music, mixing elements that were peculiar to songs related to people of different races. Chuck Berry passed away this spring, and his productivity gave the world twenty studio albums. He was interested in music since his childhood, and he gave his first concert at the age of fifteen (Lynch). Apart from songs, armed robbery and auto theft were among the things that made him famous in the neighborhood. Far from everybody manages to fulfill a dream if their outstanding talent is paired with a criminal twist. Playing country music with a hint of blues in St. Louis, the musician became extremely popular among both white Americans and African Americans who were attracted by his unique experiments with sound. His career in Chicago started in the middle of the 1950s when he moved to the city to collaborate with the founder of Chess Records. The American music market was changing, and Berry’s outstanding experiments with country music were to suit the taste of capricious listeners tired of the Chicago blues.
“Maybellene”, “Ida Red”, and the Racial Imagination Behind It
The release of “Maybellene” in 1955 can be reckoned among the events that marked the birth of rock and roll music in the United States. When creating the song, Chuck Berry was inspired by a merry traditional fiddle song called “Ida Red” that had been popularized by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys in the 1930s. “Ida Red” is associated with the Southern style of Ida red due to its violin solo and a more subdued snare that are the key attributes of the so-called Western Swing. In “Maybellene”, “the king of guitar riffs” retains the melody, changing the form of musical expression radically (Lynch).
Among the things that were added is a short fuzzy guitar intro, the strong 2&4 backbeat on the drums. The sound of the drums used by Berry reminds of fast and aggressive drum patterns used in modern rock music. Being quite intense, the guitar solo in the middle of the song introduces the energy of rock and roll and also helps to express the disappointment in love, one of the key themes in rock and roll music. The unique song for that period, “Maybellene” has helped to create a new common point of representatives of different races, therefore transcending racial barriers in music. Those specializing in music history such as Hamilton believe that Berry’s work, to some extent, has contributed to the unity of Americans as his songs incarnated the sentiments and life values of both white and African American young people (“Rock ‘n’ Roll Inventor Chuck Berry’s Music Transcended Racial Barrier”).
Elvis Presley: The Legend of Rockabilly
Early Life and Work With Sun Records
Elvis Presley was another famous musician whose hard work accelerated the confluence of traditional music genres associated with the lifestyles of the African diaspora and white Americans in the United States (Poore 8). In terms of the early life of Elvis Presley and his becoming famous, it needs to be said that his career was a great chance for his family to improve their financial position. He started playing the guitar at the age of eleven, and his tastes in music were highly impacted by African American blues musicians. At the end of the 1940s, his family moved to Memphis due to the job opportunities that existed for common people.
In Memphis, Elvis started paying more attention to music self-education, but his talent remained unnoticed by the influential music labels in the state. He saved some money and made a few recordings at a local recording studio, and his singing impressed the representatives of Sun Records. The middle of the 1950s was the time of his first real success, and modern researchers highlight that Elvis was the first musician whose rockabilly records were heard by the entire world (Poore 7). The first songs recorded by Elvis in collaboration with the Sun Records were believed to challenge the accepted norms and rules in the world of music in which everything had to be either “black” or “white”. The impact of racial segregation was evident in any field of activity, and many radio stations refused to play the songs by Elvis, trying to preserve the barrier between races.
“That’s Alright Mama”
“That’s Alright Mama” released in 1954 was among the first singles of the musician. The song is still closely associated with the name of Elvis Presley even though he was not its author. The song was written by Arthur Crudup; he also was the first to record it but the original version of the song did not become popular unlike the version of Elvis. Nevertheless, the decision to promote Elvis and popularize his songs was not made only due to his talent. Acknowledging the unique charisma of African-American musicians, influential producers were looking for a white man who could look and sound as attractive, and only handsome Elvis Presley could make a breakthrough in “white” music. The vocals present the element that attracts most of the attention when it comes to the song. The use of vocal vibrato and a joyful guitar solo act as the key ingredients of this seemingly simple song that still sounds fresh and puts people in a cheerful frame of mind. The song demonstrates simplicity if compared with some classical examples of jazz and blues. The accents on 2&4 that the guitar articulates became the key feature of rock music.
The Beatles: Those Who Changed Rock’n’Roll
The Beatles and the British Invasion
The Beatles were one of the most famous rock bands ever, and their contribution to the development of rock and roll music is inherent in the so-called British Invasion. The middle of the 1960s was a great period for British musicians including the Beatles (Hamilton 121). The British Invasion was a reaction to the growing popularity of American bands all over the world. That period, the youth in the United Kingdom needed new idols who would be rebellious, bold, and joyful at the same time. Despite that, the audience in the United Kingdom wanted something different from American rock and roll, and the Beatles, together with other legends of the British Invasion era, managed to create new subgenres that became popular all over the world (Rodriguez 4).
Among them was the Merseybeat, a regional style that incorporated the elements of rock and roll such as the guitar riffs similar to those used by Chuck Berry and the original elements of rhythm and blues. The Beatles changed rock and roll, bringing different elements to it instead of making “the cheap copies” of American styles (Hamilton 86). Their album released in the era of British Invasion, Revolver, presented one of the most interesting musical experiments with rock and roll ever conducted. The work of Liverpool four is believed to have “sparked subgenres with every track”, foretelling the development of electronic music, punk rock, and neotraditional music (Rodriguez 4).
“Rock and Roll Music” and “The Beatles for Sale” Album
“The Beatles for Sale” is an album that includes a few cover versions of popular songs, and the musical features of “Rock and Roll Music” originally performed by Chuck Berry remain the most interesting point to be analyzed. Among the key differences between the versions of Berry and the Beatles is the use of vocals to emphasize certain parts of the song and the drums. In terms of the vocals, the original version demonstrates calmer and more relaxing vocals whereas Lennon sings a lot higher, adding a bit nervous “growling” style to make the song more energetic and dance-appealing. Also, the cover version is less harmonious than the original as it does not emphasize the piano unlike the original song (Pollack). Pollack also has a keen eye for the differences in the use of the chords (I and V). Using a more aggressive “mambo-ish” beat closer to the end of the song, the band manages to “reinforce” the original energetically.
In conclusion, the Chuck Berry era, the Rockabilly era, and the British invasion all had a significant impact on the history of Rock’n’Roll. Despite the original roots of the genre, it is often perceived as the invention of white people. The gradual shift from harmony to dynamics and aggressiveness has significantly changed the face of Rock’n’Roll and predetermined the development of innovative genres that are popular today.
Hamilton, Jack. Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination. Harvard University Press, 2016.
Lynch, Joe. “Chuck Berry Didn’t Invent Rock ‘n’ Roll, but He Turned It Into an Attitude That Changed the World.” The Hollywood Reporter. 2017, Web.
Pollack, Allan W. “Notes on the Cover Songs on the “Beatles For Sale” Album.” Soundscapes, Web.
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Poore, Billy. Rockabilly: A Forty-Year Journey. Hal Leonard Corporation, 1998.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Inventor Chuck Berry’s Music Transcended Racial Barrier.” The Japan Times. 2017, Web.
Rodriguez, Robert. Revolver: How the Beatles Re-Imagined Rock ‘n’ Roll. Backbeat Books Press, 2012.