Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chuck Berry: 'Let It Rock'

He is the one of the first and one of the greatest early songwriters and guitarists of rock music, the main crafter of its instrumental voice and an electric live performer.

While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure, by being the one who put all the essential pieces together by drawing the disparate elements of the jigsaw onto one piece of vinyl.

Although albums were not a concept taken seriously as an artistic vision in the era,
his 1960 album ‘Rockin' at the Hops’ shows that Berry never produced substandard or lazy material in his original golden period. Simply put, In a time where long players were a collection of contractual obligations, Chuck Berry made the first standalone albums.

Released the same year as the album it would figure on,“Let It Rock, was put out as the B-side of the ludicrously titled single “Too Pooped To Pop”. Though history has forgotten about that latter gem, the flipside has become something of a rock standard and has been covered by The Rolling Stones and Motörhead amongst others. Infact when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had their faithful reintroduction in the early sixties, Mick was carrying a copy of ‘Rockin' at the Hops’.

Lyrically the song shows the beauty in the economical word usage that makes Berry such a unique songwriter. The first line “In The Heat Of The Day Down In Mobile Alabama”, immediately sets the scene. Berry knew that every second counted on these brief radio songs so he trots out every classic guitar figure he can cram into a song lasting under two minutes.

Elsewhere we get the usual bluesy railway working clichés (well they’ve become clichés anyway) ‘rolling them bones’ and ‘steel driving hammers’ etc. The sheer ease with which he throws out the liquid licks and ragged riffs prompts the question, has anybody really eclipsed Chuck Berry in the 2 minute masterpiece stakes ?

Where to find: Rockin' at the Hops (1960)

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