Tuesday, July 26, 2016

John Lennon: 'If You Have To Give Rock 'N' Roll Another Name, Call It Chuck Berry'

I absolutely loath articles like the one you're about to read, and I wrote it.  That is because articles like the one you are about to read are tendentious, judgmental, presumptuous because they attempt to qualify and quantify that slipperiest of musical slopes: Rock 'n' roll.  But I hope you'll still read it anyway.   
The occasion for this post is, give or take a few days, the 50th anniversary of my first rock concert, an ear-splitting Herman's Hermits show at the old Electric Factory at 19th and Arch in Philadelphia remembered less for the music (which was pretty bad, actually) than some back-seat groppage (which was pretty good, actually) on the way home in the cavernous back seat of my father's Plymouth Fury with my girlfriend in our favorite "parking" spot, a farm field behind a tall hedgerow. 
What, however, was damned good that night was the opening act at the Electric Factory, an up and coming English band who had outlived the Mod movement, if not the bowl haircuts, and was destined for greatness.  
The Who.   
These lads from London are No.19 in one poll of the 100 Greatest Rock Bands, and 29th in another, although citing such surveys like they're philosopher's stones are one reason articles like this one can suck.  (As well as remind me of a typical letter to a car aficianado's magazine: "How can you rate the Porche 911 Turbo ahead of the Corvette Stingray when the 'Vette costs only a third as much!") But polls do help make a larger point -- the utter subjectivity of what constitutes great rock 'n' roll. 
It would not surprise you to learn that The Beatles finished No. 1 in both polls and indeed finish at the top of all music polls when it comes to rock.   
This is a no brainer, because beyond the utterly revolutionary, extraordinarily vast and deeply creative body of The Beatles' work, everybody loves them, and if someone doesn't, then they at least probably like them.  (The same cannot be said of three personal favorite artists who belong in the same pantheon with The Beatles, or at lest deserve adjoining rooms -- Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen -- because a lot of people inexplicably hate them.)   
It might surprise you to know why I ran a photo of Chuck Berry atop this post instead of the Fab Four. 
The short answer is that as a contrarian at heart and a noodge by inclination, running a photo of The Beatles would have been pat and predictable, and the marvelous John Lennon quote in the headline betrays both this great singer/songwriter's integral humility, but it speaks to me a truth that gets caught between the cracks in those 100 Greatest polls.  
That truth is that while "Stairway to Heaven," "Piano Man" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" are great rock 'n' roll, the greatest rock has an elemental -- even primal -- quality, and that inevitably leads to Chuck Berry by way of cats like Carl Hogan, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker.   
So there. 

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