The 8th grade is beginning a unit on the history of Rock and Roll. Today we listened to several songs but most of our time was spent talk about the music of Chuck Berry. We used his song Johnny B. Goode as our entry point into talking about rock and roll’s influence on music, technology, performance, culture and a whole host of other things.
If you want to follow along I’ll be posting semi-regular updates along with listening assignments.
It is hard to explore Chuck Berry’s work without a discussion of his songwriting as writing. “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent example of Berry’s narrative impulse. He is a storyteller in the great tradition. Few songwriters have so successfully fit so much into two and half minutes. Working as a poet, letting the images drive the narrative, Berry strikes a balance between the lead guitar lines and the verses that tell of a protagonist who becomes famous for his guitar prowess. As a narrative, it is in the American vein of Horatio Alger stories, a rags-to-riches tale of music giving a “country boy” a life beyond his wildest dreams. Citing Nat King Cole as an influence, Berry has said that to be understood was always among his goals.
Today’s Listening Assignments
Rock and Roll as Literature
Compare both the writing, the story aspect, and the delivery of language to that of Chuck Berry. Be ready to discuss these tomorrow.
The Roots of Rock – The Blues
Compare both the instrumentation and performance (especially Muddy Waters) with the video of Chuck Berry we watched in class. What are the similarities/differences?