Look Who’s Talking: The Real Revolution That was Rock ‘N’ Roll

Before Rock ‘n’ Roll, America’s pop music was made by teams – a songwriter, a lyricist, and an A & R (artists and repertoire) man who chose who would sing the vocal and the producer who would select the musicians who provided the arrangements – music by committee.

Rock music was the product of a single artist or band who handled all of those roles – a unified creative act which raised the end result to a unique creative expression reflecting the vision and intent of its creator. Chuck Berry, who in many ways was the original architect of the form, wrote for teenagers and they responded. Drawing on the infectious rhythms of R & B and the narrative line of country music, he fashioned an entirely new sound that crossed color lines.

He didn’t need a studio. All he required was an electric guitar, a piano, bass and drums and a stage to “duck walk” across. Teenage America had found its anthems.  It was a simpler more direct artistic expression which not only democratized his audience, it opened the door for other young talents to flock to the medium; and flock they did, first in the United States, followed by the British and ultimately the whole world.

Pre-rock pop music was basically generic – primarily focused on love, lost and found, with the occasional novelty song catching the public’s attention and a few rare acknowledgments of the state of the world, at least during the 1940s when World War II dominated the stage and impacted so many lives. It’s true that there were a few exceptions, notably among folk musicians and blues artists, but much of their output was deeply grounded in historic precedents. Young artists discovered those forms and used them to express current values and concerns.

Every generation and culture produces artists, individuals possessed of the vision and creativity to illuminate their time and place, and the 1960s clearly established that many of the most creative talents of the era had found their medium not in painting, writing or drama but in three chords, a good beat and an awareness of a world that was changing at an escalating rate.  Their creativity fomented the change and reflected it at the same time; and, in the process became what may well be America’s most pervasive contribution to world culture.

Bill Shapiro

Bill Shapiro is the creator and host of "Cyprus Avenue" which premiered on KCUR-FM in October of 1978. The weekly radio show has aired on over 50 stations in the United States. He is the author of "The CD Rock and Roll Library," 1988, and "The Rock and Roll Review" 1991, both published by Andrews & McMeel. Bill is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and a tax and estate planner since 1962. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan.

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