Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rock history: Berry to Carey

Settle down, students. Any questions?

Who invented rock 'n' roll? Many people give the nod for the first rock record to Bill Haley and His Comets who released "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955. But if you want to recognize someone who had an early dynamic influence look to Chuck Berry. Berry added tasty guitar licks to his "poems" and teenage America responded. Dozens went on to became anthems, if you will. Add 'em up: " Maybellene," "School Day," "Rock & Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode" and more. The Beatles made "Roll Over Beethoven" an international hit. The Rolling Stones did the same with "Carol." Every rock band (even Judas Priest) knows his songs. To prove it, Berry toured for years with pick-up bands he hired where ever he was playing. For more proof watch the movie "Hail, Hail Rock & Roll."

Ever see Berry live? Sure. Berry performed a free outdoor show at Central Michigan University in the fall of 1972, backed by The Woolies, the East Lansing garage band often utilized by the veteran rocker during this period. The crowd cheered and sang along as he played "My Ding-A-Ling," his only number one song, from 1972.

Wasn't Elvis Presley the biggest rock star? Presley was phenomenal and achieved greater fame than Berry. He had more than 150 chart hits in the United States starting with "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956. Elvis is certainly the King of Rock & Roll, but he rarely wrote his own material. He was good looking, had a great voice and starred in dozens of movies besides. Whatever there was to do in rock music, he probably did it first. He was the number one star of the fifties, number two in the sixties (behind only the Beatles) and still in the top ten recording artists in the seventies.

Why did people like the Beatles so much? Music fans were eager for a change from the fifties- style music they were still hearing in the early 1960s. The Beatles appeared in the United States with a gigantic single ("I Want to Hold Your Hand") following the assassination of President Kennedy when the country was about to enter a turbulent era. In fact, the Beatles were at the forefront-- if not leading-- a countercultural revolution. In the beginning, though, they were just four lovable "moptops." As the sixties progressed they had an unprecedented 21 number one hit singles and a dozen smash albums which broke all barriers in modern pop music. Their impact on music and society cannot be over estimated. After their break-up in 1970, each had successful solo careers, racking up another 16 number one hits.

When did the singer-songwriter period begin? As the seventies dawned, Elton John and other solo artists took the public's imagination. John and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin penned dozens of top hits, including "Crocodile Rock" and "Bennie and the Jets." He was the top hit producing machine of the decade, followed by Paul McCartney and his new band, Wings. Elton continued as the seventh best selling act in the eighties, still making the top ten list for the nineties as well.

Who toppled Elton John from the top spot in the eighties? That would be the famous and infamous Michael Jackson who hit big with "Billie Jean" and "Beat It." He even teamed with Paul McCartney for "Say, Say, Say." Jackson had been a star since 1969 as lead vocalist for the Jackson Five. His 1982 album "Thriller" is amongst the best-selling LPs of all time at over 40 million copies. The public has been fascinated with Jackson (the tabloids label him Wacko-Jacko), even as he's slipped into more and more bizarre behavior. He survived a child molestation trial and now lives in Bahrain. He had 13 number ones, but his unlikely to have another, at least in the United States.

Who was the most popular artist of the nineties? Mariah Carey-- who has a top-selling album right now with "Emancipation of Mimi" -- has been extremely popular since "Vision of Love" appeared in 1990. She won the best new artist Grammy award that year and later starred in the movie "Glimmer." She had an incredible 15 number one singles in the nineties and was nominated for eight Grammys just last week. Janet Jackson and Madonna follow as most popular artists of the decade.

Where is rock music going now? That's a good question. Certainly, hip hop and rap have been incorporated into the sound of modern music. The future is anyone's guess, but it's bound to include the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z, Nelly and their cohorts. Perhaps someone will give an old Chuck Berry riff a twist and turn it into the next big thing.

Class dismissed!

No comments: