Monday, March 27, 2017

395

So, a new series, already started really, but in full effect now. Using vinyl LP (Long Player) format to frame a daily dance. A new album every damn day. (with occasional DJ sets for inspiration.)

Today I was inspired by a New Yorker article on Chuck Berry to go back and listen to his discography. I listened to the first full record from 1957, After School Session.

What a greatg title. There's a sexual connatation to "session", and a musical one too. Now that school is over, let's party. But another connatation takes hold as the record goes on and you realize that the songs form a kind of moral narrative, and this is music that comes after learning your lessons.

The album announces its intention off the bat with School Days. It opens with 12 staccato strokes of a guitar that immitates a school bell and then, "Up in the morning and out to school" and off we go. I'm not sure if I've ever heard a more promising opening to an album.

The song propels you through a school day, learning the Golden Rule, history, etc, working hard, and then, with steam from all that hard work building up (in the music) you are finally released to dance with the one you love. And then there it is, the last lines of that great first song on the first Chuck Berry record, hailing the new great freedom of rock and roll, "Hail, hail rock and roll. Deliver us from days of old" (Days of old? This could merely mean school, but it also hints at "history," i.e. slavery and oppression: the two become conflated in this line.) Then there's a plea, a prayer for a long life to this newfound freedom: "Long live Rock and Roll". This is a freedom that hearkens back to African drums and sex: "The beat of the drums, loud and bold/ Rock, rock rock and roll. The feeling is there, body and soul." And there it is, the secret; the body and soul (traditionally seen in opposition to one another) united in freedom, the great unleashing of absolute freedom that lead to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and everything in between. It's revolutionary stuff and built of pure steam that needs somewhere to go and finds its outlet, miraculously, in music and dancing.

And that's leads to the next track, "Deep Feeling." And that's what it is too, just instrumental bliss, a twangy guitar heading into outerspace, a cosmic dance with Johnnie Johnson who asserts himself into the mix.

Then right back into the jittery swing of rock of roll with "Too Much Monkey Business." You could probably site Chuck Berry as a precursor of hip hop as well, because he frequently raps the verses, funny and brilliant lines that start fast and then uses double time and spring rhythm to propel the verses forward, (Gerard Manly Hopkins meets Lightning Hopkins meets hip hop.)

I just looked up the lyrics online to help me follow them. One verse is listed as, "Take home, something wrong, dime gone, will hold/ order suit, hoppered up for telling me a tale, ahh! Too much monkey business..." I was like what? So I listened to the song again and, though it is hard to parse, it is actually, "Pay phone, something wrong, dime gone, will mail/ Oughta sue, operator telling me a tale, ahh!" Wow, Metro Lyrics really got it wrong. just shows how hard it is to follow lyrics like this. But it also shows the roots of Berry's famous paranoia about getting screwed out of his dime. (And he did like to sue for his dime. Years later he would sue The Beach Boys for ripping off his music.) In this capitalistic society even the phone company is trying to screw you. And also, in song order; your job at the mill, salesmen, blonds, the phone company, the army, and then your next job at the gas station. This is basically a protest song. You dance off your frustrations.

Then come the real frustrations, love sickness, in "The Wee Wee Hours," a 12 bar blues that works because of the bleeding piano of Johnie Johnson. The middle section where Berry's crying guitar and Johnson's piano snake around each other is cathartic.

Soon comes a car song, of course, because you are motoring now! You are burning up the dance floor and fast cars come in tandom with rock and roll. The sarcastic title of the song is "No Money Down," and it's a masterpiece of wish fulfillment, how a wry commentary on how desire is exploited by those insidious monkey business salesmen. But check out these great lyrics,

 "Well Mister I want a yellow convertible
Four-door de Ville
With a Continental spare
And a wide chrome wheel
I want power steering
And power brakes
I want a powerful motor
With a jet off-take
I want air condition
I want automatic heat
And I want a full Murphy bed
In my back seat
I want short-wave radio
I want TV and a phone
You know I gotta talk to my baby
When I'm ridin' alone"

Yes I'm gonna get that car
And I'm gonna head on down the road
Yeah, then I won't have to worry
About that broken-down, raggedy Ford

"I want four carburetors
And two straight exhausts
I'm burnin' aviation fuel
No matter what the cost
I want railroad air horns
And a military spark
And I want a five-year guarantee
On everything I got
I want ten-dollar deductible
I want twenty dollar notes
I want thirty thousand liability"
That's all she wrote


Downbound Train is another morality tale that fits the form of its music. The music is the train, and if you chug-a-long too fast in booze and rock and roll you will find yourself in hell. It's a fun ride while it lasts, but eventually the stranger learns his lesson and never gets on that train again. Until the next record anyway.

The final song is Drifting Heart. When I'm dancing to a ballad, I pretend like there is someone there dancing with me. How lame does that sound? But it's wonderful nonetheless.

A great dance record. It was a privilege. Thanks for the music, Chuck!


This original rambling was all pared down to a more essential take on a FB post. Here's the cleaned up version:

Today I was inspired by a New Yorker article on Chuck Berry to go back and listen to his discography. I listened to the first full record from 1957, After School Session. What a great title. Now that school is over, let's party. But another connotation takes hold as the record goes on and you realize that the songs also form a kind of moral narrative. The album announces its intention off the bat with "School Days." It opens with 12 staccato strokes of a guitar that immitates a school bell and then, "Up in the morning and out to school," and off we go. I'm not sure if I've ever heard a more promising opening to an album. The song propels you through a school day, learning the Golden Rule, history, etc, and then, with the steam from all that hard work building up (in the music) you are finally released to dance with the one you love. And then there it is, the last lines of that great first song on the first Chuck Berry record, hailing the new-found freedom of rock and roll, "Hail, hail rock and roll," leading to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and everything in between, a revolution built out of frustrated energy finding its outlet in music and dance.

And that leads to the next track, "Deep Feeling." That's what it is too, just instrumental bliss, a twangy guitar heading into outerspace, a cosmic dance with Berry's genius piano player Johnnie Johnson who asserts himself into the mix.

Then right back into the jittery swing of rock of roll with "Too Much Monkey Business." You could site Chuck Berry as a precursor of hip hop as well since he frequently raps the verses, funny and brilliant lines that start fast and then use double time and spring rhythm to propel the verses forward, (Gerard Manly Hopkins meets Lightning Hopkins meets hip hop.) In order, his job at the mill is trying to screw him, then salesmen, blonds, the phone company, the army, and finally his next job at the gas station. This is basically a protest song. You dance off your frustrations.

Then comes more frustration, love sickness, in "The Wee Wee Hours," a 12 bar blues that works its magic because of the bleeding piano of Johnnie Johnson. The middle section where Berry's crying guitar and Johnson's piano snake around each other is cathartic.

Soon comes a car song, of course, because you are motoring now! You are burning up the dance floor. The sarcastic title of the song is "No Money Down." It's a wish fulfillment, and a wry commentary on how desire is exploited by those insidious monkey business salesmen. I love these lyrics:

"Well Mister I want a yellow convertible
Four-door de Ville
With a Continental spare
And a wide chrome wheel
I want power steering
And power brakes
I want a powerful motor
With a jet off-take
I want air condition
I want automatic heat
And I want a full Murphy bed
In my back seat
I want short-wave radio
I want TV and a phone
You know I gotta talk to my baby
When I'm ridin' alone

I want four carburetors
And two straight exhausts
I'm burnin' aviation fuel
No matter what the cost
I want railroad air horns
And a military spark
And I want a five-year guarantee
On everything I got
I want ten-dollar deductible
I want twenty dollar notes
I want thirty thousand liability"
That's all she wrote

A great dance record.

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