“The Art of Rock and Roll” by Charles Brown

The book The Art of Rock and Roll by Charles T. Brown basicallyproposes methods for analyzing music and anyone who reads the books should beable to develop techniques for listening to music and making legitimatestatements about it. It treats rock and roll as a serious art form and tracesit cultural roots throughout the book.

Assumption one states that rock is a legitimate art form. An art form isdefined as a creative act that springs from the artist’s experience as itreflects or reacts against society. It then states that acculturation, a processby which a certain people are influenced by a foreign culture, changed the Afro-Americans from their original culture to one that was a mixture of U.S. influences and African roots which played a large part in the way rock and rollsounds today. Brown proves rock is a legitimate art form by talking about itsaudience and its lasting power.

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Assumption two states that rocks roots are in folk, jazz, and popmusic. Musicians who first started rock and roll must have had something to basetheir music on which turned out to be primarily folk, jazz, and pop. Theysimple changed the pattern and style of that music and started forming rock.

Assumption three states that it is just as valid to study rock androll as European classical music. Rock will prove to be a valid means ofproducing competent musicians and that it demands the same type of performanceas in any musical form. Since it is a valid way in which to study music ingeneral it is just as valid to start with rock as starting anywhere else.

Assumption four states that simple musical analysis of selectedcompositions is a primary tool for understanding musical evolution. Throughmusical analysis we are able to generalize and say that rock from a certain erahas common characteristics. By doing this we are able to see what influenceslead rock to where it is today.

The chapter then goes on to discuss the elements of music which arenonverbal communication, melody, rhythm, harmony, lyrics, and performance. Music is nonverbal in that it communicates through organized sound and isdifficult to translate, the other elements are what make the sound organized andmeaningful. Melody is an organized set of notes consisting of different pitches.

It is basically the up and down motion of the lead singer. Rhythm is thosebeat of patterns that underlie most forms of communications. It is made up ofpulsations that follow a consistent pattern. It will sometimes show us theemotional feel of a song. Harmony is the simultaneous sounding of two or morenotes at the same time. It provides a texture for the total song. Lyrics arethe words used in the song and usually tell us what the song and mood of thesong is about. Performance tells us the purpose, function, and impact of acertain song.

Music generally reflects the value of society. By using the elements ofmusic you can begin to make assumptions about how rock and roll reflects itssociety. It quickly took on an attitude of rebellion and eventually became asymbol of independence for youthsChapter two discusses the listening skill needed to better understandmusic. Through listening we can define the social impact of a rock group and itsmusical style. This purpose of this chapter is to outline ways in which theindividual can create his or her own system of analysis. The chapter then goeson describing what you need to do while listening to music to better analyze it.

First you need concentration, you need to change your attitude towards the musicyou hear everyday and block out any interference, we must treat it seriously andanalyze it fairly even if we we don’t like it. Then you need to dissect whatyour hearing. You have to decide what to use for a reference point and listento the song more than once. Your first time listening to it you should get ageneral idea of what the song is like, what its about, and what it has. Afterthat you add more information by listening to each part of the musicindividually. Lyrics are the easiest to analyze. You must write all the lyricsdown and figure out if there is a verse structure.

The chapter then goes into the different types of Melody. First thereis the Soprano- lead melody. The lead melody is sometimes called the sopranomelody which means the highest melody. Then there is the bass melody, which isnormally played by an instrument rather then sung. It is halfway betweenmelody and rhythm, or beat. It is usually low sounding, repetitive andcontinuos. It is the foundation for the instrumental ensemble.Instruments areanother part of melody. It is the instruments that give rock and roll itscharacter and beat. The drums provide the beat, the guitars provide continousrhythm, and the bass guitar plays the bass melody. When analyzing you must alsorecognize the Rhythm and Harmony. They both determine the complexity of thecomposition and we must become aware of changes in rhythm or harmony becausethey indicate changes in the song.

Chapter three discusses the sources of Rock. Slave music was importantbecause when they were brought to the United states they also brought with themtheir music which was blues and later on early jazz. Acculturation began assoon as their were American-born slaves. They would sing work songs which werebasically chants which later on formed to become blues. As blues developed sodid early forms of Jazz. One of these forms was the cakewalk was the cakewalkwhich was a danced step used to make fun of how stiff the white man walked andlater on became the first truly Afro-American dance step. Another form wasRagtime which was a piano style which has four main themes. Then came alongother piano styles such as stride, dixieland, and the boogie-woogie which wasthe first obvious influence for rock and roll.

In the 1930’s blues took on a different character because of changes insociety, black musicians developed big bands and blues singers continued tohave great importance which eventually fostered rhythm and blues. Rock and rollstarted to develop in the last part of the 1930’s mainly because of the start ofthe removal of the color line between musicians.

Chapter four discusses early rock. They started to somewhat define therock category by saying that rock uses certain rhythmic devices, its lyrics andjargon came from the jump blues, rhythm and blues, country, or some combination,many pieces use a blues progression, and the basic style of performance iscontinuos shouting by the singer and continuos playing by the instrumentalists.

There were different types of songs that started to show the development of rock. Shouting, songs in which lyrics were shouted over the band background, was apredominant style of early rock and the foundation for the careers of famousrock musicians. Ballad singing is also an important part of early rock and roll,it is a big band tune from rhythm and blues tradition.Then there wasnovelties , which were a third kind of rock song. It was a song with somegimmick that makes it catchy.

During the 1950’s most Americans felt secure, we started to seeourselves as a world power. We were involved in the cold war and blacks hadstarted their movements. Because of the cultural situation rock and roll becamea focal point for rebellion. The marketing techniques were very primitive, butstarted to turn rock and roll into a multimillion dollar business.

Chapter five discusses Bill Haley and the Comets and how they set amodel for rock and roll. There is not much to be said about this chapterbecause Haley wasn’t a great musician and others would come after him and do abetter job at music then he did, but he was essentially one of the first groupsto use the elements of music just right to be labeled a rock and roll musician.

Chapter six talks about a person who was far more important in givingrock and roll its lasting power then Bill Haley and that person was ElvisPresley. Presley had Musical and personal qualities that far surpassed Haley. Presley opened up markets for other musicians and served as a symbol for thedevelopment of marketing techniques. He influenced a tremendous number ofmusicians.

There were other musicians who came from Memphis and were labeled theMemphis Mafia. They produced a more marketable combination of records usingballads and novelties. Country was also influenced by this wave of new rockmusicians and created the Nashville sound. Some rockabilly musicians includeJohnny Cash, who was more influential in folk music as he developed his style,Buddy Holly, who could have contributed to rock just as much as Presley did ifhe had lived longer, Jerry Lee Lewis, who was one of the first rock and rollpiano players, and Carl Perkins.

Chapter seven talks about the broadening of the music style and theperformers who came out of this period. During this time, 1950’s, rock hadbecome legitimized as a category all on its own. By this time there were fourdifferent types of rock and roll: Rhythm and Blues/shouting, crooning, specialtysongs, and novelty/monster songs. Free acculturation also came into play aroundthis time. Ray Charles is the musician who legitimized this position.

Urbanization of rock and roll from rural to urban blues led to thecircumstances in which rock and roll could be marketed.Rock and Roll began asa rough form of music. became urban blues form, and then eventually took inother forms in order to expand its market. Ballads became significant in the1950’s because they expanded the listening audience and in turn gainedacceptance by the public. The first ballads predate the invention of the termrock an roll.

Chapter eight focuses on soul/mowtown music. This music had greatinfluence around the 1960’s which were times of tumult and confusion. Rockmusic had new messages and new means to communicate. Rock around this timerelied heavily on the rhythm section because the style was vocally dominated.

Also around this time Memphis played a more important part because it became acenter for studio recording. Because of the popularity of gospel and soul alongwith rhythm and blues, billboard combined the categories into one called soul. Mowtown was formed by doowop groups and did fairly well. Sixty-seven percent ofthe singles that came out of mowtown music hit the top of the charts.

Chapter nine talks about one of the greatest influences on Rock and Rollwhich were the Beatles. Their musical style is defined in three periods whichare early beatle, 1962-1964, middle beatles,1965-1966, and late beatles 1967-1969. The early beatles had the following characteristics: Simple lyrics,Simple background accompaniment, Rock sound from the 1950’s, Simple drumbeat andrhythmic patters, Simple bass lines, and domination by lead singer or unisonsinging. In their early era they just sang songs for that had little or nomeaning and did not have any relationship with each other.

The rhythmicpatterns were simple with little riff orientation. The Middle beatles haddifferent style of singing which can be characterized as poetically more complexlyrics, Symbolic lyrics, More creative music, Universal point of view, sometimescritical words, growing dissension among group members, more guitar oriented andless percussive, folklike, more complicated guitar sounds and electronics, moresubjects in musical lyrics, and better background accompaniment. The beatlescame into their own during this period. The technical era was more complex.

The albums began to show some continuity and there was logic in which the waythe songs were placed. The late beatles music can be characterized byelectronic music, studio music, technically precise music, mystical allusions,and total communication. The music during this time was both diverse andhomogenous. They were able to make each song and each album tie into each othersuccessfully. The musical style was interwoven with the message of the singing.

Chapter ten talks about California and what it gave to rock and roll. California was seen as a kind of utopia around the 1960’s so people wanted to gothere, especially southern California. They were really into surfing music,which created such groups as The Beach Boys, and some were more into nonsurfinggroups, which were such groups as The Doors. Both of these major groups cameout of California around this time.

In northern California, cities such as SanFrancisco developed themselves as the center of movement, and musically, folkmusic turned into a particular kind of rock. The sound that it turned into canbe defined as acid rock or psychedelic rock, which means that it is associatedwith LSD, or acid. It became associated with very loud music and use ofelectronic amplification. This new development was important to rock because itunited rocks identification with rebellion, something it had lost for a while.

Chapter eleven discusses Folk-rock and how it came about. Folk music isusually defined as the music of the people, it usually expresses the feelings ofone particular area or group. It has many different aspects. Rock, jazz,country, and other musical textures were added experimentally, leading to fusion.

Bob Dylan is a musician who played great folk music, he is responsible forraising the sophistication level of the lyrics. Around this time, 1970’s, itgets harder to generalize about attitudes. This shift in attitudes waspartially caused by the technological explosion. Communications systems becamemuch more sophisticated, and information was available instantly.

Chapter thirteen goes onto art and eclectic rock. Art rock is a termthat defines music that either has higher pretentions than standard rock orimitates another style that has been recognized as art. Eclectic rock is a termapplied to anything considered to be unusual. The chapter presents a mixture ofstyles tied together by the experimental quality of the music All of it wasgenerally a fusion of rock and roll with western or nonwestern art music. Somemusicians that represent this period are The Kinks, Frank Zappa, and Rush justto name a few.

Chapter fourteen moves on to Country rock. It is analogous to rockmusic after the middle Beatles period in that it uses elements of differentkinds of music. Country rock is a combination of pop, folk, jazz, rock, andcountry music. Country rock has a a few distinct elements. A band normallyuses heavy amplification of the guitar instruments, the lyrics are mostuncharacteristic of straight country music, and the musicians look differentfrom traditional country musicians. One of the most important characteristicsof country rock was the emergence of the songwriter as the narrator and theexpression of southern pride. Some bands that represent country rock areAlabama, Charlie Daniels Band, the Eagles, the Grateful Dead, and LynyrdSkynyrd.

Chapter fifteen moves onto Jazz-rock, funk, and disco. Because therewere many attitudes at the same time in the 1970’s, the idea of art formsmerging into something called fusion makes sense. The fusion music of the 70’shas had an enormous commercial impact, and all three types of music werefinancially successful. All three movements have strong jazz roots. Jazz-rockhad some significance, it had some very competent musicians and began to makecontributions to the rock technique, rock became more complicated as a result,the commercial value of rock was made broader, many electronic devices becamecommonplace in both jazz and rock, and jazz influences began to furtherlegitimize rock as a serious form of communication.

Funk is a way of definingthe music as having various sexual and social meanings. Funk evolved from souland became a way of life within the black community. Funk can be aggressive andits musical structure combines both softness and harshness. Disco was importantbecause it provided a central focus for the return of dancing. It is simplygood-time music that is optimistic and without social comment.

Chapter sixteen talks about the emergence of heavy metal. Heavy Metalis commonly described as being loud music. The elements of heavy metal consistof heavy use of electronic devices, high volume, a thick cluttered sound whereall musical elements combine to establish the sense of power, and a sound mixwhere the vocals are buried within the texture.

Classical metal was a period inwhich there was a definitive split between British and American styles occurredand it was at this time that heavy metal became a separate style of rock androll. Mainstream metal is a style that is fully developed, evolves into equalstrength in all instruments and vocal aspects of the band unit, and settles intoa very acceptable level of musical competence. Heavy metal became moremainstream in the 1980’s. The terms Thrash/Speed/Death came later on in theheavy metal period. Thrash was heavy metal instrumental style with neo-punklyrics. Speed metal is the evolution of mainstream American heavy metal,incorporating long melodic phrases and fast tempos. Death metal is a particularstyle which is defined by its lyrics with words like death, hell, blood, etc.

Punk was a form of rebellion, it turned against all other musical forms of the1970’s. It is considered the third rock evolution following the formation ofrock and roll and the Beatles. The music was as much cultural as it was musical.

It was anarchic, against society, and against everything in the establishedorder. New wave refers to new music, sometimes meaning contemporary music. Newwave was generally the philosophy of life that manifested itself in certainkinds of music. Alternative music is music that represents another option towhat is already commercially viable or has been classified. Alternative groupshave a short term following because they either become more mainstream or getother jobs. It has little lasting impact on rock and roll, but occasionallywill have real impact.

Chapter eighteen is the final chapter and discusses Techno-funk/pop, Rap,MTV, Dance music, and the future. Techno-funk was the standard way of definingwhat was happening. The technology of the time created the means to market rockwhich was through videotapes. Techno-funk/pop was more dominant in 1985 thanany other time. Rap is a form of music that features a strong rhythm section,with the slap bass so important to funk, soul, and reggae.

The rapper tells hismessage in a punctuated style. Other aspects of rap that are important are thescratching style, dance steps, mouth beat box, and breaking.Pop rock wasgenerally called dance music. In terms of attitude it represents a growingcommercial period in rock. MTV had an impact on the relative success of thevarious kinds of music as well as the buying habits of younger viewers. Charle T. Brown concludes the book by stating the basic premises he established throughoutthe book which are the following:

  1. Rock is a legitimate are form, with its owntechnique and its own complexity.
  2. Like any art form, it has its highs and lows.
  3. We can trace cycles in rock, which seem to correlate with social views.
  4. Rockhas had a major influence on society and other art forms.
  5. Although it began asa way for youth to rebel against their parents, rock in now a universal art formand a means of communication, spanning the gamut of generations all over theworld.


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