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Friday, May 04, 2007

"American history, practical math, studying hard and hoping to pass"

My Radio Four programme "Three Minute Education" is on next Thursday at 11.30 am. The thesis is that pop music can teach you things if you're in any way receptive. A huge amount of what I learned about America as a kid I picked up from Chuck Berry. "Promised Land" is about a young man emigrating from miserable Norfolk, Virginia to the Golden State and mentions every stop on his route. Whatever else we may think about him – and we do – no rock songwriter has taken such pleasure in language or taken such trouble with it. It doesn't flag, even in the last verse where he's asking the operator to put him through. "Los Angeles, give me Norfolk, Virginia, Tidewater four ten oh nine, Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling and the poor boy's on the line". Here's a clip of him doing it on a French TV show in 1965. Cameras blunder into shot, the mike falls down, the band are hanging on for dear life but you can't stop the rock. The picture was taken at a show in the University of Virginia in 1965.

8 comments:

  1. What a terrific photo. Imagine being able to say "I saw Chuck Berry play. It was in the gym and they made us sit on the floor."

    From his facial expression and the position of his right hand, it looks like the lad front right is playing some very early air guitar.

    Just when was the air guitar born? Now there's a Radio 4 documentary for you.

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  2. Anonymous12:05 pm

    Fantastic clip. Love the way the band come in when Chuck raises his leg.

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  3. Who exactly were Chuck Berry's influences lyrically? I find his lyrics almost miraculously good - and underrated, despite his legendary status. They're so wonderfully detailed and specific, witty and/or poignant, and always perfectly measured. Something like "You Never Can Tell" sounds more like Noel Coward or Cole Porter than the blues. Although I love Little Richard and his awopbopaloobop, I sometimes wonder what music today would be like if Berry's descendants had tried harder to emulate his words more than replicate his chords.

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  4. I love the last shots of the clip where the piano player behind Uncle Chuck looks like he's from another species altogether, rock n' roll.

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  5. Fantastic clip. I believe you'll find that's Reg Dwight's Dad on the piano.

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  6. great stuff. And at 2 mins in there's a crash zoom into Chuck which ends up on a compostion that if it was a still image would be an iconic book and boxed set cover by now.

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  7. I just wanted to say that after hearing this R4 show, I felt compelled to attempt Googling up an email address for you, simply to say 'Thanks' for the fine programme: thus did I find this here Blog - so, simply - Thanks - for all the good work.

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  8. That's very kind of you. Anyone who missed it can listen again via http://tinyurl.com/ywey48.

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