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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.