Rock and Roll’s Musical Diversity
Ed Driscoll posted a piece titled, “What I Admire Most About Rock & Roll Is Its Musical Diversity.” The post, in its entirety:
36 songs, four chords, one video. Just click:
(If you’re a musician, it’s a I-V-VIm-IV progression that they’re playing into the ground, but you knew that already, right?)
Yeah, it’s been around more than a year. But it’s new to me. In any case, when I saw it this morning via Ed’s Twitter feed, I just wasn’t impressed. I gathered that this was supposed to be funny but it just didn’t strike me that way. Maybe, I thought, it was because the guy’s singing wasn’t very good and it didn’t represent the songs in question well. Or, perhaps, because I’m unfamiliar with most of the songs, I just didn’t get the joke.
But, for some reason, it dawned on me as I was driving home what the problem was: The video actually represents the enormous musical diversity of rock and roll.
For one thing, the sheer vastness of the artistic styles in these 36 songs is phenomenal. Certainly, neither Chuck Berry nor Buddy Holly nor even Jimi Hendrix would have recognized most of them as “rock and roll.” I mean, Kasey Chambers? Black Eyed Peas? Bic Runa?
More importantly, despite repeating the same four-chord progression, these songs don’t remind me of one another. Sure, there will be occasions when a guitar lick in one song reminds me of another song. But the video demonstrates the near-infinite variety that can be built from that foundation.
Rock and roll emerged from and largely remains part of the folk music tradition. While there are some virtuoso musicians playing rock music, they’re a rarity. But they can apparently make four chords go a long way. A rock star is much more likely to be someone who taught himself how to play guitar, formed a band, and makes it on some combination of songwriting prowess, originality, charisma, and sheer energy.