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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    It’s without a doubt my age, but if it ain’t got a backbeat or some blues in it, it just ain’t rock and roll to me.

  2. sam says:

    But it’s probably pop.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I actually agree on both counts.

    I rather like Kasey Chambers — I’ve even seen her live — but she’s a country artist, not rock. And Black Eyed Peas is R&B.

    Rock and Roll is still very broad, ranging from balladeers to heavy metal. But there still has to be some limit to it or else there’s no point in naming it.

  4. sam says:

    I rather like Kasey Chambers — I’ve even seen her live — but she’s a country artist, not rock.

    I read Toby Keith a while back saying that he never thought he’d see it in his life time, but rock and roll is dead. Kids, he said, who want to see some semblance of the real thing, look to country music. Which makes sense to me, I mean, rock and roll is really the union of country music and rythm and blues basically.

  5. Drew says:

    C’mon guys. Except for, say, “Money,” all you need is a 4-4 signature and that chord progression……………..and you can be a rock star. If, uh, you have flashy clothes, the right swagger, a drug or alcohol habit, a good promoter………

  6. Drew says:

    Sam –

    Think Robert Johnson.

  7. Franklin says:

    I read Toby Keith a while back saying that he never thought he’d see it in his life time, but rock and roll is dead. Kids, he said, who want to see some semblance of the real thing, look to country music.

    Yeah, only country music is real. Excuse me while I barf.

  8. Kib says:

    The live version is a little better.