The sight of twelve-foot-high snow banks in my parking lot—with more snow forecast for tomorrow—has brought back a treasured childhood memory: school cancellations.
Freedom from oppression! Independence, self-determination, autonomy—at least for a day! (We would have rioted in the streets against educational tyranny but we weren't convinced anyone would take seven-year-olds seriously.)
But the best part of staying home then—aside from frolicking in the pristine snow drifts—was being able to watch American Bandstand on TV from start to finish.
Such memories prompted me this weekend to take a fresh listen to the old Hit Parade so I could hear how those rock & roll classics stand up fifty years later.
Well, after listening to a sample of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley tunes, I'd have to say I'm disappointed.
Disappointed that so little of that pure, unadorned rock & roll feel has survived into the present, where complex arrangements and overwrought production can stifle the simple rhythm—and primitive backbeat—that characterizes great rock & roll.
But if you want to hear the real thing, just fire up your iTunes and sample Berry's "Johnny B Goode," Richard's "Keep a Knocking,'' or Presley's "Hound Dog." Anyone with a pulse should be blown away by the energy, power, and raw simplicity of any of these artists' hits.
For instance, Little Richard, the rock & roll fundamentalist, conducted a clinic in how to sing uncooked rock & roll in "Lucille." Presley's backing musicians set the standard for bare-bones rhythm in "Don't Be Cruel." Not one note or beat too many on any of these tracks. I hate to sound Churchillian, but never has so much been communicated with so little!
Simplicity rules. Any designer or engineer will tell you that. Make things accessible—easy to understand, easy to grasp, easy to assimilate—visually or aurally. (Think Apple. Think Google.)
I hear this from product development teams, IT engineers, marketers and advertisers—in client companies ranging from accounting to banking to health care to pharmaceuticals to transportation to advanced technology. It's all part of design thinking—which anyone in any business should become familiar with. (Update: read the comments for references.) And the early rockers wrote the book on design simplicity.
But before I'm branded a rock regressive, musical atavist, cultural dinosaur, or just plain geezer, let me assure you I have found some contemporary bands that know to deliver the goods—that is, basic rock.
I love the straightforward power of the All-American Rejects, Nada Surf, Paramore (Hayley Williams can wail), and of course Green Day (the champs of pop punk). But for simple R&R elegance, nobody beats the early architects. Here's a live version of Chuck performing "Back in the USA'" in 1986—joined by Linda Ronstadt on vocals and Keith Richards on guitar.