4 min readPart 2: The History of Rock and Roll as Pertains to the Guitar Riff?

See the previous entry here:

Part 1

Today, we continue our series on the history of Rock And Roll through the eyes of the guitar riff. It wasn’t until 1958 when things began to change, and the world was turned on its head.

I realize that this is might be confusing, but let’s unpack this. First, I want you to listen to Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven (1956)

No. That’s not a guitar riff. That’s a guitar intro. You won’t hear it repeated and driving the song. You hear an intro, a very early bitchin’ solo, and then you hear the rest of the instruments actually doing the driving of the song.

Now, listen to this:

Hear it? It’s still pretty quiet back then, but in its day that was considered screaming loud and it took the world of rock music by storm. It was that song, Johnny B. Goode, that was etched into the golden record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft, and launched on a journey across the universe.

No? Don’t hear it? Go back and listen again. Ignore the intro. Ignore the bitchin’ solos. Listen carefully – between the solo and single-note playing and you’ll hear the very first guitar riff in a recording that got any significant airtime.

Wanna try to hear it even better? (Don’t worry, there’s a madness to my method. I’m trying to train your ears so that you can start to listen to music a little different than you might be used to! Like I said in the first entry into this series, get in the car ’cause we’re going on an adventure!)

Yup… Now, ignore that silliness that sounds fancy. Pay attention to the sole guitar, at just about the 20 second mark.

That’s a guitar riff and that’s pretty much when America lost its damned mind! People began to see things in a new light. That song was one of the songs that crossed the racial barrier. It appealed to people across racial, class, and even cultural divides.

Think it’s new? Not even close. Here, you can hear a very similar, almost identical, rendition with trumpets.

Louis Jordan - Ain`t That Just Like A Woman

Note: I said that it was the first time the guitar riff had been popularly used in Rock And Roll – it’d been in the Rhythm And Blues for quite some time.

In fact, in the Johnny B. Goode song, it was initially intended to be played on the piano. The difference here, is that it is now a guitar riff and played at higher volumes.

The guitar has a new roll, it is no longer a passive thing that punctuates the rhythm, it has become the rhythm and, by extension, it has become the song. It has become the riff.

So, where does the story go from here?

Well, as the guitar riff entered the popular music, many changes in culture happened at the same time. America was taking the world by storm and our culture was extending to be shared across the globe, along with some of our values.

We’d just recently finished our conflict in Korea, our open involvement in Vietnam hadn’t really begun, and the American kids were starting to act a little weird. Those people born near the start of WWII had reached the days of adulthood and had finished high school.

But, some of them weren’t interested in living the American Dream. Some of them wanted to explore new ideas, new ways of thinking, and to try to change the world. Rock And Roll was one of the things they’d take with them.

America, and by her influence the world, would step in new directions. We’d worry about things like civil rights, equality, expression, liberty, and art. We’d fret about nuclear destruction of mankind. We’d start to campaign against war and violence. We’d examine what it meant to be human.

And, along the way, the guitar riff would be their constant companion – changing as much as we did. We will see you next week with our next installation of the history of rock as told by examining the guitar riff.

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