Monday, March 20, 2017

(One of) Chuck Berry's Perfect Song(s) - Too Much Monkey Business

too much monkey business

I'm not sure what I could possibly say about Chuck Berry that hasn't been said better. There's always dispute about the origins of rock n roll, but only if you get into splitting hairs about very specific elements of it or just don't know what the fuck your're talking about. But if you listen closely, all the most important pieces were laid out by Berry. Musically, lyrically and culturally, you can draw a line from Chuck Berry to just about any rock artist since the 50s. As a matter fact, I'll take a step further and say you can draw that line straight to hip hop as well. He was creating his own legend from the very beginning - "Johnny B. Goode" was all about him. He used hip lingo and even made up words. Several of his songs used a talking blues structure that can arguably be considered rapping. But I won't go into anymore and instead make this about what I think is his best song and covers just about everything I think he brought to the world - "Too Much Monkey Business."

As soon as this kicks off, you get that quintessential early rock sound with the guitar, upright bass, drums and piano, all bouncing hard. Then he goes right into what I believe may be the earliest example of recorded rhyme spitting, complete with the "ahh" at the end of each line. If you're not feeling his frustration, you're not listening. Just amazing. Lyrically he's basically had it with all the bullshit, which is not only rebellious, but it's the slacker call to inaction of the grunge era and beyond. And if that wasn't enough, that first guitar solo does something that is almost imperceptible and that I somehow didn't notice until I was listening to the song one day last year. There's a sudden increase in tempo that makes this thing bubble with nervous angst in a way that the 50s wasn't ready to explore fully, but would eventually be the bread and butter of rock. Then it all comes together with the line "I don't want your botheration, get away, leave me be." Perfect.

It's amazing how even though this man was revered and actually did get a lot of credit and respect, he somehow didn't get enough recognition. And I don't even mean in the sense of how so many black artists didn't get recognized for their contributions in favor of the white artists that followed. I mean as a musician and an artist in general. It's easy to overlook what Berry did as simplistic and maybe get lost in some nostalgic fantasy about "music back then" or whatever. But the reality is that his music is timeless. It's still alive in just about everything you hear, but beyond that, listen closely to his technique, his delivery, his lyrical poetry. The man was a master, full stop. And "Too Much Monkey Business" is only one of his perfect songs. 

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