The Art of Rock and Roll by Charles Brown
The book The Art of Rock and Roll by Charles T. Brown basically
proposes methods for analyzing music and anyone who reads the books should be
able to develop techniques for listening to music and making legitimate
statements about it. It treats rock and roll as a serious art form and traces
it cultural roots throughout the book.
Chapter one discusses the elements of rock and makes four assumptions.
Assumption one states that rock is a legitimate art form. An art form is
defined as a creative act that springs from the artist’s experience as it
reflects or reacts against society. It then states that acculturation, a process
by which a certain people are influenced by a foreign culture, changed the Afro-
Americans from their original culture to one that was a mixture of U.S.
influences and African roots which played a large part in the way rock and roll
sounds today. Brown proves rock is a legitimate art form by talking about its
audience and its lasting power.
Assumption two states that rocks roots are in folk, jazz, and pop
music. Musicians who first started rock and roll must have had something to base
their music on which turned out to be primarily folk, jazz, and pop. They
simple changed the pattern and style of that music and started forming rock.
Assumption three states that it is just as valid to study rock and
roll as European classical music. Rock will prove to be a valid means of
producing competent musicians and that it demands the same type of performance
as in any musical form. Since it is a valid way in which to study music in
general it is just as valid to start with rock as starting anywhere else.
Assumption four states that simple musical analysis of selected
compositions is a primary tool for understanding musical evolution. Through
musical analysis we are able to generalize and say that rock from a certain era
has common characteristics. By doing this we are able to see what influences
lead rock to where it is today.
The chapter then goes on to discuss the elements of music which are
nonverbal communication, melody, rhythm, harmony, lyrics, and performance.
Music is nonverbal in that it communicates through organized sound and is
difficult to translate, the other elements are what make the sound organized and
meaningful. Melody is an organized set of notes consisting of different pitches.
It is basically the up and down motion of the lead singer. Rhythm is those
beat of patterns that underlie most forms of communications. It is made up of
pulsations that follow a consistent pattern. It will sometimes show us the
emotional feel of a song. Harmony is the simultaneous sounding of two or more
notes at the same time. It provides a texture for the total song. Lyrics are
the words used in the song and usually tell us what the song and mood of the
song is about. Performance tells us the purpose, function, and impact of a
Music generally reflects the value of society. By using the elements of
music you can begin to make assumptions about how rock and roll reflects its
society. It quickly took on an attitude of rebellion and eventually became a
symbol of independence for youths
Chapter two discusses the listening skill needed to better understand
music. Through listening we can define the social impact of a rock group and its
musical style. This purpose of this chapter is to outline ways in which the
individual can create his or her own system of analysis. The chapter then goes
on describing what you need to do while listening to music to better analyze it.
First you need concentration, you need to change your attitude towards the music
you hear everyday and block out any interference, we must treat it seriously and
analyze it fairly even if we we don’t like it. Then you need to dissect what
your hearing. You have to decide what to use for a reference point and listen
to the song more than once. Your first time listening to it you should get a
general idea of what the song is like, what its about, and what it has. After
that you add more information by listening to each part of the music
individually. Lyrics are the easiest to analyze. You must write all the lyrics
down and figure out if there is a verse structure.
The chapter then goes into the different types of Melody. First there
is the Soprano- lead melody. The lead melody is sometimes called the soprano
melody which means the highest melody. Then there is the bass melody, which is
normally played by an instrument rather then sung. It is halfway between
melody and rhythm, or beat. It is usually low sounding, repetitive and
continuos. It is the foundation for the instrumental ensemble.Instruments are
another part of melody. It is the instruments that give rock and roll its
character and beat. The drums provide the beat, the guitars provide continous
rhythm, and the bass guitar plays the bass melody. When analyzing you must also
recognize the Rhythm and Harmony. They both determine the complexity of the
composition and we must become aware of changes in rhythm or harmony because
they indicate changes in the song.
Chapter three discusses the sources of Rock. Slave music was important
because when they were brought to the United states they also brought with them
their music which was blues and later on early jazz. Acculturation began as
soon as their were American-born slaves. They would sing work songs which were
basically chants which later on formed to become blues. As blues developed so
did early forms of Jazz. One of these forms was the cakewalk was the cakewalk
which was a danced step used to make fun of how stiff the white man walked and
later on became the first truly Afro-American dance step. Another form was
Ragtime which was a piano style which has four main themes. Then came along
other piano styles such as stride, dixieland, and the boogie-woogie which was
the first obvious influence for rock and roll.
In the 1930’s blues took on a different character because of changes in
society, black musicians developed big bands and blues singers continued to
have great importance which eventually fostered rhythm and blues. Rock and roll
started to develop in the last part of the 1930’s mainly because of the start of
the removal of the color line between musicians.
Chapter four discusses early rock. They started to somewhat define the
rock category by saying that rock uses certain rhythmic devices, its lyrics and
jargon came from the jump blues, rhythm and blues, country, or some combination,
many pieces use a blues progression, and the basic style of performance is
continuos shouting by the singer and continuos playing by the instrumentalists.
There were different types of songs that started to show the development of rock.
Shouting, songs in which lyrics were shouted over the band background, was a
predominant style of early rock and the foundation for the careers of famous
rock musicians. Ballad singing is also an important part of early rock and roll,
it is a big band tune from rhythm and blues tradition.Then there was
novelties , which were a third kind of rock song. It was a song with some
gimmick that makes it catchy.
During the 1950’s most Americans felt secure, we started to see
ourselves as a world power. We were involved in the cold war and blacks had
started their movements. Because of the cultural situation rock and roll became
a focal point for rebellion. The marketing techniques were very primitive, but
started to turn rock and roll into a multimillion dollar business.
Chapter five discusses Bill Haley and the Comets and how they set a
model for rock and roll. There is not much to be said about this chapter
because Haley wasn’t a great musician and others would come after him and do a
better job at music then he did, but he was essentially one of the first groups
to use the elements of music just right to be labeled a rock and roll musician.
Chapter six talks about a person who was far more important in giving
rock and roll its lasting power then Bill Haley and that person was Elvis
Presley. Presley had Musical and personal qualities that far surpassed Haley.
Presley opened up markets for other musicians and served as a symbol for the
development of marketing techniques. He influenced a tremendous number of
There were other musicians who came from Memphis and were labeled the
Memphis Mafia. They produced a more marketable combination of records using
ballads and novelties. Country was also influenced by this wave of new rock
musicians and created the Nashville sound. Some rockabilly musicians include
Johnny Cash, who was more influential in folk music as he developed his style,
Buddy Holly, who could have contributed to rock just as much as Presley did if
he had lived longer, Jerry Lee Lewis, who was one of the first rock and roll
piano players, and Carl Perkins.
Chapter seven talks about the broadening of the music style and the
performers who came out of this period. During this time, 1950’s, rock had
become legitimized as a category all on its own. By this time there were four
different types of rock and roll: Rhythm and Blues/shouting, crooning, specialty
songs, and novelty/monster songs. Free acculturation also came into play around
this time. Ray Charles is the musician who legitimized this position.
Urbanization of rock and roll from rural to urban blues led to the
circumstances in which rock and roll could be marketed.Rock and Roll began as
a rough form of music. became urban blues form, and then eventually took in
other forms in order to expand its market. Ballads became significant in the
1950’s because they expanded the listening audience and in turn gained
acceptance by the public. The first ballads predate the invention of the term
rock an roll.
Chapter eight focuses on soul/mowtown music. This music had great
influence around the 1960’s which were times of tumult and confusion. Rock
music had new messages and new means to communicate. Rock around this time
relied heavily on the rhythm section because the style was vocally dominated.
Also around this time Memphis played a more important part because it became a
center for studio recording. Because of the popularity of gospel and soul along
with rhythm and blues, billboard combined the categories into one called soul.
Mowtown was formed by doowop groups and did fairly well. Sixty-seven percent of
the singles that came out of mowtown music hit the top of the charts.
Chapter nine talks about one of the greatest influences on Rock and Roll
which were the Beatles. Their musical style is defined in three periods which
are early beatle, 1962-1964, middle beatles,1965-1966, and late beatles 1967-
1969. The early beatles had the following characteristics: Simple lyrics,
Simple background accompaniment, Rock sound from the 1950’s, Simple drumbeat and
rhythmic patters, Simple bass lines, and domination by lead singer or unison
singing. In their early era they just sang songs for that had little or no
meaning and did not have any relationship with each other. The rhythmic
patterns were simple with little riff orientation. The Middle beatles had
different style of singing which can be characterized as poetically more complex
lyrics, Symbolic lyrics, More creative music, Universal point of view, sometimes
critical words, growing dissension among group members, more guitar oriented and
less percussive, folklike, more complicated guitar sounds and electronics, more
subjects in musical lyrics, and better background accompaniment. The beatles
came into their own during this period. The technical era was more complex.
The albums began to show some continuity and there was logic in which the way
the songs were placed. The late beatles music can be characterized by
electronic music, studio music, technically precise music, mystical allusions,
and total communication. The music during this time was both diverse and
homogenous. They were able to make each song and each album tie into each other
successfully. The musical style was interwoven with the message of the singing.
Chapter ten talks about California and what it gave to rock and roll.
California was seen as a kind of utopia around the 1960’s so people wanted to go
there, especially southern California. They were really into surfing music,
which created such groups as The Beach Boys, and some were more into nonsurfing
groups, which were such groups as The Doors. Both of these major groups came
out of California around this time. In northern California, cities such as San
Francisco developed themselves as the center of movement, and musically, folk
music turned into a particular kind of rock. The sound that it turned into can
be defined as acid rock or psychedelic rock, which means that it is associated
with LSD, or acid. It became associated with very loud music and use of
electronic amplification. This new development was important to rock because it
united rocks identification with rebellion, something it had lost for a while.
Chapter eleven discusses Folk-rock and how it came about. Folk music is
usually defined as the music of the people, it usually expresses the feelings of
one particular area or group. It has many different aspects. Rock, jazz,
country, and other musical textures were added experimentally, leading to fusion.
Bob Dylan is a musician who played great folk music, he is responsible for
raising the sophistication level of the lyrics. Around this time, 1970’s, it
gets harder to generalize about attitudes. This shift in attitudes was
partially caused by the technological explosion. Communications systems became
much more sophisticated, and information was available instantly.
From here on the book goes on to discuss the different forms of rock
that came about. Chapter twelve focuses towards English Rock. English rock has
a distinctive sound for several reasons: Depending on their upbringing, the
musicians sing with a distinctive accent; There is a slight influence of skiffle
in the beginning stages of music from the 1960’s; The technology of the
amplified sound is different in that the amplifiers are set to amplify the
harmonic spectrum differently; Musical symbolism tends to be different and draws
from the literary tradition of Europe; The blending of voices tends to be less
emotional. Three groups who popularized English rock in America after the
Beatles were The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elton John. They capitalized on
the attitudes of the times which were sometimes tasteless and antiestablishment.
The Rolling Stones and The Who eventually have an impact on punk and new wave.
Elton John proves the lasting impact of a pianist and a vocalist.
Chapter thirteen goes onto art and eclectic rock. Art rock is a term
that defines music that either has higher pretentions than standard rock or
imitates another style that has been recognized as art. Eclectic rock is a term
applied to anything considered to be unusual. The chapter presents a mixture of
styles tied together by the experimental quality of the music All of it was
generally a fusion of rock and roll with western or nonwestern art music. Some
musicians that represent this period are The Kinks, Frank Zappa, and Rush just
to name a few.
Chapter fourteen moves on to Country rock. It is analogous to rock
music after the middle Beatles period in that it uses elements of different
kinds of music. Country rock is a combination of pop, folk, jazz, rock, and
country music. Country rock has a a few distinct elements. A band normally
uses heavy amplification of the guitar instruments, the lyrics are most
uncharacteristic of straight country music, and the musicians look different
from traditional country musicians. One of the most important characteristics
of country rock was the emergence of the songwriter as the narrator and the
expression of southern pride. Some bands that represent country rock are
Alabama, Charlie Daniels Band, the Eagles, the Grateful Dead, and Lynyrd
Chapter fifteen moves onto Jazz-rock, funk, and disco. Because there
were many attitudes at the same time in the 1970’s, the idea of art forms
merging into something called fusion makes sense. The fusion music of the 70’s
has had an enormous commercial impact, and all three types of music were
financially successful. All three movements have strong jazz roots. Jazz-rock
had some significance, it had some very competent musicians and began to make
contributions to the rock technique, rock became more complicated as a result,
the commercial value of rock was made broader, many electronic devices became
commonplace in both jazz and rock, and jazz influences began to further
legitimize rock as a serious form of communication. Funk is a way of defining
the music as having various sexual and social meanings. Funk evolved from soul
and became a way of life within the black community. Funk can be aggressive and
its musical structure combines both softness and harshness. Disco was important
because it provided a central focus for the return of dancing. It is simply
good-time music that is optimistic and without social comment.
Chapter sixteen talks about the emergence of heavy metal. Heavy Metal
is commonly described as being loud music. The elements of heavy metal consist
of heavy use of electronic devices, high volume, a thick cluttered sound where
all musical elements combine to establish the sense of power, and a sound mix
where the vocals are buried within the texture. Classical metal was a period in
which there was a definitive split between British and American styles occurred
and it was at this time that heavy metal became a separate style of rock and
roll. Mainstream metal is a style that is fully developed, evolves into equal
strength in all instruments and vocal aspects of the band unit, and settles into
a very acceptable level of musical competence. Heavy metal became more
mainstream in the 1980’s. The terms Thrash/Speed/Death came later on in the
heavy metal period. Thrash was heavy metal instrumental style with neo-punk
lyrics. Speed metal is the evolution of mainstream American heavy metal,
incorporating long melodic phrases and fast tempos. Death metal is a particular
style which is defined by its lyrics with words like death, hell, blood, etc.
Chapter seventeen moves onto punk, new wave, and alternative music.
Punk is a term applied to a child or teenager who acts in a antisocial way.
Punk was a form of rebellion, it turned against all other musical forms of the
1970’s. It is considered the third rock evolution following the formation of
rock and roll and the Beatles. The music was as much cultural as it was musical.
It was anarchic, against society, and against everything in the established
order. New wave refers to new music, sometimes meaning contemporary music. New
wave was generally the philosophy of life that manifested itself in certain
kinds of music. Alternative music is music that represents another option to
what is already commercially viable or has been classified. Alternative groups
have a short term following because they either become more mainstream or get
other jobs. It has little lasting impact on rock and roll, but occasionally
will have real impact.
Chapter eighteen is the final chapter and discusses Techno-funk/pop, Rap,
MTV, Dance music, and the future. Techno-funk was the standard way of defining
what was happening. The technology of the time created the means to market rock
which was through videotapes. Techno-funk/pop was more dominant in 1985 than
any other time. Rap is a form of music that features a strong rhythm section,
with the slap bass so important to funk, soul, and reggae. The rapper tells his
message in a punctuated style. Other aspects of rap that are important are the
scratching style, dance steps, mouth beat box, and breaking.Pop rock was
generally called dance music. In terms of attitude it represents a growing
commercial period in rock. MTV had an impact on the relative success of the
various kinds of music as well as the buying habits of younger viewers. Charle T.
Brown concludes the book by stating the basic premises he established throughout
the book which are the following: 1.Rock is a legitimate are form, with its own
technique and its own complexity. 2.Like any art form, it has its highs and lows.
3.We can trace cycles in rock, which seem to correlate with social views. 4.Rock
has had a major influence on society and other art forms. 5.Although it began as
a way for youth to rebel against their parents, rock in now a universal art form
and a means of communication, spanning the gamut of generations all over the