Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 4: Velvet Underground, "Rock And Roll"

Artist: The Velvet Underground
Song: "Rock And Roll"
Album: Loaded
Year: 1970

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Though there are many themes that keep reappearing throughout the history of music, few make for better songs than that of the "innocent" child hearing "great" music for the first time. In nearly every genre, some form of this song has been recorded, and while the details change, the spirit behind the song is always one that remind people of the great power of music. With a majority of these songs, the lyrics seem quite autobiographical in nature, while they can simultaneously be applied to nearly anyone, and this is often the reason that the songs become so legendary. While it is truly a countless amount of songs that are created in this manner, there are few that can compare, both musically and lyrically to the mood and power of The Velvet Underground's classic tune, "Rock and Roll." As an integral part of their legendary 1970 record, Loaded, the song perfectly captures these feelings, and yet it is easily one of the most joyous and inspiring songs ever recorded. Powered by the early punk sound of the band, along with the stunning vocal work of Lou Reed, the song instantly grabs the listener and the true genius behind the song remains in the fact that no matter how many times one hears the song, it still has the same level of impact. From the core riff to the iconic lyrics, there are truly very few songs that can compare to the sheer magnificence of the often imitated, but never even remotely duplicated, "Rock and Roll."

Truth be told, the song was actually recorded on the tail end of the bands' previous, self-titled record a year earlier, but it did not make the cut and was left "on the shelf" while the group changed record labels. In retrospect, this was a very good thing, as "Rock and Roll" fits far better with the songs on Loaded than with those of their 1969 effort. The song itself is driven by a brilliantly simple three-chord progression, making it a song that even the most novice guitar player could easily master. This uncomplicated musical approach is certainly one of the keys to the songs' appeal, and yet it also reflects the universal nature of the music which is being referred to in the lyrics. However, "Rock and Roll" also features The Velvet Underground's signature gritty, stripped down sound, and it provided a very stark musical contrast to nearly everything else that was being released at the time. While both Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison provide stunning guitar work throughout the song, one of the key aspects that sets both the song and album apart from the rest of the bands' work is the fact that drummer Maureen Tucker is not present. At this point, Tucker was gone from the band due to having a child, and throughout Loaded, the percussion is handled by a number of different people. Regardless, "Rock and Roll" presents an absolutely amazing groove, and it remains one of the most irresistible rock anthems ever recorded.

While he is unquestionably responsible for some of the most iconic songs in the history of music, the vocals and lyrics that Lou Reed presents here are easily some of the best of his career. Bringing his trademark vocal sound, Reed sings with an amazing level of passion and urgency, and the listener can quickly feel the angst and frustration of the main character as they struggle to find some sort of meaning in life. What begins as an almost defeated, bored protagonist quickly turns into a joyous and bright celebration of the power of music, and the spirit of the song is unlike anything else in history. Though Reed's trademark attitude is never absent from his voice, he is able to perfectly convey the "bored" feeling of the main character as she searches for some sort of meaning in life, and alter in the song, the way in which Reed expresses the elation she feels at finding rock music is one of the greatest moments ever captured on tape. One can easily make the case that the reason for this is that Reed is so closely connected to the lyrics which he sings, and "Rock and Roll" is one of the most perfect tributes to the power of music that has ever been composed. As is the case with so many songs, the lyrics here are completely autobiographical, and Reed once said of the song, "...if I hadn't heard rock & roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet..." The song points out the fact that this meaning to life could not be found in television or material goods, and it was the simply impact of music that provided a "reason" for living. This sentiment still rings true to this day, and the lyric continues to inspire music fanatics nearly four decades after its release.

With its amazing musical hooks and the absolutely stunning vocal delivery of Lou Reed, "Rock and Roll" continues to enthrall music lovers better than nearly anything recorded since it first appeared in 1970. Still finding its way into film and television, the song has been covered countless times over the decades by everyone from The Runaways to Jane's Addiction to Phish, with each putting their own personal spin onto this iconic song. Perfectly capturing the spirit of rock music, Lou Reed is in rare form as he sings from the heart, and "Rock and Roll" stands as one of the finest displays of sheltered youth finding "the real world" via the simple act of turning on the radio. While many have sung of this same "moment," no other has come close to hitting the nail on the head as Reed does here, and the overall mood of the song is nothing short of triumphant. Powered by the simple, yet truly mesmerizing guitar hook, alongside the fantastic attitude that The Velvet Underground brought to every song, "Rock and Roll" was easily one of the most important recordings in the development of the punk sound, as it again proved that substance and attitude can be just as important as the musical arrangements. Remaining today as one of the most iconic songs in history, countless music fans have found solace in the legendary line, "...her life was saved by rock and roll," and there is simply no other song ever written that carries with it the power and personal feel as one finds on The Velvet Underground's 1970 masterpiece, "Rock and Roll."

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