Makes you wish all those 1950s guys could learn another chord!
I love the Ramones, but there are people who cannot understand how I can listen to a band with a repertoire strictly bound by such rigid formulaic strictures. Well, it's a lot easier than enduring the welter of three-chord 12-bars which held an obsessive sway over the artists of the 1950s. It took the Beatles (etcetera) to wrest rock'n'roll out of its three-chord 12-bar infancy, but the stars and audience of 'The London Rock'n'Roll Show' revel in the minimalistic compositions of the era. With such a limited palette to draw musical 'colour' from, the performers sink or swim with only their individual talent to buoy them up. Fittingly the show opens with the forgettable Heinz, and then moves on to the c-grade theatrics and talent-free zone that was Screaming Lord Sutch. Sutch verbally challenges Alice Cooper, but comes off looking like a cheap threadbare high-school imitation. At least he does provide some pretty dancing girls to look at (and a delightfully gorgeous stripper; just like the Beatles did in 'Magical Mystery Tour'). Outstaying his welcome with an unfortunate bout of tedious go-nowhere jamming, Bo Diddley proves he's a song-based artist and not an improviser, and his section is mercifully brief. Grumpy old Jerry Lee Lewis is surprisingly vital and energetic, and his set is a rip-roarer. Next there's Bill Haley and the Comets, a bunch of well-traveled, well-oiled professionals who nevertheless manage to pull off an unexpectedly engaging set. Even better than Jerry Lee Lewis is his commercial rival Little Richard, the pick of the bunch with his driving proto-rock rhythms and flamboyant persona. Unfortunately this is where the 'three-chord fatigue' really sets in, and then comes the act the audience has apparently all been waiting for. I'm not a fan of Chuck Berry for a number of reasons (Keith Richards does 'Chuck Berry' better, at least for me), and although after a few songs he does seem to drop the cynicism and cold artifice to genuinely become a part of the music, he's the sloppiest performer of the day. Out of tune, out of time and putting more work into pulling silly poses than playing his own music, Berry just seems like he doesn't care about anything but the money and the fame. Thankfully he doesn't do 'My Ding-A-Ling'. Elsewhere in the movie, the audience are scanned for their interesting get-ups and dancing, and keep a look-out for the alarmingly punky female sales-hand manning the 'Let It Rock' stall (a shop run by future New York Dolls/Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren). The interview snippets with a bored, tired Mick Jagger are completely gratuitous and contribute virtually nothing, however. A fascinating time-capsule all up, but you might want to watch the performers separately and avoid some serious three-chord fatigue.
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