Showing posts with label Chuck Berry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chuck Berry. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Although the holiday season obviously is a popular time for the Christmas carol, the word carol did not always refer to a type of song, but a type of dance—a popular dance in the Middle Ages, in fact. The word carol comes from the French word carole, a word derived from the Latin chorus, probably derived from the Greek word choreia, meaning dance. So how did carole, a word that means dance, become the carol, as in “Christmas carol”? An explanation is provided by this article, “Secular Music in 15th-Century England”:

The word carol . . . [meaning dance-song] . . . is used in this meaning up until the 15th century, when its function begins to change. It becomes more and more a purely vocal piece, but still maintaining the traditional form of a four-line verse followed by a two-line burden. According to R. L. Greene, carol is “a song on any subject, composed of uniform stanzas and provided with a burden. The burden makes and marks the carol. It is not a refrain (which might appear at the end of each stanza) but a self-contained formal and metrical unit.” It is simple, direct and unpretentious in style, mainly cheerful, using stock phrases and traditional imagery. Its basic form is related to other continental popular forms of the time like the French ballade, the Italian ballata or the Spanish villancico. However, all these were monophonic, whereas the English introduced a unique feature: the polyphonic carols, which first appeared around 1400. . . . According to John Stevens, “the popular carol, rough and direct, combines a warmth of human feeling with a matter-of-factness and a sense of wonder. The clerical carol, complex and often ornate, dwells with dramatic intensity on the physical and spiritual anguish of the Passion. The one didactic but gay; the other solemnly devotional.”

The distinction John Stevens makes between popular carols and clerical carols is still with us today: popular carols would include “Frosty the Snowman,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” while clerical carols would include, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” and that old workhorse, “Silent Night.”

But for rock ‘n’ rollers, the classic carol, of course, has to be Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” later covered, famously, by the Rolling Stones. In Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” the earlier meaning of carol, as dance, or dance-song, is restored: “Oh Carol, don’t let him steal your heart away/I'm gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day.”

I wish everybody happy Caroling--of the Chuck Berry sort, that is--this holiday season!