The “Rumble” Thought Experiment

I came up with this one day after I had seen the movie “It Might Get Loud.” If you haven’t seen the movie, it features in-depth guitar conversations with Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page. Even if you are not a fan of their bands or playing, it is a fascinating look into how three distinctively different players approach the instrument.

However, the most interesting bit for me was a scene where they are interviewing Jimmy Page in his home and he is showing his record collection. He takes out his 45 single for the song “Rumble” by Link Wray and when he puts it on the record player, he instantly changes from Jimmy Page, rock guitar god, to Jimmy Page, teenage music fan. The boyish enthusiasm comes through in his face and it was as if the song transforms him and strips away 50 years. I can relate to the feeling because that is exactly what listening to Iron Maiden will do to me.

As a composition, “Rumble” is not a very complex piece of music. It has a very simple chord structure with a few bluesy licks in between. Nowadays, we are so inundated and oversaturated with music that the idea of hearing such a simplistic instrumental guitar song might seem primitive. But there is magic in that track which I think can be discovered even now. 

In order to really convey this, I crafted a thought experiment for myself which helped. Go put “Rumble” on your music device of choice and before you press play do the following:

  1. Try to clear your head of everything you know about rock guitar music from the last 60 years. 
  2. Imagine that you are in a time where distortion on a guitar was still in its infancy and not as common as a switch on your amp or a pedal. 
  3. Imagine the early days of rock n roll where riffs and chord progressions hadn’t yet gotten over the top with complexity and were based more in the blues. 
  4. Imagine that prog rock, shred rock, heavy metal, etc have not yet come into existence and challenged the possibilities of what we could do with our instrument.
  5. Imagine a place in time where electric guitar was new and fresh and full of infinite possibilities. 

Now press play and see how you respond to “Rumble.” Can you imagine what it would be like as a young guitar player in those days to hear those sounds bursting from your speakers. This is raw distortion which was not a circuit manufactured and reproduced in a factory. This is the simple act of cranking your amp up to the point where the signal distorts and brings out the new overtones. This is raw beautiful rock n roll. More importantly, this was not something you heard at that time. 

Never lose sight of where we have come from on the way to taking us to new places. The songs may change and evolve but that attitude never changes. Be like Link Wray and channel it.