Elvis Presley may have been “The King” but it was Chuck Berry who really kicked off the rock and roll era. Chuck Berry passed away yesterday at the age of 90 at his home in Wentzville, Missouri. Before Chuck Berry, songs like “Rock Around The Clock” had the rock and roll party vibe, but Chuck brought the swagger, the defiant attitude, the guitar licks, the duckwalk, and the spirit of rock and roll to the forefront. Even his image was legendary. Once a beauty school college student, Chuck had perfect hair and always dressed in an impeccable suit while sporting his hollowed out big red Gibson guitar. His lyrics were timeless, influential, and painted vivid images in our mind.
“You know, my temperature’s risin’
and the jukebox blows a fuse
My heart’s beatin’ rhythm
and my soul keeps on singin’ the blues
Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news”
“As I was motivatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville. A Cadillac a-rollin’ on an open road, Nothin’d outrun my V8 Ford” (Maybellene)
“Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge’s wife called up the district attorney
Said you free that brown eyed man
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man”
It would be a crime to underestimate Chuck Berry’s influence on rock music. The Beatles covered EIGHT of Chuck’s songs on their early albums. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones acknowledged in the greatest rock and roll documentary ever, Hail! Hail! Rock And Roll (the Chuck Berry story), that he basically stole his whole guitar style from Chuck. Guitar-based rock and roll music got its impetus from Chuck Berry and we wouldn’t have artists like The Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, or George Thorogood if not for Chuck’s music and persona. Can you imagine the movie, Pulp Fiction without the Travolta/Thurman dance scene set to Chuck Berry’s “You Can Never Tell (C’est La Vie)”? Or “Back To The Future” without the “Johnny B Goode” scene at the high school prom?
Here’s a Top 10 list of the greatest Chuck Berry songs. But don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. Rare tracks like the bluesy “Wee Wee Morning” and “After It’s Over” will break your heart. Looking for a pick-me-up, check out “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman” or “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”. Hard to believe but Chuck Berry only had one #1 hit song and it was his cheesy “My Ding A Ling” in the 70s.
ULTIMATE CHUCK BERRY PLAYLIST
1 JOHNNY B. GOODE
2 LET IT ROCK
3 AROUND AND AROUND
4 SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN
5 BACK IN THE U.S.A.
7 COME ON
8 ROLL OVER BEETHOVEN
10 THIRTY DAYS
11 NO PARTICULAR PLACE TO GO
Hard to leave off songs like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, “Rock and Roll Music”, “Nadine”, “Guitar Boogie”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, and about ten more than deserve a spot on the ultimate playlist. But those first eleven songs HAVE TO be on the list. RIP Chuck Berry (1926-2017)