“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” said musical legend, John Lennon, and he couldn’t be more right. Considered one of the pioneers of the genre, Chuck Berry was known for his unique mash-up of blues and R&B sounds, bold exploration of youth culture and, of course, his signature guitar solos and showmanship. Unfortunately, he breathed his last on 18 March 2017, at the age of 90. His music, however, has inspired generations of musicians (Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix to name a few) and is as relevant today as it was back then. Here are seven of his most influential and memorable songs…
The very first song that Berry recorded, Maybellene is also widely regarded as one of the first rock songs EVER. A version of the country song Ida Red by Bob Wills, Maybellene soon hit No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B charts and stayed there for nine whole weeks. Its fast-paced narration of a love affair gone wrong and a catchy tune catapulted Berry to stardom.
Johnny B. Goode (1958)
There’s a good reason why Marty McFly chose to perform this song on stage in Back To The Future; and more significantly, why NASA sent it to space on the Voyager 1 in 1977. Loosely based on Berry’s life, the song features at No. 7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956)
A departure from the usually carefree, light-hearted tone of his songs, this one was written when Berry was travelling through African-American and Hispanic areas of California and thus has a political tone targeting racism. The song is also the title of Berry’s biography by Bruce Pegg.
Too Much Monkey Business (1956)
Working too hard, paying bills, getting bogged down by routine—us humans have been facing these issues since forever. Yet Berry was the first singer who decided to call them out in a song. He stated that the lyrics were “meant to describe most of the kinds of hassles a person encounters in everyday life”, making them as relevant now as they were back in the 50s.
Memphis, Tennessee (1959)
A soulful song about a father aching to meet his little girl, Memphis, Tennessee perfectly captures the pain of familial separation. Chuck’s detailed storytelling shines through with lines like “Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me goodbye / With hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye.”
Almost Grown (1959)
Here’s a song that any American Graffiti fan will recall. Yet another Billboard chart-topper, the song reflects the restlessness associated with the youth, something we impatient millennials will surely relate to.
School Days (1957)
Here’s a song that will surely take you back in time, reminding you of those bittersweet school days. The song contains the iconic lyrics, “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!”, catapulting it to the category of the best rock-and-roll anthems of all time.
Which is your favourite Chuck Berry song? Share with us in the comments below.
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