Remember The Original Rock God Chuck Berry With His 10 Greatest Songs
RIP to the badass grandaddy of rock ‘n roll, who died Saturday at age 90.
Berry’s troubled early life included a stay in reform school for armed robbery—and other arrests would later dog his legacy—but from the time his mega-hit “Maybelline” topped the charts in 1955 he was established as one of rock and roll’s founding fathers.
Naturally the response from the world of rock was huge, with swift reactions coming from other icons acknowledging that Chuck was the man who started it all.
Chuck Berry was rock's greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock 'n' roll writer who ever lived.
— Bruce Springsteen (@springsteen) March 18, 2017
Mick Jagger in particular had a lot to say about Berry’s influence.
I am so sad to hear of Chuck Berry's passing. I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/9zQbH5bo9V
— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) March 18, 2017
In later tweets, Jagger wrote that Berry “lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers.”
“His lyrics shone above others & threw a strange light on the American dream,” Jagger concluded in his third tweet, “Chuck you were amazing&your music is engraved inside us forever.”
Ringo Starr also acknowledged the loss, as did younger rockers such as Lenny Kravitz.
R I P. And peace and love Chuck Berry Mr. rock 'n' roll music 😎✌️🌟💖🎵🎶☮ pic.twitter.com/hS2S2lUORf
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) March 18, 2017
To pay tribute to Berry’s massive influence, here are ten of the greatest songs from a career that defined rock as we know it today.
Berry threw a little bit of everything into this song: country, jazz licks, blues, and verbal invention. In 1955 it was wildly new to a radio audience, and just like that the era of rock and roll was in full swing.
2. “Johnny B. Goode”
“Maybelline” dominated on radio in the late fifties, but “Johnny B. Goode” may be the song that first plays in your brain when you think of Berry. It vaulted him into real superstardom in 1958 and became a true pop culture staple, perhaps most famously when it was covered by Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future.
3. “Roll Over Beethoven”
Berry wrote the song as a joke to tease his sister as she practiced classical piano pieces, but “Roll Over Beethoven” ended up sounding more like the musical world of 1956 had been put on notice. In fact, that was exactly what happened.
4. “Rock and Roll Music”
Berry himself may have best defined the power of “Rock and Roll Music” in his autobiography, writing that he “wanted the lyrics to define every aspect of its being and worded it to do so.” Obviously, he nailed it.
5. “School Days”
Berry wrote “School Days” in 1957 and with it he may have defined the high school experience of kids at the time and absolutely secured his fan base for years to come. It also may be the best example of what would be the rocker’s signature sound for years to come.
6. “Back in the U.S.A.”
While this song was never one of Berry’s best known it was hugely influential to later musicians—like the Beatles, who used it as inspiration to write their hit “Back in the U.S.S.R.”
7. “No Particular Place to Go”
Berry’s career was put on pause when he went to prison for a few years at the beginning of the 1960s for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines. During that time away from the spotlight he wrote this song, which marked a huge—and perhaps surprising, given the times—comeback for him in 1964.
8. “My Ding-A-Ling”
Rock isn’t rock without double meanings and inside jokes and with this 1972 novelty song Berry turned a two-plus minute dick joke into a Billboard number 1 single. Radio stations that got the joke sometimes refused to play it, but Berry still walked away with the royalty checks.
9. “Nadine (Is it You?)”
Berry also released “Nadine…” in 1964, after his prison term. It’s definitely based on “Maybelline”—Berry admitted as much—but it was still a strong influence on artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.
10. “Come On”
While “Come On” was never one of Berry’s biggest hits, it was yet another song that influenced later rockers, and it was also covered by the Rolling Stones.
His career and discography was part of the bedrock foundation of rock as it is today, and the number of bands and performers who later took on his music is proof of that.