Monday, 20 March 2017

My Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs

"Chuck? Chuck, it's Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to this!"

As well as the accusation that he stole his greatest riff from Michael J. Fox, certain commentators have been dwelling on other less salubrious areas of Chuck Berry's history over the last couple of days, and I don't just mean his ding-a-ling. But I'd rather pay tribute to one of the men who, without whom, there would be no Elvis, no Beatles, no Beach Boys, no Stones, no Who, no Springsteen... etc. etc.

Like most serious music fans (not musos: I am still irking those guys, even though I changed my masthead), I went through a defining rock 'n' roll phase in my youth and Chuck was central to that. Looking through his back catalogue, it was easy to pick out what, for me, are his most memorable tunes. There will be few surprises here. But in the end, if Chuck Berry had only recorded the ten songs below and nothing else... he would still have had a greater impact on popular culture than just about anyone else who lived throughout the 20th Century.

10. Come On

Chuck gave the Stones their first hit single. Another classic "bad day" song!

9. Maybellene

One of the first ever rock 'n' roll records. Sounds much more raw than his later recordings, but none the worse for that.

8. Sweet Little Sixteen

Much can be made of a 30 year old man singing this song, but it's hardly as though Chuck was on his own for writing creepy odes to 16 year olds in the 50s, and the fact is: that was the target audience. Still a great song.

7. You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)

Written while Chuck was in prison; revived (and, to all intents and purposes, rechristened) by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. Hard to hear without picturing John Travolta and Uma Thurman clearing the dancefloor.

6. Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Saw the movie Get Out! at the weekend. Scary to think this record is now potentially even more relevant than when Chuck wrote it 60 years ago.

5. No Particular Place To Go

The tune of School Days was such a good one, Chuck decided to use it again... and create an even better song in the process.

Teen romance stymied by a faulty seatbelt. The tragedy!

4. Rock 'n' Roll Music

Pure adrenaline, which the Beatles then cranked up to heart attack levels... and the rest was history.

3. Roll Over, Beethoven

"Tell Tchiakovsky the news!"

Always loved ELO's version of this one too.

2. Memphis Tennessee

Lyrically my favourite Chuck song: I know you could accuse it of schmaltz, but there's a desperation to Chuck's vocal that lifts it twenty floors above Save Your Kisses For Me by The Brotherhood of Man, which told a similar tale 20 years later. (Musos: irked. ✓)

1. Johnny B. Goode

Of course, I knew Johnny B. Goode before Marty McFly played that "oldie" in 1955 / 1985, inventing rock 'n' roll in the process. But Back To The Future still helped cement its place as my favourite Chuck Berry song. I am prepared to entertain the argument that this is the greatest guitar riff ever recorded...

RIP, Chuck Berry. You had a hell of a life.


  1. So many omissions, yet still such an utterly impeccable list - any danger of a Volume 2?
    (I'm sure you've seen this Rol, but just in case... It'll make you grin from ear to ear, guaranteed. )

    1. Volume 2 would be a possibility... but would stretch me a little. Feel free to do your own!

      Great link though - especially the horn section.

  2. Hi Rol,

    I like your blog's new look.

    These are all great selections, and I was pleasantly surprised to see "Come On" included (one of my personal favourites.)

    I have to disagree with part of your first comment though. To the best of my knowledge, Chuck had little or no influence on the launch/trajectory of Elvis Presley's career.

    1. It's harder to see the influence of Elvis as they're more often considered contemporaries. Let's not forget though that Elvis was key in bringing black music to white audiences, he wasn't a songwriter himself, and he covered a number of Berry originals in his career.

      I've seen this referred to a few times in obits over the last few days, but here's an older source (and an Elvis one, not a Berry one) which details the influence further...

  3. A terrific top ten. If there is a better guitar riff, well, what is it?

    Actually, there's a top ten idea for you - top ten guitar riffs.

    1. One for the musos, I fear. I'd probably just go for the really obvious ones: Smoke On The Water, Seven Nation Army, All Day & All Of The Night, Satisfaction, More Than A Feeling, Layla, Whole Lotta Love, Purple Haze, Johnny... and something by Bryan May. (Those were just off the top of my head, but the point is: no surprises!)

    2. That's already a list I could get behind. Although, naffness aside, The Final Countdown by Europe has a face-melting solo in the middle.

    3. And who doesn't secretly want a melted face?

    4. By the way, I'd probably have to include How Soon Is Now as well, so one of the above might have to get dropped.

  4. Was there ever any doubt about the Number 1?

    The greatest guitar riff ever. And the and most recognisable. And one of the standard riffs all aspiring guitarists will first try to perfect (along with Teenage Kicks and most of the AC/DC songbook)

    1. If I played guitar, that would be the one I'd want to learn first.

  5. You would struggle to come up with a better top 10 than that
    Like the new look
    Rest easy - you are still irking the musos by quoting The Boss!

  6. A fine list of great songs.

    Just have to put in a good word for my favourite Chuck Berry cover -"Memphis (Tennessee)" by The Faces.

    1. Not sure I've heard that one... will give it a listen.

  7. The dance/song by Marty McFly certainly made an impression on my younger self, and it wasn't even his in the first place. Also love You Never Can Tell

    1. No, Marty wrote it himself. Really.

  8. Those lines from Back To The Future will always be funny. Always.

  9. Not an expert on Chuck Berry but certainly realise how important he was in terms of influencing what was to follow. That scene from Back To The Future always makes me laugh though - the old space time continuum - who knew it was all down to Marty.

  10. When I was young I thought he was ancient. How wrong I took me until I hit 30 to realise his significance

  11. To interrupt again, my absolute all time favourite Chuck Berry cover is this one - Johnnie Allan (with Belton Richard on accordion) belting out "Promised Land". It's effing joyous!


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