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!
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.