Chuck Berry was an icon who forged the path as a sonic visionary for those he foreshadowed. His fearless approach to the rock ’n’ roll style that has been forever chased has earned him a great deal of praise and his career has left an indelible mark on society and music culture. In all of his 90 years, Chuck Berry has had many hits to his name, and certain songs have now become standards in rock music. Even John Lennon shared his admiration for the pioneer, saying that, “If you tried to give rock ’n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”
Chuck Berry had the brilliant gift of being able to take a simple idea that was relatable to the everyday person and spin it into a tale in song. He communicated through his clever lyrics and added color with his guitar riffs and signature tone. While it may be hard to sum up Berry’s career in five songs, here are five that have shaped the music we hear today.
5) “No Particular Place To Go” (1964)
One of Berry’s memorable songs, “No Particular Place To Go,” was released as a single in May of 1964. The track was featured on the album St. Louis To Liverpool in November of the same year. With the chugging riff laying the foundation, Berry tells the humorous tale of a man and woman who are stuck in their car because of a seatbelt that won’t release. The song peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
4) “You Never Can Tell” (1964)
This track was composed by Berry while he was incarcerated in federal prison, convicted of violating the Mann Act. The song was performed by many artists since the original was recorded in 1964, most notably by Emmylou Harris, under the title “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie).” In 1994, the song made a comeback and returned to popularity due to its use in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Berry’s version reached number 14 on the Hot 100 chart.
3) “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956)
“Roll Over Beethoven” was a huge 1956 hit and was written to express Berry’s desire for rhythm and blues music to take over classical music. Berry was inspired by his experience with his sister and the tug of war game the two had over the piano in their household. His sister would always use the piano to play classical music, while Berry only wanted to play pop music. The edgy tune was one of Berry’s biggest hits and was covered by many artists, including the Beatles.
2) “Maybellene” (1955)
Chuck Berry’s very first single, and credited as one of the first rock-and-roll tunes, “Maybellene” was written and recorded in 1955 and released on Chess Records. The song appealed both to black and white audiences, due to its driving backbeat, exciting story, and youthful arrangement. As stated by Leonard Chess, “the kids wanted the big beat, cars, and young love.” The spelling of the song was also altered in order to avoid legal issues with the cosmetic company, Maybelline, although that didn’t stop misspellings on subsequent releases of the track.
1) “Johnny B. Goode” (1958)
This countdown wouldn’t be complete without Chuck Berry’s most popular song, “Johnny B. Goode.” The seminal track is one of the most recognizable songs in history. Rolling Stone named “Johnny B. Goode” the number one greatest guitar songs of all time and it placed seventh in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list in 2010. The song was also featured on the gold record that was launched into space during the NASA Voyager missions. Along with the many accolades this song has received since its inception, it has been covered by numerous artists and featured in one of the biggest moments in Back To The Future. Who could forget that scene when Michael J. Fox takes the stage at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance and shreds that tune?