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Chuck Berry: A Pioneer of Rock and Roll

What kind of music do you listen to? Are you a fan of alternative rock? Maybe you’re a metalhead. Or you might be more into the classic rock groove. If it has to do with rock at all, then it owes a lot to one of the greats, Chuck Berry, who passed away this month at the age of 90. Berry is recognized as the person who most defined rock and roll, coalescing country and rhythm and blues styles into a music genre that would go on to influence 60’s and 70’s artists such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. These artists would, in turn, lay the groundwork for all the different types of rock we listen to today. And perhaps most of all, as a showman, he got people listening to his new style, opening the doors for the other greats of rock and roll, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis.

Probably one of the things that ties all the different subgenres of rock together is its popularity among teenagers and young adults. There are some aspects of rock throughout the ages that speaks to the younger generation of the time – you think of genres like classic rock, which was popular among folks who were teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s, and of punk rock, which was popular among 90’s teens. These days, it’s alternative and indie that are getting young people’s attention. That seems to be a trend Chuck Berry started with rock and roll – his song lyrics have a lot to do with teenage life in the 50’s, bringing up subjects like school, teenage dance, pretty girls, and tearin’ down the road in a car. The content of his songs was relatable enough that kids from all backgrounds – even rich white kids – started listening to his music. And so came about the birth of rock and roll. In a couple of years, everyone would be listening to this new genre, but it was Chuck Berry who is widely considered to be the father of rock and roll.

It wasn’t just the lyrics of his successors that Chuck Berry influenced – some of his showmanship techniques were adopted by other musicians as well. He was famous for his “duck walk”, where he would, while playing his guitar, start walking and bending his knees lower and lower until he was walking like a duck. Over time the lead singer in most rock bands would be known for doing more and more garish – and sometimes crazy – things. Elvis, and later The Rolling Stones and Freddie Mercury, lead singer and pianist of the band Queen, were instantly recognizable by the flamboyant clothing they would wear on stage. And don’t forget the time Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire at a concert!

Anyway, we’ve made a list of the top five Chuck Berry songs you should listen to that most represent Chuck Berry’s style. Enjoy!

1. Johnny B. Goode (1958)

There’s no way you haven’t heard “Johnny B. Goode” at some point. If there was a single song that captures the essence of rock and roll’s musical style, it’s this one. It’s been covered by pretty much every rock band in existence. Also, it’s the only rock and roll song included on the Voyager Golden Record, making Chuck Berry the original Rocket Man.

2. You Never Can Tell (1964)

This song about a teenage wedding reflects youth consumer culture in the 50’s. Right off the bat, they get themselves an apartment and a whack of newfangled gadgets, like a “coolerator”, a record player, and a car. “You Never Can Tell” was the song Mia and Vincent danced to in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction.

3. No Money Down (1955)

“No Money Down” is a song about trading in your crappy old car for a brand-new Cadillac with all the trimmings, and then joyriding down the road with it. Maybe this is where those kids zooming down University Ave at 2 am get their inspiration from.

4. Roll Over Beethoven (1956)

This song, originally written and made famous by Chuck Berry, came back in the 60’s when The Beatles covered it. Sorry Beethoven, kids those days were just more into rhythm and blues than classical. (A piano sonata isn’t really something you can dance to.)

5. Maybellene (1955)

“Maybellene” was Chuck Berry’s first big hit, reaching no. 5 on the Billboard pop chart and no. 1 on the R&B chart. Its “broken romance, but with cars” theme made it a huge hit with teens and young adults, selling a million copies by the end of 1955.

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