So another great rock’n’roller leaves the planet. One of the greatest – the man who wrote the songs that the Beatles and Rolling Stones and many, many others were inspired by. I was too young to get Chuck Berry until I heard others play his songs, and that didn’t really happen until the mid 70s, first with Status Quo playing “Bye Bye Johnny” (aka “Johnny B.Goode”) and then Dr Feelgood playing rock’n’roll like Chuck Berry played. The reality is that the first time I ever became aware of Chuck Berry was when he had a No 1 hit with the truly awful “My Ding-a-ling” in 1972. His only ever No 1. Hopefully it made him loads of money for later life.
But, of course, as I discovered more music and delved back in time, the centrality of Chuck Berry to rock’n’roll, and therefore much of the music I love, became clear. And you just have to remember how revolutionary it would have sounded to the teenagers of the late fifties, including all the great sixties bands. Just like my generation reacted to punk – except it was an even bigger step for them.
So here are a few You Tube videos to celebrate the pioneering, jiving spirit of Chuck Berry, who died yesterday, aged 90. A good innings (as we say in England).
First the man himself, from 1958, the year I was born!
And then the Rolling Stones, whose first hit was a Chuck Berry song, “Come On”.
The Beach Boys could never have made “Surfing’ USA” without Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”.
One of my favourite rock’n’roll tunes ever is Johnnie Allan’s version of “Promised Land”.
And Jimi Hendrix took “Johnny B. Goode” to its limits, as he took everything to its limits.
And Chuck Berry’s songs have never stopped being the the bedrock of so many other rocking classics. Because he IS rock’n’roll.
RIP Chuck Berry, 1926-2017. Your music will live on. It’s in everything.
Mmmmm, yes. Clearly massively influential, truly pioneering, and a master of his craft – but not what you’d call the greatest human being to grace the planet? Underage tupping…..marital cheating…….armed robbery……fraud……and legendarily spiky, cranky, mean, and mean-spirited.
I know sometimes our cultural heroes don’t live the lives that we would like, and the obits suggest that the personality traits were all of a piece with his overpowering musical ambition and innovation. Still, not QUITE the kind of guy you’d want to meet your ma.
P.S. And I never can quite forgive him for “My Ding-a-Ling”.
You’re right. I focused on the music. Otherwise where do we end up? Make moral judgements on everybody? At which point no one is left to like, probably. Apply that to all the other arts too? Well, that’s Picasso out of the window for a start. And are we perfect? No – who is?
Fabulous tribute! I had to laugh watching Come On at teen dance party. Jimi’s was the best!
RIP Chuck Berry! You were awesome.
I think “Come On” might have been what constituted British TV broadcasting at the time. They didn’t want the audience to get too excited, so didn’t show much of the band. It is a bit bizarre.
Yep, John, your point is well-made and of course incontestable. Moral judgments shouldn’t affect artistic appreciation. I just found Chuck Berry a particularly problematic character.
It’s just good for the soul when you get the best of both worlds – say Chekhov, Matisse, Dickens, Pasternak? Bowie, on a generous, non-egotistical day? Bruce, certainly?! But you’re right – it’s easier to pick the wrong ‘uns than the good ‘uns.
I don’t know whether moral (or legal) judgements should affect artistic appreciation. Sometimes they do (Gary Glitter), sometimes they don’t (Chuck Berry). It feels like it depends on how important they are to their art, rightly or wrongly.