Can’t go wrong picking up some Chuck Berry, iffen you don’t already have some. The blueprint of a thousand songs is chorded on these tracks, and even fifty years later, they still sound good.
Chuck Berry didn’t invent rock and roll, but he may very well have invented rock’n’roll. His songs fueled and inspired the likes of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Who, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and just about anybody in his wake who picked up an electric guitar. In the invaluable rock doc Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, we watch in awe has Berry puts Keith Richards in his place with just a single angry glare, and watch in double-awe as Richards takes it. After all, the Stones guitarist, like countless other musicians of his generation, knows he owes virtually everything to Berry, and has admitted as much, so he gives deference where deference is due.
Berry’s as worthy of hagiography as any rock legend, but he’s not yet ready for a eulogy. In fact, Berry’s 50-plus year career has been marked by one constant– forward motion. Indeed, Berry’s far too stubborn a man to ever give inertia the chance to slow him down, and he still spends a considerable amount of time on stage for an octogenarian. As far as the studio goes, however, Berry hasn’t released a new album since 1979, and even then his songwriting had been in steady decline since the early 60s. His last (and sole number one!) hit, a live version of the juvenile novelty “My Ding-a-Ling”, was released in 1972.
One perverse but still appropriate way to view Berry’s erratic (or non-existent) output over the past three or so decades is as further validation of the enduring strength of the first decade of his recording career, especially the productive, world-changing last five years of the 1950s collected on the self-explanatory Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings. It was on Chicago’s Chess imprint that Berry would change the blueprint of popular music, and it’s on this 4xCD collection that we can revisit the fruits of his labor.
[Click to read more of Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings: Pitchfork Record Review]
If you want a smaller sampler of Berry, check out the Great 28.