Rock and roll legend Chuck Berry has died at the age of 90.
The decades-long career of the guitarist, singer and songwriter influenced an entire generation and had an indelible impact on rock and roll that is still being felt today. Berry has a new album, Chuck, scheduled to be released this year.
Here’s a look at some of the best, most influential songs of Chuck Berry.
1. Johnny B. Goode
Released in 1958, Johnny B. Goode comes in at number seven on Rolling Stone’s top 500 greatest songs of all time.
The song’s lyrics, about a country boy who plays guitar and dreams of having his name up in lights, is clearly autobiographical; in fact, the lyric “country boy” was originally “colored boy,” but Berry changed it to make sure the song could be played on the radio.
Berry wrote a number of songs about Johnny B. Goode, but this was the one that made the biggest impression on popular culture. It was featured heavily in the movie Back to the Future; a climatic scene involves the lead character, Marty McFly, playing the song several years early and shocking the audience. The song was also used in the George Lucas film American Graffiti.
One of the earliest rock and roll songs ever released, “Maybellene” was recorded in 1955, and it was Berry’s first major hit.
“Maybellene” was inspired by the song “Ida Red,” and its lyrics describe a man chasing his unfaithful girlfriend down the road in his V8 Ford. It is potentially Berry’s most influential work, and it is a touchstone of rock and roll music.
The song has been covered dozens upon dozens of times, with the most famous cover coming from Elvis Presley.
3. Promised Land
Written in 1964 for the album St. Louis to Liverpool, “Promised Land” is a distinctly American tune whose lyrics describe a journey across the United States, from Norfolk, Virginia to Los Angeles, California.
Berry wrote the song not while on a cross-country trip, but while in prison for violating the Mann Act.
Once again, the song has been covered dozens of times, with a particularly famous version coming from Elvis Presley.
4. You Never Can Tell
From 1964, “You Never Can Tell” is another song that Chuck Berry wrote while in prison.
Its lyrics tell the story of two newlyweds who move into a new apartment. It ends with the couple traveling back to New Orleans, where their wedding took place, to celebrate their anniversary.
Though it was popular at the time, “You Can Never Tell” was repopularized in the 1990s when it was used in the Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction; the song plays while Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace dance at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
5. Roll Over Beethoven
Released in 1956, “Roll Over Beethoven” is all about rock and roll – the new kid in town – coming in and replacing classical music; its title references the idea of Ludwig van Beethoven rolling over in his grave when hearing modern rock and roll music. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is also mentioned in the song’s lyrics.
Berry was inspired to write the song after hearing his sister repeatedly play classical music when he would prefer to hear rock and roll.
In 2003, “Roll Over Beethoven,” in addition to 49 other songs, were added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
6. Rock and Roll Music
From 1957, this is another one of Berry’s most well-known songs, and an early influence on the entire rock and roll genre.
When “Rock and Roll Music” was released, it hit number six on Billboard magazine’s R&B Singles.
Many will recognize the song from its cover versions, as The Beatles and The Beach Boys both did their own version of the song.
7. Memphis, Tennessee
In 1963’s “Memphis, Tennessee,” the lyrics describe a man speaking to an operator trying to get in contact with a girl, Marie, who lives in “Memphis, Tennessee.”
It tells a surprisingly complex tale, with the audience being lead to believe that Marie is the man’s girlfriend, only for it to be revealed that she is actually his daughter, with it being implied that the man’s ex-wife took Marie away.
Once again, this is a song that The Beatles did a cover version of, in addition to The Who and Johnny Rivers.
Five years later, Berry wrote a sequel song, “Little Marie.”
8. Sweet Little Sixteen
From 1958, “Sweet Little Sixteen” was one of Berry’s most popular songs at the time, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100. This is the second highest position that a Berry song reached, with the first being “My Ding-A-Ling” at number one.
In addition, the song reached number one on the R&B Best Sellers chart.
The Beatles later performed their own version of the song, and The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” was a song with new lyrics set to the music of “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
9. Run Rudolph Run
“Run Rudolph Run” was recorded in 1958, and it has since become a classic Christmas song heard dozens of times each December.
At the time, however, the song only reached number 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The song is perhaps Berry’s most covered, with dozens upon dozens of artists doing their own version of it on Christmas albums.
10. Back In the U.S.A
Like “Promised Land,” “Back in the U.S.A.” is another distinctly American song.
In it, the narrator has returned to the United States from a trip abroad, and he celebrates all of the things that he missed while he was away, including the skyscrapers, the long freeway, the coast of California, and the shores of Delaware Bay
Among the cover versions, the most famous was one from Linda Ronstadt released on her 1978 album Living in the USA.
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