Chuck Berry is one of the pillars and pioneers of rock and roll, and had a huge influence on The Beatles, Buddy Holly, and most everyone in rock music who followed him. He had a lot of hits that are now part of the pop canon, covered by many, heard by millions. Here’s a very subjective list of my favorites.
Johnny B. Goode (1957)—Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. It’s probably his most well-known song, and ranks #2 on Dave Marsh’s 1,001 Singles list. It has been covered by every garage band and prom combo since it came out. For me, it’s a “quota song”: I have heard it (and played it) often enough that I never need to hear it again. But it must be honored!
Best line: “But he could play a guitar just like a-ringing a bell”
Memphis, Tennessee (1958)—This brilliant vignette wins the award for most conflicted pop song. Its music is bouncy and rockin’; its message is poignant. But it works, and I don’t get tired of it. I prefer Chuck’s version to Johnny Rivers’ bigger hit of it.
Best line: “She did not leave a number but I know who placed the call/ ‘cause my uncle took a message and he wrote it on the wall”
Nadine (1964)—The song stays on one-chord 7/8 of the time but is spectacular.
Best line: “I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat”
You Never Can Tell (1964)—This nifty, much-covered number is a classic tale of newlyweds.
Best line: “They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale/The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale”
Brown-Eyed Handsome Man (1956)—It’s a racial pride song covered by a white guy (Buddy Holly). Brilliant!
Best line: “Arrested on charges of unemployment, he was sittin’ in the witness stand/The judge’s wife called up the district attorney, said ‘You free that brown-eyed man’”
School Days (1957)—Chuck used the exact same melody seven years later for “No Particular Place to Go.” It’s OK to steal from yourself—both songs are classics!
Best line: “American history and practical math/You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass/Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone/And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone”
You Can’t Catch Me (1955)—This is the song avowed Berry disciple John Lennon got caught grabbing lyrics from (for “Come Together).
Best line (John liked it): “Here come old flat-top, he was movin’ up with me”
Carol (1958)—Not much to say about this one, except that it’s yet another gem.
Best line (the chorus): “Oh Carol, don’t let him steal your heart away/ I’m gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day”
Almost Grown (1959)—This was included in the American Graffiti soundtrack and could’ve been the movie’s theme song. Great intro!
Best line: “Yeah, ‘n’ I’m doin’ all right in school/They ain’t said I broke no rule”
Around and Around (1958)—An inventive rhythmic interplay makes this one special.
Best line: “Front doors was locked/Well, the place was packed/When the police knocked/Both doors flew back/Well, they kept on rockin’…”
And I should be ashamed of myself for leaving out “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Back in the USA” and so many others.
What are your favorites? — Steve
Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.