“Mr. Berry was rock’s master theorist and conceptual genius, a songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they did themselves.”
That’s how the New York Times is describing Chuck Berry in a report on its home page today — the article is positioned in the spot designated for the biggest news story of the day.
Indeed, it is only fitting that one of the most respected newspapers in the world would give Chuck Berry — the father of rock ‘n’ roll, I think — top billing in its tribute to the legendary musician, who died Saturday at the age of 90.
While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.
I don’t think there are many rock musicians who weren’t influenced by Chuck Berry’s songs, and many have recorded their spin on them. Think Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, to name just a few.
In another piece on the New York Times site that provides a playlist of 15 Essential Chuck Berry Songs, writer Alan Light starts with this, before describing each song in detail:
John Lennon said, “If you tried to give rock ’n’ roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’ ” Bob Dylan once called the musician … “the Shakespeare of rock ’n’ roll.” His songs staked out the territory, in both sonics and lyrics, for a new art form, and in the decade from 1955 to 1965, he created a body of work filled with dozens of perfectly crafted masterpieces.
Anybody who is into rock ‘n’ roll has been touched by the inspiration of Chuck Berry. That would be millions of us to date, and millions more to come. His influence on music will be felt for as long as there is anyone with ears to listen — both here on planet Earth and, perhaps, on other worlds out there in the universe.
As the N.Y. Times concludes in its piece:
And Mr. Berry’s music has remained on tour extraterrestrially. “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.
Rest in piece, Chuck Berry. Rock ‘n’ roll will never die, thanks to you.
About Sunday Reads posts: This is a weekly feature giving us all a chance to point to an article or two or three that we found interesting in the preceding week, or the morning of. They can be offbeat, humorous, weighty commentary, whatever. So, if you have any recommendations, please point to them in the readers’ comments section below.
Photo: Chuck Berry at the Long Beach Blues Festival in September 1997. Source: Masahiro Sumori/Wikipedia