Putting together a list of the top 10 Chuck Berry songs is a daunting task for so many reasons. Many music fans and historians regard Chuck Berry as that man that invented rock and roll. While that’s not completely all true as rock and roll is an art form that evolved over a very long period of time, no one questions the fact that it was Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline single” that introduced rock to a mass audience and began Chuck Berry’s career. From that point on in 1955, Chuck Berry began releasing singles that would have a major impact on the music scene. Chuck Berry and his band which consisted of Johnnie Johnson on Piano, Willy Dixon on bass(yes, the legendary blues artist Willie Dixon) and Ebby Hardy on drums helped shape the template for a rock and roll sound that would inspire generations.
That band played a major roll in Chuck Berry success. One cannot discount the contributions of Johnnie Johnson on piano and how Chuck Berry translated Johnson’s piano riffs onto guitar. Additionally Willie Dixon was one of the most important blues artist in history. His songs have been recorded by so many rockers from Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and beyond. His bass lines on Chuck Berry’s songs set those grooves rocking with an intensity that had not been done before. Of course, in the end it was Chuck Berry’s playing, singing, lyrics and melodies that turned the music industry upside down in the 1950s. He is, and will always be the Farther of Rock and Roll.
# 10 – Rock And Roll Music
We open up our top 10 Chuck Berry songs list with Chuck Berry classic song “Rock and Roll Music.” How could we not start with this one? This is what it is all about. Chuck Berry wrote the song in 1957. It was released as a stand alone single on Chess Records that year in 1957. “Rock and Roll Music,” became Chuck Berry’s third top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. His previous top 10 singles were “Maybelline,” in 1955 and “School Day,” in 1956. Besides hitting number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Rock and Roll Music.” would chart even higher on the Billboard R&B charts peaking all the way up to number 2. The song would later be released on Chuck Berry’s second album entitled One Dozen Berrys in 1958.
“Rock and Roll Music.” would become a hit in three straight decades covering the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The Beatles love affair with Chuck Berry’s music resulted in the group recording a version of the song in 1964. The song was released on their fourth UK Album entitled Beatles For Sale. The song hit number one in Australia, Norway and Sweden. The Beach Boys had a hit with the song in 1976. The band released it as the lead off single from their 15 Big Ones album. The song hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 for The Beach Boys.
# 9 – Carol
Continuing with our Top 10 Chuck Berry Songs list we turn to his female titled rocker “Carol.” Opening up with those signature Chuck Berry guitar licks, the song Carol stands as one of Chuck Berry’s most famous songs. It’s one of those Chuck Berry songs that musicians love to play. Especially, The Rolling Stones who released it twice on vinyl. First on the debut studio album entitled The Rolling Stones and then later on on their classic live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
# 8 – School Days
If you ever heard the term Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll and wonder where it originated, look no further. Chuck Berry’s classic single “School Days,” contained the line that would be utilized as the title to the great Chuck Berry movie that came out in 1987 entitled Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll. Chuck Berry’s “School Days,” had so many great lines like “Drop the coin right into the slot
You’re gotta hear somethin’ that’s really hot.” or that great opening line, “Up in the mornin’ and out to school, The teacher is teachin’ the golden rule.” These were lyrics that became ingrained in rock and roll society. At times, Chuck Berry’s vocals phrasings were just as impressive and addictive as his guitar licks. “School Days,” is the perfect example of that skill set that Chuck Berry defined every time he took step onto the concert stage.
# 7 – No Particular Place to Go
“Riding along in my automobile,” is such a classic line in rock and roll history. It just never gets old no matter how many times we hear it. This is classic feel good Chuck Berry, rock and roll in every sense of the word. A song for the ages that has been covered by so many rockers. Yup, “Cruising and playing the radio, with no particular place to go.” It says it all, for all of us, who have been there over and over again…..
# 6 – Promised Land
Even though Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” opens up with his traditional guitar licks, the song quickly switches gears as the first verse is kicked into drive. This is in many ways a different sounding Chuck Berry. The difference was fueled by his time in prison. The same place where he wrote the song. In simple terms, “Promised Land,” is a masterpiece. It’s a grand statement on society. Its a travel song. Its a song of hope. A song of Promise. Its an old story, a story repeated over and over again throughout American History. The road to happiness, wealth and fortunes often was mapped by millions across the United States ending in California. Whether it was for gold, land, or fame, California was hailed as The Promised Land and a chance at a new life for so many people living in the United States It was the same Promise for people living outside the U.S. as so many immigrants saw the U.S. as the Promised land. And many still do…..even after the past four years…..
# 5 – Sweet Little Sixteen
As we enter the second half of our Top 10 Chuck Berry songs list we turn to the grand classic “Sweet Little Sixteen.” The song was written by Chick Berry and stands as the second biggest hit of his career based on the Billboard Music Charts. It hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. It hit number one on the Billboard R&B Charts that same year. The only song that ranked higher on the Billboard Hot 100 for Chuck Berry was his 1974 novelty song “My Ding A Ling,” which became his only number one hit on the mainstream charts. A song that we have pretty much ignored except for this mention on our top 10 Chuck Berry songs list. When we think of the impact that Chuck Berry music had on rock and roll, it’s pretty ridiculous that his only number one was “My Ding A Ling.”
# 4 – You Never Can Tell
Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” is one of those great underrated Chuck Berry songs that kind of flew under the radar for many years. That was until the brilliant director Quentin Tarantino utilized the song in his 1994 breakthrough film Pulp Fiction. “You Never Can Tell,” had been originally released thirty years earlier in 1964. Written by Chuck Berry the song was a top 20 hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Charts. Interestingly, it peaked at number 14 on both of those charts in 1964.
# 3 – Maybelline
These next three rock and roll Chuck Berry songs represent three of the most important and legendary songs in classic rock history. Up first is Chuck Berry’s debut single “Maybelline.” This song is far more than just Chuck Berry’s debut single, it is rock and roll history’s debut hit single. Bill Haley had already been experimenting with a sound derived from jump blues early in the 195os. Many argue that the song “Rocket 88,” is the first real rock and roll song. Others argue that it was Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right Mama,” released in 1955. Yet, no one can underestimate the significance of Chuck Berry’s hit single “Maybelline,” in 1955. This was a sound that was brand new. Chuck Berry had taken an old Texas song from the 1930s called “Ida Red” and turned it into his own piece of music that sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard before. That’s what Chuck Berry did so well.
The song “Maybelline,” would become a massive hit on multiple Billboard music charts. The song went straight to number one on the Billboard R&B charts in 1955. It also became huge hit on a mass scale as it hit number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s success on the Hot 100 and its increasing airplay around the county helped spark the birth of rock and roll on a mass cultural level in its 1950s form while launching a genre of music that would continue to evolve dramatically and rapidly over the second half of the 20th century.
# 2 – Roll Over Beethoven
Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” is one of rock and roll first songs of rebellion and protest. However, it wasn’t a political protest song, it was a song about a rock and roll revolution. It’s right there in the title. In the mid 1950s, rock and roll was not yet the dominating force in popular culture that it would eventually become. Society was still influenced by classical and jazz music. Fans of jazz and blues would become more open to the emergence of rock and roll, but classical purist hated it. Of course the story goes much deeper than that, but for simplification purposes in this article, the song “Roll Over Beethoven,” was all about the battle between those who wanted to rock and those who didn’t.
The song “Roll Over Beethoven,” was written and released as a single by Chuck Berry in 1956. The song broke the Billboard Top 30 peaking at number 29. It was a much bigger hit on the Billboard R&B charts reaching all the way up to number 2. The song’s greater success on the R&B charts is quite telling to how rock and roll had still not infiltrated society on mass cultural level yet in 1956. It was Chuck Berry’s fifth single release and only his second one to even break the Billboard Hot 100.
“Roll Over Beethoven,” would become one of Chuck Berry’s most covered songs. Yet, it was not the amount of bands who covered the song that raises the song’s level of importance, it was the importance of the bands who covered the song that is most significant. Standing at the front of the line would be the greatest musical act of all time in The Beatles. Like so many of Chuck Berry’s songs, bar bands would turn to Chuck Berry’s music in the clubs. As many already know, The Beatles were a bar band before their rise to fame. The four lads, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr have always mentioned the importance of Chuck Berry songs to them during their early years. “Roll Over Beethoven,” was one of those songs the group played in the clubs. The Beatles loved the song so much they recorded it for their second U.K. album entitled With The Beatles. It also appeared on the Capitol Records U.S counterpart entitled The Beatles Second Album. Both records were released in 1964. The song has also been covered by other famous rock and rollers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Leslie West and Mountain, Uriah Heep, Rory Gallagher The Rolling Stones, Little Richard, Cliff Richard, Johnny Rivers and Jeff Lynne and his Electro Light Orchestra in a rousing version,
# 1 – Johnny B. Goode
Of all the great Chuck Berry songs, none is more popular than his classic song “Johnny B. Goode.” There are a handful of songs that every garage band, party band, and wedding band learns to play early on with a consistency that trumps all others. Songs like Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water,” Led Zeppelin ‘s “Stairways To Heaven,” U2’s “I Will Follow,” the Isley Brother’s “Twist and Shout,” and of course Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B Goode.” Chuck’s tune was usually your encore or your last song. It was easy, simple to play, yet it contained an energy that said its time to party and rock as hard as you can. Everyone knew the lyrics from the verses to the simple chorus. It was the ultimate air guitar song for the crowds. It was was rock and roll in its purest form. It may not have been that popular in the 21st century hip hop and rap generation, but it ruled the second half of the 20th century.
“Johnny B. Goode” was released as a single by Chuck Berry in 1958. Songwriting credit for the song belongs to Chuck Berry alone. However, many music historians will argue that the riff for the song was created originally by Chuck Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson. “Johnny B. Goode” was not Chuck Berry’s highest charting single of his career, nor was it his first big hit. Nonetheless, the song was still a huge hit in 1958. “Johnny B. Goode” broke the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 10 peaking at number 8. It just missed hitting number one on the Billboard R&B Charts as it peaked at number two. In the end, what really matters is the song’s legacy and importance to classic rock history. “Johnny B. Goode” stands as Chuck Berry’s most enduring song. Its a symbol of the birth of rock and roll and the stardom that every musician wishes to achieve the minute they pick up a guitar for the first time, and see their name in lights.
Performing some Chuck Berry songs in 1957.
Top 10 Chuck Berry songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2020
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