Musicheads Essential Artists: Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry
For his signature and influential guitar licks, Chuck Berry is a Musicheads Essential Artist (Courtesy of the artist / MPR graphic)

Each day during Minnesota Public Radio's Spring Member Drive, The Current will highlight a different artist who has made a significant contribution to the music world and a lasting impression on the music we listen to today. We call them Musicheads Essential Artists.

Chuck Berry is as essential as rock and roll itself. It's tempting to just list his monumental contributions to the popular-music pantheon: "Roll Over Beethoven." "Sweet Little Sixteen." "Johnny B. Goode." "Memphis." "Back In the U.S.A." "No Particular Place To Go" — and "Rock and Roll Music." His songs hot-wired R&B with C&W, bursting with his signature double-string riffs and propulsive rhythms, which were matched with an exuberant torrent of words celebrating cars, girls and the pure joy of being alive. Roy Orbison called Chuck the "first singer-songwriter I know of." Berry's lyrics ranged from fluid, detailed narratives graced with ingenious wordplay to lovely, poetic flourishes ("With hurry home drops on her cheeks that twinkled from her eye"). Chuck's work had a massive influence on rock's greatest artists; he was a genuine originator. He also helped break the color barrier on the pop charts, when "Maybelline," his first single, hit No. 5 in 1955. And let's not forget the duckwalk! John Lennon said, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.' " It doesn't get any more essential than that. – Lou Papineau, Minnesota Public Radio member

Fun fact: Berry had 12 Top 40 hits from 1955 to 1964, but his only No. 1 was the slightly salacious 1972 novelty song, "My Ding-a-Ling."

Essential tracks: See above, plus "Too Much Monkey Business," "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Nadine" …

Essential album: Chuck Berry: The Definitive Collection

The Current's Bill DeVille on Chuck Berry:

Musicheads Essential Artists

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