Since Chuck Berry, king of rock ‘n’ roll, died Saturday at age 90, tributes have poured in from the biggest names in music.
“Chuck Berry was the greatest rock practitioner, guitarist and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer that ever lived”, Bruce Springsteen wrote on Twitter. “RIP Chuck Berry, the genesis behind the great rock n roll sound,” tweeted AliceCooper. Mick Jagger wrote that “all of us in rock have now lost our father” and that his “music is etched in us forever”.
That’s not an understatement. Since the 1950s, when Berry began churning out his signature mix of music that combined rhythm and blues beats with a country twang, rockers have begged, borrowed and stolen from the legendary musician. Some were even prosecuted for allegedly doing this.
His songs have also been covered countless times. Berry’s hit “Johnny B. Goode” alone has been covered by dozens of artists. And a number of the most popular rock songs carry his direct influence – whether through guitar licks, riffs, lyrics, stories or attitude. Here are 10:
1. The Beach Boys: “Surfin’ USA”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”
According to Rolling Stone Reviewthe Beach Boys often found ways to incorporate Berry’s sound into their previous songs, but “Surfin’ USA” was a direct and overt homage:
“Inspired by Berry’s quick references to various American cities, he recast the song as an ode to a fun sport in the sun…Wilson said he wanted the song to be a tribute to the rock guitarist, but Berry’s attorneys used another term: plagiarism.
The case was settled with the Beach Boys giving the publishing rights to Berry’s publisher.
2. The Beach Boys: “Fun, fun, fun”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”
In the book “Inside Brian Wilson’s MusicPhilip Lambert writes that Berry’s influence is clearly seen in the song’s intro:
“We’re alerted to a Chuck Berry influence even before the lyrics begin, in a guitar introduction closely based on the beginning of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (1958); it reminds us of ‘Surfin USA’ and its debt to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’… But in ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ the derivation is limited to the intro, which has the same basic melody and blues progression to 12 bars as the intro of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, but is then followed by other things.
3. The Beatles: “I saw her standing there”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “I’m Talking About You”
Paul McCartney once told an interviewer that he stole the riff from Berry’s “I Saw Her Standing There” as told in the book “Paul McCartney: playing great Beatles bass linesby Tony Bacon and Gareth Morgan:
“Here’s an example of a track I plucked from someone. I used the bass riff from Chuck Berry’s ‘Talkin’ About You’ in ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. I played exactly the same grades as [his bass player] did and it matched our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find that few of them believe me; therefore, I maintain that a bass riff does not have to be original.
4. The Beatles: “Come Together”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me”
According to The Beatles Bible, Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” was the inspiration for the big hit “Come Together.” The similarities were so striking – and even include the same “Here’s the old flat-top” line – that they led to a court case. But John Lennon later argued that this was just “dark” inspiration, according to The Beatles Bible:
“Come Together is me, writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line, ‘Here comes the old flat-top’. It has nothing to do with the Chuck Berry song , but they sued me because I recognized the influence years ago. I could have changed it to ‘Here come old iron face’, but the song remains independent of Chuck Berry or n anyone else on Earth.
5. The Rolling Stones: “Brown Sugar”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”
the Associated Press obituary on Berry writes that Berry’s inspiration in “Brown Sugar” can be heard towards the end of the song:
“You could put together a heavenly mix tape just of the hits built around [Berry’s] guitar work. You can hear it openly in The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” which ends with a near-text tribute to “Johnny B. Goode.”
6. Rod Stewart: “Hot Legs”
What it looks like: Berry’s guitar work
In “Great Rock Drummers of the 60s“, Bob Cianoi writes that “Hot Legs” had a “Chuck Berry-like sound and feel”. And in a Arizona Republic article on Stewart’s hits, music journalist Ed Masley claims that “Hot Legs” “features brilliant Chuck Berry-inspired guitar work that wouldn’t have sounded even slightly out of place on something from the New York Dolls”.
7. Creedence Clearwater Revival: “He Came Out Of The Sky”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s Rhythms and Storytelling
Berry was famous for his smooth storytelling, and “It Came Out of the Sky” tells how a farmer unwittingly becomes famous after discovering a space object in his field. In “John Fogerty: an American son“, Thomas M. Kitts wrote that “It Came Out of the Sky” “relyed on Chuck Berry beats, guitar stabs and crisp narration. “
8. Johnny Rivers: “Memphis”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “Memphis Tennessee”
“Memphis Tennessee” is actually a Chuck Berry song; this is the rare case that a Berry cover overshadows the Berry original. According to SongFactsChuck Berry wrote and recorded the song in 1959 as “Memphis, Tennessee” but it “languished as the B-side of his single ‘Back In The USA'”.
“[It] was revived when white blues guitarist Lonnie Mack covered it in 1963,” then hit its peak in 1964 when Johnny Rivers released a live album that included “Memphis” — one word — as a single. “It became a massive hit for Rivers, charting at No. 2 in America and launching a career that included nine Top 10 singles,” writes SongFacts.
9. Bob Dylan: “The Homesick Underground Blues”
What Does It Sound Like: Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business”
In one 2004 interview with LA Times critic Robert Hilburn, Dylan said his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was directly inspired by Berry and others. “[The song is] Chuck Berry, a bit of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some 40s scat songs,” he said.
10. Bob Dylan: “Thunder on the Mountain”
What It Sounds Like: Berry’s “Let it Rock”
In “Bob Dylan: All the Songs – The story behind every songPhilippe Margotin and Jean Michel-Guesdon maintain that if “Thunder on the Mountain” came from Berry, the influences often play on other influences.
Thunder on the Mountain” has a “touch of the Chuck Berry style, especially in the guitar riffs and riffs reminiscent of ‘Let it Rock,'” they wrote. was not inspired by the creator of the ‘duck walk?’ “Let it Rock” is also reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s 1985 hit “Johnny B. Goode”. introduction in Louis Jordan [an earlier songwriter and bandleader].”