Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs

Posted: July 22, 2012 in Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Uncategorized
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I was fortunate to travel to St. Louis last week to see Chuck Berry.  I missed out on Levon Helm’s Ramble by saying for too many years “yeah, CB-071812one day I will do that”.  I didn’t want the same thing to happen with Chuck and am very glad I didn’t.

Along the way, I made some new friends (Ben, Jack, Alexcia and Alex) which demonstrates to me, once again, how music is something that tends to bring people together.  This is particularly so when we are talking about  the music that is the root of all rock and roll music, from Elvis and the Stones and the Beatles, to The Allman Brothers and Tom Petty and Florence and the Machine.

The show took place in “The Duckroom” where Chuck plays once a month.  I was maybe 15 feet from the stage, and was treated to Chuck being Chuck, flirting with the “pretty girls”, smiling and joking with his audience and his band-which included his son on guitar and his daughter on harp. Oh yes, and playing music that everyone in the room knew every beat and note of.

Chuck is 86.  His Gibson ES 355 sports bits of duct tape here and there. He sat down frequently in his one hour set and missed more than the occasional note.  So what. In my view, any of these issues could easily have been dealt with had I made the trip to out to The Loop in St. Louis a few years earlier.  It is not Chuck’s fault he is still alive and well and playing music.

To list the Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs is a bit of a challenge.  There are too many songs, too many variations on the basic model.  It is sort of like asking for a list of Beethoven’s Top Five Melodic Motifs:  it can be done but doesn’t really do justice  to the body of work. So what this really is, then, is the Top Five Most Recognisable Chuck Berry Riffs.  I hope you enjoy them here as much as I did live last week.

Next week:  Top Five Guilty Pleasure Songs

1. Carol

“Carol” was first released in 1958, during Chuck’s seven years with Chess Records, which commenced in 1955.  It is has been covered countless times, notably by the Rolling Stones, a live version of which is on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out”.  This version is from the concert/biographical film “Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, which chronicled Keith Richards’ efforts at staging a musical party to celebrate Chuck’s 60th birthday.

2. Memphis, Tennessee

This is another Chess release, from 1963.  Covered by everyone from Paul Anka to The Grateful Dead, it tells a story (as all Chuck songs do) to a riff that sets the stage and itself evokes a sense of distance and travel.  Genius really. This version is live in London, England, in 1972.

3. Johnny B. Goode

Another 1958  release (and a  similar riff to Carol), this was one of the first songs to be listened to by both black and white audiences.  Legend has it that “country boy” was a replacement for “coloured boy” so as to ensure that the record in fact got played.  The voice overs here from notables who say they were inspired by Chuck in general and this song in particular makes my opening point far better than I ever could.

4. Too Much Monkey Business

This was Chuck’s fifth single and was recorded in 1956.  As with all the songs here, the riff really provides the musical basis for the story.  Here is the “Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Roll” version.  Chuck’s expressions are priceless.

5. Nadine

Now with Mercury Records and after after serving an 18 month jail term, Chuck released “Nadine” in 1963.  Fueled in part by the popularity of various covers of his songs “Nadine” was a success but not to the extent of some of his earlier work.  Chuck closed the show with this last week, after inviting as many women who would fit onto the stage to dance.  Alex and Alexcia hesitated, and alas, were lost in the shuffle to the front.

  1. earthboy011 says:

    Johnny B. Goode deserves to be NUMBER ONE. IN CAPITALS. UNDERLINED. WITH EMPHASIS ADDED. Nuff said.

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