Where would we be without Chuck Berry? Legend among legends, the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll gave us classics such as “Maybellene”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Johnny B. Goode” and many more.
We’ve heard a lot about these timeless tunes, but what are Berry’s lesser-known bangers?
Here are ten of the best under the radar…
1) “Deep Feeling” from “After School Session” (1957)
Chuck plays a steel pedal on this slow, bluesy instrumental, and the results are impressive enough to make you wonder what might have happened if he had continued.
Here, as in all of his standard guitar playing, he demonstrates his supreme gift for melody and expression, using a Fender 400 Hawaiian/Country Western pedal steel guitar he is said to have purchased in the 1950s.
Diehard fans will remember the long tracking shot of Chuck playing a Fender 400 solo at home that closes Taylor Hackford’s excellent 1987 biopic, Hail! Hail! rock n roll.
2) “Rockin’ At the Philharmonic” from “One Dozen Berrys” (1957)
The influence of Louis Jordan and Bob Willis is evident on this instrumental, as Chuck plays jazzy licks with a swinging rhythm section, with the slapback echo required at the time.
Chuck takes his time warming up, favoring single-note lines and throwing hammers and rakes before digging in with double stops on the second verse.
The title of the song is probably a play on the Jazz at the Philharmonie popular series of recordings and tours between 1945 and 1957.
3) “Let It Rock” from “Rockin’ at the Hops” (1960)
Chuck’s talent for creating concise vignettes is omnipresent in this catchy tune as he tells the story of an unplanned train slamming into a work crew playing on the tracks.
Its deft double stops mimic the sound of the approaching engine, a bit of playfulness that reminds you of how much emotion and storytelling Chuck conveyed in his solo guitar playing.
At just 1:42 minutes long, the song goes by so fast you might miss it, but many artists from the Rolling Stones to a young Bob Seger on his stellar Smokin’ OP’s album, took this train and created their own memorable journey.
4) Single “Nadine (Is it you?)” (1964)
The first track Chuck released after his release from prison in 1963, “Nadine (Is It You?)” is an update to “Maybellene”, as he spies on his “wife-to-be” all over town but he’s still only one step behind her.
Berry’s usual means of transport – namely Cadillacs, but also city buses and yellow cabs – are in abundance here, as well as regional references (Chuck calls Nadine in “campaign shouting like a southern diplomat”) which helps the track to fit perfectly into his establishment. stylistic form.
Piano and saxophones lead the dance on this shimmering boogie, but the guitarist leads the charge with his tasty, slippery double-stop intro riff.
5) “You two” from ‘St. Louis in Liverpool’ (1964)
After influencing UK bands Invasion, Chuck walked out of prison just as these acts were transforming the pop landscape.
In response, he released a pair of albums – St. Louis to Liverpool and Chuck Berry in London – who tried to reclaim his place in the mainstream with a mix of rockers and softer pop tracks, like the sophisticated “You Two”.
“Listening to my idol Nat Cole inspired me to sing sentimental songs with distinct diction,” Chuck wrote in his autobiography, and “You Two” exemplifies that perfectly. It’s a sweet, upbeat hipster tune set to a “comfortable clan of four” on a double date in the country air.
chuck’s electric guitar solo here might as well fit into any of his standard rock and roll, demonstrating the seemingly effortless malleability of his style.
6) “Liverpool Drive” from ‘St. Louis in Liverpool’ (1964)
Released as the B-side of the smash hit “No Particular Place to Go”, “Liverpool Drive” is nothing more than a fun ride down the fretboard, and it’s refreshing to hear Chuck and his band jamming along with so much music. enthusiasm and abandonment.
The vibe is more St. Louis than Liverpool, but Chuck wraps up the track with a Beatles-style 7-9 chord.
7) “I want to be your driver” from “Chuck Berry in London” (1965)
Like from St. Louis to Liverpool, Chuck tried to evolve beyond his tried-and-tested formula on Chuck Berry in Londonproviding stronger blues guitar numbers and even funk.
“I Want to Be Your Driver” is brimming with double meanings and may have served as an influence for The Beatles’ “Drive My Car.”
Chuck sings louder and more emphatically than usual, using his solo break to bring the temperature down with a few seductive double-stop licks played an octave below the song’s melody to vary the mood.
From his cutting guitar sound to cavernous reverb and Merseybeat drumming, he has convincingly carved out space for himself in a pop landscape that owes him so much.
8) “Butterscotch” from “Chuck Berry in London” (1965)
Not the Freddie King cut. Chuck’s “Butterscotch” is a funky instrumental workout that features some of his most incisive and inspired solos. His familiar curved double stops are all over this one, but he’s rarely played solo with as much force or passion as he does here.
Although they claim to be “recorded in London”, five of the 13 tracks on this album were made in Chicago with the Jules Blattner Group, whom Chuck knew from their performances at the Butterscotch Lounge in St. Louis.
This track is meant to be his reworking of Blattner’s own “Butterscotch Twist”, although it’s hard to see a connection beyond the title.
9) “Tulane” from “Homecoming” (1970)
Chuck’s return to Chess Records in 1970 after a few years on the Mercury label saw him update his sound once again.
“Boogie” Bob Baldori’s harmonica playing dominates many of these later recordings, relegating Chuck’s guitar work to the background, as on this taut rocker on Johnny and Tulane, a headshop-owning couple arrested by the cops for their illicit hiding place.
As a result, the thrill comes not from Chuck’s guitar playing but from his gift for storytelling, something that was lacking in the later years of his recording career.
10) “Wuden’t Me” from “Rockit” (1979)
Racism was a subtext in Chuck’s previous songs, like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Promised Land.”
He comes to the fore on this 1979 track, where he tells the story of a young southern man who runs a stop sign and is thrown in jail after being denied his basic rights. While escaping, he is chased by a group of Great Dragon and Bloodhounds before a trucker wearing a swastika and a KKK arm patch stops to give him a lift.
Chuck is in wry humor on this rambunctious country rocker and does some great riffing on the chorus, but again, it’s his gift for storytelling that makes it all work.
Browse the Chuck Berry Catalog here.