You can’t just listen to a Chuck Berry song.
Your foot taps; your head bops like a metronome. A slow, wide smile creeps across your face. Berry’s sinewy guitar riffs — the thunderclap of “Johnny B. Goode,” the locomotive throb of “Maybellene,” the electric spark of “Sweet Little Sixteen” — demand engagement and movement. More than songs, they’re invitations to ebullience.
That’s what it must have been like for those who first marveled at Berry’s music when his career took off in 1955, and that’s how it feels today as his songs flood the airwaves and internet in tribute to the seminal singer, songwriter and guitarist, who died March 18 at the age of 90.
And that’s how it will be 50 years from now when some kid stumbles, for the first time, onto the music of the man who could play a guitar just like ringing a bell.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without Berry, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or Elvis Presley wouldn’t have existed — certainly not in the manner that garnered them critical and commercial acclaim.
Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” is often cited as the first true rock ’n’ roll song. Yet it was Berry who took country, R&B, and pop, and marinated them in his own distinct St. Louis style to form an irresistible whole that shook up the world musically and culturally.
Charles Edward Anderson Berry didn’t just help invent rock ’n’ roll. He was rock ’n’ roll — and always will be.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE BOSTON GLOBE