It wouldn’t be rock ‘n’ roll music if it weren’t for Chuck Berry
If rock ‘n’ roll had another name, it would probably have been Chuck Berry — the genius who created and breathed life into the genre that would go on to inspire generations of musicians after him.
Chuck Berry, more than any other musician of the ’50s, created the imagery that envisioned rock ’n’ roll not as a passing obsession but as the future of music — a vision that crossed the boundaries of generation and race.
At a time when so called grown-ups ridiculed and sneered at his music, calling it immature and juvenile, Berry was opening up a world full of possibilities — where the underdog black kid too could become a star.
Berry, with his unapologetic self-confidence and narratives laden with the imagery of cars, girls and wild dance parties enthralled teenagers of his generation in throngs and laid the foundation of what was to come later.
His lyrics, replete with light-hearted humour and the underdog charm, defined rock ’n’ roll’ and brought out its potential.
Critic Robert Christgau called him “the greatest rock lyricist this side of Bob Dylan”.
Through numbers like Johnny B Goode and Roll Over Beethoven, he carved the musical aesthetic that other musicians of his time were unable to figure out.
For Berry, everything was here and now: the moment defined everything.
Songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “You Can’t Catch Me” strongly conveyed the aspirations of his times — no wonder, he became a teenage heartthrob.
His music was about having a helluva good time.
Berry also satirised and politicised America as the land of opportunity in numbers such as the “Promised Land”, “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”.
His irreverence and iconoclasm contributed heavily to the spirit of the genre he was laying the foundation for.
Numbers like “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Rock and Roll Music” and “School Day” became manifestoes of desire and the American dream.
Berry’s virtuoso guitar playing, which combined elements of blues and country, gave out memorable riffs and licks that went on to establish a genre of guitar playing and vocals — further fleshed out by Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
Berry developed the technique of bending two strings at once and made it the foundation of rock ’n’ roll — a technique that was picked up by countless musicians after him.
Berry’s unique blend of country music and blues, peppered with hillbilly twang drew listeners in droves.
The nasal twang of his voice and guitar strokes broke convention in their treatment and were remarkable for their hedonistic imagery.
His music comprised jubilant desires, washed-away tensions and heavily iconoclastic metaphors.
But above everything else, Chuck Berry was a showman — who lived and breathed music.
His music would have been nothing without his charisma and showmanship.
No wonder, till his last rock ‘n’ roll icon Chuck Berry was on the ball — and was recording a new album.
Perhaps, that may lay down the foundation for the next musical genre.