Wow. Chuck Berry is gone. Rosanne Cash nailed it in her Instagram post: “Lights out on the Twentieth Century.” Chuck Berry changed how electric guitar is played. His song-writing was poetry for common people. He synthesized musical styles and created a new genre. Chuck Berry changed the music that changed everything else.
I’ve been thinking about all the great covers out there of Chuck Berry songs, and here are my ten favorite versions of Chuck Berry songs performed by other artists, presented here in no particular order. Although some of these videos are inferior version of the tracks, I hope they’ll send you in search of the better audio. Enjoy.
1. Elvis Presley: “Promised Land”
Elvis covered three Chuck Berry songs in his studio recording career. The Elvis version of “Memphis” is anemic, but he pretty well caught the jumped-up humor of “Too Much Monkey Business.” But this one, Elvis’s 1973 version of “Promised Land,” is a ferocious reminder of why Elvis was the best rock voice of all time.
2. Johnny Rivers: “Memphis”
This was a huge hit for Johnny Rivers in 1964. The single was pulled from the excellent album Johnny Rivers Live at the Whiskey A Go Go.
3. The Beatles: “Roll Over Beethoven”
The Beatles learned rock music from America, specifically Chuck Berry. The first song played at the first Beatles concert was Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.” (This song was also a 1970s hit for Electric Light Orchestra.)
4. The Beach Boys: “Rock and Roll Music”
Chuck Berry shares the song-writing credit on “Surfing U.S.A.,” but he had to sue The Beach Boys to get it after they used his “Sweet Little Sixteen” as the inspiration for their hit. When Brian Wilson re-joined The Beach Boys for their 1976 album 15 Big Ones, their version of Chuck’s “Rock and Roll Music” became a Top Ten hit.
5. Bob Seger: “Let It Rock”
Bob Seger name-checked Chuck Berry in “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”: “Well sweet sixteen turned thirty-one/Feel a little tired feeling under the gun/Well all Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks.” I’ve always thought Seger’s Live Bullet is one of the all-time best live albums, and Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” is one of the reasons.
6. Emmylou Harris: “C’est La Vie”
Chuck Berry approached singing and songwriting much like a country singer, with humor and common vernacular. It was hard to hear the country under all that Chuck Berry guitar, but it was there. Emmylou mined the country vein in her toe-tapper version of “C’est La Vie.”
7. Jerry Lee Lewis: “Little Queenie”
I went back and forth between The Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis for “Little Queenie,” but Jerry Lee had the bigger hit with it, and the Stones never recorded it in the studio, although they play it live sometimes. Here is a split-the-difference video of Jerry Lee with Keith Richards (and Mick Fleetwood).
8. Waylon Jennings: “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”
Waylon also found the country in this Chuck Berry song. Waylon always seemed to be singing about himself in this one.
9. Linda Ronstadt: “Back in the U.S.A.”
This shouter was one of Linda Ronstadt’s last rock hits.
10. The Rolling Stones: “Around and Around”
Chuck Berry’s sound migrated to a new generation through The Rolling Stones, and this chaotic 1964 version of “Around and Around” shows how American rock helped fuel the British Invasion.
Please add your thoughts about Chuck Berry, his songs, and his influence. I never get tired of talking about this stuff.