RIP, “Shakespeare of Rock ‘n’ Roll”

On Sunday, Chuck Berry died. Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once dubbed him the “Shakespeare of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

In my humble opinion, that’s not overstatement.

Berry, beyond being THE greatest innovator (if not ORIGINATOR) of rock and roll guitar-playing, was simply a great songwriter. His sense of rhythm, excellent; his ability to distill description to its essence, sublime; his subtle (and at times, not-so-subtle) social commentary, ground-breaking.

Just a few of my favorites…

From “Nadine”:

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin’ toward a coffee-colored Cadillac
I was pushin’ through the crowd tryin’ to get to where she’s at
And I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat

Downtown searching for ‘er, looking all around
Saw her getting in a yellow cab heading up town
I caught a loaded taxi, paid up everybody’s tab
Flipped a twenty dollar bill, told him ‘catch that yellow cab’

She moves around like a wayward summer breeze,
Go, driver, go go, catch ‘er for me please
Moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier
Leaning out the taxi window, trying to make her hear


From “Little Queenie”:

Meanwhile, I was thinkin’
If she’s in the mood, no need to break it
I got the chance, I oughta take it
If she can dance, we can make it
C’mon queenie, let’s shake it

Meanwhile, I was still thinkin’
If it’s a slow song, we’ll omit it
If it’s a rocker, that’ll get it
And if it’s good, she’ll admit it
C’mon queenie, let’s get wit’ it


“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”:

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
He was sitting in the witness stand
The judge’s wife called up the district attorney
Said you free that brown eyed man
If you want your job, you better free that brown eyed man

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a walkin’ thirty miles en route to Bombay
To get a brown eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown eyed handsome man

Way back in history three thousand years
In fact every since the world began
There’s been a whole lot of good women sheddin’ tears
For a brown eyed handsome man

Beautiful daughter couldn’t make up her mind
Between a doctor and a lawyer man
Her mother told her darlin’ go out and find yourself
A brown eyed handsome man
Just like your daddy, he’s a brown eyed handsome man

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass
She had the world in the palm of her hand
But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match
To get brown eyed handsome man
She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man

Two, three count with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stand
Rounding third he was headed for home
It was a brown eyed handsome man
That won the game; it was a brown eyed handsome man


About “Roll Over, Beethoven”:

Whenever I’m asked to put together a top ten of political songs, this number is always first on the list. A black man with an electric guitar loudly proclaiming to white America that the music that will dominate youth culture in the coming decades will be African-American. Who was making such revolutionary pop music in 1956? RIP Chuck.
  • –Billy Bragg


From “You Can’t Catch Me”:

New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours
I was rollin’ slowly ’cause of drizzlin’ showers
Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me
Then come wavin’ goodbye in a little’ old souped-up jitney
I put my foot on my tank and I began to roll
Moanin’ siren, ’twas the state patrol
So I let out my wings and then I blew my horn
Bye bye New Jersey, I’ve become airborne

Yeah, like the Beatles and Springsteen weren’t COMPLETELY influenced by Berry (just like Shakespeare wasn’t “influenced” by Hollinshed… puh-leeze)

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