Album: Chuck Berry is on Top
If “Roll Over Beethoven” was a master class in lionizing rock ‘n’ roll as music, then “Johnny B. Goode” does the same for mythologizing the people who played rock ‘n’ roll.
Or in this case, Chuck Berry himself.
And you know what? Berry deserves every single inch of his self-created mythology, a mythology that ingrained itself so deep into the ethos of everything that followed that it’s been covered continuously since the moment it came out. And it always sounds great, because it’s completely indestructible.
Even that idiotic joke in Back to the Future (which ignores the fact that Chuck Berry had already released “Maybellene” by the time the events in the film took place) couldn’t diminish it. And as such, there’s really no point in describing “Johnny B. Goode”, because it’s so completely and totally foundational to everything that came for decades and decades. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Aerosmith. Bruce Springsteen. The Sex Pistols. The Replacements. The Hold Steady.
Hell, The Sex Pistols — who were so awesome at least in part because they recontextualized Chuck Berry licks (check the main riff of “Holidays in the Sun,” it’s practically a rewrite of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”) — tried to destroy “Johnny B. Goode” but the best they could come up with was linking it to Johnathan Richman’s “Roadrunner,” (and note the supersonic solo Steve Jones was playing when Johnny Rotten was trying to derail it), and subsequently to their own music, like it or not.
In any event, this is the ur-document: neither the first rock ‘n’ roll song, nor the first song about being someone who plays rock ‘n’ roll, but easily the definitive one.
In the rock ‘n’ roll Game of Thrones, Chuck Berry is the king I’ll forever back.
Fan-made video for “Johnny B. Goode”
Fan-made video for The Sex Pistols – “Johnny B. Goode / Roadrunner”