Music / Chuck Berry

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/ChuckBerry_4743.jpg
Chuck Berry in the 1950s.

"His mother told him someday you will be a man,
And you would be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down."
— "Johhny B. Goode"

Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (October 18, 1926 March 18, 2017) was an American Rock & Roll guitarist, singer and songwriter best known for his string of pioneering hit singles during The '50s. Indisputably one of the most important and influential performers of all time, his best known songs include "Johnny B. Goode", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Maybellene" and many more. It's generally considered that if it weren't for the racism at the time of his fame, Berry would have been crowned "King Of Rock And Roll" instead of Elvis Presley by a vast majority.

Although his output slowed after a run-in with the law which saw him convicted for some time (in circumstances similar to those that wrecked the career of Jerry Lee Lewis) and his hit-making period was over by the mid 1960s (with the exception of his only number-one hit, 1972's "My Ding-A-Ling"), Berry's influence on subsequent performers was significant. He was widely covered and cited as major influence by many British Invasion bands, such as The Animals, The Beatles, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Pretty Things, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds.

Like his contemporaries Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, Berry remained fairly active over the past sixty years. On his 90th birthday in 2016, he announced that he was working on new songs for the first time since 1979, after decades of insisting he was too old to put out any more work. He thankfully managed to finish recording one final album before his death in March of the following year.

Rolling Stone recognizes him as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.


Studio Discography:

  • 1956 - Rock, Rock, Rock
  • 1957 - After School Sessions
  • 1958 - One Dozen Berrys
  • 1959 - Chuck Berry Is On Top
  • 1960 - Rockin' At The Hops
  • 1961 - New Juke Box Hits
  • 1964 - Two Great Guitars note 
  • 1964 - St. Louis To Liverpool
  • 1965 - Chuck Berry In London
  • 1965 - Fresh Berry's
  • 1967 - Chuck Berry's Golden Hits
  • 1967 - Chuck Berry In Memphis
  • 1968 - From St. Louis To Frisco
  • 1969 - Concerto In B. Goode
  • 1970 - Back Home
  • 1971 - San Francisco Dues
  • 1972 - The London Chuck Berry Sessions note 
  • 1973 - Bio
  • 1975 - Chuck Berry
  • 1979 - Rock It
  • 1987 - Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll
  • 2017 - Chuck (forthcoming)


Live Discography:

  • 1963 - Chuck Berry On Stage
  • 1967 - Live At The Fillmore Auditorium
  • 1972 - The London Chuck Berry Sessions note 
  • 1978 - Chuck Berry Live In Concert
  • 1981 - Alive And Rockin'
  • 1981 - Chuck Berry Live
  • 1982 - Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 Vol. II
  • 1982 - Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 Vol. III
  • 2000 - Live!
  • 2000 - Live On Stage note 
  • 2002 - Chuck Berry - In Concert


"Let me hear some of that trope and roll music, any old time you choose it":

  • Audience Participation Song: One of most proliferated recordings of "My Ding-a-Ling" involves him getting the audience to sing the chorus back to him.
  • B-Side: A number of his best-known songs were actually the B-side of their respective singles, most notably "Memphis, Tennessee" (the A-side was "Back in the USA").
  • Bait and Switch: "Memphis, Tennessee" appears to be a standard teenage love story about a guy desperately trying to get in touch with his girlfriend Marie, whose mother disapproves of them seeing each other. The last verse reveals that Marie is not his girlfriend but his daughter.
  • But Not Too Black: The record company originally tried to hide the fact that he wasn't white. Of course, the advent of television made that pretty hard. They did make him change Johnny B Goode to a "country boy" rather than a "coloured boy", though.
  • Call-and-Response Song: "School Day" features a contrapuntal pattern between Berry's vocal and his guitar.
  • Cool Old Guy: Continued doing gigs well into his late 80s.
  • Cover Version: One of the most popular sources for covers, especially by the artists of the British Invasion during the sixties.
  • Dirty Old Man: As the infamous "video cameras in the women's bathroom" incident can attest to.
    • Casey, the protagonist of "Too Pooped To Pop" is an elderly man who hangs out at teen dances, so he could well have been one (though the song is more critical of his dancing skills).
  • Double Entendre: "My Ding-a-Ling".
  • Epic Rocking: The instrumental "Concerto In B. Goode", at 18:40, is easily 5-6 times longer than most of his other songs.
  • Flying Car: "You Can't Catch Me".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • "No Particular Place To Go" has the teenage characters go to Make-Out Point to... "take a stroll." Uh-huh. Of course, nothing happens.
    Can you imagine the way I felt?
    I couldn't unfasten her safety belt!
    • "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" is about interracial relationships, which needed a fair amount of radar-past-getting in 1956.
  • Gratuitous French: "You Never Can Tell" includes "monsieur and madam have rung the chapel bell/C'est la vie said the old folks, goes to show you never can tell." Possibly justified, since the groom in the song is named Pierre.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: "La Juanda" from One Dozen Berrys, where the narrator tries to pick up a woman in Tijuana but runs into a language barrier.
  • Heavy Meta: "Rock And Roll Music", "School Days", "Roll Over Beethoven". It was really what most of his lyrics were about.
  • Hurricane of Puns: In "Nadine" it's more like Hurricane of Similes ("like a wayward summer breeze", "like a mounted cavalier").
  • I Can't Dance: "Carol".
  • Jerkass: Many have theorised that his adherence to this trope is at least part of what kept him from becoming as big as someone like Elvis, who was the epitome of the Nice Guy.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: The title character of "Jo Jo Gunne" is a "meddlesome monkey" who pulls this scheme on a lion and elephant.
  • Motor Mouth: Several songs, most famously "Too Much Monkey Business".
  • Neologism: "Motorvatin' ", from "Maybellene" (and later "No Money Down"), "botheration" in "Too Much Monkey Business".
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Let it Rock", which is not an ode to The Power of Rock but an uptempo Blues song about working on a railroad.
  • Ode To Youth: "School Day" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: An account of an everyday 1950s school day, up to the point where they finally let you out of school and you get to listen to rock and roll and dance.
    Hail! Hail! Rock and roll!
    Deliver me from the days of old!
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "You Never Can Tell" got a new life briefly due to it being featured in the big John Travolta-Uma Thurman dance sequence in Pulp Fiction.
  • Road Trip Plot: "Promised Land" has the narrator finagle his way from Virginia to LA by bus, train and plane.
  • Rock Star Song: "Johnny B. Goode" is about a young guitar player dreaming of stardom. The sequel "Bye Bye Johnny" reveals he made it.
  • Rockumentary: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, about his star-studded 60th birthday concerts in 1986.
  • The Scrooge: He would rather go to jail (for the second time, even!) than pay a fine when he was sentenced for tax fraud in the seventies. When he goes on tour, he demands that the local organisers provide him with a backing band, because he doesn't want to pay travelling expenses for his own band.
  • Self Plagiarism:
    • "No Particular Place to Go" is basically "School Day" with different lyrics.
    • "Thirty Days" is a pretty blatant knockoff of "Maybellene".
    • "Little Queenie" and "Run Rudolph Run" have identical guitar intros and generally sound like one another (the main difference is that Berry didn't write "Run Rudolph Run").
    • Let's just say he wasn't ashamed to reuse a good guitar riff.
    • "Big Boys" from Chuck uses the same opening as "Johnny B. Goode."
  • Sequel Song: A Trope Codifier for this, with "Johnny B. Goode"/"Bye Bye Johnny" and "Memphis"/"Little Marie".
  • Something Completely Different: The Latin-tinged ballad "Drifting Heart" and the calypso-style "Havana Moon" were notable changes-of-pace from his early rock sound.
  • Take That!: "Roll Over Beethoven" is a double case - both at the composer, and at his parents who didn't let him use their piano since it was only for his sister's classical training.
    Roll over Beethoven, and dig these rhythm'n'blues!
  • Trope Maker:
    • Along with Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore, Berry is the trope maker for guitar-based rock and roll.
    • It's important enough that he was rock's first singer-songwriter, but he also pioneered lyrical tropes like clever wordplay, Slice of Life and Heavy Meta.
  • Twelve Bar Blues: Like all 50's rockers, it's a staple of his songs.
  • Unusual Euphemism: My Ding-A-Ling for his penis.
  • Wham Line:
    Marie is only six years old, Information, please!
    Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee


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