Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as rock and roll legend Chuck Berry, passed away Saturday at the age of 90 at his home in St Louis, Missouri — the same city where he was born on October 18, 1926. But he leaves behind a legacy not only of extraordinary influence on musicians who came after him, but of some of the most memorable rock and roll songs ever written and recorded.
Many of Berry’s best-known songs continue to resonate today. In classics such as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Maybellene,” “Back in the USA,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and many others, Berry — who unlike many popular music performers in the 1950s, wrote his own songs — immortalized the teenage American life of his era in tunes that set the template for hundreds, even thousands, of rock musicians who followed him.
But amazingly, for all of his immortal hits, Berry charted only one No. 1, with a rather uncharacteristic novelty tune, “My Ding-a-Ling.” The slyly off-color song reached the top of the Billboard charts in 1972, 17 years after Berry first shook up the music world with his first hit single, “Maybellene,” one of many songs Berry wrote about various cars and the trouble they caused him.
However, Berry wrote and recorded so many iconic rock and roll songs, that many have faded into obscurity over the years. Below are five of his best songs that may not be familiar to today’s rock fans — but should be.
Released in 1961, this quick classic, at under two minutes in length, has been covered by numerous artists — despite failing to even crack the top 100 when Berry released it. The song gained wider recognition when, in 1963, a band of youthful, white Londoners who called themselves The Rolling Stones chose “Come On” as the first single of their career.
San Francisco psychedelic “garage rock” group The Chocolate Watchband also recorded a memorable version of “Come On” in 1967.
Listen to Chuck Berry’s original version in the video below.
“Joe Joe Gunne”
Peaking at a mediocre No. 83 on the charts, Berry’s single “Joe Joe Gunne” tells Berry’s updated version of an age-old African, and African-American, folk tale usually known as “The Signifying Monkey.” The tale, as in Berry’s lyrics, centers around a monkey who uses his wits to outsmart a much larger, more ferocious jungle creature out to kill him. In Berry’s version, the other animal is an elephant — though in many renderings of the “Signifying Monkey” story the monkey gets the better of a lion — and the monkey for some reason goes by the name “Joe Joe Gunne.”
“Too Pooped To Pop”
In this 1960 single, which made it no higher than No. 42 on the Billboard Hot 100, Berry took a phrase from the 1955 hit “The Popcorn Song” by country singer Cliffie Stone, and recycled it into a song that appears to be about the difficulties of having sex at an advanced age.
“Run Rudolph Run”
One of a couple of Berry attempts at a rock and roll Christmas song, the legendary guitarist ad songwriter gave his own spin on the classic character from the children’s song, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” In this version, Rudolph ends himself running for his life from another reindeer — named Randolph. But “Run Rudolph Run” wasn’t a hit with the Christmas crowd, rising no higher than Number 69 in 1958.
“Too Much Monkey Business”
In one if his most influential songs, recorded in 1956, Berry became perhaps the first rock and roll songwriters to chronicle the hassles of everyday life — a boring job, bills to pay, annoying salesmen and so on. The song struck such a chord that it has been covered by most if the great rock and roll bands on the 1960s, including the Beatles, the Kinks and the Yardbirds — among many others, even Elvis Presley himself.
Even though Chuck Berry charted only one hit at No. 1, he still made plenty of money in his career, with a reported net worth of $19 million before he passed away on Saturday.
[Featured Image by Evening Standard/Getty Images]