Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Rock & Roll Music"

Tuesday, July 24: 10:30 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
Chuck Berry is the Rock Hall's 2012 American Music Masters honoree

What do the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bill Haley, James Last, Jan and Dean, the Archies, the Dave Clark Five and REO Speedwagon have in common? They've all recorded Chuck Berry's "Rock & Roll Music." The Beach Boys even had a bigger hit with their 1976 version than Berry did with his own recording 19 years earlier. But only Berry could have created the song. "I wanted the lyrics to define every aspect of its being," he has written about the tune. They do, with his characteristic mix of enthusiasm and detached observation: a 30-year-old father of two in 1957, Berry was more objective about rock and roll – the music and the business – than his younger companions on the charts. A demo version, recorded five months before the released take, lacks what would become the opening verse, and in the chorus Berry sings, "if you wanna rock with me" – a verb later changed to "dance," probably for reasons of taste if not redundancy. Unusual for Berry, "Rock & Roll Music" contains no guitar solo. Instead, verses and choruses plow ahead, the witty product of an assured songwriter. Except for a break of mambo-styled rhythm mimicking the lyrics, "Rock & Roll Music" practices what it preaches. The cha-cha-cha ending is one final joke. The song gave further evidence of Chuck Berry's strengths as the Cole Porter of the soda shop. Chuck Berry will be honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum during the American Music Masters series in October 2012. Learn more about Berry's contributions to rock and roll in the Rock Hall's authoritative Chuck Berry biography.

WATCH: Chuck Berry performs "Rock & Roll Music" with Etta James, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton (from the 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll)


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