Chuck Berry
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Chuck Berry’s ‘Twist’ is a greatest hits/cash in on the twist phenomenon record – which sounds like a recipe for a slow death, but in this case that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead we find the best offerings from an artist that helped shape an entire genre all on the one record and in an order that feels like a natural track list progression rather than falling into the common trap of many best of’s wherein it becomes blatantly obvious that you aren’t listening to a purposeful album but to more of a scatter gun of material from different time periods and recording sessions that’s all aimed at the fair weather listener who just wants to hear the hits and not sit through any of the b-sides.

Well Chuck’s definitely got the hits. Just about all the tracks from ‘Twist’ sit in that relentlessly twistable 120-130 bpm range and move along to standard upbeat blues rock chord progressions. There’s no doubt that Berry had a formula that was pretty strictly adhered to and that this meant his work never really crossed broad terrain in terms of dynamic, but what he had was a method and sound that worked for him and was somewhat before it’s time, and this allowed him to use his guitar style and sense of melody to create some of the most enduring rock n’ roll classics.

‘Maybellene’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and ‘Johnny B Goode’ are simply some of the greatest rock tunes ever written. Take ‘Johnny B Goode’ specifically – the intro alone is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of music ever recorded, and the subsequent hand in hand energy of both the vocal and the instrumentation not only form a brilliantly hooky track, but also create something uniquely Chuck Berry. He did then go on to use this exact hook in a bunch of other tunes but so what, the man was onto a great thing. I’d even go as far as saying that the recycling of the ‘Johnny B Goode’ guitar line only serves to bolster the whole concept behind Chuck Berry’s music: stick to the innocent idea of simplicity and if they’re all still twistin’ don’t change a thing.

When you think about it, perhaps more than any other worthwhile artist; Chuck Berry’s material suits the greatest hits format. Although brilliant, his music is relatively one dimensional in terms of sound, song structure, and time signature, and this in turn means that his tunes, no matter what record or time period they are from, seem to flow together as a whole mashed up body of work as is the case on ‘Twist’. Whereas, say The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Dylan, Captain Beefheart etc etc., how do you put together an artistically valid best of record from these artists that doesn’t just sound like a cash grab when you are moving from ‘Twist and Shout’ through to ‘I Want You(she’s so heavy)’? It’s near on impossible. However, when looking at Chuck Berry – the greatest hits equation becomes a much more workable one, to the point where just about the whole scope of his music can be covered without sacrificing the crucial element of continuity.

Posted: February 12, 2012

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