Farewell To The Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Chuck Berry died yesterday at age 90.  He was the man whose songs gave rock ‘n roll a sound and a shape and a theme and a direction, way back in the ’50s, and thereby helped to create a genre of popular music that has endured for more than 60 years.  His song Maybellene, his first big hit, was released in 1955, and its combination of irresistible guitar licks, a chugging back beat, and a story about teenage angst, girls, cars, and speed created a lasting framework for what was then a shocking and utterly new sound.  (Interestingly, just last year Chuck Berry was working on an album of new material to be released some time this year.  Let’s hope we get to hear it.)

chuck-berry-1957-billboard-1548The tributes to Chuck Berry are pouring in from across the music world.  The Billboard tribute linked above notes that John Lennon once said:  “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”  The New York Times has published a fine list of 15 essential Chuck Berry songs that are worth listening to, again, in honor of his passing.  And a good indication of Berry’s huge influence on other crucial artists in the rock ‘n roll genre is that his songs were covered by the Beatles, who released excellent versions of Rock and Roll Music and Roll Over Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones, who recorded memorable live versions of Carol and Little Queenie, and just about everybody else of consequence in the world of rock music.  Has any artist had more songs covered by more superstars?

I can’t compete with the likes of John Lennon and Billboard in assessing the impact of Chuck Berry on the world of music, so I won’t even try.  I can say this without fear of contradiction, however:  when my college roommate and I hosted parties back in the late ’70s where the whole point was to drink draft beer and dance with wild abandon, nobody was better at getting people up and moving their feet than Chuck Berry.  That remains true today, 40 years later.  That’s quite an impact, when you think about it.

Time For The Rolling Stones To Gather Some Moss

Keith Richards is being quoted as saying that the Rolling Stones have met for a few rehearsals and are thinking about touring to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary together.

Sad, isn’t it?  It’s embarrassing to even contemplate a bunch of 70-year-olds preening and prancing on stage, trying to live up to their old tag line of being “the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band.”  Of course, that description hasn’t been accurate for a very long time.  It’s been decades since the Stones have released a meaningful studio album, and they’re not really relevant to modern music, except for the enormous contribution they made back in the ’60s and ’70s.

As the linked article indicates, the Stones’ last tour, in 2007, was hugely profitable — in fact, for several years it held the record as the most profitable tour of all time.  Could they possibly have squandered all that money already, and be desperate for a paycheck?  Do they honestly think that since, say, 1977, anyone has gone to a Rolling Stones concert to hear their new music?  How many times can these guys play I Can’t Get No Satisfaction and Gimme Shelter?

The Rolling Stones aren’t, and shouldn’t be, like Styx or Kansas or any of the other sad “legacy” bands that need to hit up their diehard fans every summer for a few concert bucks.  The Stones produced some of the greatest rock music ever released in the ’60s and ’70s.  Why not let that body of work stand, without being further tarnished by lame geriatric tours and pathetic tell-all books?