Picks and Pans Review: The Great Twenty-Eight
Pivotal influence that he has been, in his later years, Berry, now 56, has often seemed pathetic and weary, continually retreading his classic rhythm-and-blues tunes in a never-ending slide through the oldies revival shows of America. But he has been a vital influence on everyone in pop music from his contemporaries Elvis Presley and Pat Boone through the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to The Who and the Police, as well as Springsteen. These original recordings by Berry's small groups show why. They're primitive in concept, execution and production, and these days Berry's bare-chord guitar playing wouldn't get him a job on the lowliest club band in Kearney, Nebr. But the songs include such elementally vibrant rock standards as School Days, Reelin' and Rockin', Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Memphis, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Back in the USA, No Particular Place to Go and the anthem Roll Over Beethoven, which may be the most familiar tune in rock and includes what may be the most familiar (and best) line: "Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news." Berry wrote 25 of these songs and collaborated on three of the others. Ironically, Berry's first officially certified million-selling single was the sophomorically suggestive 1972 novelty My Ding-a-Ling. But he was a master at blending the blues, Country-Western idioms and a lyrical wit that was mainstream enough to appeal to white audiences.