Another of Chuck Berry’s set texts of rock’n’roll was making its presence felt on November 18, 1957. That was the date on which he continued his unstoppable run of early classics by entering the R&B chart with the utterly seminal “Rock & Roll Music.”
By this time, Chuck had been having hits for more than two years, but it’s significant to note that while the new Chess single was his tenth entry on the R&B listings, it was only his fifth to make the equivalent pop chart. His rhythm and blues audience had given him such additional hits in that genre as “Wee Wee Hours,” the flip side of “Maybellene,” and the double-sided “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”
But “Rock & Roll Music” was one of those instant and irresistible hits that appealed to all radio programmers, helping it become a smash in both markets. The song entered the pop chart a week earlier, climbing to No.8 in a 19-week run which easily outlasted its nine-week span on the R&B side, during which it peaked at No.6.
As we know, the song made a huge impression on countless young artists who heard it and would claim a piece of it for their own careers. The Beatles momentously covered it on 1964’s Beatles For Sale, with an energetic and heartfelt lead vocal by John and rollicking piano by Paul. Less well-known is a later version by Chuck’s fellow rock’n’roll frontiersmen Bill Haley and the Comets, who cut it for their 1973 album Just Rock & Roll Music.
The same year, teen hearthrob David Cassidy did the song, and Humble Pie included it on 1975’s Street Rats, before the Beach Boys gave “Rock & Roll Music” a whole new lease of life as one of their 15 Big Ones, returning it to the American Top 10 in 1976. Bryan Adams chose it as one of his Tracks Of My Years, for his 2014 album of that name.
Chuck himself gave the song a powerful revival in the 1987 film documentary about him, Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, in a call-and-response version with lead vocals by the great Etta James. Any old way you use it, it’s got to be “Rock & Roll Music.”
“Rock & Roll Music” is on Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight compilation, of which a limited edition, five-disc box set on “Chess Blue” vinyl can be bought here via uDiscoverMusic.com.
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