Archive for June, 2008

Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

A couple of weeks ago Rolling Stone had a list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of all time.  Number one on the list was Chuck Berry’s Johnny Be Good.  You know what, they got it right.  Normally, I’m about as likely to agree with the People magazine of the music business on the “best” of something as I am to agree with Rush Limbaugh’s opinion.  But they nailed this one, at least the top slot.

Johnny Be Good isn’t just a guitar song, it’s about a guitar player, so it gets extra points for being sort of like onomatopoeia.  More than anything, though, it’s that riff that counts.  Imagine Keith Richards or the Edge without the influence of those Chuck Berry rhythmic statements; you just can’t get there.

It’s not just rock and roll, either.  Think about the genre of music that lays between rock and country.  Call it Americana, alt country, roots music whatever.  But where would Steve Early, Billy Bragg, or Ryan Adams be without that searing, cut-to-the-bone lead guitar part?  Or go the other direction.  While they may not mention him as an influence, the Ramones and the Clash most certainly owe a big portion of their sound the over-amplified, raw, 3 chord masterpiece that first hit vinyl in 1958 at the Chess Records studio in Chicago.  He was playin’ guitar just like ringin’ a bell.

But that’s just one man’s opinion.