Chuck Berry (RIP) Reviews Punk Songs by The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads & More (1980)

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

When the punk wave broke in the UK and the States in the mid-1970s, it threat­ened to leave behind the estab­lished rock bands that once seemed so rebel­lious. Pete Town­shend, the gui­tar-smash­ing song­writer of The Who, said: “I kind of wel­comed [the arrival of punk], chal­lenged it, and want­ed it to hap­pen, and then I real­ized that the per­son they want­ed to shoot was me.” And indeed Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pis­tols, would say, “I don’t have any heroes. They’re all use­less to me.”

And yet despite the pos­tur­ing, punk remained root­ed in the rock tra­di­tion, pay­ing trib­ute, whether they knew it or not, to their musi­cal fathers (The Bea­t­les, The Who, The Stones) and even the grand­fa­thers (Chuck Berry and Bud­dy Hol­ly). In Please Kill Me: The Uncen­sored Oral His­to­ry of Punk (a book I com­plete­ly rec­om­mend) edi­tor Legs McNeil writes:

Then the Ramones came back, and count­ed off again, and played their best eigh­teen min­utes of rock n roll that I had ever heard. You could hear the Chuck Berry in it, which was all I lis­tened to, that and the Bea­t­les sec­ond album with all the Chuck Berry cov­ers on it.

It all goes back to Chuck Berry, and Berry knew it. In a 1980 inter­view with the zin Jet Lag, Berry shared his thoughts on the punk anthems of the day and spot­ted his influ­ence in many of them.

The Sex Pis­tols’ “God Save the Queen”:

“What’s this guy so angry about any­way? Gui­tar work and pro­gres­sion is like mine. Good back­beat. Can’t under­stand most of the vocals. If you’re going to be mad at least let the peo­ple know what you’re mad about.”

The Clash’s “Com­plete Con­trol”:

“Sounds like the first one. The rhythm and chord­ing work well togeth­er. Did this guy have a sore throat when he sang the vocals?”

The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rock­er”:

“A good lit­tle jump num­ber. These guys remind me of myself when I first start­ed, I only knew three chords too.”

The Roman­tics’ “What I Like About You”: 

“Final­ly some­thing you can dance to. Sounds a lot like the six­ties with some of my riffs thrown in for good mea­sure. You say this is new? I’ve heard this stuff plen­ty of times. I can’t under­stand the big fuss.”

Talk­ing Heads’ “Psy­cho Killer”: 

“A funky lit­tle num­ber, that’s for sure. I like the bass a lot. Good mix­ture and a real good flow. The singer sounds like he has a bad case of stage fright.”

Wire’s “I Am the Fly” and Joy Divi­sion’s Unknown Plea­sures:

“So this is the so-called new stuff. It’s noth­ing I ain’t heard before. It sounds like an old blues jam that BB and Mud­dy would car­ry on back­stage at the old amphithe­atre in Chica­go. The instru­ments may be dif­fer­ent but the exper­i­men­t’s the same.”

Chuck Berry passed away today, still unsur­passed, at age 90. Long live Chuck.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds and h/t @alyssamilano and @austinkleon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bruce Spring­steen and the E Street Band Impro­vis­es and Plays, Com­plete­ly Unre­hearsed, Chuck Berry’s “You Nev­er Can Tell,” Live Onstage (2013)

Chuck Berry Takes Kei­th Richards to School, Shows Him How to Rock (1987)

Down­load 50+ Issues of Leg­endary West Coast Punk Music Zines from the 1970–80s: Dam­age, Slash & No Mag

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

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  • Guilherme Carvalho says:

    Well… With all the respect that is due to this great, great musi­cian, and know­ing it’s not very polite to dis­agree with the recent­ly deceased, I have to say:

    he missed the point, by miles and miles.

    Sure, the musi­cal con­struc­tion is sim­i­lar to old rock­’n’roll. Sure, build­ing songs like that and using those har­monies and those instru­ments can­not in itself be rev­o­lu­tion­ary or sub­ver­sive as it was in his time.

    But that is exact­ly the (musi­cal) start­ing point of punk, *not* its goal. The fact that the lyrics are sung almost shout­ing, that they’re hard to under­stand, that you don’t *need* more than three chords to sup­port your whole musi­cal dis­course because you’re not bas­ing the mes­sage on its har­mon­ic struc­ture… all that is essen­tial to punk, both in terms of sound and in terms of social posi­tion.

    Despite his huge suc­cess and pop­u­lar­i­ty, Chuck Berry nev­er estab­lished a rela­tion to his audi­ence sim­i­lar to what basi­cal­ly all the (ear­ly) punk bands did, for instance — and that’s per­fect­ly ok because that was­n’t *his* point. So of course, if we lis­ten to the notes and the rhythms, there’s not much new. But thank good­ness there’s a lot more than that to music.

  • Ron Thom says:

    Richie Stotts from the Plas­mat­ics was men­tioned as a sim­i­lar type sound as Chuck Berry.
    I thought his gui­tar play­ing in 1984 when I was for­tu­nate enough to see Wendy and the gang in Van­cou­ver Cana­da at the Gar­dens. It was awe­some I was 21 at the time.
    The stu­pid thing about that con­cert was that the crowd was actu­al­ly spit­ting on her, she got mad,power got cut I thought it was going to turn dead­ly.

  • Michael says:

    Inci­den­tal­ly, Jet Lag was found­ed by St. Louisans teve Pick and John “The Mail­man” Korst.

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