I've decided to try something new. I'm going to go through an ordered list of my top ten personal favorite songwriters of all time! The list will be presented in reverse order, beginning with my tenth favorite and concluding with my absolute favorite songwriter of all time! It has been and interesting exercise to determine who my list would contain, and in what order. In contemplating it, I realized that I actually needed to consider TWO different lists: one of the greatest individual songwriters, and one of the greatest songwriting teams. That second list will follow this first one. In the interests of cleanliness, no one would be allowed to be on both lists. If a favorite songwriter of mine principally or significantly wrote as part of a team, they could only be considered as part of the favorite songwriter teams list. Hopefully that's clear, and without further ado, my 10th favorite songwriter of all time is....Chuck Berry!
Chuck Berry was a tremendous innovator and pioneer of Rock and Roll. It was his guitar bravado and showmanship that cemented his stature as one of the prime architects of rock and roll, but it is his legacy as practically the arbiter of what an early rock and roll song should be about that truly defines his influence. A canonical definition of rock and roll at its birth was that it was a merging of black and white music which until the mid-50's had been kept separate and definitely not equal. Elvis sang R&B songs that sounded a little bit county, and country songs that sounded a little bit like R&B. Though it doesn't seem obvious to modern ears, Chuck Berry wrote and performed songs built around a pretty standard R&B framework that he goosed up and injected with just a dash of white country feel.
But nothing - nothing - could be more emblematic of Chuck Berries songs than their thematic content. In the 1950's American dreamscape that Berry conjured so effectively that you knew you'd been there, school bells rang, jukeboxes played, kids danced, cars took to the open road, and hamburgers sizzled on a hot grill night and day. As artistic as his lyrics could be (check their influence on later artists that you may have heard of - John Lennon and Bob Dylan are only two - if you doubt it), the topics that Chuck weaved and spun so expertly into songs were intended to appeal to a wide commercial audience, white as well as black. At their best they painted a portrait, and told a story; one so vivid and authentic that the listener couldn't help but identify with it. As John Lennon once remarked, it you wanted to call rock and roll by another name, you could call it Chuck Berry. So all hail, hail, Chuck Berry.