It goes without saying that the late, great Chuck Berry was the ultimate architect of rock n’ roll music. His chops were totally unmatched and his guitar licks were so economical; not a single note would feel intrusive to the rest of the song. With his passing, arguably the single most important figure in the history of rock is now gone. In 1959, he released this record, ‘Chuck Berry Is on Top’, and it went on to be arguably his best. The title of this record was in no way inaccurate; Berry was definitely on top and any rock artist who came after him owes a great deal of gratitude and respect to him.
This record has an irresistible sense of fun that represents the best of the best in the era of early rock n’ roll. This is rock at its most honest and direct. Berry would never have any pretense about himself or his music. It also must be mentioned that he was rock’s first true storyteller, as best evidenced in songs like “Jo Jo Gunne”, “Maybellene”, and the immortal “Johnny B. Goode”. This track would go on to be the one that solidified rock n’ roll’s place in society and ensured that it wasn’t going anywhere. It was from then on the way of the world and obviously the winds of change had set in with Berry’s proclamation. In 2017 it’s difficult to assess just how important of a factor Berry’s race was in the ’50s (this was also something Little Richard dealt with to an even more extreme extent), but the fact that Berry was black was instantly enough to make him a dangerous figure within societal norms. Add to that the fact that he was a rock n’ roller as well and you’ve got an absolute trailblazer circa 1959. It’s also a mistake to think that this record is nothing but an early rock n’ roll record and that it lacks depth or substance. You need to look no further than the closing track on the record, “Blues for Hawaiians”, to hear the soul-wrenching blues which at their best evoke more substance than anything words can express.
This record is an absolute landmark of early rock n’ roll. It would almost be criminal to not recognize the historical significance of this record or rate it any less than perfect. Simply put, we wouldn’t be talking about rock music in 2017 if Chuck Berry hadn’t graced the world with his rendition of what was coming next. The quality of this record is also impeccably consistent throughout the full duration. Never does this record slip up or grow tired in any sense. Berry’s flair mixed with the fun-loving energy of rock music at this point in time render this record incapable of falling flat at any level. Your choice is to either get on board with this record and the ride that Berry is ready to take you on or you aren’t capable of tapping into rock n’ roll’s unstoppable, immortal wavelength. It’s really that simple. There are no requirements to get on board this train (something that made early rock so contagious), you simply have to be willing to let yourself go.