On March 18, 2017, rock and roll lost one of its founding fathers – Chuck Berry. Few rockers were as influential or had such a widespread impact on subsequent generations of musicians. Perhaps nowhere is this better demonstrated than through the sheer number of Chuck Berry covers that other artists have recorded over the years,
In honor of Berry’s memory, I thought it would be a good time go back and look at some of the best cover versions of his songs that were recorded over the years. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive or definitive list of Berry covers; just a handful of some favorites. There are (literally!) hundreds of Berry covers out there, and this is just a scratch of the surface.
Tracks are organized here in a loose, general order based on when they were covered. Without further ado, let’s begin the countdown! Links to select songs have been provided.
Buddy Holly – “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”
Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly was one of rock and roll’s first true casualties, being killed in a plane crash in February 1959 at the all-too-young age of 22. But like many rock and roll pioneers, Holly was influenced by Berry, and paid homage here. During his short lifetime, Holly recorded a wide variety of originals and covers, all of which were excellent. This one does not put any major spins or changes on Berry’s original, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Beatles – “Roll Over Beethoven”
The Beatles could touch any song and reinvent it in such a capacity that it was better than the original. While that may spark some debate in regards to this Berry classic, I will argue that this is the best version recorded, and the most widely remembered. It was the Fab Four at their finest in their early days; their first few albums are packed with cover songs and this is one of the finest. The group would later cover “Rock and Roll Music,” and also covered a number of other Berry songs in their various BBC Sessions.
Johnny Rivers – “Memphis”
Johnny Rivers was an artist who recorded a good many covers of memorable songs, and managed to put his own spin on them, often improving them. Not that Berry’s original of this tune was weak, but Johnny Rivers takes it to the next level here, with a high-energy rendition recorded live on stage at the Whisky. The guitar bookends and solo help make this one a classic for the ages. It is not only one of Rivers’ best recordings, but one of the best covers of a Berry song.
Yardbirds – “Too Much Monkey Business”
England’s great blues rock group tried their hands at Berry with this cover of one of his classics, and not surprisingly, the results satisfy. This is a group that served up great covers and originals, and their take on this Berry classic is a damn good one. It is one of Berry’s songs to receive many different covers and treatments from a wide array of artists, but this is arguably the best version.
Steppenwolf – “Berry Rides Again”
This one is kind of a cheat because it is not technically a cover, but it IS a tribute of sorts to Chuck Berry’s music. Even back in 1968, Steppenwolf was paying tribute to this founding father of rock and roll, with this tune that combines a number of Berry’s lyrics/characters/etc., and the results are impressive. There is far more to Steppenwolf than “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” and this Berry tribute is proof.
The Doors – “Carol”
The Doors had a musical style of their own, but they certainly were not above paying homage to Chuck Berry! This one regularly surfaced in the band’s live set, and with their own touches, including Jim Morrison’s distinctive vocal and Ray Manzarek’s wild organ playing, they always managed to wow their audiences with it.
Waylon Jennings – “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”
Sometimes, you would get artists that not only covered Berry’s songs, but also reinvented them. Waylon Jennings’ country take on this classic is amongst the most memorable of all Berry covers, and should absolutely not be overlooked.
Foghat – “Maybellene”
These British boogie rockers (often mistaken for an American Southern rock band) tried their hand at one of Chuck Berry’s most classic tunes, infusing it with a newfound energy. While Foghat went on to be known for hits like “Slow Ride” and “Fool for the City,” this Berry cover from their debut record is essential listening.
REO Speedwagon – “Little Queenie”
REO’s second album and first to feature classic vocalist Kevin Cronin spawned a good many classic tunes, most legendary amongst them being the anti-Vietnam anthem “Golden Country.” But they managed to fit in a Berry cover as well. Expanding the lengthy of the tune to over six minutes, this take on the song throws in much fuller instrumentation and an extended instrumental session. One of my personal favorite Berry covers, and a very overlooked early REO tune.
AC/DC – “School Day”
Even those bad boys of rock and roll from down under were Berry fans, as is beautifully demonstrated in this rough and raw cover with vocalist Bon Scott at the helm. AC/DC did not record a ton of cover songs, but this take on Chuck Berry definitely made for a memorable early highlight of their career. The song was originally only available on an Australian LP, but was released to American audiences in a box set a few years back.
Electric Light Orchestra: “Roll Over Beethoven”
Another outright reinvention, ELO’s take on this Berry classic even manages to incorporate some actual music by, well, Beethoven. The group maintains the classic, old school rock and roll feel, but finds a way to work their signature orchestration into things.
Linda Ronstadt – “Back in the USA”
Linda Ronstadt is that proverbial singer who could sing the phone book and people would listen to it and enjoy it. This take on a classic Chuck Berry tune features one of Ronstadt’s best vocal performances, and does not sacrifice any of the energy of the original song.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers – “No Particular Place to Go”
The majority of Thorogood’s hit songs were covers, and even the ones that were not had more than a little influence from old blues/rock songs and styles. More often than not, his versions of these songs became the best known ones (and for the unfamiliar “Who Do You Love,” “Move it on Over” and “Madison Blues” are all covers of songs by other artists). While the same cannot be said of his cover of “No Particular Place to Go,” it is still a damn good one, staying true to the original, but infusing it with the energy of the early 80s. Being featured on the same album as his hit “Bad to the Bone,” this one was sadly overlooked by the masses. Go back and rediscover it in tribute to Chuck Berry’ you will not be disappointed. Also worth mentioning that this was not Thorogood’s only Berry cover, either.
Michael J. Fox (as Marty McFly) – “Johnny B. Goode”
If you have seen Back to the Future, you know the iconic moment in which Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly character has to impress the audience at a school dance when the guitarist injures his hand, so that his parents will fall in love and he will be born one day. Turns out that guitarist McFly was helping out was Marvin Berry, Chuck’s cousin, and he gives Chuck a call so he can listen to “that new sound he’s been looking for.” Of course, McFly takes things to the next level, trashing the stage and going into a heavy metal solo, which an unsuspecting 1950s audience was not expecting! Yes, it is a complete work of fiction, but it is a classic movie moment using Chuck Berry’s music. Sadly, the version of the song on the soundtrack “plays it straight” and does not have the wild climax it did in the film.
Sin City Sinners – “Run Rudolph Run”
Here is former Faster Pussycat guitarist Brent Muscat showing off what he does best! Originally recorded for a Sin City Sinners Christmas album in 2011, this is a great cover of the Berry classic, which also pays homage to Faster Pussycat’s “Bathroom Wall.” One of the more memorable cuts on that Christmas CD!
What is your favorite Chuck Berry tune, or your favorite cover of one? If you did not see your personal favorite here, or you have an opinion to share, comment below!