If you look back through a list of your favourite rock and roll acts of the 20th century, then chances are those artists and bands were all directly influenced by the late, great Chuck Berry. The duck-walking granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll made a name using his scything ruffs and unstoppable ear for a tune. Berry may not have been the founding father of rock but he was certainly the man who made it popular. Forget Elvis, Chuck Berry was the King.
It means that soon after Berry’s songs were released on record they were being quickly copied by acts in music halls and bars up and down the country. Berry became a phenomenon and is rightly regarded as the pinnacle of the early rock sound. He inspired The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and countless others, who all pinched their signature sounds from Mr Berry. It also means, that naturally these covers have been refined and cultured to almost reach the heights of Berry’s originals.
We’ve brought you eight of our favourite covers of Chuck Berry as a way to celebrate the man behind the music and pay homage to a true rock legend. To keep things clean we’ve made sure to include only the definitive cover version, meaning there is only one version of ‘Johnny B. Goode’—otherwise we’d have a whole list of different renditions of that classic track.
Instead, we have eight different songs from Chuck Berry and eight different covers which prove the huge scope of influence the duck-walking genius truly had.
See the list, below.
The best covers of Chuck Berry:
‘Almost Grown’ – David Bowie
When David Bowie was invited to perform at the BBC as part of a session for the acclaimed DJ John Peel, he came equipped with his own songs and a special cover for all his fans—a cover of Chuck Berry’s song ‘Almost Grown.’ Originally released in 1959, Bowie takes the song to a new height on this recording.
As well as including a singer who just so happened to live on Bowie’s road, a “community” feel that pleases Peel, the version of the track is a searing and rocking rendition. It’s proof of Bowie’s love for Berry and his ability to let rip a rocker whenever he needed to.
‘Beautiful Delilah’ – The Kinks
Yet another British invasion band to take their cues from Chuck Berry was The Kinks. The band were already marking themselves out as the alternative to the Stones and Beatles but this cover put them alongside the two major groups of the moment.
The 1958 song was discovered by the Davies brothers and quickly put to work as the group fell in love with the song. In fact, they loved it so much that the single was the lead release from their self-titled debut album in 1964.
‘Around and Around’ – Grateful Dead
It may well not be the first song everyone thinks of when listing their favourite Chuck Berry songs but ‘Around and Around’—the B-side to ‘Johnny B. Goode’—has had many admirers over the years including Bowie and The Animals. But, for us, there’s no better rendition than Grateful Dead’s cover.
A song they performed for over 30 years was almost perfected by the band as they delivered some searing versions of the song on stage. Known for their mercurial on-stage performance, the Grateful Dead know their way around a cover and this one is simply brilliant.
‘Back in the U.S.A.’ – MC5
One of Berry’s defining songs, it is a reminder of his sheer songwriting power that a song like ‘Back in the U.S.A.’ has been covered by so many artists. As we’re only picking one cover per song, we’ll just tell you to go and listen to Linda Ronstadt’s version.
Meanwhile, take a listen to Detroit garage rock pioneers, MC5 and their simply roasting cover of the track. They add an intensity to the song that has rarely been matched by any other rock act since. It’s the kind of song you put on if you want to really impress your friends—comparatively unknown and utterly unforgettable.
‘Rock and Roll Music’ – The Beatles
John Lennon once said: “If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” From that, you can rightly ascertain just how big an influence Berry was on The Beatles. As well as inspiring songs like ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ Berry was also one of the artists the Fba Four covered in their early days.
While George Harrison singing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ is certainly worth revisiting, we think Lennon’s wrecking rock vocal on ‘Rock and Roll Music’ is simply unbeatable. It’s proof that Lennon and The Beatles’ love of Berry knew no bounds and saw the pioneer of rock brought into a new decade with aplomb.
‘Little Queenie’ – The Rolling Stones
Another act completely influenced by Chuck Berry was The Rolling Stones. As well as being the reason school friends Keith Richards and Mick Jagger reconnected (Jagger was holding a Berry record when the two passed each other at a train station), Berry’s songs were the first tracks the group took on.
The band’s very first single, ‘Come On’ was a Berry cover and have also shared renditions of Berry’s track ‘Carol’. But, for our money, the best cover of Berry from the Stones comes on their live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out with their performance of ‘Little Queenie’. Hearing Mick Taylor and Keith Richards trade Berry licks is about as good as it gets.
‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’ – Paul McCartney
We’ve mentioned just how much of a huge influence Chuck Berry was on The Beatles. But one man, in particular, was directly shaped by his songs—Paul McCartney. While he wasn’t quite the rocker Lennon was, Macca held a deep-rooted love for Chuck Berry. On 199’s Run Devil Run, McCartney proved it.
The first album after the tragic death of his wife Linda in 1998, Macca returned to the songs which had helped him find success with the Fab Four—the songs of the ’50s and ’60s. Unlike when he first tried covering Berry’s songs, Macca’s version of this track is unusual and has a decidedly swampy tone.
‘Johnny B. Goode’ – Jimi Hendrix
We’ve arrived at the most covered Chuck berry song of all time—’Johnny B. Goode’. Perhaps one of the ultimate rock songs ever, the amount of acts who have taken on this track is truly astronomical and a sign of just how influential Berry’s sound was. His guitar tone in the track would define a generation, a generation that included Jimi Hendrix.
The greatest guitar player to have ever walked the earth, Hendrix had first come across the song when he was a simple sideman on the Chitlin’ Circuit for acts like Isley Brothers and Little Richard. It was a song which Hendrix took with him everywhere and has been widely cited as the finest rendition of the song outside of Berry’s own. The defining performance comes from May 1970, just weeks before Hendrix’s sad death and it’s a reminder of the vast power Berry had under his belt.