From The Clash to Joy Division: Chuck Berry savagely reviews bands from the 1980s
We’re digging deep into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a very special moment between some of our favourite artists as Chuck Berry, the King of rock ‘n’ roll, savagely reviews iconic bands such as Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads, and Joy Divison.
In 1980 the music scene was a bubbling pot of fervent creative energy. With the punk explosion having morphed into new wave and beyond, the climate for genre definition and musical tribalism was at its highest. To put it simply, it was like a gangland out there.
One man who was unaffected by all that genre nonsense was rock and roll icon, Chuck Berry. In this classic interview from St Louis-based punk zine Jet Lag, the guitar pioneer reviews work from The Clash, Sex Pistols, Joy Division and many more, offering up a scathing scowl upon the future of music.
As well as reviewing some records, the legend also opened up a little about what it’s like to be Chuck Berry, the artist and the man himself. The interviewer insists the star has a methodology to his writing, namely using melodies that Berry knows kids will dance to with lyrics for the adults.
Berry is succinct in his reply: “My purpose was always to show how people felt… There are times when I will capture my own personal feelings on record. But those feelings are similar to others who have at one time or another encountered them.”
It’s a notion that doesn’t ring true with the punk ethos of the times. Pushing further, the interviewer asks if the legend had ever thought about using music as an outlet for any anger or anguish he may have. Berry replies, “No, I’ve thought about it, but I’ve always felt that people don’t want to hear your personal problems, they have enough of their own. Music should be made for people to forget their problems, if only for a short while.”
While you can read the full interview in the snipping from the original mag below, the real beauty of the interview comes with Berry’s, at times quite savage, reviews of the contemporary artists of the time.
Sex Pistols – ‘God Save the Queen’
“What’s this guy so angry about anyway?” says Berry of Johnny Rotten’s incandescent shouting. “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,” he added. It would seem there is no room for poetry in punk according to the late, great Chuck Berry.
The Clash – ‘Complete Control’
Another punk classic, this one from The Clash has gone down as a fan-favourite for a long time—but to Berry, it sounds much like the rest of punk.
“Sounds like the first one. The rhythm and chording work well together. Did this guy have a sore throat when he sang the vocals?” asks Berry about Strummer’s unforgettable cadence.
The Romantics – ‘What I Like About You’ / 20-20 – ‘Oh Cheri’ / The Beat – ‘Different Kind of Girl’
Not picking out any song in particular from this range of bouncing songs, Berry is clearly more pleased to hear a little more groove in the records: “Finally something you can dance to,” he says.
“Sounds a lot like the sixties with some of my riffs thrown in for good measure.” Still, it wouldn’t be Berry without a little bit of aggression, “You say this is new? I’ve heard this stuff plenty of times. I can’t understand the big fuss.”
The Ramones – ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’
New York’s finest punk bands, the Ramones, were also given a review from Berry. And while he does agree that the song is “a good little jump number,” the foursome don’t avoid a few barbs.
“These guys remind me of myself when I first started, I only knew three chords too,” he adds. While we all knew of the Ramones perceived limitations, there’s something particularly cutting about Berry’s words.
The Gladiators – ‘Sweet So Still’ / Toots & The Maytals – ‘Funky Kingston’ / The Selecter – ‘On The Radio’
Finally, we get to something Berry really likes as he goes through a more two-tone selection of tracks. With pure ska from Toots & The Maytals and the iconic British two-tone band Selecter, it seems that Berry is a fan.
“This is good, real smooth and soulful,” Berry commented. “Real good to bump and shuffle to. Sounds a bit like my old buddy Bo Diddley, only slower. I tried something similar on a song called ‘Havana Moon’.”
Dave Edmunds – ‘Queen of Hearts’
“This is more like it.” Yes, we’ve finally cracked him. Now, Berry is in full appreciation mode as he approves of Edmunds’ classic.
“This guy’s got a real touch for rock and roll, a real gut feeling.” In fact, Berry likes him so much he thinks he may be able to help him out with some work. “Has he ever made it big? Well, if he ever needs a job, I could use him.”
Talking Heads – ‘Psycho Killer’
There are not many people who can hear Tina Weymouth’s iconic opening bassline for 1975’s ‘Psycho Killer’ and not be captivated. Luckily, Berry is one of those people too.
“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 – ‘I Am the Fly’ / Joy Division – ‘Unknown Pleasures’
When Berry is then given a taste of what came after punk, the murky waters of post-punk, the king of rock ‘n’ roll is less than pleased, “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.” While we’re not exactly aligned on this summary of the two bands, as pioneering as they were, Berry confirms, “The instruments may be different but the experiment’s the same.”