When The Beatles sprung to the charts in the early 1960s, their main influences had been quite obviously rooted in the earliest form of blues-based rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. The Beatles took bountiful inspiration from American greats like Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Buddy Holly. But one musician they appeared particularly enamoured with was Chuck Berry.
As Paul McCartney once wrote in a blog on his website: “From the first minute we heard the great guitar intro to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ we became fans of the great Chuck Berry,” he explained. “His stories were more like poems than lyrics — the likes of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ or ‘Maybellene.’”
“To us, he was a magician making music that was exotic yet normal at the same time,” Paul recalled. “We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock ‘n’ roll music. Chuck was and is forever more one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest legends all over the world.” Paul said he couldn’t put into words how much Berry had meant to the Fab Four.
During their live shows in the early 1960s, The Beatles would regularly pull a cover or two from the locker to tribute their favourite rock artists. Naturally, Chuck Berry’s hits were a common feature of their live shows, and his compositions were even included in The Beatles’ studio releases. A cover of Berry’s classic ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ featured in the 1963 album With The Beatles and ‘Rock and Roll Music’ featured in the 1964 album Beatles for Sale.
Chuck Berry once revealed that he had a great deal of respect for The Beatles in return. He revealed that his favourite song of theirs was ‘Yesterday’. “I [had] heard [Beatles music] in America,” he recalled. “My appreciation of music is not actually with an artist, but it’s with a song. Of course, the artist is involved. But each song has its own glory, and ‘Yesterday’ was the highest of The Beatles.”
He later piled praise on The Beatles for their rendition of ‘Rock and Roll Music’. “I thought it was wonderful,” he said. Berry discussed how the Beatles’ copied the work of others. “One thing that The Beatles did when they copied other artists, they laid with not only the feeling but the music which was great because you can recognise right off that it’s the original artist’s number,” he said. “It’s like The Beatles playing from the written scroll which is great because everybody recognises it.”
Listen to The Beatles’ classic cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Rock and Roll Music’ below.