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Morning Song – Maybellene

March 23, 2017

ADR (all due respect), and I know he was one of the people that started rock & roll, but really, why all the fuss about Chuck Berry?” asked one of the young ‘uns in the Music Department here at MassCommons World Headquarters earlier this week.

The stunned silence from our senior staff was broken by our oldest (and, ADR, most pedantic) employee, who replied enigmatically, “Have you ever seen the Billboard pop and R & B charts from 1955?“.

From today’s vantage point, Billboard’s 1955 pop chart looks like a record of a passing era. It’s filled with groups like the McGuire Sisters, the Four Aces, and the Chordettes, and solo acts like Roger Williams, Joan Weber and Bill Hayes who’ve left virtually no impression on subsequent pop music.

It’s a different story on the R&B chart: Etta James, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, the Penguins and the Drifters are just some of the artists with their first #1 hits that year.

And towering above them all, with an unmatched 11 consecutive weeks at #1 that year, was Chuck Berry with “Maybellene”. A country song with a blues backbeat and what we now think of as rock & roll guitar leads (because they’re Chuck Berry guitar leads), “Maybellene’s” combination of fast cars, sex, danger and excitement proved irresistible to audiences and record buyers across the country.

Something like rock & roll was going to emerge in the mid-1950s. (Just look at Bill Haley & the Comets at the top of the 1955 pop charts for 8 weeks with “Rock Around The Clock”.) What did emerge sounded more like Chuck Berry than Bill Haley (ADR)…or pretty much anyone else. That’s what all the fuss is about.

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