23 Best Chuck Berry Songs: Discover the Original Rock Legend

chuck berry songs
Chuck Berry at the Live Festivals 2013 in Germany. Image by DonClemente12F67 on Wikimedia Commons.

Last updated on April 19th, 2023 at 11:40 am

Though the title usually goes to Elvis Presley, many consider Chuck Berry the real king of rock n’ roll.

Chuck Berry and a handful of other 1950s greats like Little Richard and Fats Domino had a large hand in the invention of rock n’ roll.

He’s known equally for his legendary riffs, influential guitar playing, and songwriting, especially his lyrics, which elevated rock to a form of poetry.

Looking to discover this influential music icon? Check out our list of the 23 best Chuck Berry songs for your next playlist.

The 23 Best Chuck Berry Songs

23. “My Ding-A-Ling”

What was Chuck Berry’s biggest song? Unfortunately, that’d be “My Ding-A-Ling,” a novelty hit from 1972.

Humor and novelty songs have always had a place in rock n’ roll, it’s just kind of sad that such a legendary artist is saddled with this as his most successful song.

It hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972 and stayed there for two weeks.

22. “Don’t You Lie to Me”

In 1975, Chuck Berry came out with his final release on legendary blues label Chess Records.

The self-titled album includes one of the best lesser-known Chuck Berry songs, “Don’t You Lie To Me.”

It hearkens to his 50s heyday in its guitar playing, lyrics, and Chuck Berry swagger. The horns are a nice touch.

21. “California”

After he left Chess, Berry recorded one album for Atko Records, 1979’s Rockit.

It’s a nice collection of throwbacks and material that updated his signature sound.

“California,” one of the best 1970s Chuck Berry songs, is a fun ode to the Golden State.

Part country and part boogie-woogie, “California” finds Berry reveling in its simple pleasures, including palm trees, beaches, and glitzy nightlife.

Fortunately, Berry didn’t make the same mistake as many old rockers. There’s no disco on Rockit.

20. “Back in the U.S.A.”

There are many rock and roll songs about America. “Back in the U.S.A.” is Chuck Berry’s contribution.

The “Johnny B. Goode” singer was inspired to write “Back in the U.S.A.” after returning from a trip to Australia.

In it, he celebrates by listing some of his favorite cities, culminating in his hometown of St. Louis.

He also mentions the finer things America offers, like drive-ins and cafes.

Linda Ronstadt’s 1978 cover was a hit, and it of course inspired the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

Related: The Best 15 Female Country Singers of All Time: Who Made the List? 

19. “School Days”

Chuck Berry’s lyrics are well-known for simply and poetically describing American life.

He’s called the first poet of rock n’ roll because he could relate the lives of normal people in an elevated way.

“School Days” shows how he also got to the heart of rock’s primary audience, teenagers.

It’s simple but subtly psychological, mentioning “workin’ your fingers right down to the bone” and considering yourself “fortunate if you have time to eat.”

18. “Eyes of Man”

When Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017, the world lost a founding father of rock n’ roll.

Fortunately, he left us with some great music, even late in his career.

“Eyes of Man” is one of the best later-era Chuck Berry songs. It’s from his final album, 2017 swansong Chuck.

Fittingly, as it’s the last song on his last release, “Eyes of Man” is about how all things must pass:

So be the temples that men have cherished

Crumbled in the ruins to rot and rust

No lies each pillar and arch to perish

Doomed to decay and rot and rust

Berry speak-sings the lyrics over a subdued rock beat that is a perfect sendoff to the original king of rock n’ roll.

17. “Thirty Days”

Chuck Berry filled the history of rock with gems like “Thirty Days.”

 The structure of “Thirty Days” is like another Berry classic, “Maybellene.” It’s also similarly influenced by country music stars like Hank Williams.

“Thirty Days” encapsulates rock n’ roll by incorporating rhythm and blues and country without losing the essence of either one.

Related: How did Hank Williams Die? A Not-So-Happy New Year 

16. “Nadine”

On upbeat rocker “Nadine,” Berry explores the feelings of searching for a lover who is just out of reach.

Like the most essential Chuck Berry songs, it tells a relatable story in a way that proves why he’s rightly called rock n’ roll’s first poet.

15. “You Can’t Catch Me”

Another of Chuck Berry’s important additions to popular music, 1956 single “You Can’t Catch Me” is well-known for the pain it caused John Lennon.

The opening line of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” “here come old flat top he come/grooving up slowly” is lifted almost verbatim from “You Can’t Catch Me.”

The ensuing lawsuit caused Lennon lots of time and money, in addition to forcing him to cover a handful of songs from the owners of Berry’s music.

Filled with images of America, like many of the best Chuck Berry songs it evokes the classic American spirit of its time.

Simply, it’s an upbeat jump blues about cars and girls. Can’t get more American than that.

Related: The Tragic Story of John Lennon’s Demise 

14. “You Never Can Tell”

After the British Invasion hit in 1963 there was renewed interest in Chuck Berry. The result was a couple of his first hits in years, one being “Nadine,” the other “You Can Never Tell.”

One of his biggest hits, “You Never Can Tell” hit #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1964. Berry’s subtle vocal performance on “You Never Can Tell” shows that he was one of the best singers of his era.

Its swinging, storytelling qualities influenced tracks like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “It Came Out of the Sky.”

Related: The 30 Best 70s Songs: Classic Rock, Punk, Disco, and Some Serious Wild Cards 

13. “Little Queenie”

Of Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton once said, “there is not a lot of other ways to play rock and roll other than like Chuck plays it.”

He proves it on this rocker, where our hero gives another teenager’s lament that surely spoke directly to the earliest fans of rock n’ roll.

A fun song with some cool, different-sounding talk-singing, “Little Queenie” was famously covered in the 1960s by the Rolling Stones, who were at least as big of fans of Berry as the Beatles.

Chess great Fred Below plays drums on this one.

Related: The Rolling Stones: A Wild Story of Struggle and Success 

12. “Run Rudolph Run”

You can’t go a Christmas season without hearing “Run Rudolph Run” more times than you’d probably like to.

We’re glad that it exists, though, for the same reason we’re grateful for Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again”: it’s just nice to have holiday classics from these guys that we’ll always be able to listen to.

And, of course, it gave a memorable backdrop to the airport scene in Home Alone II.

Related: The 30 Best Christmas Songs of All Time 

11. “Too Much Monkey Business”

Underrated “Too Much Monkey Business” finds Berry once again reaching into his poetic mind for a rumination on the hustle and bustle of ordinary life.

The verses are almost rap-sounding, with our guitar hero listing off a list of all the things that bring him down on a daily basis in a rapid-fire style.

As on so of the best Chuck Berry songs, it’s also about the dilemmas of teenage life: “Same thing every day/getting up/going to school/no need for me to complain/my objection’s overruled.” 

 Beatles covers like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock n’ Roll Music” are well-known, but their version of “Too Much Monkey Business” from a BBC session in the early 60s totally scorches.

Related: 15 Interesting Facts About the Beatles 

 10. “Carol”

What was Chuck Berry’s first top 40 hit? That’d be “Carol,” which peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958.

Another of the many influential rockers in Chuck Berry’s catalog, “Carol”’s riff is similar to “Johnny B. Goode,” but its groove and energy are completely different.

The fills between every line of the verses are among Berry’s most tasteful.

9. “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”

What is Chuck Berry most famous for? Inventing rock n’ roll, basically.

On a simpler level, he’s revered for his guitar playing and inventive songwriting.

The latter is on display on “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” a unique song in his catalog.

Though it’s filled with typically great Berry riffs, it has a stronger, more expansive melody than a lot of material.

The story song was one of Buddy Holly’s posthumous hits and has also been covered by Paul McCartney and Johnny Cash (featuring his Sun Records friend, “Blue Suede Shoes” singer Carl Perkins).

Related: Johnny Cash’s Complete Story of Life and Death 

8. “Around and Around”

Many people have been introduced to Chuck Berry songs through other people’s versions. There have been hundreds of popular covers of his songs.

The Rolling Stones had a memorable version of “Around and Around,” David Bowie covered it in a glam style, and even Led Zeppelin used to cover it at sound checks.

He updated the song for 70s hit “Reelin’ and Rockin’.”

Related: The History of the Greatest Musicians of All-Time: Led Zeppelin 

7. “No Particular Place to Go”

Chuck Berry was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in its first class for a reason: his discography is filled with iconic tracks like popular “No Particular Place to Go.”

Using the same melody as “School Days,” it relays the glories of driving around with a lover having “no particular place to go.”

That’s the genius of Chuck Berry: in song after song, he related the normal, everyday happenings of real people in direct, exciting ways.

Early rock n’ roll doesn’t get any better than “No Particular Place to Go.”

6. “Sweet Little Sixteen”

Does “Sweet Little Sixteen” sound familiar? Famously, the Beach Boys nicked the melody of it for one of their most popular recordings, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

“Sweet Sixteen” is yet another tune that displays Berry’s ability to relate to rock n’ roll’s sizeable teenage audience. He’s even able to penetrate the female psyche on this one.

5. “Memphis, Tennessee”

Interestingly, Berry plays almost all the instruments on “Memphis, Tennessee,” making it one of the earliest hits with overdubs.

He plays multiple guitar parts and the bass on it.

The star of the show, though, is slick, tumbling backbeat from drummer Jasper Thomas.

I know I’ve (rightly) referred to Chuck Berry as a poet throughout this article, but “Memphis, Tennessee” is another prime example.

Though it loses its power with repeated listening, the surprise ending of what seems to be a man looking to get in touch with his sweetheart is still pretty cool.

Johnny Rivers had a hit with “Memphis, Tennessee” in 1964.

4. “Roll Over Beethoven”

What Beatles song is inspired by Chuck Berry? Well, practically all of them, but especially “Roll Over Beethoven.”

The Beatles version, with lead guitarist George Harrison on vocals, can be found on their 1963 album With the Beatles. Another popular cover was done by the Electric Light Orchestra in the early ‘70s.

One of those classic rock ‘n roll songs, “Roll Over Beethoven” features one of the very best Chuck Berry riffs.

Not only is it one of the best Chuck Berry songs, it’s one of the best songs ever. Rolling Stone even listed it as the #97 best rock song of all time.

Related: The 10 Best Beatles Songs, 1963-1966 

3. “Rock and Roll Music”

No jukebox would be complete without a 45 of “Rock n’ Roll Music.”

A pillar of classic rock, “Rock and Roll Music” is an ode to, well, rock n’ roll music. Berry proclaims rock’s superiority over a high-energy backing from his friends at Chess Records.

“Rock and Roll Music” also features a classic Berry chorus with a descending melody line that works as a fantastic hook.

2. “Maybellene”

Chuck Berry’s first single for Chess Records, “Maybellene,” is one of the first rock songs.

Some might point to Elvis songs like “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Jailhouse Rock,” or even “Rock Around the Clock.”

But “Maybellene” pre-dates them, in addition to getting to the core of rock music in a more clever way.

John Lennon once said that another name for rock n’ roll could be Chuck Berry. Similarly, rock n’ roll basically is “Maybellene.”

The spirit of rock is there in all its glory: the coolness and upbeat nature of rhythm and blues with a bit of the feel and twang of country and western music.

In fact, “Maybellene” is a send-up of old folk country song “Ida Red.”

Though it didn’t hit the pop charts, it also set the tone for rockabilly. Its energy can be felt in genres as far afield of 50s classic rock as punk.

1. “Johnny B. Goode”

Chuck Berry has some of the most memorable songs and riffs in rock n’ roll history. It doesn’t get any more legendary than his anthem, “Johnny B. Goode.”

“Johnny B. Goode” is an autobiographical story of a young boy who knows that his path in life is to play guitar and “see his name in lights.” Berry indeed fulfilled the dreams of the song’s subject.

Every rock guitarist worth their salt will cut their teeth on “Johnny B. Good.”

Everyone from Elvis Presley to Jimi Hendrix did their own interpretation, but the best is this rad version Chuck did with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band.

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Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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