Chuck Berry Lester Bangs - Essay

Lester Bangs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

So many grit-jive geniuses—Elvis, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley—have turned stiff in their old age. That's why it's a double delight to find Berry, the original poet and scribe of rock and roll, who in many life-worshipping ways exceeded his Minnesota son-in-law [Bob Dylan], as fresh and as effortlessly committed [in his new album, Concerto in B Goode] as he ever was.

The first side of this album includes four of his recent compositions. You won't get tired of them. They don't relate to Sixties dope-balling, or the feel of police truncheons crunching into skullbone but they do ring true, and two of them exude the marvelous old Berry wit, something a great many of today's owl-faced artrockers would do well to pick up on. Rock is an ailing form without its sense of humor, and Chuck Berry defined a whole comic sensibility. He has not lost that gift: "It's Too Dark In Here" tells the story of a sheltered chick who finds danger wherever her date takes her….

The entirety of side two is given over to "Concerto in B Goode," an eighteen-minute flood of instrumental interpolations on Johnny B. Goode and all of his relatives. For all the thematic and improvisatory repetition, you can't help but dig it, because it's so happy, driving, and exuberant, everflowing with the spirit of life joyously lived—the essential spirit of our music…. On and on and on flows Chuck Berry, duckwalking his great Gibson guitar down the cluttered corridors of rock history. I suspect he'll still be wailing wisely when the current crop of overpublicized Sensations have faded with their forerunners back into the obscure footnotes of the chronicle of our art.

Lester Bangs, "Records: 'Concerto in B Goode'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1969; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 39, August 9, 1969, p. 37.