by Chuck Berry
Everybody knows Chuck Berry. They know he’s a legend, a guitar god before the world had guitar gods. I’ve heard his songs my whole life, we all have, and we still hear them. With good reason, I say.
Maybellene is a smoking track, Berry’s first single, pressed by the also legendary Chess Records in 1955. Based on an old country hit, “Ida Red”, Maybellene is Rock and Roll’s old-folded road map. The beat is ingeniously rudimentary and fiercely driving. The lyrics sing of love lost and fast cars. And most importantly, the guitar play makes you want to jump out of your seat.
I’m unsure of the actual recording process but desperate to know the details. By the sound of it, they must have gathered the band in a small, hot, single room, threw up a single lonely microphone and let the boys go to work. There is no separation in the instrumentation. The players sort of fade in and out of hearing, like a live performance. It’s beautiful. There are slight mistakes, here and there, and you can hear actual tape decay and noise on the master.
I’ve had many, many discussions, with varied listening ears, speaking on the beginnings of Punk Rock. Maybellene is my champion every time. It’s about as raw as a track can get, dirty, and simple. It made legions of wannabes pick up the guitar. Listen to the solo. Berry doesn’t know where he’s going, you can tell he’s just winging it, and pioneering “rocking-the-fuck-out” in the process. A moment of trail-blazing that is plain to see.
Unfortunately, as well as being a rock god, Chuck Berry is also a tremendous douche bag, if you believe what is written about him. He, famously, will not step onto the stage until the door money is in his hand, refuses to pay opening acts while simultaneously using their equipment, won’t sign autographs, etc. But all that doesn’t really matter. What’s important is of course the music, and this track kills.
Every time I hear it, it makes me want to start a Rock and Roll band. Even though you’ve certainly heard it a million times already, listen to it again. It deserves another spin.