Chuck Berry: 20 Essential Songs

"Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" and other masterpieces that laid the groundwork for rock & roll as we know it

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"School Days" (1957)

Chuck Berry was 30 years old when he sat down to write "School Days," a.k.a. "School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell)," but you'd never know it from the song's vivid evocation of the quotidian experience of high school, from mean-mugged teachers to crowded lunchrooms ("it's fortunate if you have time to eat!"). Its stop-start chugging, punctuated by Berry’s cheeky guitar fills, is a sound he'd return to again and again – here, it's propelled by some of the same musicians who played on Howlin' Wolf’s unearthly singles, including guitarist Hubert Sumlin. The song's lyrics helped establish rock & roll as a direct chronicler of teen America's experience, especially in its most famous line, still one of the greatest couplets rock ever gave us: "Hail, hail rock & roll,” Berry proclaimed, "deliver me from the days of old." The details in the song come straight from Berry’s own life, as he wrote in his autobiography: "The lyrics depict the way it was in my time. … The phrases came to me spontaneously, and rhyming took most of the time that was spent on the song." And the rhythmic breaks were meant to "emphasize the jumps and changes I found in classes in high school compared to the one room and one teacher I had in elementary school."

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