From the British Invasion to classic hip-hop, 15 fantastic covers of the late legend's tunes

By Eric Renner Brown
March 19, 2017 at 03:17 PM EDT
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Chuck Berry’s musicianship and charismatic performances make up only part of his legacy: His tunes also formed the bedrock of America’s rock and roll songbook. The legendary musician, who died Sunday at the age of 90, wrote enduring songs that have been interpreted by luminaries of the British Invasion, punk and heavy metal powerhouses, and hip-hop beatmakers. Here are 15 of the best covers of Berry classics by artists ranging from the Beatles to LL Cool J.

The Beatles, “Roll Over Beethoven”

As the Fab Four came into their own as songwriters, they recorded definitive versions of tracks penned by Berry, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, and more. Their take on “Roll Over Beethoven” first cropped up on With the Beatles, their November 1963 British release, before American label Capitol Records slotted it as the opening track on The Beatles’ Second Album six months later. With vocals from George Harrison, “Roll Over Beethoven” garnered moderate chart success, peaking at No. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also helped bring Berry’s music to fresh audiences: In November 1964, Chess Records reissued some of his tunes as St. Louis to Liverpool to capitalize on young audiences obsessed with bands like the Beatles.

The Rolling Stones, “Carol”

“Best Chuck Berry cover” could be the first point of contention in the eternal Beatles versus Stones debate. Like their rivals, the British rockers honed their craft covering American artists, and their interpretations of Berry songs are essential components of their history. The Stones’ 1963 debut single, “Come On,” was a Berry original; their take on Berry’s “Carol,” off their eponymous 1964 debut, was an early showcase for Mick Jagger’s howl. They’d later perform a chugging rendition of the latter tune on the 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!

Jimi Hendrix, “Johnny B. Goode”

Before becoming a superstar, the guitar god served as a sideman on the Chitlin’ Circuit for Berry-adjacent acts including the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. Hendrix’s most commonly cited rendition of “Johnny B. Goode,” from a May 1970 gig months before his death, is chock-full of the six-string acrobatics on which he built his name. It later appeared on the 1972 live album Hendrix in the West and hit No. 35 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

David Bowie, “Round and Round”

Originally recorded in 1971 during the Ziggy Stardust sessions, Bowie released his version of “Around and Around” (with a slightly altered name) as a B-side to Aladdin Sane single “Drive-In Saturday” in 1973. With its breakneck tempo and explosive Mick Ronson guitar solo, the cut epitomizes Bowie’s early ’70s style and matches stylistically with tunes like “Suffragette City” and “Panic in Detroit.”

Electric Light Orchestra, “Roll Over Beethoven”

As rock and roll transitioned into the sonic experimentation of the ’70s, so did Chuck Berry covers. On their second album, symphonic art-rockers Electric Light Orchestra took Berry’s wordplay literally, opening their 1973 version of “Roll Over Beethoven” with an orchestral rendition of the famed opening of the German composer’s Fifth Symphony. And clocking in at over eight minutes, that’s just the first stop on the band’s wild cover, which blends daring string arrangements and blaring brass with the piano, guitar, and vocal melodies of Berry’s original.

Emmylou Harris, “(You Can Never Tell) C’est La Vie”

Replete with fiddles and steel guitars, the lead single off Harris’ 1977 album, Luxury Liner, is one of country music’s great tributes to Berry. Both breezy and bracing, Harris’ cover confirms the kinship between Berry’s foundational rock and country music; her recording hit No. 6 on Billboard’s country singles chart.

Grateful Dead, “Around and Around / Johnny B. Goode”

When they weren’t going on cosmic explorations of their own, the Grateful Dead were devoted students of folk, country, and early rock and roll. Though songs by Johnny Cash, Willie Dixon, and Merle Haggard also became staples of their sprawling live shows, Berry’s tunes were the most commonly covered by the Dead. Between “The Promised Land,” “Around and Around,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” hobbyist statisticians estimate the band performed the rocker’s songs upwards of 1,100 times. Singer-guitarist Bob Weir led the charge on Berry cuts, which the Dead often used to open and close sets.

Elton John, “Johnny B. Goode”

John’s 1979 album Victim of Love is something of an outlier in his catalog. It’s his hit-or-miss take on the disco craze and opens with a bizarre cover of “Johnny B. Goode” that tops eight minutes. Sure, there are the soulful backing vocals, wailing saxes, and molten electric guitars that defined John’s best work — but there’s also funky bass over a Saturday Night Fever-worthy rhythm track.

Sex Pistols, “Johnny B. Goode”

Like many of rock’s pioneers, Berry was seen as a rebel by older generations — so it’s logical that subsequent musical firebrands would find inspiration in his music. When The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, a 1980 film starring the Sex Pistols that exaggerated their origin story, hit theaters, frontman Johnny Rotten had already left the group. But filmmakers salvaged vocals from the punk icon’s demos for the soundtrack, including his snarling, profanity-laced version of “Johnny B. Goode.”

Peter Tosh, “Johnny B. Goode”

Berry’s music informed genres beyond rock and its derivatives. As British artists were appropriating American blues and rock, Jamaican musicians were drawing on jazz and rhythm and blues to form the style that would eventually become reggae. While in the Wailers with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh would cover James Brown and Curtis Mayfield — and he’d continue honoring American artists when he went solo. For his interpretation of “Johnny B. Goode” off 1983’s Mama Africa, Tosh updated its lyrics (“Deep down in Jamaica, close to Mandeville”) and transformed the tune from a tightly wound ditty into a brassy dub jam.

LL Cool J, “Go Cut Creator Go”

As hip-hop beatmakers dug through dusty record crates to repurpose vintage soul and blues for the burgeoning genre, they inevitably turned to Berry’s beloved riffs. For “Go Cut Creator Go” off his 1987 album Bigger and Deffer, LL Cool J deployed the “Johnny B. Goode” riff as a pre-chorus bridge. He also loosely interpreted Berry’s lyrics for his own, autobiographical verses: “Way back in the days before I clocked some dough / I used to go to the show and sit in the front row.”

Judas Priest, “Johnny B. Goode”

Judas Priest’s barreling “Johnny B. Goode” soars with the arena-ready grandiosity of late ’80s heavy metal. And audiences ate the cover up: Priest’s 1988 recording of the tune reached No. 47 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Paul McCartney, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”

On 1999’s Run Devil Run, Paul McCartney’s first album after the 1998 death of his wife, Linda, the former Beatle returned to the ’50s and ’60s songs that initially informed his writing style. Recorded three-and-a-half decades after the Beatles put their spin on Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” McCartney captured a completely different vibe, loading the cut with accordion for a breezy, Cajun feel.

Green Day, “Johnny B. Goode”

The pop-punk trio has long played decades-spanning medleys at their concerts, covering artists from Jefferson Airplane to Journey to Guns N’ Roses. But “Johnny B. Goode” occupies a special place in frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s heart: Last year, he told EW it was the first song he learned to play on guitar. “It shaped everything I did after that, subconsciously, for the rest of my life,” Armstrong said.

M. Ward, “Roll Over Beethoven”

The indie-folk artist has consistently revived vintage rock and country sounds, and his ebullient, scuzzy take on “Roll Over Beethoven,” released as a B-side to his 2012 single “Primitive Girl,” demonstrates how the fundamentals of Berry’s style continue to influence the genre a half-century later.