Chuck Berry

Icons of the Century

Who are the greatest poets in the history of rock? The names Lennon-McCartney, Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Mick Jagger, Van Morrison come to mind.

But consider: “I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back and started walking toward a coffee-colored Cadillac,” wrote Chuck Berry in “Nadine.”

Nobody beat Berry’s cinematic eye and sensual love of language, contemporary Americana, teen-courting rituals … and cars.

He duck-walked, played a chiming guitar and leered but, most important, was the “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” who subtly addressed racism in his lyrics while unsubtly proving that an African-American rocker (this was the ’50s, remember?) was as witty, elegant and perceptive as Cole Porter and Noel Coward while keeping it real as a plate of beans and rice.

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