“That’s All Right” is generally considered to be the first rock and roll song. And there’s certainly an argument to be made for that. But rock and roll got its attitude about a year later with Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”.
In under three minutes, Berry sets the standard for many classic rock and roll singles: sex, cars, a jealous narrator, a hot girl, and an element of danger. It’s here that rock and roll was presented as a young man’s past-time. Berry’s narrator doesn’t try to woo his girl with flowers or say he loves her. Instead, he goes on a high-speed car chase to take her back.
And that’s just the lyrics. Berry’s sound on “Maybellene” was new and exciting to many radio listeners. Almost any guitar-based song has its origins in this song. The guitar is in the fore-front and is central to the song’s urgency and youthful energy. Berry’s chugging rhythm feels exudes sex. When Berry goes for the solo, you practically smell the burningtires and smoke from the chase.
Without Berry and “Maybellene” rock and roll would be entirely different. Who knows where it would have ended up? Keith Richards has spent the better part of 50 years chasing the riff of “Maybellene” while half of Bruce Springsteen’s songs have their origin here.