Thursday, April 22, 2010

Buddy Holly v. Chuck Berry - Songwriter Match Up #1

The first songwriter match up – Chuck Berry v Buddy Holly & The Crickets – has turned out to be quite a challenge. Both were such great pioneers in a number of areas.

Buddy Holly was one of the first artists to write their own songs and produce their own music. He was also one of the first to use the recording technique of multi tracking (which had just been invented by Les Paul). Up until this time, most artists would often just record live on one microphone. Buddy Holly and the Crickets was one of the first to feature what might well be the most common band configuration; lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums.

Chuck Berry revolutionized the sound of rock guitar borrowing freely from boogie, swing and soul. His sound was famous for its use of two-note chords or double stops played fast and furious infused with the edge and energy that supercharged the rock'n'roll era. He also was a great showman and his trademark duck-walk and one legged-hop.

Lyrics – Chuck Berry

I had to give Chuck Berry the nod lyrically. His songs are about the classic rock'n'roll themes – cars, women, high school etc. I think there is more humor in his lyrics than you will find in Buddy Holly's songs – listen to “Too Much Monkey Business” or “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”. Ten points for Chuck.

Composition – Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was such a pioneer in the studio and he had such talent as a composer that I have to go with him over Chuck Berry in this. There is a greater variety of sounds in the body of his work and he was moving towards to more complexity. Listen to the string arrangements in songs such as “True Love Ways” and the instrumental middle section of “Everyday”. Ten points for Buddy.

Influence – Chuck Berry

This was a tough call – but overall I feel that Chuck Berry should get the nod here. So many of the great classic rock bands either covered his hits or else ripped off his guitar licks! Buddy Holly songs were also covered by lots of other artists as well but not so many at such a pivotal time – The Beatles, Stones and Yardbirds all covered Chuck Berry songs. Five points for Chuck Berry.

Originality – Buddy Holly

I'm going with Buddy Holly here. His whole rock'n'roll geek look as well as mixture of pop and rock'n'roll helped define a new direction for music and bands. His role as an innovator in the studio also compels me to give Buddy Holly the edge. Five Points for Buddy Holly.

Durability – Draw

I admit it – I wimped out here. I think Chuck Berry's lyrics are definitely more rooted in the late 50's – whereas Buddy Holly's lyrics are more timeless in their expression of teenage love. But Berry's signature rebellious and energetic riffs and rhythms sound as good today as they did back then.

So the final verdict... A draw.


  1. COME ON! I like Buddy Holly also, but there's absolutely no doubt that Chuck Berry is the greater, more significant songwriter. The man single-handedly raised Rock and Roll to an art form with his impeccable songcraft. He proved that this new music that many considered a fad, that was mostly comprised of catchphrases and nonsense talk (be bop a lula, womp bop a lu bop) could actually support complete narratives, and could be a vehicle for personal stories and individual expression. Chuck is the single most important ARTIST in the early development of Rock and Roll music as an art form. If Rock and Roll were a car, Elvis would be the sexy body that got you to walk onto the car lot, but when you lifted the'd find that it's all Chuck!!! Hail Hail Rock and Roll and Hail Chuck Berry!!

  2. Chuck Berry has had much greater influence on the breadth and depth of music in general today. Chuck Berry is the man.

  3. Thanks for the feedback. I love your analogy "If Rock and Roll were a car..."

    One correction though, whamp bob a lu bob was Little Richard.

  4. I too call it a draw, I lean to Chuck because of the depth of his catalog. Then I sway back to Buddy because he did what he did in an 18 month professional career. "I was Buddy Holly" John Lennon.

  5. In terms of importance, impact and influence, I believe most music critics would go for this order:

    1) Elvis Presley
    2) Chuck Berry
    3) Little Richard
    4) Buddy Holly

    1. elvis didn't write his own material. buddy holly #1, hands down.

  6. This is an old post, but you forgot that the Stones and the Beatles covered Buddy Holly songs also. In fact, The Beatles (especially Lennon) cited Holly as their major influence.

  7. I honestly can't choose. They're my two favorite artists.



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