“Move It” by Chuck Berry
By Ron Powers
For this month’s Flashback article I’d like to shine a light on an unrecognized gem by the inventor of rock and roll himself. In 1979 Chuck Berry released “Move It”, the first track off his nineteenth studio album (Rockit). In spite of no chart success, and little critical recognition, “Move It” has all the appeal of hits like “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Good”. The song has a ruthlessly catchy melody and a backbeat that gets your head bobbing straight away. Yes, “Move It” holds up with the best of them and remains one of my favorites by the legendary rock and roll pioneer.
The song begins with one of Berry’s signature guitar licks and then blasts off into the verse with a full band arrangement. We hear a scat rhythm from the guitar while the bass bops along with the drums and the piano sprinkles boogie woogie magic all over the mix. The lyrics of the first verse describe a fifty-five Ford broken down on the side of a highway with traffic piled up and a police officer upset about it. Like many of Berry’s songs, the lyrics used employ classic rock and roll imagery that combines with the music to create a flavor as classic as McDonald’s hamburgers.
Rather than a fixed melody and lyrics for the chorus, Chuck relies on the groove to hold the listener’s attention. This is probably why we hardly notice that the chorus does not obey the songwriting convention of repeating melody patterns. Instead, Chuck delivers a different melody variation during each of the three chorus sections of “Move It”. Although the words “move it” are repeated, the melody and lead guitar parts change each time. You would expect this to cause attention to wane, but for this particular song, it’s more about the beat than a popping chorus. By the time the chorus is introduced Berry has his listeners so deep in the rhythm, no one is worried about anything but keeping the rock and roll hypnosis going.
“Move It” employs a classic structure with three verses, three choruses, and one of Chuck’s iconic guitar solos. For the solo, Berry pulls from his legendary bag of tricks filled with the major pentatonic scale, double-stops, and rhythmically placed slides. The solo is played with attitude through a lightly overdriven guitar amp with a touch of reverb added. No extra effects or frills are added to the guitar which makes for a crisp clean rock and roll experience that I found myself listening to more than a few times.
Chuck Berry left us in 2017 but his music continues to make toes tap and hips move. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit his website (chuckberry.com), or find him on Wikipedia. If you’d like to listen to “Move It” or any of Chuck Berry’s incredible work, you can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and most places music is streamed or sold. With nearly three hundred songs recorded since 1954, you’ll have no trouble finding something to listen to.
About the Author: Ron Powers is an independent A&R specialist and music industry consultant and is constantly searching for, discovering and writing about new talent.