John Lennon is often seen as a lyrical poet — but he had a lot of praise for a “rock poet” who came before him. In addition, John said he got someone very close to him to appreciate this rock icon’s music. Interestingly, John said this rocker was a major influence on Bob Dylan.
The rock star John Lennon thought was ‘in a different class’
Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone interviewed John at length in the 1971 book Lennon Remembers. Late in the book, Wenner asked John which artists he admired. John praised Andy Warhol, Frederico Fellini, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and the 1950s rock stars Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. He lavished praise on rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry.
“Chuck Berry is one of the all-time great poets,” John said, “a rock poet you could call him. He was well advanced of his time lyric-wise. We all owe a lot to him, including [Bob] Dylan. I’ve loved everything he’s done, ever. He was in a different class from the other performers, he was in the tradition of the great blues artists but he really wrote his own stuff – I know [Little] Richard did, but Berry really wrote stuff, just the lyrics were fantastic, even though we didn’t know what he was saying half the time.”
What it was like when John Lennon introduced a fellow musician to Chuck Berry’s work
Yoko Ono chimed in and said she was beginning to appreciate Berry’s music. In addition, John had to learn to enjoy Yoko’s avant-garde work.
“I had to open up to hear [Yoko’s music],” John said. “I had to get out the concept of what I wanted to hear … [and] allow abstract art or music in. She had to do the same for rock ‘n’ roll, it was an intellectual exercise because we’re all boxed in.”
What Bob Dylan had to say about Chuck Berry
John said Berry was a huge influence on Dylan, another rock artist who’s seen as a poet. Is there any truth to John’s claim? Dylan discussed Berry in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview.
In that interview, Dylan said Berry influenced him — but he didn’t influence the music he made. Dylan didn’t want to write rock ‘n’ roll songs because he worried that would make him a lesser version of Berry. Instead, he had to write songs distinct from rock n’ roll. Perhaps that is why Dylan primarily wrote folk and folk-rock songs as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll songs.
Although Dylan purposely designed his output to be different from Berry’s, he admired Berry. According to NME, Dylan praised Berry for being a poet — just as John had. It’s a testament to Berry’s musical prowess that the writers of such classic songs as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” admired his work.