As Rock and Roll is concerned, there was no one bigger than Chuck Berry–no one that more great musicians credited with their own successes, and no one more synonymous with the music multiple generations think of when they hear a singer holding a guitar leading a band with a lively, loud, and fast rhythm, bending guitar strings and blending styles, as well as the very image of the brash, cocky headliner across the world today we know simply as the “rock star”. Berry passed away this weekend at the age of 90. Unforgettable hits Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, No Particular Place To Go, Roll Over Beethoven, My Ding-a-Ling, My Tambourine, and Sweet Little Sixteen only highlight his long career.
Even modern generations know his name thanks to a joke in Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox plays his trademark song Johnny B. Goode with a band that happens to include a fictional cousin of Chuck Berry named Marvin. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys all incorporated elements from Berry’s music, including covering his songs. John Lennon said of Berry, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might have called it Chuck Berry.” Berry never stopped performing. Only five years ago Berry performed Johnny B. Goode at a concert in his honor with modern legends including fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC. And a new album was in the works.
NASA and outer space enthusiasts will remember that Chuck Berry performing Johnny B. Goode is one of only two modern American songs included on the Voyager space probe golden records, which we’ve discussed before here at borg.com. The Voyager missions are celebrating their 40th year in space in 2017. The selection of music was made by Carl Sagan and the small team that collected music and images for the records (the complete playlist is listed here). By our count this leaves only one remaining living performer whose music was featured on the albums: Valya Balkanska, a Bulgarian folk singer whose song “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” was included on the golden records. Balkanska is 75 years old, and performed the song for the album at age 30.
Where are the Voyager space probes, and Chuck Berry’s historic albums, now?
After spending nearly 11,000 workyears on the Voyager space program so far, or one-third of the estimated effort required to build the great pyramid at Giza, the Voyager space probes are currently in the “Heliosheath” – the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas, more than 19 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 1, and 9.5 billion miles from Earth for Voyager 2.
The Voyager probes continue their role as the farthest humans have stretched their technology into space. The only objects to ever enter interstellar space are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Voyager 2 was the first to launch nearly forty years ago, on August 20, 1977.
But if aliens ever encounter the Voyager probes and they can work the phonograph that accompanied each record, their only knowledge of the United States will be a selection of photographs, the voice and guitar of Chuck Berry, Blind Willie Johnson (one of Berry’s favorite musicians), a Navajo song, and a greeting by then President Jimmy Carter.