Marty McFly Did Not Invent Rock 'n' Roll [BTTF Week]

Marty McFly Did Not Invent Rock ‘n’ Roll [BTTF Week]

Nor did he give the song “Johnny B. Goode” to Chuck Berry. Let’s dispel this myth once and for all.

Marty, Not Inventing Rock 'n' Roll

Everyone is familiar with the classic “Johnny B. Goode” scene from Back to the Future and the accompanying controversy: how dare the filmmakers insinuate that a white kid (Calvin Klein/Marty McFly) actually invented rock & roll instead of a black guy (Chuck Berry)? Haven’t white people stolen music from black people enough already?

This sort of knee-jerk reaction completely disregards the evidence on hand. Once and for all, let’s put this myth to bed. Marty McFly did not invent rock ‘n’ roll. He did not give Chuck Berry the song “Johnny B. Goode.”

Don’t believe me? Watch the scene again:

Notice that when Marvin Berry holds up the receiver to allow Chuck Berry to listen (at around 1:19 in the video), Marty has already played the signature guitar lick and sung all of the lyrics. In fact, Chuck only gets to listen to the last parts of Marty’s performance: the shred metal breakdown.

If Chuck Berry actually took to this “new sound,” what effect would this have had on rock n roll history? See for yourself:

The video demonstrates two points:

1) The Jonas Brothers should reinvent themselves as an avant garde noise metal band. That would be awesome.


2) Chuck Berry took little to no inspiration from Marty’s performance.

Keeping in mind what Chuck Berry actually heard, we can fill in the gaps on Marvin and Chuck Berry’s phone conversation:

MARVIN: You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this!

[Marvin and Chuck listen to Marty’s wild shredding guitar solo.]

CHUCK: Marvin, what the hell was that? What’s going on?

MARVIN: Uh, sorry. Let me explain… You see, I cut my hand at that high school dance gig, and we got this white kid to fill in on guitar at the last minute. For the encore, he whipped out this smokin’ jump blues tune, somethin’ about Johnny do good…ah, never mind.

CHUCK: Great, just great. Thanks Marvin.

MARVIN: Whatever, Chuck. Just keep playing that “Maybellene” country crap. I’m sure it’ll go far.

Phew! Paradox averted!

Albeit at the expense of the Jonas Brothers as a noise metal band. A small price to pay for a healthy space-time continuum, I suppose.

24 Comments on “Marty McFly Did Not Invent Rock ‘n’ Roll [BTTF Week]”

  1. Gab #

    What would that make Miley Cyrus?

    I’m disappointed in how Marty is clearly mimicking over a recording- the last note he hits has some vibrato in the sound that goes unseen in his hand. But this raises a question: who is *really* playing that guitar solo?


  2. stokes OTI Staff #

    Mr. Lee – you are an evil genius. The Nirvana clip especially…


  3. Darin #

    Two things

    Just like your get-pumped-up speech, well done again!

    Just like your pumped-up speech, could you list song/songs you cut in. I could swear I heard some songs, but my musical ear is complete garbage. Do tell.


  4. Matthew Wrather #

    Lee did the guitar himself, no?

    Dude, this is seriously brilliant.


  5. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    You are absolutely right, Mark. Unless someone was actually recording Marty’s performance, there is no way Chuck Berry could have reverse-engineered “Johnny B Goode,” including every single lyric, from what he hears over the phone.

    The throwaway gag has always bothered me for another reason – it doesn’t gel with the way we know time travel works. In BTTF, you CAN change the future. And yet here, it’s implied that Marty is inventing rock ‘n roll by unwitting playing Chuck Berry his biggest hit. In other words, Marty was MEANT to be there and play that song, thus making rock possible. That’s a little inconsistent.

    By the way, here’s a cute article written by the studio guitarist who actually did Marty’s epic solo:


  6. lee OTI Staff #

    Yup, the guitar in the video was me.

    I was Overthinking about the scene some more. Though it’s clear when Chuck Berry starts listening, it’s ambiguous as to when he stops listening.

    At 1:52 in the first clip, you can see Marvin standing in the background, but it’s not clear if he’s hung up the phone by that point. He’s obviously not holding the receiver out, but he could still be holding it in his hand.

    In any event, there’s a continuity problem with Marvin Berry: he’s clearly back stage to the RIGHT of Marty, but somehow walks up from Marty’s LEFT side to collect the guitar after the solo.

    I’ve clearly seen this scene way too many times.


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Mark –

    For serious hardcore BTTF nuts, check out a draft of the screenplay:
    This draft is different than the movie you know and love. For instance, after Marty’s Johnny B. Goode solo is greeted with bewildered silence, he breaks into another chorus, and ends the song to wild applause. Then he leaves without saying goodbye to his parents.

    But the bit where the guy calls Chuck Berry is in there. Interesting.

    – Matt


  8. Mark #

    Now just a minute…Marvin suggests to Chuck that he’s discovered the new “sound” he’s looking for, not the new “lick” (guitarist-speak for the specific series of notes played). There is plenty of Chuck Barryesque playing from 1:20-1:42 (prior to the shredding, after the phone introduction) to inspire Chuck stylistically. Methinks Chuck’s matching of the intro is just a coincidence.

    Give a white boy his props.


  9. lee OTI Staff #

    @Mark, Good points, but in response:

    1) At 1:28, Marty’s playing starts to get wild with the sustained big bends and descending lines. The band members exchange looks with each other, indicating that Marty’s playing has moved beyond fresh and new to 1955 ears to something strange and unpleasant. Granted, still in the Chuck Berry ballpark, but…

    2) At 1:38, he lets loose a Pete Townsend-esque monster chord wallop, and from there on out it’s no longer anything close to Chuck Berry.

    3) Most importantly, though, is that the “new sound” was hardly new in 1955. On the rhythm side, Jump Blues and Boogie woogie had been around for years by that time. On the lead guitar stylings, Chuck had gotten a lot of it from T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters’ pre-1955 work.


  10. Mark #

    If we presume the existence of an infinite number of possible realities (as a time traveller probably would), it’s easy to see that in one of those realities (ours), Chuck just came up with the exact lyrics to the first verse Marty sang at the dance. Our extraordinary luck is a sign that God really loves us after all. Which is nice.


  11. michael #

    chuck berry didn’t invent rock n’ roll…ike turner was the first with “rocket 88″…so this point is moot my friends


  12. Ursula #

    Marty didn’t invent anything. He was playing a Chuck Berry song, as he remembered it from hearing it in the ’80s… even though Marty was now back in the ’50s, before Chuck Berry recorded it. It’s an interesting time paradox that leaves open the question of whether Berry created the song himself, but you really can’t argue that Marty invented rock. No matter how you look at it, Marty never created the song himself, he was only playing the music he thought of as Chuck Berry’s.


  13. frank #

    you all are fuckin morons…u seriously have nothing better to do than to argue about something that happens IN THE MOVIES! they just made it funny and thats all i seriously doubt the makers of this movie were dead set on proving Marty Mcfly created rock and roll…jesus how stupid can u get


  14. Finky #

    Kudos, Frank! You managed to read this whole article and all the comments just to ARGUE that “u seriously have nothing better to do than ARGUE about something that happens in the movies.”
    Whether you like it or not, welcome to the party, pal.


    • Rambler #

      In a way… we’ve all come here to argue about movies.
      The difference is that that Finky just WON.


  15. Nicole Smith #

    That’s BS. The movie was suggesting that!!! He picked the song, he told the band to follow his key changes, and then the call to Chuck Berry is suggestive that Marty invented it and Chuck stole it by suggestion from his cousin Marvin.. stop trying to make people think that in 1986 white people accepted black people’s inventions


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