The Top 10 Greatest Bo Diddley Songs

Musical Milestones in the Career of The Originator

Whether you agree with his self-imposed title of "The Originator" or not, Bo Diddley was certainly one of early rock's true great innovators. Known not only for his oddly-shaped guitars, pioneering use of females in his act and his seemingly endless self-promotion and his creativity in the one place it always counts most: the songs, Bo Diddley released a number of hit records throughout his career and gone on to inspire a generation of artists with his music. Here are Bo's ten most lasting musical gifts to the world, in no particular order. 

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"I'm a Man" (Checker 814, 1955)

The flipside of his original debut 45 has been eclipsed somewhat over time by Muddy Waters' answer song, "Mannish Boy," but Bo laid the groundwork, creating a fusion of blues and rock that somehow doesn't swallow up either.

And was there ever a better example of blues boasting infiltrating pop music? "I'm A Man" went on to become one of Bo's purest blues numbers and a perennial concert favorite. It was also covered by several British Invasion bands, most notably the Yardbirds.

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"Who Do You Love" (Checker 842, 1956)

"Who Do You Love" offers a rich mixture of Black Americana folklore, riding an even harder Bo Diddley brand beat and creating an even more powerful sense of mythical voodoo sex magic. If "Bo Diddley" was charming, this follow-up was ferocious, demanding and altogether dominating to the senses. George Thoroughgood later amped it up even more, but the original contains a more swampy menace.

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"Before You Accuse Me" (Checker 878, 1957)

Later covered by everyone from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Eric Clapton, this deathless gem strolls rather than pounds, proof that Bo had more than one rhythmic trick up his sleeve. The seemingly out of tune guitar dips and dives only add to the song's general unease, adding to the lyrical romantic turmoil. Diddley even plays with the track's title, "Before you accuse me..." which he continues in lyrics, "take a look at yourself."

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"Crackin' Up" (Checker 924, 1959)

The second track released from his album "Go Bo Diddley," this song never went on to great commercial acclaim but has notably been covered by the likes of Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones. With lyrics asking the question " What's buggin' you?" and answering "Yeah, yeah, you're crackin up," it's no wonder this tongue-in-cheek number was covered by some of rock's cheekiest artists. 

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"You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover" (Checker 1019, 1962)

Not from what many consider Bo's "classic" period, but rather from a time in the early Sixties when Bo was desperately trying to appeal to surfing and twisting fads (among others), "You Can't Judge a Book By the Cover" still remains his last great hit. The most traditionally songlike of his fabled tracks and one that features some of his finest hollerings and guitar slinging, the song almost went on to be a Top 40 hit, landing just shy of the mark.

Indeed, there may be more of Bo's personality on this side than any other. "You got your radio turned down too low," he shouts at one point, carried away by himself. "Turn it up!" Good advice. 

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"Mona" (Checker 860, 1957)

Another beloved favorite of the Brits, "Mona" is a rockabilly number with a sing-song appeal of his earlier hits. Diddley employed a series of his traditional "Mockingbird" style couplets, but there's something different here, a wild passion that Bo must have been calling up from the depths of his own desire. Throughout the track, he shrieks and moans in a way that makes most rockers of the time (including Elvis, who no doubt stole a couple of moves from this) sound positively plastic.​

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"Pretty Thing" (Checker 827, 1955)

Thick and dark enough to be a progenitor of swamp-rock yet authentic enough to have been birthed in the rich blues loam of the Mississippi Delta, the highly influential track "Pretty Thing" builds on Bo's usual rolling rhythms to create a backwoods hoedown of sorts. It sounds like love but feels like lust, made at once more primal by the alternative vows of fidelity spewing from Diddley. This track became so influential, in fact, that the seminal Britpop band The Pretty Things took their very name from it.

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"Bring It to Jerome" (Checker 827, 1955)

"Bring It to Jerome" is one of Diddley's more blues-oriented tracks and features none other than Bo's maraca player Jerome Green taking half the vocals as the two call for the female object of his desire to "bring it on home, bring it to Jerome." You can probably guess what "it" is, but as usual with Bo and company, the groove is most of the message.

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"Hey! Bo Diddley" (Checker 860, 1957)

Bo practically invented punk with this hyperactive two-step, another chapter in the Bo mythology that tells of a woman who "rustled and tussled like buffalo bill" and also eventually began "slippin' and slidin' like an automobile." The call-and-response backing vocals — gospel in nature five years before the birth of soul yet steeped in a near-hillbilly howl — only add to the glorious confusion, creating a cacophony of rock music that would go on to breed a genre. 

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"Say Man" (Checker 931, 1959)

Bo would later claim to have "invented" rap with this novelty number, astonishingly the only Bo record to make it all the way to the Billboard Top 40. It's true Bo and Jerome are talking over the beat instead of singing over it -- but they're not on the beat at all. This charming, piano-laden samba, in fact, is culturally significant in other ways: it's the first widescale introduction to the African-American tradition of comic insults, or "playing the dozens." Turns out Bo's girl is so ugly she had to sneak up on a glass of water to get a drink.