Legends & Legacies View More

The Bo Diddley Beat

Published: 6/2/2013

 In this Sept. 17, 2003 file photo Rhythm and blues entertainer Bo Diddley records on a 125-year-old wax cylinder phonograph on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo / Dennis Cook)

Five years after Bo Diddley's death June 2, 2008, we're listening to his signature rhythm – in his own music and in songs from around the musical world. (AP Photo / Dennis Cook)

Bo Diddley was one of the great musical pioneers who helped create rock 'n' roll. His influence can be felt all across the modern music world – in rock and hip hop, in cover versions and songs inspired by his songs, and, especially, in rhythms. Diddley's rhythms laid the groundwork for more than 50 years of popular music.

One of Diddley’s signature sounds was the "Bo Diddley beat," a syncopated rhythm that was common in his songs. Diddley didn't invent the pattern – its origins stretch back to Africa, before musical recording technology – but he brought it to a wide audience, making it mainstream.

A classic example of the Bo Diddley beat is in his song "Hey Bo Diddley."

Once you've heard that beat, you'll notice it all over popular music. It's especially obvious in a song that screams "New Wave" – "I Want Candy" by Bow Wow Wow.

But bands were using the Bo Diddley beat long before New Wave came on the scene. Here's another rock pioneer, Buddy Holly, who built "Not Fade Away" around the Bo Diddley beat.

The Who's "Magic Bus," released ten years after "Not Fade Away," updated the sound of the Bo Diddley beat for a new audience.

Twenty years after that, George Michael gave teens of the late '80s a taste of the Bo Diddley beat with "Faith."

We could go on and on, but we'll leave the rest of it up to you… we have a feeling you'll be listening for the Bo Diddley beat the next time you turn on the radio.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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