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Music 101

The Bo Diddley Beat

by Jim Allen

The Bo Diddley Beat

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The beat popularized by and named after Bo Diddley is probably the most distinctive rhythm in rock 'n' roll. Nobody's sure exactly where or how it started, but the famous five-note groove has trace elements of African and Latin music as well as R&B. When Bo unleashed it on mid-'50s milestones like "Who Do You Love," "Pretty Thing" and, of course, "Bo Diddley," he gave rock 'n' roll a new way to move. Ever since then, plenty of artists have availed themselves of the opportunity. The Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service and countless others put their own spin on Bo's classics, but the Bo Diddley beat reached even further than the man's own tunes. From the '50s onward, people have never stopped building new songs around that irresistible rhythm. From Bruce Springsteen to Brian Eno, Ace Frehley to The Animals, George Michael to Neil Sedaka, the beat that Bo built has inspired countless cuts across the decades. Here's a musical map of the path that primal pulse has taken through rock history.

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