Song of the Day #3,209: ‘Maybellene’ – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry died last month, prompting the usual flurry of tributes and retrospectives befitting a legendary talent. To my shame, I realized I’m only tangentially familiar with the career of one of music’s great pioneers.

In fact, I’d managed to post 3,208 Songs of the Day without once featuring him.

I’ll remedy that this week by offering up five classic Chuck Berry tunes that helped redefine popular music.

I’ll kick things off with 1955’s ‘Maybellene,’ Berry’s first recording for Chess Records and a song about which Rolling Stone wrote “rock & roll guitar starts here.”

This track was inspired by a country song called ‘Ida Red’, and the verses are certainly similar. Berry’s version was initially titled ‘Ida May,’ but he changed the name after seeing a Maybelline mascara box on the studio floor. He changed the spelling to avoid a lawsuit.

This country song reimagined by a black man ended up as a huge hit with both black and white audiences, and remains a touchstone in the emergence of rock and roll.

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
You’ve started back doing the things you used to do

As I was motivatin’ over the hill
I saw Maybellene in a Coupe DeVille
A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road
Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford
The Cadillac doin’ ’bout ninety-five
She’s bumper to bumber rollin’ side by side

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh maybellene, why can’t you be true?
You’ve started back doing the things you used to do

Pink in the mirror on top of the hill
It’s just like swallowin’ up a medicine pill
First thing I saw that Cadillac grille
Doin’ a hundred and ten gallopin’ over that hill
Offhill curve, a downhill strecth
Me and that Cadillac neck by neck

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
You’ve started back doing the things you used to do

The Cadillac pulled up ahead of the ford
The Ford got hot and wouldn’t do no more
It then got clody and it started to rain
I tooted my horn for a passin’ lane
The rain water blowin’ all under my hood
I knew that was doin’ my motor good

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
You’ve started back doing the things you used to do

The motor cooled down, the heat went down
And that’s when I heard that highway sound
The Cadillac a-sittin’ like a ton of lead
A hundred and ten a half a mile ahead
The Cadillac lookin’ like it’s sittin’ still
And I caught Maybellene at the top of the hill

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
You’ve started back doing the things you used to do

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One thought on “Song of the Day #3,209: ‘Maybellene’ – Chuck Berry

  1. Dana says:

    Chuck Berry didn’t have an easy life and for decades seethed about not getting the amount of respect or money that he deserved as the founder of rock and roll. Wherever he is, hopefully he is appreciative of your posthumous recognition, though he’s probably grumbling about what took you so long.😄

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