Song of the Day #3,212: ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ – Chuck Berry

The Beach Boys scored a 70s hit with yesterday’s Chuck Berry classic, ‘Rock & Roll Music,’ but it was a 1963 release, ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.,’ that really owed its success to Berry.

Berry’s 1958 song ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ will sound awfully familiar even if you’ve never heard it. Brian Wilson liked the tune so much he wrote his own, surfing-inspired, lyrics to it and turned it into a #3 hit for his California band.

Though the copyright for ‘Surfin U.S.A.’ belonged to Chuck Berry’s publisher, Arc Music, Wilson was credited as the sole songwriter. That was remedied on subsequent releases, where Berry received either sole or shared credit for penning the tune.

As for the original, it’s about a 16-year-old groupie who covers a lot of ground.

They’re really rockin’ in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And ’round the ‘Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Sweet Little Sixteen
She’s just got to have
About a half a million
Famed autographs
Her wallet filled with pictures
She gets them one by one
Becomes so excited
Watch her, look at her run

“Oh Mommy, Mommy
Please may I go
It’s such a sight to see
Somebody steal the show
Oh Daddy, Daddy
I beg of you
Whisper to Mommy
It’s alright with you”

Cause they’ll be rockin’ on Bandstand
In Philadelphia, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the ‘Frisco Bay
All over St.Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

[Piano Solo]

Cause they’ll be rockin’ on Bandstand
In Philadelphia, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And ’round the ‘Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Sweet Little Sixteen
She’s got the grown-up blues
Tight dresses and lipstick
She’s sportin’ high heel shoes
Oh, but tomorrow morning
She’ll have to change her trend
And be sweet sixteen
And back in class again

Well, they’ll be rockin’ in Boston
Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And ’round the ‘Frisco Bay
Way out in St. Louis
Way down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

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One thought on “Song of the Day #3,212: ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ – Chuck Berry

  1. Dana says:

    The similarity is most certainly there, although it seems to me that, at their core, both songs have a pretty basic rock blues structure that makes The Beach Boys’ tune seem less stolen and more of an homage to Berry’s style which lies at the foundation of rock and roll (of which of course Berry was essentially the founder).

    We saw this same tension between stealing/copying and an influence/homage play out with the “Blurred Lines” litigation. Indeed, most great songwriters readily concede that they liberally borrow from all sorts of influences. I think, however, that shared songwriting credit and publishing here is still appropriate.

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