Today’s random selection is one of the most famous and beloved rock songs of all time. Chuck Berry’s brother Marvin first heard the track played by a young man named Marty McFly during the ‘Under the Sea’ dance at a Hill Valley, California, high school, and the rest is history.
‘Johnny B. Goode’ is a loosely autobiographical tale of Berry’s rise, though by all accounts he could read and write just fine. Berry says the original lyrics used “colored boy” instead of “country boy” but he knew it wouldn’t get any radio play in that form.
‘Little Queenie’ is a 1959 release by the late Chuck Berry that includes several of his trademarks, including an oft-imitated opening guitar riff, some rip-snorting solos and a reference to an underage girl.
Could anybody get away with a line like “she’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen” these days? Happily, I think the answer is no.
My final Chuck Berry song of the week was released in 1963 and has a different feel than the rockers I’ve featured so far.
‘Memphis, Tennessee’ is a nice showcase for Chuck Berry the storyteller. It’s about a man trying to track down a lost love, Marie, who turns out to be his daughter, taken away by her momma.
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.
Chuck Berry scored another hit with 1957’s ‘Rock & Roll Music,’ a song that reach #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The track performed even better when covered by The Beach Boys, who took it to #5 in 1976. Their version is slower and, to my ears, vastly inferior to the original. And I say that as a general fan of The Beach Boys. This wouldn’t be the last time the band scored a hit on the shoulders of Chuck Berry (stay tuned).
The B-side of Chuck Berry’s ‘Maybellene’ was a 12-bar blues called ‘Wee Wee Hours’ that went on to become a big hit in its own right.
Berry initially pitched this track to Chess Records, which had a history with blues recordings, but they showed more interest in the ground-breaking ‘Maybellene.’
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.