‘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.
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.
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).
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.