Chuck Berry

TrackAlbum/Single
Come OnCome On / Go, Go, Go
I’'m Talkin’ About YouJuke Box Hits
Johnny B. GoodeChuck Berry Is On Top
Little QueenieChuck Berry Is On Top
Memphis, TennesseeBack In The U.S.A. / Memphis, Tennessee
NadineSt. Louis To Liverpool
No Particular Place To GoSt. Louis To Liverpool
Promised LandSt. Louis To Liverpool
School DayAfter School Sessions
Worried Life BluesRockin'’ At The Hops

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Contributor: Peter Viney

There are two parts, Chuck Berry originals and covers of Chuck Berry. I was planning to combine them, but I couldn’t think of any cover versions I considered worthy for my two favourite Chuck Berry songs, Nadine and No Particular Place To Go. Both come from the period immediately after his release from prison along with Promised Land. In contrast, there’s a bootleg version of Bob Dylan joining Levon Helm on stage for a drunken Nadine, which is about the worst thing either of them ever did.

If you find the de-luxe DVD version of Hail Hail Rock & Roll there’s a bonus interview with Robbie Robertson, where Chuck describes how he learned long narrative poems by heart in prison, and it honed his skills.

Nadine is my choice for the perfect rock lyric. Does it get better than:

As I got on the city bus and found a vacant seat
I thought I saw my future bride walkin’ down the street
I shouted to the driver, Hey conductor, you must
Slow down I think I see her, please let me off this bus

The lyrics are so important. Little Queenie makes the list partly because of:

There she is again standin’ over by the record machine
Looking like a model on the cover of a magazine
She’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen …

But then you get that semi-spoken thought process, starting Meanwhile … I was thinkin’ …

It’s hard to choose between Johnny B. Goode, Bye Bye Johnny, Let It Rock (Rockin’ On The Railroad) but I went for the first because that’s the one musicians do most often when jamming, and someone suggests a Chuck Berry song.

I included Worried Life Blues, an unusual track, but one that came on The Blues Volume 1 issued on Pye International, and the most important blues compilation for young British R&B bands in 1964. It’s not a Chuck original, but was probably written by Big Maceo.

I would have included Route 66, but Chuck Berry didn’t write it, just did the best version, and Asleep At The Wheel did a great cover version of Chuck’s version. I spent ages with a map of the USA trying to get the lyrics right.

Down The Road Apiece is another personal favourite, but was written by Don Raye in 1940 and was a hit then for the Will Bradley Trio.

I should include a note that some people believe Chuck Berry’s pianist in the early years, Johnnie Johnson, deserves co-credit on some of the tunes.

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CHUCK BERRY COVERS – The Best of the Many

Back To Memphis – The Band
Live At Watkins Glen and several Band compilations. While the introduction is from Watkins Glen in front of 600,000 people, most of the album is fake, and this is probably from elsewhere. It’s an exception in being “post-Chess” Chuck Berry, dating from 1967’s Chuck Berry in Memphis album, released on Mercury.

Brown Eyed Handsome Man – Buddy Holly
British single from the Reminiscing posthumous LP with added backing from The Fireballs. The single is a double-sider, with a drawn-out, almost slow-motion version of Little Richard’s Slippin’ & Slidin’ on the B-side.

Bye Bye Johnny – The Rolling Stones
The Stones consistently did Berry superbly. Add You Can’t Catch Me, Down The Road Apiece, Carol, Around and Around and Route 66. All worthy of inclusion, but I’m restricting them to just the two.

Come On – The Rolling Stones
Their first single, and staking their claim as the best Chuck Berry cover band. I’ve often played both versions, and deciding which I like best is a Sophie’s Choice moment … compare Respect by Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin.

Deep Feelin’ – Jim Weider & The Honky Tonk Gurus; The Band
Jim Weider was the guitarist in the 1990s version of The Band, and this is from his Big Foot album (1997). Deep Feelin’ was the instrumental B-side to School Day, which happens to be the first single Levon Helm ever bought. This was a regular number live for the 1990s Band. The recording dates back to 1990, and is close to being The Band … Garth Hudson plays organ, Stan Szeleste plays piano, and the Band’s second drummer Randy Ciarlante plays drums.

Havana Moon – Geoff & Maria Muldaur
This version comes from the ultimately laidback Sweet Potatoes album, and features Geoff Muldaur singing lead, with Paul Butterfield on mouth harp.

Promised Land – Johnnie Allan
Three versions of this song appeared close together in 1973, by The Band, Johnnie Allan and Elvis Presley. Johnnie Allan’s Zydeco version edges it on originality. And having an accordion.

Roll Over Beethoven – The Beatles
From With The Beatles. Musicians lie, and claim a relationship with the original as often as they can, but for many, this was the first and widest exposure to Chuck Berry.

Surfin’ USA – The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys second American hit was originally credited to Brian Wilson, but if you buy a copy now it says Chuck Berry/Brian Wilson because it is Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics.

Talkin’ About You – Zoot Money, live, 1963; The Redcaps
One that’s not on record. I used to listen to Zoot Money every week at Bournemouth Pavilion doing this, and in my memory no other version competed. But The Redcaps 1964 single on Decca is similar in arrangement. The Hollies also did it on an EP.

 

Chuck Berry (1926–2017)

 

The official site of Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry biography (iTunes)

THE greatest performer of his generation and without doubt the most exciting shows I ever saw in the 60s (well, maybe James Brown competes but never mind). Not sure our contributor has left too many tracks by Mr Crazy Legs to choose from (course he has) so over to you for more song-checks in the never-ending, genre-defining, body-shaking Bank of Berry.

TopperPost #20

5 Comments

  1. John Chamberlain
    Jul 17, 2013

    Must agree with the words on Little Queenie! I will revisit Chuck’s Route 66 as I have always liked the Stones original sudio version best.

  2. Merric Davidson
    Oct 24, 2013

    Been meaning to check in here in Berryland for a while now. Anyway, here’s the real Chuck deal, Peter. Only joking – and you know I’d have to have Nadine and Promised Land from your ten. So counting those two in, this would do nicely as an alternative toppermost from the top man, Chuck ‘Crazy Legs’ Berry:

    Anthony Boy, Back In The USA, Carol, Dear Dad, The Jaguar And The Thunderbird, No Money Down, Thirteen Question Method, You Can’t Catch Me

    Come to think of it, you gotta have School Day too, tout a doubt, so that makes 3 from yours and 11 in mine! Would probably have claimed Sweet Little Sixteen too if it hadn’t been title-checked in your covers section. So one of John C’s favourites got a look in instead!

  3. David Lewis
    Dec 23, 2013

    Promised Land has an outstanding Band cover, but also, from the Elvis at Stax sessions, Elvis shows, yet again, why he is the King.

  4. Richard Bleksley
    Feb 7, 2014

    Re Peter’s comment about ‘Roll Over Beethoven’:

    There is footage (on YouTube, and other places) of a concert Chuck Berry did for the BBC in 1972, backed by Rocking Horse. Berry is in stonkingly good form, and the band ain’t bad, either. But the point is that they open with ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and as the applause dies down Berry says with casual snideness ‘We thought we’d start with a Beatles number…’

    So, yes, Peter, even The Man admits it.

  5. Cal Taylor
    Jun 16, 2017

    There was a good, hour long programme on BBC Radio 6 on Sunday 11 June 2017 on Chuck, with previously unheard interviews (still available to hear on iPlayer till 9/7/17). It showed Chuck in a slightly different light, I thought. He highlighted his musical influences and what he listened to in his formative years. I saw Chuck several times in the 1960s and early-1970s and he was a true hero of mine and my old schoolmates. Separately, a few weeks ago on YouTube, I came across this 1946 recording by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five, ‘Ain’t That Just Like A Woman’. The guitar intro was played by Carl Hogan – but you would be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Chuck’s iconic intro to ‘Johnny B. Goode’, recorded twelve years later!

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