Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Berry’

Saturday Single No. 536

April 15, 2017

So, a chance to breathe. And to rewind to two weeks ago today, when I headed over to my recently discovered barber shop, Barbers on Germain, where Russ has been clear-cutting my scalp since sometime early this year.

On the way over – not far; just across the Mississippi and west about a mile – I slid into the CD player a Time-Life anthology of hits from 1964, and as I drove, up popped Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” I knew the record, but only a little, not nearly as well as I know his 1950s work that was a major part of the foundation of rock ’n’ roll, the records like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and the rest.

And I realized – not for the first time – that I’d not offered anything here to note Chuck Berry’s passing on March 18. Over the years here, I’ve noted the passing of many artists, but I imagine that if I were to take the time to track out the subjects of those pieces, my choices of which artists’ passings to note might seem idiosyncratic. That’s likely no surprise. But to ignore Chuck Berry?

So I thought, as I headed up the sidewalk to Barbers on Germain with the strains of “You Never Can Tell” running through my head – “C’est la vie,” say the old folks. “It goes to show you never can tell.” – that I should probably do something here about the man and his music. Well, c’est la vie, indeed. The following Monday was the start of two weeks of dealing with changes in my mom’s life, as I noted here yesterday.

I’m not going to say that Chuck Berry’s music, life and passing are now old news: The edition of Rolling Stone that came into my mailbox yesterday has Berry on the cover. But I’ve read too many tributes to the man at too many blogs and online publications in the past month to have any assurances that whatever I offer here would be anything other than echoes of those pieces.

So I think back to that drive to the barber shop. As “You Never Can Tell” came out of the speaker, I thought about Dave Marsh’s comments in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles, The Heart of Rock & Soul. He ranked “You Never Can Tell” at No. 341, writing:

Chuck returned from doing time on his trumped-up Mann Act charge in 1964 as if his flow of hits had never been interrupted. The new batch included two of his finest, “Promised Land” and “You Never Can Tell.”

“You Never Can Tell” makes an obvious break with Berry’s earlier format, not so much by prominently featuring Johnny Johnson’s piano as by using it with a New Orleans-style beat.

Had prison altered Chuck’s gifts in any way? Nah, he was bitter and hostile before he went in. And still a poet when he came out. How else explain: “They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale / The coolerator was crammed with teevee dinners and ginger ale.” It may not read as great as it sings, but then, neither does the rhythm of everyday life.

So here, to catch up and to offer my respect and thanks to Chuck Berry, is “You Never Can Tell.” It went to No. 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

(Quotation corrected after first posting.)

‘If You Wanna Dance With Me . . .’

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 7, 2008

In this blogging lark – as darcy of the blog feel it once called it – we find our inspirations where we can, even in the bits and pieces left on another blog’s floor, if need be. So it was this morning when I stopped by The Great Vinyl Meltdown and pondered what caithiseach had to say in last Saturday’s post about Chuck Berry’s “Little Marie.”

Discussing Berry’s 1964 sequel to his own “Memphis, Tennessee” and the early rock ’n’ roller’s influence on the music we love, caithiseach noted a couple of covers of Berry tunes that did pretty well: the Electric Light Orchestra’s take on “Roll Over Beethoven” went to No 42 in 1973, and the Beach Boys’ version of “Rock and Roll Music” went to No. 5 during the Bicentennial summer of 1976.

I blinked. And I thought of two other Berry covers, neither of which was released as a single. The Beatles put their very good version of “Roll Over Beethoven” on their second LP, With the Beatles, released in Britain in late 1963. In the U.S., “Roll Over Beethoven” showed up on The Beatles’ Second Album, which came out in the spring of 1964. And the Fab Four’s version of “Rock and Roll Music” was released in Britain on Beatles For Sale in December 1964.

Here in the U.S., “Rock and Roll Music” was included on the first Beatles LP I ever owned: Beatles ’65.

One of our family traditions at Christmas during my childhood was that just before we left St. Cloud for the three-hour drive to my grandparents’ home, either my mom or my dad would go back into the house to check on something. While in the house, Mom or Dad would pull from a closet two additional gifts, unwrapped, and place one on my bed and one on my sister’s bed, evidence we’d find when we came home from Grandpa’s that Santa Claus had not overlooked us just because we’d been out of town.

The gifts we found on our beds were generally toys and games, standard 1960s childhood fare. Twice, my sister and I shared gifts: One year, we each found the end of a ribbon on our beds, and found the ribbons attached to the game Geography, a game we enjoyed for many years. In December of 1965, we each found an envelope, containing pieces of a note that had been cut up. We quickly realized we each had only half a note and combined our pieces. The note read:

We come to thee from across the sea
With melodies quite rare.
Which you will find if you look
There or there.

We looked at each other, digesting the meaning of Dad’s bit of doggerel.

“It’s a record!” we said, nearly simultaneously, and we ran downstairs to the living room, where the RCA stereo and our household’s few LPs were kept. There, in the front of the stack of records, was a crisp, new copy of Beatles ’65. As soon as we unpacked a little, we were allowed to open the record and play it for the first time.

Beatles ’65 was one of those records that Capitol – which issued Beatles’ recordings in the U.S. – created piecemeal, in this case by pulling some songs from Beatles For Sale, one track from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night and adding the single “I Feel Fine/She’s A Woman,” which was not released on an album in the UK at the time.

I don’t know how well my sister liked the record. She never seemed to be too interested in the Beatles. As for me, I was still a few years from being a rock ’n’ roll boy. But I liked some of it: the opener “No Reply,” the feedback-triggered “I Feel Fine,” the sweet folk rock of “I’ll Be Back” and “I’ll Follow The Sun.” But my favorite track of all – and thus the first rock ’n’ roll cover I loved – was the Beatles’ take on Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”

It took years before I got around to listening to Berry’s version, which is – and I find myself feeling silly damning one of the fathers of rock ’n’ roll with faint praise – a good one. There is joy in Berry’s delivery of his classic, which was released as Chess 1671 in late 1957 and went to No. 8 on the combined charts of the time. Had I heard Berry’s original first, it might be my favorite.

But I heard the Beatles’ version first, that December night in 1965. The swift introductory chords, John Lennon’s urgent vocal, the driving accompaniment of the other Beatles behind him and the amazing piano triplets (Paul McCartney’s work, according to Geoff Emerick in Here, There and Everywhere) all made for one of the first rock recordings that I really loved. I wasn’t ready to give up on Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and my soundtracks yet, but man, did I love “Rock and Roll Music”!

Then there was the Beach Boys’ version a little more than a decade later, at a time when, to me, the Beach Boys were utterly irrelevant. I’m not the only one who thought so. In The Great Rock Discography, Martin C Strong writes about the band in 1976: “At this point, the Beach Boys abandoned even the slightest attempts to push their own musical boundaries, Instead [sic] relying upon tired retreads of their earlier sound.”

And when I heard the Beach Boys’ 1976 cover of “Rock and Roll Music,” released as Brother/Reprise 1354, I thought it was flabby and never gave it another thought until today.

There are other versions of Berry’s classic song, of course. All-Music Guide lists versions by the Ballroom Band, the Bay City Allstars, former Beatle Pete Best, Bingo Kids, Gary Busey (!), the Everly Brothers, Bill Haley, Ray Hamilton, Humble Pie, Jan & Dean, Tom Jones, the Manic Street Preachers, REO Speedwagon, Showaddywaddy and Tenpole Tudor, to mention only a few.

I don’t think I’ve heard any of those versions, but I know they’d have to be better than I can almost imagine to improve on the versions by Berry and the Beatles, offered below. I’m also posting the Beach Boys’ version. Enough people liked it in 1976 that it went to No. 5. I’ll just note that the Beach Boys’ version reminds me of H.L. Mencken’s comment: You’ll never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Chuck Berry – “Rock and Roll Music” [1957]

Beatles – “Rock and Roll Music” [1964]

Beach Boys – “Rock and Roll Music” [1976]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

April 29, 2011

Originally posted July 25, 2007

Not long after I rose this morning, at about seven o’clock, someone in Clichy, France, a city of about 60,000 on the northwest edge of Paris, clicked on this blog. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon in Clichy, so it might have been someone just finishing lunch. I’ll never know.

But when that unknown resident of France clicked on the blog, it turned the counter here to 50,000. And I’d like to thank him or her as well as all of you who stop by here. I started the blog on a whim, creating a place to share music I love, and I am gratified that so many people out there – from Clichy, France, and Klagenfurt, Austria, to Yamagata, Japan, and Karachi, Pakistan, and on to Warwick, Rhode Island. and Madison, Wisconsin – seem to enjoy the same music I do and seem to enjoy reading my tales.

I’d like to thank all of you who stop by. Obviously, I know who only a very few of you are, but that’s fine. It really is enough to know that the music I love and the tales I tell are circling the world.

But I thought something a little more might be in order for that unknown resident of France. No, I’m not going to lapse into French here. (Years ago, my high school French served me fairly well during five days in Paris. Well, it did except for the time in a restaurant when the waiter asked if we wanted dessert and I told him we were going to die. Nous sommes fini, I told him, saying, “We are finished,” instead of the appropriate “We have finished.” His eyes got quite wide for a moment.) Rather, I thought I would find my favorite song in French – of the maybe fifty I have – as a start to a Baker’s Dozen. I hope my unknown visitor from Clichy likes the song as much as I do.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1960

“Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Edith Piaf, recorded in Paris November 10.

“Bye Bye Johnny” by Chuck Berry, Chess single 1754

“Late Last Night” by Slim Harpo, Excello single 2171

“Ruby Baby” by Ronnie Hawkins, Roulette single 4249

“Sleepless Nights” by the Everly Brothers from It’s Everly Time

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” by Muddy Waters from Muddy Waters at Newport

“Lonesome Cabin” by Sonny Boy Williamson II, Checker single 956

“The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein from The Magnificent Seven soundtrack

“Close To You” by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Duke single 322

“Bye Bye Baby” by Mary Wells, Motown single 1003

“Greenfields” by the Brothers Four, Columbia single 41571

“Spoonful” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1762

“North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton, Columbia single 41782

With a very few exceptions, I tend to dislike most of the music that ruled the Top 40 charts during the early 1960s, and the list here reflects that. Of the thirteen acts in the above list, only two – as far as I can tell; I may have missed something — reached the Top 40 during 1960: The Brothers Four’s version of “Greenfields” was No. 2 for four weeks in the spring, and Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska” reached No. 4 in the autumn.

A few comments about some of the songs:

The Edith Piaf performance was evidently released several times not long after it was recorded, and my uncertain reading of Ebay’s French site indicates that the EP releases came about in 1961. But the notes for Éternelle, the Piaf compilation I have, say the song was recorded in 1960, so we’ll call it a 1960 song.

Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Ruby Baby” may be backed by at least some of the Hawks who went on to become The Band. The time is right, generally, and I swear I hear Richard Manuel’s voice among the background singers.

“I’ve Got My Mojo Working, Part 2” comes from the July 1960 appearance by Muddy Waters and his band at the Newport Jazz Festival. A four-minute performance of “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” was so well received that after the song ended, Muddy and the band went back into it, creating the version heard here. Most blues fans think that Waters’ performance at Newport – available on a remastered CD – was among the finest of his long career.

For those of my vintage, who recall when there were commercials for cigarettes on television, Elmer Bernstein’s main theme for The Magnificent Seven conjures visions of rugged cowboys herding cattle through valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The song was for much of the 1960s used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes, and its genesis as the stirring theme of an iconic western movie was, alas, lost. From what I can tell, the theme wasn’t released as a single in the U.S. although there was a single released in the United Kingdom.

“North to Alaska” was one of the historical songs that Johnny Horton seemed to specialize in. He’d reached No. 1 for six weeks a year earlier with “The Battle of New Orleans.” (“We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.”) And in the spring of 1960, his song “Sink the Bismarck,” inspired by – but not formally connected with – the identically titled film, went to No. 3.

Another List From Your Host

May 26, 2010

This is most likely a fool’s errand, but, being a lover of lists, I got to wondering the other evening about what names would show up on a list of the most influential musicians, performers and/or songwriters in American popular music. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about this, but no real research, so this is a first draft, if you will. I know I’ll likely miss some, and suggestions will be gladly accepted in the comments.

I’ll start with one Nineteenth Century figure and two whose careers span the divide between the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, and after that, we’ll stay in the last century.

Stephen Foster

John Philip Sousa

Ma Rainey

Louis Armstrong

The Carter Family

Duke Ellington

Muddy Waters

Cole Porter

Frank Sinatra

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Chuck Berry

Elvis Presley

Phil Spector

Berry Gordy

Bob Dylan

Prince

And there we’ll stop. I know, only one woman. I considered several others: Jenny Lind, Bessie Smith, Julie London, Carole King and Madonna among them, and of those names, I think Bessie Smith’s would have been the next to be listed. But I wanted to keep the list to a manageable length.

And I also wanted to stop, essentially, twenty-five years ago, which is why the list stops with Prince. There no doubt have been writers and performers in these past twenty-five years who will belong on such a list someday, but I think we need to let the dust settle a little. If I were forced to guess right now, two names that I think will belong on that list would be those of Kurt Cobain and Will.I.Am.

There are, of course, plenty of folks from the years I’m considering who came close but didn’t seem to me to have as much influence on American pop music as the sixteen listed above. The next two likely would have been Buddy Holly and Michael Jackson. There’s no doubt that they changed American music, as did those listed above. But then, so did others not listed, like Scott Joplin, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Stephen Sondheim, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and on and on.

So why this list today? Well, I was looking at how the Ultimate Jukebox would play out from here on, and I noticed that several of the chapters had multiple entries for which I hadn’t yet been able to find clips on YouTube. I did some shifting of those entries so that no more than one of those would show up in each segment, without paying attention to which songs they were. After I did that, I noticed that this week’s random list of songs ranged from the 1940s to the 1990s, beginning with Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”

That got me thinking about Waters’ place in that hypothetical list of American music, and I took a closer look at this week’s entries and saw that two more of those whom I’d place on such a list would also show up this week: Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan. And I began to think about who else would be on that list. So there you go.

(I do have to acknowledge one thing: After my initial round of tinkering with the upcoming segments of the Ultimate Jukebox, I noticed that this week’s entry had songs from the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1990s. [I think; see the final paragraph.] I looked ahead and switched the next song from the 1980s into this week, replacing a second song from the 1970s. This will be the only time I switch a song for any reason other than balancing the non-YouTube entries.)

And here’s the video for the most recent song on this week’s list. (You may have to sit through a brief advertisement.)

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 18
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters, Aristocrat1305, 1948
“Carol” by Chuck Berry, Chess 1700, 1958
“Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” by Dion, Laurie 3464, 1968
“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & The Pips, Buddah 383, 1973
“On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Scotti Bros. 04594, 1983
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan from the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, 1999

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” was Muddy Waters’ first hit after moving permanently to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, and it followed five years of scuffling in Chicago’s clubs while working day jobs. The Aristocrat label was run by Leonard and Phil Chess, who soon changed the label name to Chess, and Waters recorded for the label into the 1970s. Because of reissues, his discography is difficult to follow, but during his lifetime, he released about sixty singles and thirty albums, including compilations, says Wikipedia. It’s probably impossible to overstate his influence on blues and rock and American pop culture. Want one small reminder? Listen to “I Can’t Be Satisfied” in the player below and note the introduction. Then go listen to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Pony Boy” and pay close attention at the forty-second mark.

Muddy Waters – “I Can’t Be Satisfied”

Just as with Waters, Chuck Berry’s influence on the music we listen to is vast and incalculable. From “Maybellene” in 1955 through a live version of “Reelin’ & Rockin’” in 1973, Berry got fourteen singles into the Top 40 (and more than that on the R&B chart). And according to a piece I read recently – though I cannot for the life of me remember where it was – Berry, now 83, still shows up once a month at a St. Louis club to play a set. He was (justifiably) among the first members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his riffs have influenced – directly or indirectly – anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar with rock music on his or her mind. I won’t say “Carol” is my favorite Berry tune, but it’s not heard as often as, say, “Johnny B. Goode” or “Sweet Little Sixteen” or a few others. Given that, its relative lack of familiarity makes me listen a little bit closer, which is a good thing.

Dion’s “Daddy (Rollin’ In Your Arms)” was the B Side to his 1968 hit “Abraham, Martin and John” and had to be a stunning surprise to anyone who ever flipped the 45 over. Dave Marsh called it “a surging, churning, angry, anguished version of Robert Johnson’s country blues,” adding, “Haunted electric guitars clang and clash against one another, drums pound in from another room, uniting in a wad of noise symbolizing nothing but spelling out pain and fear.” Yeah, it’s all of that, and it’s a compelling record, one that Marsh placed at No. 452 in his 1989 ranking of the top 1,001 singles

Gladys Knight – with and without the Pips – had twenty-seven Top 40 singles between 1961 and 1996, and “Midnight Train to Georgia” is likely the best of all of them. The tale of a man’s retreat from California to his home in Georgia – and the willingness of his (one assumes) California lady to go with him – was No. 1 for two weeks on the pop chart and for four weeks on the R&B chart in late 1973. Unlike a lot of stuff that topped the pop charts even in 1973, this was an adult record telling an adult tale of displacement, failure, loyalty and finally, a different type of success in the wake of that failure. And it had a compelling mid-tempo groove, too.

I’ve written a little bit previously about “On The Dark Side” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, noting that it’s the best non-Springsteen Springsteen record I know of, so we’ll pretty much leave it at that. The record is from the 1983 movie Eddie & The Cruisers, and in the fall of 1984, it spent eleven weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 7; it was also No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart for five weeks.

 I confess to a quandary. I have a date of 1999 on my mp3 of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” but everything I see this morning dates the release as 2000. I’m certain I have a reason for dating it 1999 – perhaps a recording date listed somewhere in the notes to some anthology – but I can’t lay my hands on that information this morning. If I’m wrong, then this week’s chapter misses the 1990s and there goes that nifty little bit of programming. Ah, well. It’s still a great piece of music.