Chuck Berry: pick only one.

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Yes, I know, it's all about the body of work. Let's leave sense to its own devices for a moment, and choose your very favorite record by Mr. Chuck Berry.

Mine's "Memphis."

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:05 (sixteen years ago) link

Close second: "Back in the U.S.A.," which is the national anthem so far as I'm concerned.

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:27 (sixteen years ago) link

"School Days"

juice (juice), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:35 (sixteen years ago) link

"Thirty Days"

Kenan Hebert (kenan), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:37 (sixteen years ago) link

"No Particular Place To Go." I agree, Chuck, seat belts are a bitch.

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:37 (sixteen years ago) link

"Too Much Monkey Business" for the lyrics, the delivery, the "ahhh!" that punctuates the verses. He's got mad flow. Dylan took much from this record.

After School Session is a killer lp. Great and varied selection of tunes. It's got "Wee Wee Hours", a beautiful slow blues (w/ no guitar solo but great piano from Johnny Johnson), good instrumentals like "Deep Feeling" (steel guitar!) and "Berry Pickin'" (some kind of calypso joint).

Mr. Diamond (diamond), Monday, 24 February 2003 08:50 (sixteen years ago) link

Yeah, that's a good one of course. And it's the mock (failed?) calypso I like most about "Memphis"--aside from the lyrics, of course, a lovely and simple and v. sad tale.

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 09:06 (sixteen years ago) link

"I'm Talking About You."

frank p. jones (frank p. jones), Monday, 24 February 2003 12:39 (sixteen years ago) link

This is the most impossible pick-only-one ever. Either "School Days" or, more probably, "Going Back to Memphis."

J0hn Darn1elle (J0hn Darn1elle), Monday, 24 February 2003 12:44 (sixteen years ago) link

Monkey Business, but there are so many. It's hard to beat this, for you don't even need the music to dance to it:
"Pay phone
Something wrong
Dime gone
Will mail
I ought to sue the operator for telling me a tale"

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Monday, 24 February 2003 13:18 (sixteen years ago) link

The genius of Chuck Berry in 20 words or less:

"They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale / the coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale"

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 13:28 (sixteen years ago) link

He's got mad flow.

I've been thinking to myself for a few weeks that he's the first rapper. Is there someone earlier?

gabbneb (gabbneb), Monday, 24 February 2003 13:41 (sixteen years ago) link

Well if your definition of rapper is that broad then Blind Willie McTell surely qualifies.

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 13:43 (sixteen years ago) link

'Too much monkey business' comes close, but for me it's 'Nadine'.

James Ball (James Ball), Monday, 24 February 2003 14:06 (sixteen years ago) link

Louis Jordan certainly qualifies if Chuck Berry does. I pick "Brown Eyed Handsome Man"

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 14:42 (sixteen years ago) link

"Memphis" for me too, but that's mostly because it's so sui generis within his catalogue (and it's got, like, the best lyrics ever) and doesn't force me to choose from the avalanche of more rockin' canonical stuff.

Anyone else read the NY Times piece on him yesterday? Not all that illuminating but there are a few good quotes.

M Matos (M Matos), Monday, 24 February 2003 14:45 (sixteen years ago) link

First rapper? There's Cab Calloway too.

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Monday, 24 February 2003 15:29 (sixteen years ago) link

Mr. Darnielle is right - this is the toughest pick-only-one ever, but I'm gonna go "Sweet Little Sixteen" (barely over "Memphis", which does have the best lyrics evah), if only because songs about rock n roll are my favorite rock n roll songs of all and noone writes songs about rock n roll better than Chuck Berry.

James Blount, Monday, 24 February 2003 15:33 (sixteen years ago) link

Nobody's going to be bold enough to pick "My Ding-A-Ling," then?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:18 (sixteen years ago) link

It is an amazing recording, not necessarily for the song, but for the way he works his audience.

"oh, you girls have a beautiful the song! in the song!"

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:20 (sixteen years ago) link

you bring dishonour upon the eagle scouts with that statement Ned

James Blount, Monday, 24 February 2003 16:20 (sixteen years ago) link

I also vote for "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," but let's also show some damned love for "Maybelline," which is a really great country song.

Neudonym, Monday, 24 February 2003 16:25 (sixteen years ago) link

"Going Back to Memphis."

-- J0hn Darn1elle (edito...), February 24th, 2003.

I'm going to pick this one too -- I've never heard it, actually (I only have The Great 28), but it inspired John Darnielle's piece on his website, which is one of the best things I've ever read, so it's the tops.

Mark (MarkR), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:26 (sixteen years ago) link

John's Chuck Berry piece is easily the most convincing 'this lyricist is a poet' piece I've ever read

James Blount, Monday, 24 February 2003 16:27 (sixteen years ago) link

"John's Chuck Berry piece"

link please?

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:30 (sixteen years ago) link

you bring dishonour upon the eagle scouts with that statement Ned

But but but it was his only number one single, it MUST be good! *flees*

Heard a bunch of his songs on the Australia/New Zealand trip, in some cases for the first time. Clearly essential stuff for what came next. Don't really feel the need to listen to them again.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:31 (sixteen years ago) link

Too Much Monkey Business, I reckon, for all of the above. That tune really swings. The guitar part baffled me so long as I tried to work out what exactly the hell he was playing. I gave up and NOW I understand.

mick hall, Monday, 24 February 2003 16:36 (sixteen years ago) link

"Almost Grown" is great, sounds more like Bo Diddley

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:36 (sixteen years ago) link

come on for the scronchy horns juxtapized by delicate piano/guitar

thomas de'aguirre (biteylove), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:40 (sixteen years ago) link

James Blount, Monday, 24 February 2003 16:43 (sixteen years ago) link

Elvis Presley did a really good version of "Monkey Business" as well. (haven't heard his "Promised Land" yet, though I hear that's great too.)

best Chuck Berry cover versions? dunno that I have a "favorite" per se, so I'll just go with the above (for now)

M Matos (M Matos), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:48 (sixteen years ago) link

Wanda Jackson's version of "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" is as good as anything she did.
Also, Royal Trux do a bizarro version of "Too Much Monkey Business" on a bootleg I have.

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:50 (sixteen years ago) link

Best cover might be the Stones' "Round and Round"

James Ball (James Ball), Monday, 24 February 2003 16:55 (sixteen years ago) link

James Ball is OTM

M Matos (M Matos), Monday, 24 February 2003 17:19 (sixteen years ago) link

Al Green does a good "Memphis."

"Tulane" is also very great, the best song ever written about a head shop?

And don't forget the awesome "Thirteen Question Method," Liliput has nothing on this.

In an interview he did around 1970, he referred to the Stones' singer as "Dick Jagger."

frank p. jones (frank p. jones), Monday, 24 February 2003 17:47 (sixteen years ago) link

Re: "Nobody's going to be bold enough to pick 'My Ding-A-Ling,' then?"

It's not really a Chuck Berry song. The Bees did it as "Toy Bell" in 1954. Pretty blatant heist, actually (though not as bad as "Surfing USA").

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Monday, 24 February 2003 18:51 (sixteen years ago) link

he never claimed to OWN it. in the record he says something like it's his "Alma Mater"

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 18:52 (sixteen years ago) link

Boring but "Johnny B Goode". That intro BURNS my stereo.

Nick H, Monday, 24 February 2003 18:55 (sixteen years ago) link

In the Chess box set, the credit under "My Ding-a-Ling" reads "Chuck Berry, Isalee Music Co., BMI."
That surely IMPLIES ownership, wouldn't you say?
And he actually says "our Alma Mater."

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Monday, 24 February 2003 19:02 (sixteen years ago) link

huh. the record I have has no songwriter credit. of all the songs he DID write, geez. that one I woulda thought would be public domain.

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 19:13 (sixteen years ago) link

Just because his publisher claimed ownership doesn't mean he actually wrote it!

In Wim Wenders's Alice in the Cities there is an indulgent but lovely moment where the lead character momentarily leaves the little girl he is shepherding around Germany to see Chuck Berry at an outdoor festival. There is about 10 seconds of performance footage (obviously cribbed from another source) and Chuck is smokin.

Amateurist (amateurist), Monday, 24 February 2003 19:47 (sixteen years ago) link

I saw him in Mtl in 98. He was great. It was the highlight of my time there.

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Monday, 24 February 2003 19:57 (sixteen years ago) link

"Carol" is so ingrained in my subconscious that whenever I feel insecure on the dancefloor,the best line floats into my head before I notice it: "Don't let him steal your heart away/Gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night an day."

Pete Scholtes, Monday, 24 February 2003 20:50 (sixteen years ago) link

fuckin impossible call, i'll say "you can't catch me' right now tho

duane, Monday, 24 February 2003 21:31 (sixteen years ago) link

best Chuck Berry cover: the Beatles' cover of "Rock and Roll Music." (also their best cover, I think)

Justyn Dillingham (Justyn Dillingham), Tuesday, 25 February 2003 04:28 (sixteen years ago) link

whichever song he played while watching the videos he made of the girl's bathroom in his house and at his restaurant.

keith (keithmcl), Tuesday, 25 February 2003 04:47 (sixteen years ago) link

that would be "The Star Spangled Banner"

James Blount (James Blount), Tuesday, 25 February 2003 05:03 (sixteen years ago) link

seven months pass...
best cover of a Chuck Berry song is when Elvis and Co. are playing around with "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" on The Million Dollar Quarter ("fought and WON HERSELF a brown-eyed handsome man")and expressing such awe and admiration over it.

Best Chuck Berry song is "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," though, yep, toughest pick ever. "Memphis" is a runner-up for the reasons Matos suggests (so different from most of his great stuff and so touching)as well as:
"Maybelline" ("motorvating"!!!)
"You Never Can Tell" ("coolerator"!!!)
"Promised Land" (where he bypasses Rock Creek)
"Sweet Little Sixteen" ("sweet little sixteen/she's got the grown-up blues" -- best juxtaposition evah!)
"Nadine" ("coffee-colored Cadillac"!!! "campaign shoutin' like a Southern diplomat"!!!)
"Let it Rock" (rhymes "Alabama" and "steel-driving hammer")

chris herrington (chris herrington), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:17 (sixteen years ago) link

anybody heard Jerry Lawler's cut of "Memphis"?

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:23 (sixteen years ago) link

"Promised Land" is pretty fucking great. Ever notice how much Dylan borrowed from him? Phrasing-wise I means

Dadaismus (Dada), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:24 (sixteen years ago) link

King Lawler's "Memphis" is truly horrid

chris herrington (chris herrington), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:28 (sixteen years ago) link

if by "horrid" you mean amazing, then I concur.

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:31 (sixteen years ago) link

yeah, its not so bad actually. Musically speaking it's deeply weird in a good way.

I was just making a knee-jerk comment because one of the frustrations of being a Chuck Berry fanatic in Memphis is that he basically gets ignored except for "Memphis" which is regularly appropriated (though often in the Johnny Rivers version -- gag) by city boosters as some kind of "come to Memphis and get drunk on Beale Street" tourist anthem when obviously the appeal of the song doesn't have much to do with Memphis itself (though "her home was on the south side, high upon the ridge, just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge" gets me)and isn't a good-time celebration kind of song. But that isn't the King's fault.

chris herrington (chris herrington), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:40 (sixteen years ago) link

it's Jim Dickinson's band backing him on that too, which is sorta cool. I like the steel drums and the fact that Lawler doesn't really try to hard to sing.

Horace Mann (Horace Mann), Thursday, 25 September 2003 16:45 (sixteen years ago) link

Best Chuck: "Back in the USA."

Best cover version: the Rolling Stones' "Carol" (1st lp, NOT Ya-Yas).

Burr (Burr), Thursday, 25 September 2003 17:44 (sixteen years ago) link

Though both these catagories deserve a POX.

Burr (Burr), Thursday, 25 September 2003 17:45 (sixteen years ago) link

one year passes...
"Promised Land," 'cause he mentions my hometown in the first line.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Monday, 21 March 2005 08:51 (fourteen years ago) link

That Pavement song "Unfair" does that for me.

I pick "Come On".

"Maybelline". It may sound like a putdown to single out his very first record as his best, implying that it was all downhill from there. Absolutely NOT the case, tho - it's just that his music was "fully realized" (clichéd rockcrit term) from the gitgo, singing and guitaring and writing. And THOSE words, man...What muse could've inspired Chuck to write such songs, putting so much effort and offhand brilliance into 'em, when he was already so far ahead of whatever competition he had?

Anyway, these runners-up deserve mention too. I love how bits of "You Can't Catch Me" found their way into "Come Together" (and the Stooges' "1970"!) years later. Love how his guitar duplicates his vocal precisely in "School Days". "Havana Moon" may have inspired "Louie Louie", "Too Much Monkey Business" definitely inspired "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and maybe even Mark E. Smith! (For clarification, read "The Artist Formerly Known As Mr. Diamond"'s remarks upthread.) And, yeah, "Memphis" and its sad little twist ending gets me everytime.

Myonga Von Bontee (Myonga Von Bontee), Monday, 21 March 2005 11:35 (fourteen years ago) link

"Sweet Little Sixteen"

(I have to disqualify "Back in the USA" because the last time I heard it, I got very emotionally affected, and I realize I'm starting to say this about every other song around, which probably means I should stop smoking so much weed, but anyway, when I heard it I wasn't even IN the USA, also I'm not even from there, which means I'm doubtless missing layers of 'true' meaning in this unbelievably great song [those b. vox!!], so that's why I didn't pick that one)

dave q (listerine), Monday, 21 March 2005 16:33 (fourteen years ago) link

Mine is definitely "I'm Talking about You."

Runnerup "Promised Land." And "You Never Can Tell."

edd s hurt (ddduncan), Monday, 21 March 2005 16:44 (fourteen years ago) link

downbound train

kephm, Monday, 21 March 2005 16:46 (fourteen years ago) link

"Thirty Days"

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Monday, 21 March 2005 16:54 (fourteen years ago) link

Many, many to chose from, but I'm going with Aaron: "Come On."

Ken L (Ken L), Monday, 21 March 2005 17:30 (fourteen years ago) link

his book his book his book

mark s (mark s), Monday, 21 March 2005 19:03 (fourteen years ago) link

I already picked my one, but more props to "Wee Wee Hours," the "Maybelline" b-side that's sometimes treated as a historical footnote, but actually went on to become a slow blues standard. THEE lonely-at-3:00 a.m. song.

Pete Scholtes, Tuesday, 22 March 2005 04:08 (fourteen years ago) link

hey mark what's his book like??

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Tuesday, 22 March 2005 05:30 (fourteen years ago) link

I read his book years ago; can't remember major parts of it but it was a good read. But it's also quite weird: His tone is weirdly detached, often neutral. If he was thrilled to see "Maybelline" become a hit and put him on the map, he doesn't say so. None of those corny clichéd "Quick, turn on the radio!"-type scenes. And he expresses only mild annoyance over an incident that should've (and probably DID) left him both humiliated and infuriated. (Getting booked to play a country dance in Knoxville, only to be turned away at the door when the promoters realized too late that the singer of "Maybelline" was NOT a country singer, and certainly not white.)
Another weird touch: scattering throughout the book many (doggerel) autobiographical poems (or would-be songs, who knows?), and downright nutty little verbal concoctions, like "It takes a numerator of soberness in a denominator like Jerry Lee to find the quotient of his drunkenness." Almost as if he'd seen himself referred to as a verbal genius so often, that he felt he had to live up to that.

Myonga Von Bontee (Myonga Von Bontee), Tuesday, 22 March 2005 07:27 (fourteen years ago) link

seven years pass...

Christgau's written a lot about Chuck Berry over the years--he's why I sought out the Motorvatin' compilation years ago, even though I had most of what was on there already--so his second recommendation here seems worth noting:

clemenza, Friday, 3 August 2012 22:32 (seven years ago) link

(For the thread: "Come On.")

clemenza, Friday, 3 August 2012 22:35 (seven years ago) link

Sounds like a damn nice comp. Really hard to say that The Great Twenty-Eight needs much improving, but "You Never Can Tell" would be nice, it's true.

JOHHNY B. POLLED: chuck berry's great twenty-eight

Doctor Casino, Friday, 3 August 2012 22:37 (seven years ago) link

I was lucky enough to find Golden Decade Vol. 2 as a cutout once, which has "Come On," "You Never Can Tell" (not really a favourite, though of course great in Pulp Fiction), "The Promised Land," and "Let It Rock." So I've got all three Golden Decades--can't remember a thing about the third--plus Motorvatin'. The Great Twenty-Eight showed up afterwards.

clemenza, Friday, 3 August 2012 22:42 (seven years ago) link

Volume three has one track that would also end up on Great Twenty-Eight ("Beautiful Delilah") a whole lot of the blues-oriented material, and a couple of really oddball rockers. Nice stab at "The House of Blue Lights," but the ones to cherry-pick IIRC are "Downbound Train" and the curious "Broken Arrow." It's definitely not essential, but it's always fun to open up the non-28 material for me, cause I know that stuff so deep down it's always a pleasant surprise to go, wait, dude had other songs!

Doctor Casino, Friday, 3 August 2012 22:55 (seven years ago) link

It's gotta be 'Rock'n'Roll Music'...

The Jupiter 8 (Turrican), Friday, 3 August 2012 22:59 (seven years ago) link

I picked up Bear Family's "Chuck Rocks", with all uptempo songs, and it's perfect.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Saturday, 4 August 2012 00:38 (seven years ago) link

seven years pass...

Brown Eyed Handsome Man

J. Sam, Tuesday, 13 August 2019 14:27 (six months ago) link

Havana Moon

one charm and one antiup quark (outdoor_miner), Tuesday, 13 August 2019 14:30 (six months ago) link

these days for me it's "Club Nitty Gritty". Never fails to destroy to dancefloor when I dj out

“Hakuna Matata,” a nihilist philosophy (One Eye Open), Tuesday, 13 August 2019 14:34 (six months ago) link

Wow, don't think I've heard this one before.

Good morning, how are you, I'm (Doctor Casino), Tuesday, 13 August 2019 16:27 (six months ago) link

No Particular Place to Go. The fills!

bendy, Tuesday, 13 August 2019 18:10 (six months ago) link

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