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Any Major Chuck Berry Covers

March 23rd, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

Rock ‘n’ roll was invented when Marty McFly’s 1980s guitar solo of Johnny B Goode compels Marvin Berry to phone his cousin Chuck for inspiration for the new sound the latter was seeking. The obituaries for Chuck Berry noted his huge contribution to the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Along with Ike Turner — another nasty individual who, like Berry, is best remembered only for his music — Chuck Berry is often cited as Exhibit A in the claim that rock ‘n’ roll is the white man having stolen the music of the black man.

The argument has merit in some ways — the many hit cover versions by white artists of tracks first recorded by black artists or the exploitation of black musicians by record companies in the ’50s being cases in point. But it doesn’t hold true for the development of rock ‘n’ roll as a musical genre, which from the start was subject to a broad sweep of influences and served as a broad church of musical styles.

And that finds concrete expression in Chuck Berry’s debut hit Maybelline, the record some regard as the birth of rock ‘n’ roll as a thing. And in a way it was: Maybelline was the first rock ‘n’ roll record performed by a black musician to break into the Billboard Top 10. Berry himself said that he had based Maybellene on country legend Bob Wills’ vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. The foundation of Maybelline was country, but the building was rhythm and blues. In varying formulas, that was the architecture of rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, Wills’ Western Swing sound was itself a fusion — the white music we now call country incorporating black musical forms — which led Wills to claim that he did rock ‘n’ roll two decades before anyone, but that’s another story.

The idea that rock ‘n’ roll started as a “big bang”, ascribable to individuals, or a select groups of individuals, or even a particular point in time, is absurd. The genre, which itself is so diffuse, was the result of a relatively slow evolution. Music that sounded like rock ‘n’ roll was already made more than a decade before Maybelline or Rocket 88. Just listen to Buddy Jones’ Rockin’ Rollin’ Mama from 1939 on A History of Country Vol. 3: Pre-war years – 1937-41.

My proposition is that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t so much a musical genre than a social movement. And for that a series of big, small and tiny bangs were needed. Chuck Berry being the first black R&B musician to cross over into the Billboard charts was one such seismic moment. Rock Around The Clock and The Blackboard Jungle, Tutti Frutti, Elvis on Ed Sullivan, perhaps even the death of James Dean were others.

Chuck Berry, influencing some white kid in England…or Hill Valley.

So Chuck Berry of course does occupy a central place in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And other than Elvis, a good case can be made that Berry most influenced the post-war kids who would lead the British invasion in the 1960s — though he was by no means the only one, so the equation that without Berry there’d have been no Beatles or Stones is poor arithmetic.

Unlike Elvis, Berry wrote his own songs, and this is the subject of this mix: 26 covers of tracks written by Chuck Berry between 1954 and 1970 (the mix is a result of me taking the bait from regular reader and radio presenter Martin). What is striking is how few black artists covered Chuck Berry. On this mix I count three. Three other shortlisted covers by black artists — Wilson Picket, Robert Cray and Aaron Neville — didn’t make the cut. Similarly, very few women covered Berry (which the old misogynist might have been pleased about). Which raises the question: Is Chuck Berry music the soundtrack of white maleness? Answers on a postcard, please.

Of my joint-favourite Berry songs, one is covered as one would expect it and as it has to be by the Beach Boys. The other, however, sounds nothing like the original. Taj Mahal does interesting things to Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, though I still prefer the original. I never had much of an opinion either way of Too Much Monkey Business, but Leon Russell’s version here is exquisite — one of the few instances where the cover of a Chuck Berry song is much better than the original.

My choice for the cover of Memphis, Tennessee was obvious — even if I still like Johnny Rivers’ take the best — and there was only ever one choice for Rock And Roll Music. I expect that here and there somebody will regret that I left out some song or other (I’m adding on four bonus tracks that very narrowly didn’t make it on to the CD-R), but one song that I was not going to leave out was the b-side for Maybelline, covered here by Trini Lopez — on the title of which Chuck is declaring his future intent.

Alas, I found no suitable cover of a Chuck Berry song by his lyrical heir, Bruce Springsteen. But I can recommend that, if you are Springsteen fan, you join in the fun with the crowd in Leipzig, Germany, in 2013 on You Can Never Tell, the Berry song that seems to have been written for Springsteen and his E Street Band.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-duckwalked covers. PW in comments.

1. Electric Light Orchestra – Roll Over Beethoven (1972)
2. The Beatles – Rock And Roll Music (1964)
3. The Rolling Stones – Come On (1963)
4. Elvis Presley – Memphis, Tennessee (1963)
5. Trini Lopez – Wee Wee Hours (1965)
6. Marty Robbins – Maybelline (1955)
7. Ernest Tubb – Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) (1955)
8. Linda Ronstadt – Back In The USA (1978)
9. Emmylou Harris – (You Can Never Tell) C’est La Vie (1977)
10. George Thorogood & The Destroyers – You Can’t Catch Me (1988)
11. Dave Edmunds – Dear Dad (1982)
12. The Animals – Around And Around (1964)
13. The Troggs – The Jaguar And The Thunderbird (1966)
14. The Beach Boys – School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell) (1980)
15. Slade – I’m A Rocker (1981)
16. Status Quo – Carol (1981)
17. Rod Stewart – Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller (1974)
18. David Bowie – Almost Grown (1972)
19. Juicy Lucy – Nadine (1969)
20. Humble Pie – No Money Down (1974)
21. Taj Mahal – Brown-Eyed Handsome Man (1975)
22. Leon Russell – Too Much Monkey Business (1992)
23. Dr. Feelgood – I’m Talking About You (1976)
24. Luther Johnson – Little Queenie (1975)
25. Jimi Hendrix – Johnny B. Goode (1970)
26. Redwing – Bye Bye Johnny (1972)
Bonus Tracks: Conway Twitty – Reelin’ And A Rockin’ (1961)
Ray Manzarek – Downbound Train (1974)
Carlos Santana – Havana Moon (1983)
Levon Helm – Back To Memphis (2011)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    March 23rd, 2017 at 07:41 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Bo
    March 23rd, 2017 at 10:26 | #2

    Thanks a lot

  3. March 23rd, 2017 at 11:04 | #3

    Great post, thanks, you even included a few covers I hadn’t heard before.
    As for the ladies, Nina Simone did a good Brown Eyed Handsome Man!

  4. rekkids
    March 23rd, 2017 at 15:35 | #4

    This looks great, thank you !

  5. Josie
    March 23rd, 2017 at 16:29 | #5

    Another winning collection, AMD! Thank you!

  6. Pete Reilly
    March 23rd, 2017 at 18:04 | #6

    Hi Dude, Great selection of tracks as always, covering different genres that I wouldn’t normally listen to.

    Also, a very well written, thought provoking piece on Chuck Berry. Thanks very much.

  7. Martin Whittle
    March 23rd, 2017 at 20:35 | #7

    Hi there!

    Another great post, although a couple of omissions that may hit the follow up John Cale’s version of Memphis (From the Animal Justice’ EP ) and Keith Richards version of Run Rudolph Run (Or The Boys version if feeling a little more punky!

    Keep up the terrific work!

    Martin

  8. March 23rd, 2017 at 23:31 | #8

    A few more interesting covers:
    13th Floor Elevators – Roll Over Beethoven
    Led Zeppelin – School Days
    Kaleidoscope – You Never Can Tell
    Duane Allman – No Money Down
    Lovin Spoonful – Almost Grown
    The Rolling Stones – Little Queenie
    Faces – Memphis, Tennessee
    The Doors – Carol
    Beacon Street Union – Beautiful Delilah
    The Blues Project – You Can’t Catch Me

  9. JoeG
    March 24th, 2017 at 02:16 | #9

    I thought you might put something together, and I did as well, including some of the songs on your CD. I have been making covers CDs for my own amusement for years now (my Excel spreadsheet is up to 27,623 lines for the CDs I’ve put together, and I never repeat myself, so if I were starting from scratch I’m sure the CD I just made would look very different, but anyhow, here is what I did:

    1 Come On The Rolling Stones 1:48
    2 Oh What A Thrill Rockpile 3:04
    3 Brown Eyed Handsome Man Mollie O’Brien 2:30
    4 Almost Grown The Lovin’ Spoonful 1:51
    5 Sweet Little Sixteen The Hollies 2:23
    6 Roll Over Beethoven The Beatles 2:44
    7 Reelin’ & Rockin’ The Dave Clark Five 2:48
    8 Carol At The Hop 2:59
    9 Too Much Monkey Business Elvis Presley 2:32
    10 Maybellene Marty Robbins 2:34
    11 Havana Moon Carlos Santana 4:09
    12 No Money Down John Hammond 2:24
    13 Sweet Little Rock N Roller Dave Edmunds 3:35
    14 Memphis Johnny Rivers 2:45
    15 Nadine The Refreshments 3:25
    16 Tulane Joan Jett & the Blackhearts 2:54
    17 13 Question Method Ry Cooder 3:39
    18 You Can’t Catch Me Sleepy LaBeef 2:39
    19 It Wasn’t Me George Thorogood & The Destroyers 4:08
    20 Rock & Roll Music Tenpole Tudor 2:14
    21 Johnny B Goode MonaLisa Twins 3:01
    22 Back In The U.S.A. Bruce Springsteen 6:52
    23 Let It Rock Bob Seger 8:30
    24 Promised Land The Grateful Dead 2:31

  10. JoeG
    March 24th, 2017 at 02:18 | #10

    And for sure, if I were starting over, I’d have Brown Eyed Handsome Man by Neko Case! (among others)

  11. halfhearteddude
    March 24th, 2017 at 07:32 | #11

    I’d never heard the Springsteen version of Back In The USA. Fantastic.

  12. RhodB
    March 24th, 2017 at 21:38 | #12

    Thanks Amd

    A great compilation

    good work

    Regards

    RhodB

  13. March 24th, 2017 at 23:12 | #13

    Great post, as always, Dude. Weirdly, I wrote two Chuck Berry posts myself this week, and the first one opened with Marvin Berry calling Chuck to tell him about Marty McFly’s guitar sound too. (I was also pointed towards that Springsteen clip by a friend in the comments – I’d never seen it before, but I grinned all the way through.)

  14. JoeG
    March 25th, 2017 at 01:22 | #14

    @halfhearteddude
    It’s from a 2014 boot, “The Spirit of Radio.”As the title suggests, he performed it on WMMR-FM in Philadelphia in 1975. I can send you the track if you like. How to do that?

  15. halfhearteddude
    March 25th, 2017 at 11:30 | #15

    Great minds…

  16. halfhearteddude
    March 25th, 2017 at 11:31 | #16

    Thanks for the offer JoeG; I’ve found it already ;)

  17. Don
    March 25th, 2017 at 15:04 | #17

    Love this just like all your comps, big thanks for a Chuck Berry lineup! Great music in this mix.

  18. Tom
    March 25th, 2017 at 15:38 | #18

    Thanks for a great compilation. But you can wait for it: people will line up to tell you that you missed an important record and/or artist. So I will join them (sorry). What about Jerry Lee Lewis? With Chuck Berry he shared the love for younger girls. And Jerry’s ‘Little Queenie’ is imho way better than the original. ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ is another one that can’t be overlooked. Just to close it off: the two of them shared the stage quite some times. And we’ll never forget the first time they did it. Chuck Berry would close the show. And nobody does but the Killer. So, according to legend, Jerry set fire to the piano with lighter fuel at the end of his act, walked off and told Berry “Follow that, boy.”

  19. March 25th, 2017 at 20:27 | #19

    love your posts – definitely looking forward to your latest. thank you very much for all your work and creating this blog site/community

  20. Jeff
    March 26th, 2017 at 03:25 | #20

    worth mentioning – George Thorogood did cover “No Particular Place To Go.” Not as good as original, but fun nevertheless.

  21. Tom
    March 26th, 2017 at 12:41 | #21

    What about Jerry Lee Lewis? Has a lot of Chuck Berry songs on his repertoire!

  22. March 26th, 2017 at 12:59 | #22

    ACE released an excellent tribute album earlier this year:
    http://www.acerecords.co.uk/rock-and-roll-music-the-songs-of-chuck-berry

  23. halfhearteddude
    March 27th, 2017 at 21:50 | #23

    Tom, I really dislike Jerry Lee Lewis, a few songs aside.

  24. Matt
    March 29th, 2017 at 03:36 | #24

    This is a very entertaining compilation, with (as always) a lot of stuff I’d never heard of. Marvelous, appropriate tribute. Nicely done.

  25. dogbreath
    April 5th, 2017 at 11:50 | #25

    Says a lot about the man and his music that such a diverse roster of arists have covered – and continue to cover – his songs. Nicely compiled – er -compilation. Cheers!

  26. April 23rd, 2017 at 11:57 | #26

    Great to see you’re still out there doing this!

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