Many musical histories will tell that it took British bands in the 1960s to remind American teenagers of rock’n’roll’s debt to black blues and rhythm and blues artists – but that’s not true. 100 %.
Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino, among others, had already been a big hit with single American teenagers in the 1950s.
However, by the time the next generation of teenagers arrived in the early 1960s, some of the influence of the original rockers had faded a bit – as music executives tried to force-feed the American teenagers with a new brand of rock ‘n’ roll stars.
With Elvis Presley in the army, the loss of Buddy Holly on the day the music died, Little Richard temporarily turning to preaching and Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis facing their own problems, those who lead the still young industry rock ‘n’ roll saw a chance to bypass the loud southerners who had helped create the genre.
Instead, they decided to focus on a new, more whitewashed version of the music, bringing in vocalists such as Frankie Avalon, Fabian and the like to replace all those rockabilly and R&B cats.
It wasn’t a total loss. Paul Anka wrote his own greatest hits, including “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” Dion DeMucci of Dion and the Belmonts never lost his sense of the street and continues to make great albums today, with a focus on the blues on his last two releases.
Still, Dion hailed from the Bronx and Paul Anka from Canada – so the decision to topple the original artists of southern rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll seemed to be in order.
They shouldn’t have counted Berry out so soon, though. After spending a few years in jail after being convicted of breaking the Mann Law for taking an underage girl across a state line (Berry claimed he was trying to help her get a job as a waitress ), he roared after his release from incarceration with a new record in February 1964, titled “Nadine (Is It You)”.
“Nadine” came well stocked with Berry’s clever pun about a guy getting on a bus when he thinks he’s spotted his bride-to-be walking down the street and yells at the bus driver to let him out of the vehicle. .
“I saw her around the corner when she turned around and turned around and started walking towards a coffee-colored Cadillac,” Berry sings. “I was pushing through the crowd trying to get to where she is; I campaigned screaming like a southern diplomat.
“Nadine” rocked and even included some cool saxophone riffs between the chorus lines.
Along with the release of Berry’s new record, something else also happened in 1964 that profoundly affected the music world. The Beatles landed in America, played on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and a few other select venues – and the world, music and such, would never be the same.
Now Berry not only had to compete with the Beatles, but also a horde of other British bands, including the Rolling Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the like – as well as Motown, which featured a smoother version of the music that Berry had offered.
Nonetheless, “Nadine” soared to No. 23 on the Billboard charts, showing that this Berry still had plenty of juice.
Better still, even though Berry now had to compete with a slew of British bands on the American charts, the Brits weren’t shy about paying the debt they owed him, especially the Beatles and the Stones.
They did not come to bury Berry, but to praise him.
The Beatles even recorded one of Berry’s songs, “Roll Over Beethoven” for their imaginatively titled second American album, titled “The Beatles Second Album”, giving Berry even more exposure to the new generation of fans. rock’n’roll. Not only that, but they placed the song on an EP, or extended play single, from the album, drawing even more attention to it.
Also generating more attention for the song, lead guitarist George Harrison sang lead vocals, shining even more of a spotlight on “Roll Over Beethoven”, since Harrison’s vocals were rare on the Fab Four’s early albums.
They also recorded Berry’s song “Rock and Roll Music”, featuring outstanding vocals by John Lennon, one of the most popular tracks from the “Beatles for Sale” album, which also included a number of original songs. by Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Not to be outdone by their British counterparts, American artists also rushed to record Berry’s songs.
A year before Berry released “Nadine (Is That You)”, guitarist Lonnie Mack recorded and released an instrumental version of Berry’s song “Memphis”, filled with Mack’s trademark guitar riffs, but also giving a nod to Berry’s instrumental guitar playing. own earlier version of the song.
Lonnie Mack’s “Memphis” climbed to No. 5 on Billboard’s Pop chart and No. 3 on Billboard’s R&B chart, keeping Berry’s music alive while Berry himself was on a prison-related hiatus.
An American solo artist, perhaps seeing the luck Mack had with an instrumental version of “Memphis”, recorded his own version, including Berry’s original lyrics with the twist ending near the song’s conclusion. Johnny River’s version of “Memphis” climbed to No. 2 on the charts in 1964.
Rivers nearly repeated that success with its sequel, a new version of Berry’s 1955 hit “Maybelline,” which reached No. 12 on the charts.
The Beach Boys were also big fans of Chuck Berry – so much so that the band’s chief songwriter, Brian Wilson, took the melody of “Sweet Little Sixteen” from “Berry” and used it for the Beach’s hit. Boys, “Surfin’ USA”. Berry’s music publishers were not amused and began legal action, settled when Berry’s contributions were credited and he was compensated.
Guess the Beach Boys didn’t hold a grudge. They included a live cover of Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” on their “Beach Boys Concert” album.
Back in England, the Rolling Stones had recorded Berry’s song, “Come On”, as their first UK single.
Berry, back in the middle of the music world in 1964 with his hit “Nadine”, had another hit later that year with his fun “No Particular Place to Go”, filled with some of his solos. electric guitar, as if to show young people, that’s how it is.
“No Particular Place to Go” proved to be an even bigger hit than “Nadine”, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top Ten Pop Chart.
While running, Berry recorded a new album, which included “No Particular Place to Go”, along with two other songs that would become standards, “Promised Land” and “You Never Can Tell”.
He also embarked on a UK tour, where his early acts included British invasion bands such as The Animals and the Nashville Teens, who despite their name, hailed from Surrey, England.
Just to make sure everyone understood, Berry titled his new album, “From St. Louis to Liverpool.”
A few years later, in 1969, the Beatles released what many consider to be one of their greatest albums, “Abbey Road”. The first single featured Harrison’s resplendent “Something” and Lennon’s song, “Come Together”.
McCartney noticed the similarity between “Come Together” and a Berry song called “You Can’t Catch Me”, before the Beatles recorded the song. McCartney suggested they “flood it” a bit to make the similarities less obvious.
They did, apparently not enough. It wasn’t long before Berry’s publishers contacted Lennon, who agreed to a settlement.
Still, Lennon denied that “Come Together” was removed from “You Can’t Catch Me.”
It made it a little harder to argue his case when it was noted that the two songs included an almost identical line. Lennon sang “Here come old flat-top, he come groovin’ up slowly” while Berry sang in his previous song, “Here come’s a flat-top, he was moving up with me.”
Thanks to those old flat-tops, Berry has once again come out on top.
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]