Monday, April 21, 2008

50 years ago: Chuck Berry charted with “Johnny B. Goode”

Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry

Writer(s): Chuck Berry (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 21, 1958

Peak: 8 US, 11 CB, 15 HR, 2 RB, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 26.6 video, 225.92 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

With his rags-to-riches song “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry created a character who symbolizes an Elvis Presley-type who comes from humble beginnings and whose mother promises her son that his name will be in lights someday. DM Berry says the improvised tale of a young man who plays “his guitar all the way to stardom” TC is “more or less” his story, RS500 with a few details changed.

The character is named after pianist TC Johnnie Johnson. Berry joined Johnson’s group, the Sir John Trio, in 1953, soon becoming the focal point as the lead singer. SF Johnson wrote many of Berry’s hits on piano and then Berry converted them to guitar. TC Berry said he originally wrote “Johnny B. Goode” for Johnson. SS

The name “Goode” came from the street where Berry grew up, TB 2520 Goode Avenue, AH one nowhere close to the song’s setting in a cabin “deep down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans.” Berry grew up in St. Louis and proclaimed, “I don’t think I’ve actually seen a real log cabin, much less lived in one!” SJ

Berry was not illiterate like the song’s character. He went to beauty school and graduated with a hairdressing and cosmetology degree. RS500 Lyrically, “that little colored boy could play” was changed to “that little country boy could play,” because, as Berry said, “I thought it would seem biased to white fans” DM and “it wouldn’t get on the radio.” RS500

Music historian Steve Sullivan says, “No other record defines the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll like ‘Johnny B. Goode.’” SS It “established the sound of the rock and roll guitar.” PW That famous guitar intro is nearly a note-for-note copy of the opening solo in Louis Jordan’s 1946 “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” played by guitarist Carl Hogan. He wasn’t the first to play it either. The riff dates back to a 1918 recording of “Bluin’ the Blues” by Wilbur Sweatman’s Jazz Orchestra. AH It also appeared in songs by Blind Blake, Count Basie, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and others before Jordan’s record. AH Rock critic Dave Marsh says “You can’t copyright guitar licks and maybe that’s good, because if you could, …we’d lose not just the Beach Boys, but essential elements of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen.” DM


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First posted 7/13/2014; last updated 4/2/2023.

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