July 27, 2021

Ten Songs “Inspired” by Chuck Berry

Spanish and English versions, songs that inspired Chuck Berry… and themes that he inspired. Xavier Valiño collects this week ten examples from The Beatles, Bob Dylan or The Beach Boys whose starting point was a song by the rock pioneer.

Selection and text: XAVIER VALIÑO.

We finish this week our tribute in four installments to the recently deceased rock pioneer, days before his new – and posthumous – album goes on sale. After reviewing Spanish versions of his compositions, the best adaptations in English and the songs that inspired him to compose some of his most recognized songs, today we say goodbye with those songs directly ‘inspired’ by – when not plagiarized by – Chuck Berry, some of which we collect on the web similarrock.com, in which we daily break down these and other plagiarisms or reasonable similarities.

1. Bob Dylan: ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ (“Bringing It All Back Home”, 1965)

As has often been noted, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is powerfully reminiscent of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’, a song written and performed by Chuck Berry that was released as his fifth single in September 1956 by Chess Records. Bob Dylan himself confirmed this in an interview published on April 4, 2004 in the Los Angeles Times entitled “The enigmatic poet of rock opens a long private door.” There he recognized that “It comes from Chuck Berry, from ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some of the songs in which vocal improvisation was done in the 40s”.

The original: ‘Too Much Monkey Business’

2. Bob Dylan: ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ (“Modern Times”, 2006)

In “Bob Dylan: All the Songs”, a book by Philippe Margotin and Jean Michel – Guesdon, its authors state that ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ “has the style of Chuck Berry, particularly in the guitar hooks, riffs and melody reminiscent of ‘Let It Rock’ “. In addition, in its lyrics ‘Thunder on the Mountain’ includes a verse based on the song ‘Ma Rainey’ by Memphis Minnie, in which Dylan replaces the references to Ma Rainey and her birthplace, Georgia, with Alicia Keys and Hell’s Kitchen .

El original:  ‘Let It Rock’

3. Bob Seger: ‘Get out of Denver’ (“Seven”, 1974)

Bob Seger claimed at the time that he wrote this song in about fifteen minutes one night on their opening tour for Bachman Turner Overdrive, and that he was trying to write powerful songs that people could remember. He also stated that the lyrics did not mean much and that he often changed them when he used this theme to close his concerts. What he forgot to comment is that ‘Get Out of Denver’ is very reminiscent of the Chuck Berry classic ‘Johnny B. Goode’.

El original: ‘Johny B. Goode’

4. Fleetwood Mac: ‘Albatross’ (single, 1968)

Peter Green wrote this melody inspired by the famous poem “Ballad of the Old Mariner” by the English poet Samuel Coleridge. To do this, he included various guitar effects that represented a soft and relaxing melody, although the band’s guitarist at the time, Jeremy Spencer, couldn’t. When the young guitarist Danny Kirwan, 18, joined the group, he started working on this instrument and less than two months later it was published. ‘Albatross’ is reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s 1957 instrumental ‘Deep Feeling’, including the call and response between the guitars and the constant bass at the back of the song.

El original: ‘Deep Feeling’

5. Nick Lowe: ‘I Knew the Bride’ (“The Rose of England”, 1985)

When the album “Live Stiffs Live” was released, music critic Robert Christgau claimed that the song ‘I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock’ n ‘Roll)’ was “Nick Lowe’s answer” to ‘ You Never Can Tell ‘by Chuck Berry, given the obvious resemblance between the two. Composed by Nick Lowe, the first to record it was Dave Edmunds, his friend and colleague at Rockpile. A year later, in 1978, Nick Lowe’s first recording with Last Chicken in the Shop appeared, precisely on that live album entitled “Live Stiffs Live” and in 1985 Nick Lowe recorded his slower studio version for his album “ The Rose of England ”, produced by Huey Lewis.

El original: ‘You Never Can Tell’

6. The Beach Boys: ‘Surfin U.S.A.’ (“Surfin USA”, 1963)

As soon as’ Surfin ‘USA’ was released, many recognized in it a plagiarism of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, a Chuck Berry single that had been released in January 1958. After the pertinent lawsuit, Murry Wilson, the Wilson’s father, decided to credit Chuck Berry as a co-author of the song, without his children finding out. Brian Wilson said years later that it took him 25 years to find out that he was sharing the copyright with Berry. He also assured that not only Chuck Berry had been an influence on this particular issue, but that he had also been inspired by Chubby Checker’s’ Twistin ‘USA’. However, David Marks, guitarist on the recording, assures in the “Brian Wilson Songwriter 1962-1969” deuvedé that Carl Wilson was the one who showed the album “Chuck Berry Is on Top” to his brother Brian. He liked the rhythm of the song so much that he composed ‘Surfin’ USA ‘from its sound, changing only the lyrics.

El original: ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’

7. The Beach Boys: ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ (single, 1964)

‘Surfin’ USA ‘was not the last time that The Beach Boys borrowed something from Chuck Berry:’ Fun, Fun, Fun ‘begins with a riff taken from the Chuck Berry classic’ Johny B. Goode ‘, released as a single on March 31, 1958. Composed in this case by Brian Wilson and Mike Love from the story of a girl who had used her father’s car to have fun with her friends, instead of going to study at the library, this song it was the cause of the rupture between the Wilson brothers and their father, who did not want to be recorded because of his “immoral” story.

El original: Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

8. The Beatles: ‘Come Together’ (“Abbey Road”, 1969)

‘Come Together’ had a melody reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’, although conveniently slowed down, as well as keeping John Lennon in his lyrics one of the lines from Berry’s song, ‘Here come old flattop’ . Chuck Berry’s music publisher, owned by Morris Levy, sued Lennon in 1973, agreeing shortly after that John Lennon would record an album of cover versions of songs to which Levy owned the copyright. That 1975 Lennon record (Rock’n’Roll) contained the song in question and Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, as well as Lee Dorsey’s ‘Ya Ya’, also owned by Levy. In revenge, John recorded ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ with the same arrangement of ‘Come Together’ so that, in this way, Berry’s song would be more like that of The Beatles. Lennon ended up recognizing the inspiration in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1980, although he also took the opportunity to defend himself against the accusation of plagiarism: “Yes, it was me composing on an old Chuck Berry song. Even though it’s not at all like the Chuck Berry song, I was put on trial because I admitted it once years ago. I left a line, which is not just from Berry: ‘Here come old flattop.’ I could have changed it to ‘Here comes old iron face’. The song is still mine, regardless of Chuck Berry or anyone else in this world. “

El original: ‘You Can’t Catch Me’

9. The Beatles: ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ (“Please Please Me”, 1963)

‘I Saw Her Standing There’ shamelessly took the bass line from the song ‘I’m Talking about You’ released by Chuck Berry a couple of years earlier. This is how Paul McCartney recognized it in Bill Harry’s “The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia” (1992): “This is an example of how I copied someone. I used the bass riff from Chuck Berry’s’ I’m Talkin ‘about You’ on ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. I played the exact same notes as him and it fit our song perfectly. When I tell people, few believe me ”. Interestingly, ‘I’m Talkin’ about You ‘is a song that The Beatles performed live in the early 1960s, and can be heard on the album “Live! at the Star – Club in Hamburg, Germany ”(1962). Later, they would perform it on the BBC’s Saturday Club program, specifically on March 16, 1963. On that day they also played the song that served as inspiration, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, and another song by Chuck Berry , ‘Too Much Monkey Business’.

El original: ‘I’m Talking About You’

10. The Golliwogs: ‘You Got Nothing on Me’ (single, 1965)

‘You Got Nothin’ on Me ‘by The Golliwogs is reminiscent of the well-known Chuck Berry song’ Roll over, Beethoven ‘, released in 1956 and which speaks of rock and roll having come to replace classical music. The Golliwogs was active between 1964 and 1967 and, shortly after, it would end up becoming Creedence Clearwater Revival, having started in the world of music in 1959 under the name The Blue Velvets. Signed in tandem by the brothers John and Tom Fogerty, both sang it as a duet in the recording that was made in April 1965 at the Fantasy studios in Berkeley (California), to be released in July of the same year.

El original: ‘Roll over Beethoven’

Bonus Track:
Los Sírex: ‘San Carlos Club’ (“Los Sírex interpret their own songs”, 1964)

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, in their fourth epé for the Vergara Los Sírex record company they included ‘San Carlos Club’, a tribute to the premises on Calle Mayor de Gracia (Barcelona) where they performed frequently during 1963. The group signed it as their own, although in reality it was not more than a version of the classic ‘Route 66’, which was not by Berry but by Bobby Troup, although it was Chuck Berry who brought it closer to the world of rock by making it his own.

El original: ‘Route 66’