Chuck Berry, Back To The Future and “Johnny B. Goode”

My last two posts have in effect been tributes to artists who passed away in 2017. Another colossus from the world of music who died earlier this year, but whom I omitted to write about at the time, was Chuck Berry. It was not until after his death at the grand old age of 90, that I discovered he’d led such a colourful life, and not always because of his success as one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. Oh no, over the years it was common to see him having been incarcerated for a variety of misdemeanours, so despite having come from a reasonably well-off, middle class family, there was something about his personality that must have made that likely to happen.

Chuck_Berry_circa_1958
Chuck Berry in 1958

As for me, being a child of the ’60s, Mr Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll career had kind of passed its heyday by the time I got to know about him, and ironically when I did, it was only because of the truly awful novelty song My Ding a Ling. For some reason, despite its awfulness, it must have resonated with the record-buying public back in 1972, and hit the No. 1 spot in several countries including the UK.

Chuck Berry has graced these pages before (link here) but only because I had written a post about songs chosen for crime dramas. Quentin Tarantino, a master at picking lesser-known and somehow timeless tracks for his movies, had used Chuck’s You Never Can Tell for the infamous twist contest scene in Pulp Fiction, where Mia Wallace instructs a nervous Vincent Vega that she wants to win that trophy (and what Mia wants, Mia gets).

pulpfictiondance

But no, I’m sure we’d all agree that the song most closely associated with Chuck Berry is none other than Johnny B. Goode. It was written back in 1955 and was all about an illiterate, guitar-playing country boy from Louisiana who dreamt of having his name in lights. Although originally about a “coloured boy”, Chuck changed the lyrics to “country boy” to make sure of airplay and it sits at No. 7 on that list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

There also however can’t be many people of my age who don’t know that his whole career was based on a chance phonecall from his cousin Marvin Berry, who had accidentally injured his hand and needed a guitar-playing stand-in at short notice. Fortunately, a time-travelling kid from 1985 was literally waiting in the wings for his chance to shine and the rest as they say, is history – Chuck had finally found that new sound he was looking for. (Check out the proof at 1:30)

Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry:

But of course that couldn’t really have happened, even in the fanciful world of Steven Spielberg movies, as it would have constituted a paradox. Marty McFly in the film Back To The Future would never have known the song Johnny B. Goode in 1985 had Chuck not written it in 1955, but a great little bit of space-time continuum humour for the movie. In October 2015, whilst on holiday, it became apparent via social media that we were celebrating Back To The Future Day – As luck would have it the day was a bit of a miserable one weather-wise, so how better to spend it than to watch all three BTTF movies back to back – How accurate had the film-makers been in predicting how we would live in the future? Not too bad at all as it turns out although to date I have never popped to the shops on a hover board!

And here is where my geek credentials come to the fore – I do love the whole concept of time-travel (this blog’s domain name is “jukeboxtimemachine.com” after all) so I decided, once and for all, to document the BTTF journeys made by Marty and Doc Brown. It’s easy to get a tad confused over the sheer number of trips made by our intrepid duo over the course of the trilogy but by the end of film number two it was all on paper, and was making total sense – A seemingly inconsequential action taking place in an alternate past can change the future from being a rosy one, to one of utter chaos and that’s exactly what had happened. It was time to go further back in time, to 1885.

Now it was starting to get really complicated but I soldiered on over the course of the afternoon recording the many, many DeLorean journeys back and forth in time. By early evening I thought I had it, and clearly marked on the bit of paper I had commandeered from our holiday cottage sideboard, that there were indeed no paradoxes. What a fool I was however as I had clearly not considered the fact that Mr Berry’s song, duck walk and guitar riff had, according to cousin Marvin, not even been thought of yet. As it turns out, many other paradoxes have been discovered over the years by eagle-eyed fans (or should that be pedantic geeks), but on that evening of 21st October 2015, I was still feeling really quite chuffed with myself.

IMG_0884

So, “What’s It All About?” – It seems that for someone my age, Chuck Berry is not so much remembered for being pivotal in the melding of rhythm & blues with country music and bringing it to a mainstream audience in the form of rock ‘n’ roll, but instead for a (really bad) novelty song, the music used for Pulp Fiction’s twist contest and for that highly entertaining musical paradox in a film about a pair of time travellers. What can I say, I am a product of the pop culture of my times.

I feel as if I have now caught up with this year’s tributes and am crossing fingers that no more will have to be written for a while, although unlikely considering the age of some of the rock royalty still around – We wouldn’t want to admit it but I can’t be the only one who has conjectured on who will be next. Before I go however we should really see some more of Chuck in action, as it sounds as if without him there might not have been any Beatles or a myriad of other ’60s bands influenced by him and his ilk. Without Chuck there would probably have been no British Invasion, so however his life panned out, that is quite a legacy to leave.

Until next time….

Johnny B. Goode Lyrics
(Song by Chuck Berry)

Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a-ringing a bell

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineer would see him sittin’ in the shade
Strummin’ with the rhythm that the drivers made
The people passing by, they would stop and say
“Oh my, but that little country boy could play”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

His mother told him, “Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big ol’ band
Many people comin’ from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name’ll be in lights
Sayin’ ‘Johnny B. Goode tonight!'”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

15 thoughts on “Chuck Berry, Back To The Future and “Johnny B. Goode””

  1. I thought the Pesky Paradoxes were a band 🙂
    He was quite a one, that Chuck Berry, wasn’t he? But yes Johnny B. Goode is the song I’d rather think of instead of My Ding A Ling (which I vividly remember listening to with my mum and sister and not being able to understand what it could possibly be that they were laughing about, as it was just about a bell, surely. Think my mum probably said, “I’ll tell you when you’re older”…)
    I’m most impressed by your complicated recordings of time travel – love your curious and logical mind!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good name for a band – Next time I put one together I’ll remember that!

      He certainly was a one, and I don’t expect much feedback on this post as I think people are a bit torn about whether they should appreciate him or not, but realised I had let his passing slip by earlier in the year which was wrong. That Ding-a-Ling song was awful wasn’t it but must have tickled the nation’s funny bone back in ’72.

      As for my curious and logical mind – not sure about that. My other half would call it something else!

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  2. I remember the dreadful ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ too. It seemed to hang around the charts for ages didn’t it? What an awful introduction for us to one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll lyricists! It’s difficult to plump for just one, but I guess ‘Promised Land’ would have to be up there among my favourite Chuck Berry songs, allegedly written with the aid of an atlas while Chuck had plenty of time on his hands – he was in prison!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what, I still remember the embarrassment I felt, aged 12, when a friend tried to explain the meaning of the Ding-a-Ling lyrics to her parents who she thought hadn’t got “the joke”. I was willing her to stop as yes we all got “the joke” and it wasn’t actually very funny but on she went…. Funny the things you remember.

      Yes, Chuck had a habit of landing himself in prison and for all sorts of different crimes so something odd about that, but he did write some excellent lyrics in that early phase of what we now know as rock ‘n’ roll. Looking at the lyrics for Promised Land, that is another great pick for my American Odyssey series so might make an appearance down the line.

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      1. Oh yes, Promised Land would be perfect for your American Odyssey series, wouldn’t it?… several times!…. so just wanted to mention the version I like best which is the cover by Johnnie Allan (with the great accordion break, of all things!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes the whole Greyhound bus imagery and counting off the states – will definitely have to put in an appearance. Just listened to that Johnnie Allan version (great accordion break as you say) and then had to revisit Elvis’ version as you know I’m a fan!

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  3. Very impressed with your efforts to chronicle the BTTF timeline, Alyson: the sort of thing I would have done back when I had free time, particularly as it’s long been one of my favourite movies. Not even going to quibble your “Steven Spielberg films” line, since I guess he was the producer, and Robert Zemeckis holds a strange title in my house, being the director of both (one of) my favourite film(s) and the film I loathe more than any other…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh heck, I shouldn’t really have mentioned Steven Spielberg should I but a name most people would associate with “fanciful” films so thought it worked. As for my timeline chart, just the kind of thing to do whilst on holiday – Why relax when instead you can really tax your brain!

      As for the film you loathe. I’m curious now – Not the one about Mr Gump I hope?

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        1. Hmm, somehow I thought it might be. I have a bit of a soft spot for Mr Gump actually – always in the right place at the right time. My other half used to be a bit of a Tom Hanks lookalike back in those days actually, which must mean I am married to Forrest Gump!

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            1. No, nobody would really want to be compared to Gump but the other half did bear a striking resemblance to the Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail guy back in the day – Sadly his hairline has not so much receded but disappeared, so the resemblance is no more.

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