Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Song Meaning & Facts: Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry

Johnny B Goode is Chuck Berry's signature song. It's been covered by many prominent rock bands over the years, and has attributed numerous accolades. Part of the reason was, not just the brilliancy of the song itself, but due to the fact that Chuck Berry was phenomenal electric guitar player. No one covered ( cover songs ) Berry's songs for the white audience in the 50s, because none of them played the guitar like him. It's arguable, if it wasn't for Chuck Berry, there would be no Beatles, Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd!

The song is about the life of Johnny, a teenage ( I suppose ) boy who was good at music, but didn't do well in school. I always though Chuck Berry was referring to himself in this song. "But he could play the guitar like ringing a bell" very much sounds like a self-reference. But Chuck was born in St Louis, not "Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans" as stated in the song. Also, Chuck was born to a middle class family, and didn't live a "stood a log cabin made of earth and wood," and excelled in high school ( though he was arrested for armed robbery ). Nevertheless, there's no reason to assume that this song doesn't reflect his lifestyle in some shape of form; maybe he wrote the song about a friend of his, and added the guitar-playing reference make it more person.

Another aspect that stood out in this song is the extend to which Chuck was willing to be descriptive. Every line contains around ten words. For instance, after hearing the first few lines, audience knows a quite a bit about the setting of the song, the main character, and his socio-economic status. This is quite contrary to, say, Elvis' Hound Dog. This was very deliberate on the part of Chuck; he wanted to appeal to the white audience. For those who don't know him, Chuck is black. He understood the fact that white audience, especially the affluent ones, enjoyed songs with words - at least in the 50s. He specifically targeted those because, simply put, Chuck Berry wanted to rich. As a matter of fact, that's all he cared about - being rich!

Make a comment below to let me know what you think of Chuch Berry and Johnny B Goode.

Deep down 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 of Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well,
But he could play the guitar like ringing a bell.

Go Go
Go Johnny Go
Go Go
Johnny B. Goode

He use to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Or sit beneath the trees by the railroad track.
Oh, the engineers used to see him sitting in the shade,
Strumming with the rhythm that the drivers made.
The People passing by, they would stop and say
Oh my that little country boy could play

Go Go
Go Johnny Go
Go Go
Johnny B. Goode

His mother told him someday you will be a man,
And you would be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying Johnny B. Goode tonight.

Go Go
Go Johnny Go
Go Go
Johnny B. Goode

Johnny B Goode Accolades
List Publisher Rank Year of Publication
500 Greatest Songs of All Time Rolling Stone 7 2010
100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Q 42 2005
100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time Rolling Stone 1 2008
Top 3000 Songs Acclaimed Music 6 N/A
500 Songs That Shaped Rock Rock & Roll Hall of Fame N/A 1995
50 Greatest Guitar Solos Guitar World 12 2009

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