Sunday, June 8, 2008

Boss Tracks; Little Queenie, Chuck Berry

By his own accord Springsteen was first introduced to Chuck Berry's music through the Rolling Stones. The first Stones album Springsteen bought, was the legendary live album "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!". Recorded in 1969 at the Madison Square garden, the album featured two of Chuck's songs, the featured B-side of today and "Oh Carol". The Stones' version of "Little Queenie" is probably why the plug side of the single, "Almost Grown", stands in the shadows of the flip side these days. It was the A-Side that charted on the Billboard hot 100, peaking at #32. Both sides of the single are far from Berry's best work. Recorded in 1958 Chuck Berry piano player Johnnie Johnson later remembered that the formula was wearing thin, even claiming he was "getting tired of R&R". Comparing Springsteen's early performances in '75 of "Little Queenie" with the version the Stones did asserts Springsteen's claim that it was the British Invasion band that initially hipped him to the Godfather of R&R. Springsteen's version shares the slow and dragging quality of the Stones' performance of the song.

Chuck Berry's version of "Little Queenie" was also featured in one of Alan Freed's flimsy R&R flicks, "Go Johnny, Go!". Berry enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Freed from the earliest stages of his solo career. Freed was probably responsible for Berry's first single Maybellene breaking it big and had made Berry part of his touring packages and films ever since. Released in 1959, "Go Johnny, Go!" was built around an incredibly thin plot, loosely built around the disk jockey's own life story. Freed plays himself in this movie about an orphaned kid making it big through his R&R chops. Freed discovers him through a demo tape and the film is built around his quest to find this young rock & roll singer named Johnny Melody. With the script's and dialog's merits even thinner than Elvis Presley's late Hollywood output, it leans heavy into blistering R&R performances by Chuck Berry and the like to give it some entertainment value.

The appearance of "Little Queenie" in Freed's movie would later prove to be the last career high for both gentlemen before their fall from grace. With R&R being under constant attack of the establishment as it was claimed to induce juvenile delinquency , things were about to come crashing down. Freed would soon get caught up in the payola scandals. Ironically it was the single "Maybellene", which was instrumental for launching both their careers that would be part of Freed's troubles. Freed was credited as co-writer of the song in exchange for plugging it heavily on his radio show. This proved to be an illegal conflict of interest the major companies slyly used in their campaign against R&R. Berry himself was arrested later that year under violation of the Mann act, he was accused of trafficking a 14 year old prostitute over state lines. Though it was unclear if Berry ever knew the girl was a minor and a prostitute, it led to the five year prison sentence that crippled his recording career.

Chuck Berry

Available on Anthology

Bruce Springsteen '75

MP3 File

Here's a Chuck Berry interview from Dutch television for your enjoyment. The introduction is in Dutch, the interview is in English.

Note: you'll notice that the Chuck Berry track is not available for download. I've decided to change the policy of how I deal with officially available material. The flash player will allow you to listen to the track, which should be enough for comparison purposes. Since I aim to promote some of these fine R&R classics, hoping to encourage some of you to buy them since they are often the pension plan of many of the artists featured here, I won't be offering them for free anymore. If you like what you hear, I suggest you sponsor the artist and your local record store by picking up a copy of the suggested CD.


rexlic said...

Great entry, Alex, as always.

"Are you loose?!?!"

But leave us not shortchange "Almost Grown," which, like so much other great rock 'n' roll, made a memorable appearance in George Lucas' "American Graffiti." Too often unfairly lumped in with revival garbage like "Grease," "Graffiti" was actually a savvy, touching ode to the earliest days of rock, and of the aimless all-night cruising that defined suburban teen life. The tragicomic John Milner character, played by Paul LeMat, is in many ways reminiscent of a mid-'70s Bruce invention; his resignation towards his own growing obsolescence as a drag racer, while still blindly worshipped by some of the younger crowd, calls to mind "Racing In The Street."

Anonymous said...

There is no way that the first Stones album Bruce bought was Get Yer Ya Ya's Out (which came out in 1970). He was buying Stones albums long before that.