Richard Berry made his fortune with his sole hit record "Louie, Louie". Not the most sophisticated piece of music ever written but somehow it became R&R's anthem, maybe because of its simplicity. I don't think a song was ever covered as much as that three chord monster. Almost to this day playing "Louie, Louie" stands for the exam an aspiring Rock and Roller needs to pass. My favorite Berry song though is "Have Love Will Travel" performed by him and his pharaohs. Though it never became as big as "Louie, Louie" the song is another testimony that R&R doesn't always need to be complicated to be effective. R&R doesn't always need to be intelligent, nor does it need to have that many layers. Part of the beauty of R&R is that just about anybody can tap into it.
The great paradox of "Have Love Will Travel" is that despite its seemingly inane content its a delightful piece of musical sophistication. It opens with the bass of the song, a voice simply going "Bow Pop Pop Bow" through out the song, over a dragging shuffle beat. Nothing complex here. But if it hadn't been so perfectly timed it would never have been a song that would have gained such an lasting attraction. Though not nearly as much "Louie, Louie", this gem had the knack of surfacing from time to time over the years. Mostly performed by artists with a strong sense of R&R history or looking for material that matches their limited three chord capacities. "Have Love Will Travel" tends to be recorded by R&R buffs who know that Berry was the uncredited lead singer of "Riot in Cell Block #9" from the Robins or who know that the song was likely inspired by the Western series "Have Gun Will Travel". Those who know he started out in Doo Wop group the Flairs. Still these are artists and bands of a wide variety from the Sonics to Bruce Springsteen, from Tom Petty ( who reworked the song) to the Black Keys and not forgetting Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd of course who briefly gave the song a second life in their Blues Brothers project. The artists who reworked "Have Love Will Travel" were sometimes overly familiar, other times wildly obscure themselves, does anybody remember the Olympic Sideburns or failed Turkmenistan glam-rockers Crazyhead?
Even though compilations with obscure Berry material will from time to time appear on the market, "Louie, Louie" and "Have Love Will Travel" will always be his only songs that matter. Both have become such a part of the R&R conscious that Berry himself is nearly inconsequential. Although he wrote the songs, he doesn't own them. They are songs that nobody really owns. These two Richard Berry classics are testimonies of R&R's democratic powers. Write a R&R song and you risk it being taken away from you, risk it becoming bigger than you, adopted as anthems or soundtracks to a life. R&R has a universal appeal. "Have Love Will Travel" even crossed the mighty oceans and ended up in Moscow (for now) in the hand of the delirious Cave Stompers. Not bad for something that lasts three minutes and takes as many chords. "Have Love Will Travel" was a staple during the Tunnel of Love Express tour. This fan boy wouldn't mind seeing this gem pop up in Milwaukee for what appears to be the final night of the tour.
Available on Birth of Soul, Vol. 3