Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Johnny B. Goode

This morning I woke up with "Johnny B. Goode" playing in my head for some reason-- must have had some kind of rock & roll dream. Anyway, I have to keep this pretty abbreviated today, as it's going to be a busy one, so why not tackle one of the most famous, integral songs in rock history? My only consolation is that I'm sure that everything one could say about the song itself has already been said.

(This video has some bonus "I Just Don't Understand" for you-- but that's for another day, so feel free to turn it off at 3:00 or so.)

Live at the BBC, for those who haven't yet read me raving about it, is a way-cool compilation of live performances the Beatles did for various BBC radio shows between 1963 and 1965. Most of these performances were of the covers that were so key to their early live shows, so you get to hear all kinds of things that weren't released any other way, including some obscure offerings that you might be hard-pressed to hear anywhere anymore, like "Clarabella" and its ilk. Of course, "Johnny B. Goode" is maybe the least obscure song ever, so the chief pleasures here are listening to John wail like his life depends on it and George paying brilliant homage to the world's most famous guitar solo.

Like many of the Beatles' covers, this one is an affectionate imitation of the original, though the lads give this song a more shuffly, skiffly feel that makes it sound uniquely Beatley. Berry's original is more manic, and his guitar more pitch-perfect (I swear Berry's guitar solos are the cleanest in the universe-- his guitar really does ring like a bell), but I like the way the Beatles maintain the raw sense of urgency even at their slightly slower tempo. Also, I've decided that John Lennon singing Chuck Berry songs is what heaven is like. And if "Johnny B. Goode" doesn't convince you of this on its own, consider the following: this and this.

There's some note of dead seriousness in the way John sings Berry-- or maybe it's just me, I don't know. Every singer who tackles "Johnny B. Goode" is probably singing it as his or her own wishful autobiography, but that edge in John's voice seems to hint at how very deeply he feels all those rock & roll dreams. This was recorded for the BBC in February of 1964, when the Beatles had just returned to Britain after their triumphant first American tour, and I can't help but feel the poignancy of their choice of song that day-- a day when they must have realized they'd conquered the world.

Finally: some bonus John and Chuck on the Mike Douglas Show in 1972. The sound isn't great on this-- it's like John's amp just isn't on or something-- but I still love the way John sings.

"Johnny B. Goode," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 29 of Live at the BBC, November 30, 1994.


  1. Chuck -- it's your cousing Marvin. Marvin Berry?

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

  2. @#^!@#@@!. 'Cousin.' Stupid preview ...