I was obsessed with Chuck Berry in 1987 a full 32 years after his first record, “Maybellene,” was a hit.
As I was motivatin’ over the hill
I saw Mabellene in a Coup de Ville
A Cadillac arollin’ on the open road
Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford
The Cadillac doin’ about ninety-five
She’s bumper to bumper, rollin’ side by side
I was in high school, and that year, I read Chuck’s autobiography. I was the first to check it out of the library. I devoured it, reading some paragraphs out loud to friends in study hall. I was frustrated that nobody was as impressed as I was.
That same year, his movie “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” came out. I saw it on the opening weekend at the old Cinema City in Westbrook. The floor of that place was famous for the half-inch of goo coating the floor, but my feet never stopped moving through the whole film.
Hail, hail rock and roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock and roll
The beat of the drums, loud and bold
Rock, rock, rock and roll
The feeling is there, body and soul
I drove an old pickup truck with an 8-track player in those days. I owned two tapes. One was Chuck’s “London Sessions.” It played in a constant loop for close to a year, emanating from from one, tinny speaker in the middle of the dashboard.
Later, I bought his album, “The Great 28.” To this day, I know the words to all of them, probably in order. My favorite, by far, is “Nadine.”
I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back
And started walkin’ toward a coffee colored Cadillac
I was pushin’ through the crowd tryna get to where she’s at
Man I was campaign shouting like a southern diplomat
I played bass in a band that didn’t cotton to any music made past 1970, with the exception of the Stray Cats, of course, because they were rockabilly. We were called Unfinished Business. We covered at least five of his songs. My favorite, at the time was “Roll Over Beethoven.” The lyrics and the rhythm spoke of everything unknown and uncontrolled in my teenage self.
Well, if you feel it, like it
Goget your lover and reel and rock it
Roll it over and move on up
Just triffle further and reel and rock it
Roll it over
Roll over Beethoven
They’re rocking in two by two
I wore my hair in a uniquely Mainemullet/pompadour style. My Sebago loafers were brown, my Chuck Taylor sneakers were black and my socks were always white. I had a string tie and my jean jacket collar was often popped.
I remain convinced that one of the great tragedies in racist American history is that Chuck’s only number one record was “My Ding-a-Ling” in 1972. Pat Boone had six number one hits.
Let that sink in for a minute.
OK? Got it?
Let’s take a few minutes to remember Chuck Berry, on his 90th birthday. Let’s honor him now because we didn’t back then. Watch these videos and read these articles. It’s the least we can do. He helped invent rock and roll, after all.
Then, send a silent thought to Chuck down in old St. Louie and wish him a happy birthday. I’ll be doing it all day.
Why Chuck Berry Is Even Greater Than You Think by Peter Guralnick
Roll Over Beyonce: Chuck Berry Announces a Surprise Album by Ben Sisario