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Old 03-19-2017, 06:42 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: England
Posts: 1,434
Default Chuck Berry

So, Chuck Berry is dead at 90. Not a bad age. Now, I know the guy had some fairly unsavoury aspects to his personality. But, following recent threads on Dylan's Nobel and L Cohen's death, I just thought it worth acknowledging his influence as a lyricist. Fairly uniquely among the first 'rock and roll' songwriters, his words really mattered: his wit, his accumulation of contemporary detail, his narrative concision, his sheer joy in spitting out words, made him massively influential on the best of rock lyrics for decades.

Here's a good one...

The Promised Land

I left my home in Norfolk Virginia,
California on my mind.
Straddled that Greyhound, rode him past Raleigh,
On across Caroline.

Stopped in Charlotte and bypassed Rock Hill,
And we never was a minute late.
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown,
Rollin' 'cross the Georgia state.

We had some trouble it turned into a struggle,
Half way 'cross Alabam,
And that 'hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham.

Straight off, I bought me a through train ticket,
Ridin' cross Mississippi clean
And I was on that midnight flyer out of Birmingham
Smoking into New Orleans.

Somebody help me get out of Louisiana
Just help me get to Houston town.
There's people there who care a little 'bout me
And they won't let the poor boy down.

Sure as you're born, they bought me a silk suit,
Put luggage in my hands,
And I woke up high over Albuquerque
On a jet to the promised land.

Workin' on a T-bone steak a la carte
Flying over to the Golden State;
The pilot told me in thirteen minutes
We'd be headin' in the terminal gate.

Swing low sweet chariot, come down easy
Taxi to the terminal zone;
Cut your engines, cool your wings,
And let me make it to the telephone.

Los Angeles give me Norfolk Virginia,
Tidewater four ten O nine
Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin'
And the poor boy's on the line.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 03-19-2017 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 03-19-2017, 01:39 PM
Simon Hunt Simon Hunt is offline
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Monterey, CA USA
Posts: 1,768

Thanks for this post, Mark. I think you've nailed it, and I don't have all that much to add. CB was certainly a genius and one of the true originators of the music that has been the soundtrack of much of western culture for the last 60+ years. Besides inventing rock n roll guitar and the singer/songwriter role, he was also as you note the most verbally dexterous of his generation of rock artists. "Promised Land" is a good choice to show this, but you could have gone instead with "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" or "Too Much Monkey Business" (without which, as Dylan allows, no "Subterannean Homesick Blues") or, of course, "Johnny B. Goode." I'll add that I still get a charge out of the word "motorvatin'" at the start of "Maybellene" and that I think "Roll over Beethoven" is a perfect phrase--made even more perfect by the follow-up line, "Tell Tchaikovsky the news!" The crispness of his diction--in both the physiological and the linguistic senses--made his lyrics really matter. And he was a hell of a rhymer, too--mostly snappy full rhymes but occasionally deft slants. Ha--I said I wouldn't add much but keep thinking of more I want to say...

By my count, the living giants of that first generation of rock n roll artists now are only Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard--all in their 80s. Although she didn't achieve the same level of fame, Wanda Jackson is up there in my book, too, and she's a little younger and still touring. Am I forgetting any biggies?

Thought of another... Don Everly just turned 80; his younger brother Phil died a few years ago...

And another: Dion DiMucci...

Duane Eddy? Lloyd Price? Do they count?

Last edited by Simon Hunt; 03-19-2017 at 02:17 PM. Reason: Am long-winded bastard... Also forgetful...
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Old 03-19-2017, 02:33 PM
john savoie john savoie is offline
Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Edwardsville, IL
Posts: 135

Well appreciated, gentlemen. Add this as a fine lyric:

Down Bound Train

A stranger lying on a bar room floor
Had drank so much he could drink no more
So he fell asleep with a troubled brain
To dream that he rode on that downbound train

The engine with blood was sweaty and damp
And brilliantly lit with a brimstone lamp
And imps for fuel was shoveling bones
While the furnace rang with a thousand groans

The boiler was filled with lager beer
The devil himself was the engineer
The passengers were most a motley crew
Some were foreigners and others he knew
Rich men and lost beggars in rags
Handsome young ladies and wicked old hags

As the train rushed on at a terrible pace
Sulphuric fumes scorched their hands and face
Wider and wider the country grew
Faster and faster the engine flew

Louder and louder the thunder crashed
Brighter and brighter the lighting flashed

Hotter and hotter the air became
Till their clothes were burned with each quivering refrain
Then out of the din there came a yell
Ha ha said the devil we're nearing home
Oh how the passengers shrieked with pain
And begged ol' satan to stop that train

The stranger awoke with an anguished cry
His clothes wet with sweat and his hair standing high
He fell on his knees on the bar room floor
And prayed a prayer like never before

And the prayers and vows were not in vain
For he never rode that downbound train

alternate take, Ray Manzarek of the Doors, showing CB's influence on the next generation:
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Old 03-20-2017, 08:32 AM
Quincy Lehr's Avatar
Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Posts: 5,277

He was a good lyricist, but he was to the lyric sheet what Derek Walcott was to painting. It was something he did well, but as a guitarist, it is difficult to overestimate his influence.
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Old 03-20-2017, 09:36 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: England
Posts: 1,434

Oh absolutely Quincy, but I just thought that as this is a poetry site I would call attention to the lyrics! The influence of his guitar on rock (for good and plodding ill) goes without saying.

Sure, there were much 'better' rock lyricists to come, but for the reasons I gave, and Simon expanded on, he laid a very influential lyrical foundation too.
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Old 03-20-2017, 06:45 PM
Mark Mansfield Mark Mansfield is offline
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Old 03-20-2017, 07:31 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 967

Great article Mark M. Thanks for posting.
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