Many years ago while descending an escalator at Leicester Square tube having had drink taken I incurred the displeasure of an aggressive gentleman with a shaved head by accidently bumping into him. Realising that he might commit violence against my person I decided to play a flanker. “Do You like Chuck Berry?” I asked him and without waiting for response, continued: “I love him. He’s great.” I then proceeded to sing my favourite Chuck Berry song to him, quite loud. Assuming he was in the presence of a madman, he fled. Thanks Chuck, or Charles as he prefers to known, as I discovered when I met him for the first and only time in 1973 in LA.
The song I sang was ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ which dates from early 1958, when I was 11 going on 12. Chuck Berry’s songs are the foundation stones for rock’n’roll, without which many groups, not least The Rolling Stones, wouldn’t have had a career. He was also a poet, a chronicler of teenage lives in lyrics that managed to convey the essence of being young in America, often in love, in short sweet simple couplets with which his audience could readily identify. Many of his songs mentioned US towns and cities, as does this, and thus amplified the identification factor. Here our heroine is a 16-year-old girl who just loves her rock’n’roll but has to balance her enthusiasm with school on Monday. In the meantime she’s having the time of her life, and it scoots along in an effortless rock’n’roll groove, the rhythm guitar barred chords hammering on the beat and a bar-room piano adding to the fun. I played this song to death on the juke box in the coffee bar in Skipton (see previous post on ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’) before handing over my pocket money to buy the 7” on London American. Only much later did I learn that Bandstand was the name of a TV show filmed in Philadelphia.
Of course The Beach Boys stole the melody for ‘Surfin’ USA’. Chuck sued and won. Can’t say I blame him.