Memphis, Tennessee (song)
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (May 2009)|
|Single by Chuck Berry|
|A-side||"Back in the U.S.A."|
|Format||7" single B-side|
|Chuck Berry singles chronology|
|Single by Johnny Rivers|
|from the album At the Whisky à Go Go|
|B-side||"It Wouldn't Happen With Me"|
|Format||7" single A-side|
|Johnny Rivers singles chronology|
"Memphis, Tennessee" is a song by rock & roll singer-songwriter Chuck Berry. It is sometimes shortened to "Memphis". In the UK, the song charted at #6 in 1963, at the same time Decca Records issued a cover version in the UK by Dave Berry and the Cruisers, who came from Sheffield, Yorkshire. Dave Berry's version also became a UK Top 20 hit single, the first of a string of British hit singles which ended with a cover of BJ Thomas' "Mama" reaching #5 in 1966. "Memphis, Tennessee" was most successfully covered by Johnny Rivers whose version of the song was a #2 US hit in 1964.
Berry later composed a sequel, "Little Marie", which appeared in 1964 as a single and on the album St. Louis to Liverpool.
The vocals are the dominant feature of the song. The lyrics of the song depict the speaker's conversation on the phone to the "long distance information" operator. The lyrics are deceiving and the true roles of characters unfold as the story goes on.
As the song starts, the speaker is asking to get in touch with the person who phoned him. It is not known who they are yet, but his uncle is mentioned. In the next verse, he speaks of a girl named 'Marie'. From this point in time, she could be in any way connected to him.
In the third verse, it is revealed that the speaker was close to this girl, and says that they were pulled apart because "her mom did not agree". From here the listener is led to believe that the girl was his lover, and her mother did not agree with the speaker, for some reason. When the speaker moves to the next verse he explains his last time seeing her, as having "hurry home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye".
He continues by revealing that she is only six years old, and pleads that he get in touch with her. This unfolds the story, as we are now aware that the girl is his daughter, and the mother was in fact his own wife.
The song has been covered by many artists, including Hasil Adkins, The Animals, Paul Anka, Count Basie, The Beatles, Dave Berry, John Cale, Riblja Čorba, The Dave Clark Five, Bo Diddley, Faces, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Al Green, The Hollies, Jan and Dean, Tom Jones, Sammy Kershaw, Fred Knoblock, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lonnie Mack, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions (a predecessor of Grateful Dead) Mrs. Miller, Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Del Shannon, Silicon Teens, The Statler Brothers, Izzy Stradlin, Rod Stewart, Gene Summers, George Thorogood, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, The Ventures, Danny and the Fat Boys (Danny Gatton), Hank Williams Jr. and most recently Toby Keith on the Clancy's Tavern (Deluxe Edition) album.
In an interesting twist on a song composed around the lyrics of a dominant vocal line, in 1963 guitarist Lonnie Mack recorded a fast-paced, full-length instrumental improvisation inspired by Berry's melody, and named the tune "Memphis". Mack's instrumental skyrocketed to #5 on Billboard's Pop chart and #4 on Billboard's R&B chart. Mack's version was later recognized as the start point of the Blues-Rock guitar genre. (See Lonnie Mack). Mack's version does list Chuck Berry as being the author of the song. In 1964 singer Johnny Rivers recorded another version of the tune (which he, following Mack, called "Memphis"), copying Mack's pacing and some of his instrumental improvisations, and reinstating the vocal line from Berry's original. That version hit #2 on Billboard's Pop chart.
After that, Berry's own live performances of the tune resembled the Mack and Rivers versions as much as his own original recording. In the years following, many other artists (see names above) covered the tune, and it became one of Berry's most commercially successful compositions.
In Wim Wenders' 1974 film Alice in the Cities, there is a brief scene where the main character stops at a Chuck Berry concert where "Memphis" is played.
- Chart Stats - Chuck Berry - Let It Rock/Memphis Tennessee
- Chart Stats - Dave Berry And The Cruisers - Memphis Tennessee
- Grateful Dead Family Discography: Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions
- ‘’25 Rockin’ Instrumentals’’, Varese Vintage CD, 2003
- "Show 21 - Forty Miles of Bad Road: Some of the best from rock 'n' roll's dark ages. [Part 2]". Digital.library.unt.edu. 2011-08-05. Retrieved 2011-08-21.