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For the brand of cosmetic makeup, see Maybelline.
Single by Chuck Berry
from the album Chuck Berry Is On Top
B-side "Wee Wee Hours"
Released July 1955 (1955-07)
Format 7" 45 RPM, 10" 78 RPM
Recorded May 21, 1955 at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago, Illinois
Genre Rockabilly, rock and roll, rhythm and blues
Length 2:19
Label Chess[1]
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Phil Chess
Chuck Berry singles chronology
"Thirty Days"
Music sample
30 second sample of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"

"Maybellene" is a song recorded by Chuck Berry, adapted from the traditional fiddle tune "Ida Red", that tells the story of a hot rod race and a broken romance. It was released in July 1955 as a single on Chess Records of Chicago, Illinois.[2] It was Berry's first single release and his first hit. "Maybellene" is considered one of the pioneering rock and roll singles: Rolling Stone magazine wrote, "Rock & roll guitar starts here."[3] The record is an early instance of the complete rock and roll package: youthful subject matter, small guitar-driven combo, clear diction, and an atmosphere of unrelenting excitement. The lyrics describe a man driving a V8 Ford chasing his unfaithful girlfriend in her Cadillac Coupe DeVille.

It was a major hit among both black and white audiences, and has received numerous honors and awards throughout the years. It was quickly covered by several other artists after its initial release. The title is misspelled "Maybelline" on several releases.

Origins and writing of the song[edit]

"Maybellene" has been described as an adaptation of the country song "Ida Red", as recorded by Bob WIlls and His Texas Playboys in 1938.[4][5] According to Berry, Wills' version, an uptempo dance number, was his favorite song to sing at integrated clubs (“salt and pepper clubs”, as he called them). Encouraged by Muddy Waters, Berry in 1955 brought to Chess Records a recording of his version of Willis's tune[1] which he had renamed "Ida May" and a blues song he wrote “Wee Wee Hours”, which he stated was inspired by Joe Turner’s “Wee Baby Blue”.[6] To Berry’s surprise, Leonard Chess showed little interest in the blues material but was enthusiastic about the commercial possibilities in a “hillbilly song sung by a black man”.[6] Chess wanted a bigger beat for the song and added a bass and maracas player to the trio at the recording session. He also felt the titles “Ida Red” and “Ida May” were “too rural”.[6] Spotting a mascara box on the floor of the studio, according to Berry’s partner Johnnie Johnson, Chess said, “Well, hell, let’s name the damn thing Maybellene” altering the spelling to avoid a suit by the cosmetic company. The lyrics were rewritten at the direction of Chess as well. “The kids wanted the big beat, cars and young love,” Chess recalled. “It was the trend and we jumped on it.”[6] It has been claimed that taking old recordings and modifying them, by changing the instrumentals and the lyrics was a common practice in the 1950s. With these changes the original songs were often not detectable particularly if the melody was slightly modified. This practice took place because copyright laws on older recordings were rarely enforced.

As Chess had predicted, the lyrics struck a chord with teenagers fascinated by cars, speed and sexuality. "Maybellene” became one of the first records to score big on rhythm and blues, country and western, and pop charts. Featuring some inimitable Chuck Berry riffs, some blues-style picking on a country guitar and Johnson’s piano, which added a hummable rhythm to the steady backbeat, "Maybellene" was a pivotal song in the emergence of rock 'n' roll. This exciting fusion of a rhythm and blues beat with a rural country style was the catalyst for the type of rock 'n' roll that emerged in the mid-1950s.[7] "


Recorded May 21, 1955


In the 1950s, some record companies assigned co-composer credits to disc jockeys and others who helped "break" a record, a form of "payola" via composer royalties. This accounts for disk jockey Alan Freed receiving co-writer credit for "Maybellene". Russ Fratto, who had been lending money to Chess, also received credit.[8] The Freed and Fratto credits, which do not appear on the original Chess single (see illustration at top), were withdrawn in 1986,[9] though they still appear on some reissues of Berry's recordings as of 2014. (Some Chess insiders say that the Chess brothers owed Fratto, a printer and stationer, money for producing Chess' record labels.)


In 1955, the song, a 12-bar blues, peaked at number five on the Billboard rock/pop charts and was a number one R&B hit.[10] Billboard's year end charts ranked "Maybellene" as #3 on 1955's Top R&B Records Retail Sales and the Juke Box Plays charts.[11]

The song sold one million copies by the end of 1955.[12]

Honors and awards[edit]

In 1988 "Maybellene" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its influence as a rock and roll single.[13] The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included "Maybellene" in their list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list, as well as "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode".[14] In 1999, National Public Radio included it in the "NPR 100," the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century as chosen by NPR music editors.[15] "Maybellene" is currently ranked as the 107th greatest song of all time, as well as the second best song of 1955, by Acclaimed Music.[16] The song is ranked #18 on Rolling Stone's list of "500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[17]

Cover versions[edit]

Columbia records released a version by Marty Robbins (21351) by the end of August 1955.[18] Robbins' version was the #13 "Most Played by Jockeys" in the Country & Western market by mid October.[19] and soon Columbia was touting it as one of its "Best Selling Folk Records".[20] By November it was noted that the record had "won considerable pop play".[21] Other versions available in mid October 1955 were by J. Long (Coral 61478), J. Lowe (Dot 15407) and R. Marterie (Mercury 70682) with the song listed as #14 top selling in the nation.[22]

Allmusic lists cover versions by more than 70 performers, including Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel in a medley with "Kodachrome", George Jones, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Bubba Sparks, Foghat, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Johnny Rivers and Chubby Checker.[23]

In 1964 Johnny Rivers version of "Maybellene" reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100[24] and #9 on RPM magazine's Top 40-5s Singles chart.[25]


  1. ^ a b Leonard Chess interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  2. ^ Dietmar Rudolph. "A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry: "The Chess Era" (1955-1966)". Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  3. ^ "Maybellene". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  4. ^ NPR. 'Maybellene' by Jesse Wegman, July 2, 2000.
  5. ^ Guralnick, Peter, Feel Like Going Home, 1978, London, p.234
  6. ^ a b c d All Shook Up, How Rock n Roll Changed America, Glenn C. Altschuler
  7. ^ American Historical Review, defining the fusion of genres in the mid-1950s as a new American music
  8. ^ Palmer, Robert (1995). Rock & Roll: An Unruly History. pp. 137–138. 
  9. ^ Crouse, Richard (2012). Who Wrote The Book Of Love?. Random House. pp. Chapter: "Maybellene: Chuck Berry". ISBN 9780385674423. 
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 55. 
  11. ^ "1955's Top R&B Records". Billboard: 20. January 7, 1956. Retrieved February 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ New York Public Library Staff (November 6, 1996). The New York Public Library performing arts desk reference. Macmillan. Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame Inductees (Letter M)". Grammy Awards. United States: National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Retrieved February 12, 2011. 
  14. ^ "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll by Artists (A-C)". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on February 12, 2011. 
  15. ^ "NPR 100". National Public Radio (NPR). 
  16. ^ "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". 25 April 2015. 
  17. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  18. ^ Billboard Aug 27, 1955. page 47
  19. ^ Billboard Oct 15, 1955. page 46.
  20. ^ Billboard Oct 29, 1955. page 32.
  21. ^ Billboard Nov 12, 1955. page 36.
  22. ^ Billboard Oct 15, 1955. page 5.
  23. ^ "Maybellene". Allmusic. Archived from the original on June 3, 2009. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  24. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2010). "Section 2: The Songs". The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (9th ed.). United States: Billboard Books. p. 802. ISBN 978-0-8230-8554-5. 
  25. ^ "Top Singles — Volume 2, No. 5, September 28, 1964" (PHP). RPM. Canada: Library and Archives Canada. October 1, 2004 [March 31, 2004]. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino
Billboard R&B Best Sellers number-one single
August 20, 1955 - October 15, 1955
Succeeded by
"Only You" by The Platters