Memphis, Tennessee (song)

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"Memphis, Tennessee"
Single by Chuck Berry
A-side "Back in the U.S.A."
Released 1959
Format 7" single B-side
Genre Rhythm and blues, rock and roll
Label Chess 1729
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry singles chronology
"Almost Grown" "Back in the U.S.A."
(1959)
"Broken Arrow"

"Memphis, Tennessee" is a song by Chuck Berry. It is sometimes shortened to "Memphis". In the UK, the song charted at #6 in 1963,[1] at the same time Decca Records issued a cover version in the UK by Dave Berry and the Cruisers, which also became a UK Top 20 hit single.[2] "Memphis, Tennessee" was most successfully covered by Johnny Rivers whose version of the song was a #2 US hit in 1964.

In the song the narrator is speaking to a long-distance operator, trying to find out the number of a girl named Marie, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee "on the southside, high upon a ridge, just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge." The narrator offers little information to the operator at first, only that he misses Marie and that they were separated by Marie's mother. The final verse reveals that Marie is, in fact, the narrator's six-year-old daughter; her mother, presumably the narrator's ex-wife, left their home and took Marie with her.

Chuck Berry later composed a sequel, "Little Marie", which appeared in 1964 as a single and on the album St. Louis to Liverpool.

The Beatles versions[edit]

"Memphis, Tennessee"
Song by The Beatles from the album Live at the BBC and On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2
Released 30 November 1994 (Live at the BBC)
11 November 2013 (On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2)
Recorded 30 July 1963 (Live at the BBC)
5 October 1963 (On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2)
Length 2:16 (Live at the BBC)
2:15 (On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2)
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Terry Henebery

The Beatles recorded five versions of "Memphis, Tennessee" for BBC radio. One version that was recorded on 30 July 1963 for the Pop Go The Beatles radio show was included on Live at the BBC in 1994. Another version that was recorded a few months later on 5 October 1963 for the Saturday Club radio show was included on On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 in 2013.

The group first performed it for their failed Decca audition on 1 January 1962, with Pete Best on drums.[3]

Personnel[edit]

Johnny Rivers version[edit]

"Memphis"
Single by Johnny Rivers
from the album At the Whisky à Go Go
B-side "It Wouldn't Happen with Me"
Released 1964
Format 7" single A-side
Recorded 1964
Label Imperial 66032
Writer(s) Chuck Berry
Johnny Rivers singles chronology
"Memphis"
(1964)
"Maybellene"
(1964)

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.[4] That version hit #2 on Billboard's Pop chart (behind "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys).

Other covers[edit]

The song has been covered by many artists, including The Who (as The High Numbers), Hasil Adkins, Paul Anka, Count Basie, Dave Berry, John Cale, Lado Leskovar, Riblja Čorba, Don Covay, The Dave Clark Five, Bo Diddley, Faces, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Fotheringay, 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)[5] Mrs. Miller, Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Del Shannon, Silicon Teens, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, The Statler Brothers, Izzy Stradlin, Rod Stewart, Gene Summers, George Thorogood, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, The Ventures, Zippy Kid, Danny and the Fat Boys (Danny Gatton), Hank Williams Jr., Faron Young and most recently Toby Keith on the Clancy's Tavern (Deluxe Edition) album and Irish singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy in her album "Stuff".

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 went to #5 on Billboard's Pop chart and #4 on Billboard's R&B chart. Mack's version does list Chuck Berry as being the author of the song.[6]

The Animals covered it on both their US debut album The Animals, MGM Records – SE 4264, and their UK debut album also called The Animals, Columbia (EMI) 33SX 1669, in 1964.

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.

The song is traditionally played at University of Memphis Tigers home games by the school's marching band, the Mighty Sound of the South.

References[edit]

External links[edit]