Memphis, Tennessee (song)

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"Memphis, Tennessee"
Single by Chuck Berry
A-side"Back in the U.S.A."
ReleasedJune 1959
RecordedSeptember 26, 1958[1]
GenreRhythm and blues, rock and roll
LabelChess 1729
Songwriter(s)Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry singles chronology
"Almost Grown"
"Memphis, Tennessee"
"Broken Arrow"

"Memphis, Tennessee", sometimes shortened to "Memphis", is a song by Chuck Berry, first released in 1959. In the UK, the song charted at number 6 in 1963; 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. Johnny Rivers's version of the song was a number two 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".[2] 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, "tore apart our happy home" because she "did not agree", as it turned out, with their marriage, not his relationship with Marie, as the listener was misdirected to assume. This song was recorded in St. Louis at Chuck Berry's home, in July 1958.

  • Chuck Berry – vocals, guitar, guitar overdubs, electric bass
  • Jasper Thomas – drums

The song was released on Chess in June 1959, Catalogue #1729.[3]

Chuck Berry later composed a sequel, "Little Marie", which appeared in 1964 as a single and on the album St. Louis to Liverpool.[4]

Beatles versions[edit]

The Beatles recorded five versions of "Memphis, Tennessee", for BBC Radio. One version that was recorded on July 30, 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 October 5, 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 January 1, 1962, with Pete Best on drums.[5]

John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono would later perform the song with Berry on an episode of The Mike Douglas Show, aired on February 16, 1972.[6] During the performance, Ono attempted to add her own wailing vocalizations to the song, which visibly startled Berry; eventually, technicians disconnected Ono's microphone for the remainder of the set. This infamous rendition of the song would later become the subject of a skit by Bill Burr.


Other popular versions[edit]

Single by Lonnie Mack
from the album The Wham of that Memphis Man!
B-side"Down in the Dumps"
ReleasedSeptember 1963 (1963)
RecordedJune 1963
GenreInstrumental rock, blues rock
Songwriter(s)Chuck Berry
Lonnie Mack singles chronology

In 1963, guitarist Lonnie Mack recorded a fast-paced instrumental version, which he called "Memphis". It went to number 5 on Billboard's Pop chart and number 4 on Billboard's R&B chart.[7]

Single by Johnny Rivers
from the album At the Whisky à Go Go
B-side"It Wouldn't Happen with Me"
ReleasedMay 1964 (1964)
RecordedJanuary 1964
VenueWhisky a Go Go, West Hollywood
GenreRock and roll, rhythm and blues
Songwriter(s)Chuck Berry
Johnny Rivers singles chronology
"Dream Doll"
"Oh What a Kiss"

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.[8] This version hit number 2 on Billboard's Pop chart.

Single by Fred Knoblock
B-side"Love Isn't Easy"
Released1981 (1981)
GenreCountry music
LabelScotti Brothers ZS5 02434
Songwriter(s)Chuck Berry
Producer(s)James Stroud
Fred Knoblock singles chronology
"Killin' Time"
"I Had It All"

In 1981, country singer-songwriter Fred Knoblock recorded his rendition of "Memphis". It went to number 10 on Billboard's Country chart and number 28 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.

Chart history[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chuck Berry
Chart (1963) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[9] 3
UK[10] 6
Dave Berry & the Cruisers
Chart (1963) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[9] 9
UK[11] 19
Lonnie Mack

Notable covers[edit]

The song has been covered over 200 times by musical artists.[23] The most notable examples include Bernd Spier who hit number 1 in 1964 in Germany.[24]


  1. ^ "The Chuck Berry Database: Details For Recording Session: 26. 9. 1958". A Collector's Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry. Dietmar Rudolph. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  2. ^ Cheseborough, Steve, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues, Fourth Edition. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p.40
  3. ^ Berry, Chuck, Chuck Berry: The Anthology, CD, 088 1120304-2, MCA Records, Chess, 2000, liner notes
  4. ^ "The Chuck Berry Database — Details For Song: Memphis, Tennessee — Chuck Berry Collector's Guide". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Memphis, Tennessee | The Beatles Bible". March 16, 2008. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  6. ^ "John Lennon January 1972". Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  7. ^ 25 Rockin' Instrumentals, Varese Vintage CD, 2003
  8. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 21 – Forty Miles of Bad Road: Some of the best from rock 'n' roll's dark ages. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  9. ^ a b "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Memphis". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  10. ^ "Official Charts Company". October 16, 1963. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  11. ^ "Official Charts Company". October 16, 1963.
  12. ^ a b "flavour of new zealand - search lever". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  14. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 7/20/63". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  15. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". July 6, 1964. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  16. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 7/11/64". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  17. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". December 5, 1981. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  18. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1963/Top 100 Songs of 1963". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  19. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 28, 1963". Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  20. ^ "Sixties City - Pop Music Charts - Every Week Of The Sixties". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  21. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1964/Top 100 Songs of 1964". Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  22. ^ "Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 26, 1964". Archived from the original on June 1, 2015. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  23. ^ "Memphis, Tennessee". SecondHandSongs.
  24. ^ "Bernd Spier". Retrieved July 26, 2019.