|Single by Chuck Berry|
|from the album The London Chuck Berry Sessions|
|Format||7" 45 rpm|
|Recorded||February 3, 1972 at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England|
|Length||4:18 / 11:33 (Full Version)|
|Chuck Berry singles chronology|
"My Ding-a-Ling" is a novelty song written and recorded by Dave Bartholomew. It was covered by Chuck Berry in 1972 and became his only number-one Billboard Hot 100 single in the United States. Later that year, in a longer unedited form, it was included on the album The London Chuck Berry Sessions. Guitarist Onnie McIntyre and drummer Robbie McIntosh who later that year went on to form the Average White Band, played on the single along with Nic Potter of Van der Graaf Generator on bass.
"My Ding-a-Ling" was originally recorded by Dave Bartholomew in 1952 for King Records. When Bartholomew moved to Imperial Records, he re-recorded the song under the new title, "Little Girl Sing Ting-a-Ling". In 1954, the Bees on Imperial released a version entitled "Toy Bell". Berry recorded a version called "My Tambourine" in 1968, but the version which topped the charts was recorded live during the Lanchester Arts Festival at the Locarno ballroom in Coventry, England, on 3 February 1972, where Berry – backed by the Roy Young Band – topped a bill that also included Slade, George Carlin, Billy Preston and Pink Floyd. Boston radio station WMEX disc jockey Jim Connors was credited with a gold record for discovering the song and pushing it to #1 over the airwaves and amongst his peers in the United States. Billboard ranked it as the No. 15 song for 1972.
The song is based on the melody of the 19th century folk song "Little Brown Jug".
The song tells of how the singer received a toy consisting of "silver bells hanging on a string" from his grandmother, who calls them his "ding-a-ling". According to the song, he plays with it in school, and holds on to it in dangerous situations like falling after climbing the garden wall, and swimming across a creek infested with snapping turtles. From the second verse onward, the lyrics consistently exercise the double entendre in that a penis could just as easily be substituted for the toy bells and the song would still make sense.
In the live Berry version, Berry makes the chorus a call-and-response, in which the women in the audience sing “my” and the men respond by shouting “ding-a-ling!” At one point, Berry notes that a few of the men are singing the women's parts and that some women are adding (audible in the recording) a harmony line; Berry allows and openly encourages it, exclaiming “it's a free country! Live like you wanna live!” In the final verse, he admonishes "those of you who will not sing" by suggesting that they "must be playing with [their] own ding-a-ling".
The lyrics with their sly tone and innuendo (and the enthusiasm of Berry and the audience) caused many radio stations to refuse to play it. British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse tried unsuccessfully to get the song banned. "One teacher," Whitehouse wrote to the BBC's Director General, "told us of how she found a class of small boys with their trousers undone, singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation which—in spite of all the hullabaloo—is so obvious... We trust you will agree with us that it is no part of the function of the BBC to be the vehicle of songs which stimulate this kind of behaviour—indeed quite the reverse."
In Icons of Rock, Scott Schinder calls the song "a sophomoric, double-entendre-laden ode to masturbation". Robert Christgau remarked that the song "permitted a lot of twelve-year-olds new insight into the moribund concept of 'dirty'".
During a short spoken introduction to the song on the single, Berry refers to the song as "our alma mater".
For a re-run of American Top 40, some stations, such as WOGL in Philadelphia, replaced the song with an optional extra when it aired a rerun of a November 18, 1972 broadcast of AT40 (where it ranked at #14) on December 6, 2008. Among other stations, most Clear Channel-owned radio stations to whom the AT40 '70s rebroadcasts were contracted did not air the rebroadcast that same weekend, although it was because they were playing Christmas music and not because of the controversy. Even back in 1972, some stations would refuse to play the song on AT40, even when it reached number one.
The controversy was lampooned in The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Pony", in which a Springfield Elementary School student attempts to sing the song during the school's talent show. He barely finishes the first line of the refrain before an irate Principal Skinner pushes him off the stage, angrily proclaiming "This act is over!"
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- Ben Thompson (ed.) Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive", London: Faber, 2012 cited by "Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive by Ben Thompson – review", The Guardian, 26 October 2012
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- Cash Box Top 100 Singles, October 28, 1972
- Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 30, 1972
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- Guterman, Jimmy and O'Donnell, Owen. The Worst Rock-and-Roll Records of All Time, New York: Citadel, 1991, ISBN 978-0806512310