Wednesday, August 17, 2016
SHG: Chuck Berry: "Sweet Little Sixteen"
Chuck Berry: “Sweet Little Sixteen”
Entered the chart on: 2/24/58
Peaked on: 3/17/1958
Weeks at #2: 3 weeks
Song at #1: “Tequila” by the Champs
I’m just going to bask in the Golden Age of Rock & Roll while it still lasts. Because, blessed/cursed with the gift of foresight, I know what happens in 1959.
Chuck Berry, for me, is rock & roll. When I think the early days of rock, I think of Chuck strumming his guitar and doing his duck-walk. He is the quintessence of the early rock & roll sound. And this was his biggest hit (Yes, I know, fourteen years later, he went all the way to #1 with a crummy live recording of a hideous novelty number that’s little more than a litany of crude penis jokes. Leave me my illusions.).
My God, this song has been imitated so many times, and almost never has anyone come close to touching the original. The song isn’t super-complex, which means it was pretty easy to imitate. Berry gets the easy part on guitar, but since he has to accompany himself while singing I’ll let it slide. The piano player gets the juicy part. I’m not sure who played piano on this, but man, that cat is wild. For a rocker, Berry has a lighter, thinner voice than I remember, but it works for some reason. Probably as it reminds me of later vocalists that followed in his wake that I also like (Prince, for example).
This might be the first song that seeks airplay by name-dropping US locales (and he even gets in a mention of American Bandstand in there). The song is the tale of a teenaged girl who’s obsessed with rock & roll and wants to go to a show. Actually, it might be the most complex and intricate lyric to a rock song I’ve covered thus far, since it tells a story with a beginning, middle and end (by the end, our nameless female protagonist has to sleep off her partying weekend lifestyle and get back to the dull grind of high school). Maybe not as poetic a story as “Blueberry Hill,” but I was nonetheless entertained and compelled by it.
In short, it’s as good as you remember it being, and is still worth a listen after all these years.