Thursday, October 27, 2016
SHG: Johnny Rivers: "Memphis"
Johnny Rivers: “Memphis”
Entered the chart on: 6/13/64
Peaked on: 7/11/64
Weeks at #2: 2
Songs at #1: “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys and “Rag Doll” by the Four Seasons
Here’s a song that’s already been around the block a few times. It’s of course a Chuck Berry song, released back in ’59, but weirdly was only a hit in the UK. (#6 on the British pop charts). The version I’m most familiar with is the 1963 instrumental version by guitarist Lonnie Mack, which cracked the top 5. This was another record from my parents’ collection, and one I wore the grooves out of listening to as a kid.
Which brings us to Johnny Rivers. While he was an Italian-American born in New York (real surname: Ramistella), his family moved to Baton Rouge when he was very young, so his Southern Delta accent isn’t a pose, unlike some later artists I’ll be covering. Apparently, he was persona non grata with Elvis Presley on account of this song. Elvis wanted to cover this using this arrangement, but Johnny got there first and had a huge hit with it.
Well, I daresay I think the Beatles are the ones to thank for something like this making it back on the charts. Real rock & roll, the likes of which hasn’t been heard in quite a while. À la the Kingsmen, we get background chatter to give it a spontaneous feel. Other than that, there’s not a lot to it. Guitars and drums. Like I said, real rock & roll.
Johnny does credit to the Chuck Berry original. He has a twang to his voice and, as I said before, it doesn’t seem phony. There isn’t really a lot more to say about this. A solid, old-school rock & roll number.