While leafing through my Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock N' Roll, I came upon the horrifying fact that Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," the song that started rock, peaked at #8 in 1958. What seven forgettable songs were deemed better than this classic?
Illustration by Slug Signorino
Cecil loves the classics as much as the next guy, but let’s not get carried away. “Johnny B. Goode” did not start rock. Even “Maybellene,” Chuck Berry’s first hit (#5 in 1955), did not start rock, although it was one of the earliest rock tunes to make it big. If you’ve got to pick one tune that put rock ‘n’ roll over the top, I still say it’s got to be Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” which became, admittedly not right away, a monster hit selling 22 million copies. And let’s not forget the righteous contribution of Alan Freed, the Cleveland DJ who attached the term “rock ‘n’ roll” to the emerging new sound in 1954.
“Johnny B. Goode” peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts on May 5, 1958. My assistant Little Ed, in his ceaseless drive to muck up my holy work, threw out all my old Billboards last spring, but I still have the monthly composite chart for May, 1958 compiled by Dave McAleer, on which “Johnny B. Goode” ranks #11. It got beaten out by the following tunes, some of which, God help me, I cannot remember, and some of which, God help me, I can’t forget: (1) “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Everly Brothers; (2) “Witch Doctor,” David Seville; (3) “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” Elvis Presley; (4) “Twilight Time,” Platters; (5) “He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands); (6) “Return To Me,” Dean Martin; (7) “Book of Love,” Monotones; (8) “Looking Back/Do I Like It,” Nat “King” Cole; (9) “Tequila,” Champs; (10) Oh Lonesome Me/I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” Don Gibson.
Don’t feel sorry for Chuck Berry, though. He had two other Top 40 hits in 1958, “Sweet Little Sixteen” (peaked at #2) and “Carol” (#18), plus several others that made it into the Top 100. And he definitely had the last laugh. In a career that included such gems as “Roll Over Beethoven” (#29, 1956) and “No Particular Place To Go” (#10, 1964), his only #1 hit was the inane “My Ding-a-Ling,” which held the top spot for two weeks in 1972.
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