About The Song

For one week in 1972 John Lennon and Yoko One were guest hosts of The Mike Douglas Show on US TV. Their sojourn’s most memorable incident involved Lennon, Ono and band backing Chuck Berry. “If you had tried to give rock’n’roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’,” said Lennon by way of introduction. After warming up with Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee”, they launched into a raucous “Johnny B. Goode”. Lennon looked thrilled, having loved the song since first hearing it in 1958. He had lived out its narrative (poor boy’s guitar playing wins him fame/girls), and the song existed for Lennon as kind of a rocking talisman.

“Johnny B. Goode” is thought to be the first song in popular music history in which the singer celebrates their own success. This surely accounts for why rock’s most legendary artists have regularly performed it: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richard, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, Sex Pistols, Grateful Dead, The Carpenters and dozens of others have sung Berry’s celebration of himself as a kind of mantra — they may not be able to read or write so well but, hey, they can play a guitar like ringing a bell!

“Johnny B. Goode”, released in March 1958, came during a run of Berry’s hits that helped define the sound and subject matter of rock music. Berry was on a roll — his previous 45, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, had reached number one R&B, number two pop, in the US charts — and “Johnny B. Goode” almost emulated this (number two R&B, number eight pop).

While Berry’s previous releases had largely celebrated teenage concerns, “Johnny B. Goode” was a more autobiographical work, paying homage both to his pianist Johnny Jenkins and to himself: he grew up on Goode Avenue and was rock’s first guitar hero. Berry lifted the song’s striking guitar introduction from “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman”, a 1946 R&B hit for Louis Jordan. The rest of the song, with its dynamic narrative of how a poor country boy (Berry later said he originally wrote “coloured”) rose from rural poverty to stardom due to his musical ability, is a rush of wild guitar and pumping piano, Berry fuelling its spiralling excitement by shouting, “Go, Johnny, go!”

“Johnny B. Goode” quickly entered many British beat bands’ repertoire — The Beatles’ 1964 version is preserved on 1994’s Live at the BBC album and they, like most who tackled “Johnny B. Goode”, remained faithful to Berry’s original. Texan guitarist Johnny Winter added flashy guitar on his 1969 effort but kept Johnny structurally intact, as did Jimi Hendrix,  whose version is captured on the posthumous live album, Hendrix in the WestBuck Owens’ version was recorded live in London and finds the US country star singing Berry’s song at a furious tempo while bowdlerising the original’s duelling guitar/piano.

Video

Lyric

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤

 Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play a guitar just like a-ringing a bell

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Go sit beneath the tree by the railroad track
Oh, the engineer would see him sittin’ in the shade
Strummin’ with the rhythm that the drivers made
The people passing by, they would stop and say
“Oh my, but that little country boy could play”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

His mother told him, “Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big ol’ band
Many people comin’ from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down
Maybe someday your name’ll be in lights
Sayin’ ‘Johnny B. Goode tonight!'”

Go go
Go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go go go Johnny go!
Go
Johnny B. Goode!

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