Recorded February 1972 (side two) and June 1972 (side one)
Released October 1972
Produced by Esmond Edwards
Tracks and credits as on the original LP
|side one||side two|
|Reelin’ and Rockin’|
|Mean Old World|
|I Will Not Ever Let You Go|
|Johnny B. Goode|
|London Berry Blues|
|I Love You|
|Side one: Pye Studios, London||Side Two: Lanchester Arts Festival, |
|Chuck Berry – vocals, guitar||Chuck Berry – vocals, guitar|
|Derek Griffiths – guitar||Owen McIntyre – guitar|
|Ian MacLagan – piano||Dave Kafinetti- piano|
|Kenney Jones – drums||Nic Potter- bass|
|(Rick Grech – bass guitar, uncredited?)||Robbie McIntosh – drums|
MY DING-A LING
REELIN AND ROCKIN’
Chuck Berry was a man of contradictions. Compare his interview with Robbie Robertson on the Hail Hail Rock and Roll box set where he relates how he spent his time in prison, reading and learning poetry, which resulted in (for me) his two very best songs, Nadine and No Particular Place To Go. Chuck Berry’s lyrics are the definitive rock and roll lyrics … Johnny B. Goode, Bye Bye Johnnie, Little Queenie, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Come On, Havana Moon, Sweet Little Sixteen, Back In The USA, You Never Can Tell, Reelin’ and Rockin’, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music not forgetting the one that gave this blog its very name, Around and Around. Musically, the rock opening guitar solo and middle guitar solo are defined by Chuck Berry too though I accept that Johnny Johnston had more to do with the music than the credits reveal.
So, though I play from desire, I feel I should be paid for the hire.Chuck Berry: The autobiography, 1987
Then you have Chuck Berry on tour. The eye on the prize. On a tour of one night stands, a suitcase and guitar in hand. Alone. Never with a band. Playing with any local pick up band as long as they were cheap. Never tuning his guitar, getting furious with backing musicians who once did. Never rehearsed with backing musicians, never told them what key he was going to be playing in. Barely ever spoke to any of them, except to tell them not to take a solo. Insisting on payment up front in cash before he went on stage. A Chuck Berry who never gave a shit about live performance quality as a band. His songs and his guitar solos were all that mattered.
Then there’s the irony. His best-selling album of all time at one million copies is The London Chuck Berry Sessions. It spawned his only international #1 single, My Ding-A-Ling. He didn’t even write it. For me this was his worst album, with his worst single. Then Reelin’ And Rockin’ also charted.
There was history. The London Howling Wolf Sessions was rightly acclaimed in 1971. It even reached #28 in the UK chart. Howling Wolf had his regular guitarist, Hubert Sumlin. Then Eric Clapton played lead guitar. The Rolling Stones rhythm section, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and pianist Ian Stewart enrolled. Ringo Starr and Klaus Voorman played on one track. Steve Winwood played organ and piano on others. The sidemen were a large part of the attraction commercially. That one also went to a deluxe edition with bonus tracks. Though Wolf was a Chess artist, British copies are on Rolling Stones Records. The names Clapton, Winwood, Wyman, Watts are on the front of the sleeve.
Chess followed it up with The London Muddy Waters Sessions to more acclaim and a Grammy award. Steve Winwood was back, with Rick Grech from Blind Faith / Family, Mitch Mitchell on drums from Jimi Hendrix Experience, Georgie Fame, Rory Gallagher.
Chuck Berry was the third in line. Bo Dddley was the fourth, although Bo’s was largely fake, recorded in Chicago. They all had superb covers which is why they’re all here.
Chuck’s was only partly true too. Side One was the London session, but side two was a live concert at Coventry. Chuck had Ian MacLagen and Kenny Jones from The Faces on the studio sessions, then Onnie McIntyre and Robbie McIntosh from the Average White Band and Nic Potter from Van der Graf Generator on the live sessions. It was not such a commercially appealing line-up.
Chuck Berry paid his back-up band on side two a pittance. They certainly didn’t need the job either, but they did want the thrill of playing with Chuck Berry, a thrill that musicians tells me wears very thin once you’ve met him.
In fact so many British musicians have backed him, but most often in their semi-pro early days for one gig. In 1972, Chuck had three members of the then incarnation of Supertramp (Roger Hodgson, Fank Farell, Kevin Currie) along for a major venue tour. Chuck didn’t require keyboards, ironically as Rick Davies was the most positive about Chuck in the band, who in that era usually encored with Johnny B. Goode. Roger Hodgson was more positive about him than most others.
Roger Hodgson: Chuck showed up so quietly in our dressing room just twenty minutes before the start of the show. After greeting us briefly, he said, “Well, guys, this is very easy. You already know the songs and you just have to stop playing on each of them when I kick on the floor. All you have to do is follow me.” He loved spontaneity and was constantly improvising, going from one song to the other when he thought it was the best moment without any previous warning. That wasn’t the kind of music we loved most, and I don’t think Chuck got a big impression of us either, but we had a lot of fun playing with him. I remembered that halfway through the show, Chuck slithered back to me, and he yelled, “Come on boy! Go out front and earn your money! Take a solo!” I trotted out terrified into the middle of the stage, did a solo, and then slid back into the shadows of my amp, and suddenly Chuck winked at me!”
Quoted in Abel Fuentes Tramp’s Footprints: The History of Supertramp, 2021
This was unusual as Chuck was reputed to get angry with guitarists, sax players or keyboard players who dared try to solo. Having seen Roger Hodgson on stage many times, I would say Chuck recognized a rare talent in the backing band.
He could often strike lucky as a result of good musicians wanting to play with him … witness The Steve MIller Blues Band backing him on Live At Filmore Auditorium. In 1973, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band backed him twice.
Bruce Springsteen: About five minutes before the show was timed to start, the back door opens and he comes up and he’s got a guitar case and that was it. He just pulled up in his own car and didn’t have anybody with him, or a band. We said, ‘What songs are we going to do?’ He goes, ‘We’re going to do some Chuck Berry songs.
Rolling Stone, 1987
Nils Lofgren: Somehow, a minute or two [in], he shifts the song in gears and a key without talking to us. We are making these horrible sounds, collectively, in front of a stadium, sold out…At the height of it, when no one has any idea how to fix this, Chuck looks at us all and starts duckwalking off the stage, away from us. He leaves the stage, leaves us all out there, playing in six different keys with no band leader, gets in the car and drives away. I don’t think we have ever participated in something that godawful musically since we were probably 13 or 14.
Ultimate Classic Rock interview
On Rockit, recorded at Berry Park he broke his rule and shelled out for a top session drummer, Kenneth Buttrey.
Then the ultimate band was assembled for Hail Hail Rock and Roll.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Though his backup for this promotion was less than stellar, Chuck Berry finally has an LP on the charts, which is certainly overdue recognition for the number one genius in rock and roll history. Only trouble is, the record is lousy. The live side is Chuck at his hoarsest, and “My Ding-a-Ling” isn’t even funny the first time. The studio side is pure filler. Buy Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, More Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry’s on Top, St. Louis to Liverpool, even Back Home. This doesn’t do him justice. C-
Robert Christgau: Christgau’s Guide To Albums of The 70s
London Sessions gave Berry his last hit (and first No one) in 1972 with the bathroom risque My Ding-A-Ling, apart from which it is only exceptional for its sloppiness. **
Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979
(Cristgau gave the Bio album a D, so didn’t rate this as his worst.Just second worst.)
Someday I’ll pull together a feature on The London Everybody-And-His-Grandmother Sessions. Anyway, there’s one studio side and one live side, and neither is worth hearing. It’s not as star-studded as the similar Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters releases, but the studio tracks do feature Ian MacLagan and Kenny Jones on a batch of intermittently interesting blues jams (“London Berry Blues,” “Let’s Boogie”). The live tunes, featuring a cast of no-names, are incredibly lengthy and frequently boring (“Reelin’ & Rockin'”), capped with an 11-minute rendition of “My Ding-A-Ling” – a heavily abridged single version became a surprise #1 hit, Berry’s first and last. ** (DBW)
Wilson & Alroys Record Reviews
It’s been said before. Side One is terrific and Side Two Sucks. In fact Side Two is SO bad that it drags the album down to two stars, and even that’s being generous
Jerome Blue, All Music com 2020
Chuck Berry: We did the entire session, which was to come out as The London Chuck Berry Sessions in about five hours, including a break for lunch. Cheerio!
For the period ending December 1972, my royalty statement from Chess showed that there were sales of 1,295,075 singles of My Ding-A-Ling and 187,975 LPs of The London Chuck Berry album. My Ding A Ling was big and everybody wanted it … My Ding A Ling was doing so well that a two-hundred-fifty-thousand dollar check, the largest, I’d ever received was handed to me while crossing Fifth Avenue. I stubbed my toe on the curb as I was counting the zeroes.
Chuck Berry, The Autobiography, 1987
Just the one five hour session? So what was the intent? Chess wanted to follow the Wolf and Waters London Sessions, but they only had one side of material. The Lanchester Arts Festival concert was February, the session was June. Had they already decided to add a side from the live concert?
The mystery bass player
No bass player is credited on the studio session, but bass is certainly there and prominent. Is someone over-dubbing or is Derek Griffiths playing bass? Derek Griffith was lead guitarist of the Artwoods, a band with Ronnie Wood’s brother, Art Wood on vocals, and Jon Lord on organ and Keef Hartley on drums. So he knew Ian MacLaglan and Kenny Jones, who were in Quiet Melon with Art Wood, Ronnie Wood, and Rod Stewart. He would have come on board the sessions with them. The five hour session for the album was not worthy of mention in MacLagan’s autobiography All The Rage.
Then A Collectors Guide to the Music of Chuck Berry, a detailed online database, credits Rick Grech (Family, then Blind Faith, Airforce, Traffic, The Crickets) with bass guitar on every track on side one. There may have been reasons why he wasn’t noted on the sleeve, though it seems unlikely as he played bass and was fully credited on The London Muddy Waters Sessions.
rickgrech.com has a picture of The Chuck Berry London Sessions as one of his session works. I’ll go for Rick Grech on bass guitar.
You may have heard this riff before.
In my ‘front room band’ days we called this riff ‘tune one’ while the Bo Diddley riff was ‘tune two.’ This is tune one without any variation, the Hi-Heel Sneakers version.
It was the B-side of My Ding-A-Ling.
The lyrics are as fruity as My Ding A Ling, but less narcissistic. He’s conscious that they’re going to a ‘rock and roll revival.’
You’re going to feel my hands all around you
Not a finger will you miss
After I turn you on, baby
I’m going to blow your mind with some of this
Do you feel a disconnect of two decades between turn you on and blow your mind and We’re gonna boogie woogie. Like rock ‘n’ roll, it’s back to its original meaning. The boogieing is taking place on Saturday morning, we learn.
Girl, you better be in good shape tonight
Because we sure enough going to ball awhile
It’s been a long, long time
Since I let me backbone bend
File under explicit.
Mean Old World
Credited to ‘Jacobs’ on the LP whoever that is. It’s normally credited to T-Bone Walker who recorded it in 1942. Little Walter had a #6 R&B hit with a cover version in 1952 … for Chess.
Chuck Berry re-did it in 1986 for Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll.
This is an outstanding track, with Jones and MacLagan excelling on their instruments. Chuck Berry sticks to guitar for the first minute or so. When they get to the solo MacLagan sounds as if he’s about to go for it himself on piano for a couple of seconds, and Chuck immediately cuts in with the ringing guitar sound, drowning him out. No one upstages Chuck. It makes for creative tension. The rhythm guitar playing is of note too. The signalled ending is classic Chuck, and the way the drums work with him you’d think they’d rehearsed it carefully.
A first rate classic blues interpretation. The whole band gel on this.
I Will Not Let You Go
B-side of the UK Reelin’ and Rockin’ single.
You hear Chuck’s trademark guitar intro and Way down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans … is already playing in your head.
I can see why it sounds sloppy, in that Chuck’s doing his thing and everyone’s fitting in. The simple bass figure drives it. Chuck’s guitar playing it fabulous. The cliché ending is there again. The lyrics are repetitive and not up to his normal narrative standard. The playing makes up for it.
London Berry Blues
The title says it all, and that solo guitar intro comes in again. It’s a jam … bass and drums lay down the backing track and off Chuck goes. To be fair, it sounds like the sort of jam on a Chuck Berry riff that bands used to do when setting up, to warm up. The difference is that on that warm up jam, everyone takes a solo in turn. Not with Chuck. Not for the first time on the album, I’m admiring Kenney Jones powerful drumming. If you want to listen to five minutes of a lead guitarist strutting his stuff, it’s a good one. He takes it really quiet with bass guitar the only other loud instrument, and everything else fading down. You know it’s going to come right up for the storming ending.
I’d take this over almost any guitar hero. But I wish he could think of a different way of starting and ending.
I Love You
Yes, he introduces it solo on guitar. It’s solid, raucous even, but his lyric gift, just as on I Will Not Let You Go, is on vacation. The lyric sounds made up as he goes along, and it’s predominantly I love you … I love you … I love you. He pulls out another guitar solo in the middle that’s he’s played a few times before.
The band may not have been as famous as on the Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters sessions, and indeed, is unchanging and all there for the short time it took. They sound as if they knew each other well. It’s NOT a second division band.
Side two was recorded at the Locarno Ballroom, Coventry on 3rd February 1972, as part of the Lanchester Arts Festival.
Chuck Berry: On February 3, 1972 I was performing at the Lanchester Ballroom in Coventry, England, where another tricky tactic of the music industry’s way of doing things without my knowledge was under way. At the close of the show, the song My Ding-A-Ling was recorded during my performance before thirty-five thousand students (sic) who, eagerly, but also unaware, were joining in on the recording. I can’t deny that it turned out OK but it would have been better for the band and myself to know if and when the recording was being made.
Chuck Berry, The Autobiography, 1987
OK, it was the Locarno Ballroom, and while it was large, you can knock a zero off his 35,000 figure (later the announcer suggest the capacity is 2000). It’s also odd that they had failed to notice the Pye Mobile Recording unit truck and equipment. Chuck’s autobiography remembers recording at the Phillips studio, but it was the Pye one according to the sleeve. However, Chess had been taken over by GRT, and Philips (one L) were GRT’s UK distributor.
Reelin’ and Rockin’
The second single from the album.
The album version is seven minutes long.
Originally the B-side of Sweet Little Sixteen in 1957. It was a hit for The Dave Clark Five in 1965 (UK #24, US #15) and The Rolling Stones had covered it among many others. I would venture that the Rolling Stones version, as with Come On and Bye Bye Johnny stands at least level with the Chuck Berry original.
It fades up. The sound quality is harsh. So is Chuck Berry’s voice and he’s shouting. It’s one a band needs to know because of the stops and starts, but then I guess everyone did them. He’s changing the lyric … well, it’s his song.
Looked at my watch
It was quarter to two
She said she didn’t
But I know she do …
That’s not in the 1957 version, but I can recall bands in the youth club dance days playing with the lyrics.
Then at quarter to three she says Wait a minute Chuck I gotta … Bring me a Co-Cola please.
Yes. We all knew that ‘pee’ was the missing word.
It gets more explicit as every verse virtually gets changed. The mood leading to My Ding A Ling is already on him.
seven … took off for heaven
eight … she made a little move that made me stretch out straight
nine … ooh, Chuck, baby, this sure feels fine
ten … made me do it again
eleven thirty … she turned back and called me something dirty … do you know why? I’m gonna tell you why!
We boogied in the kitchen
We boogied in the hall
I got somethin’ on my finger so I wiped it on the wall
The audience is listening to the words, because the audience cheers get louder at every one of those second lines. I get the feeling he may have been gesturing too. The band is just there to carry it along, not to shine.
He does the fade down effect again. In the end, it sounds like it would have been fun to watch, and to listen for the lines. While we don’t know the running order, there are shouts of ‘More!’ at the end. No question that the show was going down a storm.
US Billboard Hot 100 #1
A dreadful fluke novelty, now mercifully forgotten
Dave Marsh, New Rolling Stone Album Guide, 2004
My Ding-A-Ling was a tacky fragment of bathroom humour at its most puerile, but Berry fashioned it into a festive live sing-a-long and a nation with nothing better to do in 1972 bought enough copies to make it Berry’s first million-selling number one single. Whether his audience had sunk to his level or he’d risen to their new low-water mark is a nonburning question of the chicken or egg variety; history will chronicle that Berry crossed state lines to dispense smut.
Timothy White, Rock Lives 1990
11 minutes 52 seconds of it. It’s a very long introduction.
It was edited down to four minutes for the single, and it was still too long (the record, not Chuck’s ding-a-ling).
It sounds like an encore … he says We got one more to do …
He gets the band to turn right down. Or rather ‘off.’ They’re not playing at all behind him as he teaches and sings the song. The audience is a major part of it. It’s really just Chuck and his guitar and the audience. Chuck is doing stand-up.
It’s a fourth grade ditty and it’s very cute
I learned it in the fifth, I was a little behind …
Then it’s pantomime … he teaches the audience the girls part and the boys part.
Double entendres trip over each other: the boys only got one part … the boys got their part ready, Yes, ma’am! Do you hear how they’re standing up there … girls , I want you to put your part round the boy’s part … let’s give the girls credit. Don’t they have a beautiful passage? In the song, IN THE SONG!
On the LP the credit reads ‘Berry.’ Chuck was partial to a writing credit, as Johnny Johnson could tell you. It is not correct, the base song was written by Dave Bartholomew. The tune is Little Brown Jug. When Ronnie Hawkins had covered Chuck Berry’s Thirty Days as Forty Days, and was asked about credit, he had said, ‘They’re both When The Saints Go Marching In anyway.’
The song dates back to 1952 when it was on the KIng label. Bartholomew recorded it again as Little Girl Sing Ting A Ling for the Imperial label, which is what artists did in those days to get a second session fee. None of them were naive enough to expect royalties to be actually paid. In 1954, The Bees released it as Toy Bell. It is not obscure, nor is Bartholomew a minor writer. The Dave Bartholomew version is on the Ace Songwriter Series CD The Big Beat: The Dave Bartholomew Songbook. It is a brassy band version with a relaxed jump blues swing. Bartholomew’s band start and end with and punctuate it with the ‘shave and a haircut two bits’ seven note rhythmic sequence which could get you killed if you did it on a car horn in Mexico City (Chinga tu madre, cabrón).
It is unlikely that the notoriously frugal Berry has ever reimbursed Dave for his part in creating the only #1 record of his career,
Tony Rounce, sleeve notes to The Big Bat: The Dave Bartholomew Songbook
At two minutes 15 seconds, the original is the right length, and more enjoyable than Chuck’s cover. Chuck Berry had done it before, as My Tambourine in 1968 on St Louie to Frisco. At least that had a contribution to the lyric.
However, Chuck has a shout for a share of the song. The audience participation idea is his, and he changes the words a great deal.
Chuck Berry: One isolated success of the hit tune My Ding A Ling was that my own Isalee Music Company owns it and is the publisher, which is very important in controlling a copyright throughout the world … so one lives and learns, as time goes by, to take precautions and not make the same mistake again.
Chuck Berry, The Autobiography, 1987
A sophomoric double-entendre ode to masturbation
Scott Schindler, Icons of Rock, 2008
Campaigner Mary Whitehouse wrote to the BBC to get it banned:
One teacher 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.
Ben Thompson (ed.) Ban This Filth!: Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive, 2012
Chuck Berry was not averse to that kind of behaviour as the infamous tale of cameras installed in the women’s toilets in his Berry Park indicate.
I don’t believe Mary Whitehouse’s unnamed source exists. She had a lot of those. For me, the worst thing about the song is that it’s an ear worm. I went for a walk after doing this section and it played incessantly in my head, and I loathe it.
Johnny B. Goode (and closing)
The song where every band into jamming says, ‘What do we do next?’ and everyone says, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and they do it. No one ever had to ask Do you know Johnny B. Goode? If you’ve ever had a guitar or bass in your hand you’ve probably played it.
The original recorded version was 1958, (US Hot 100 #8, US R&B #2) though he wrote it in 1955. Rolling Stone rated it #7 in its list of the 500 Greatest Singles of all time, and that’s about right. It had its sequels … a continuing storey … in Bye Bye Johnny, Rockin’ On The Railroad, The Promised Land.
He finishes My Ding-A-Ling and goes straight into the guitar intro, so second encore.
She took out all her money from the Southern Trust … wait a minute! That’s Bye Bye Johnny. What happens is that Chuck finishes verse one, sings Bye Bye … and the whole audience (inspired perhaps by the Bye Bye Johnny line Her own little son named Johnny B. Goode) starts chanting Go! Go Johnny Go Go! Chuck is not one to destroy the moment and switches to Johnny B. Goode for verse two. He’s shouted himself hoarse.
It’s the reverse of the version friends did on the last pre-Covid gig, where they didJohnny B. Goode but switched to the Bye Bye Bye chorus for the last verse. It makes more sense that way.
Closing has the audience going apeshit chanting Go Go Go and the announcer saying Listen! Please! He’s over-run fifteen minutes! Then he announces that 2,000 people are waiting outside to see the Pink Floyd and unless they clear the hall, there will be no Pink Floyd concert. The response is chanting We want Chuck!
OK, it’s an end of the evening run through of Johnny B. Goode to an ecstatic audience. One I’ve often seen with other bands. It’s not particularly good, but it doesn’t have to be at that point. It has Atmosphere with a capital A.
The disdain for the album is based on My Ding-A-Ling, accentuated by the salty version of Reelin’ and Rockin’ that precedes it, and the sort of end of show Johnny B. Goode rendition that has its place on a live bootleg. I bet the live side was hugely memorable for those who attended and he knew how to sway an audience. In that way, an interesting document.
Side one has a much fuller sound. The downside is that neither I Will Never Let You Go or I Love You has anything you might describe as a lyric.
Mean Old World is far and away the best track, it’s outstanding, and he didn’t write it. London Berry Blues is a great example of the rocking guitar instrumental and the next best track.
Let’s Boogie is kind of OK, vintage Chuck, but vintage Chuck album filler.
I’d say rightfully disdained, but it has its moments. Two of them. After putting this article up, I have Nadine lined up to clear my head!
THE REVILED ALBUMS ARE (so far) …
Beatles For Sale – The Beatles
Their Satanic Majesties Request … The Rolling Stones
Speedway (and Elvis film music) – Elvis Presley
Electric Mud– Muddy Waters
3614 Jackson Highway – Cher (plus the bonus tracks)
Self Portrait – Bob Dylan
Byrdmaniax – The Byrds
Cahoots – The Band
Carl and The Passions- So Tough! – The Beach Boys
The London Chuck Berry Sessions – Chuck Berry
Wild Life – Wings
Sometime in New York City – John and Yoko / Elephant’s Memory
Recall The Beginning: A Journey From Eden … The Steve Miller Band
Hard Nose The Highway … Van Morrison
Chicago III … Chicago
Berlin– Lou Reed
Pinups – David Bowie
There’s One In Every Crowd – Eric Clapton
I Want You – Marvin Gaye
Love At The Greek – Neil Diamond
Death of A Ladies’ Man – Leonard Cohen
Born Again – Randy Newman
Mingus – Joni Mitchell
One Trick Pony – Paul Simon
Everybody’s Rockin’ – Neil Young
American Dream – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Jefferson Airplane – Jefferson Airplane (1989)
Human Touch – Bruce Springsteen
And here’s a rule-breaker. I’d decided one album each, but Van Morrison got so much vituperation from critics (unjustly) in 2021, that I had to add it:
Latest Record Project Volume1… Van Morrison