Monday, 1 August 2011

Chuck Berry - No Particular Place To Go (1964/ No. 3/ 12 weeks/ Pye)

I'm currently thinking that Chuck Berry may be my favourite songwriter. One particular and precious reason for this admiration is that his songs were always genuinely really funny, and the telling is so good that the joke still makes me laugh whenever I hear the songs, even if I'm feeling down. This much loved song works around a set-up and reversal of circumstances that could be a Max Miller music hall number.

Chuck Berry's evening starts off full of horny promise. He has company and transport

Rrrridin' along in my automobile!
My baby beside me at the wheel!

Things seem to be going as he would wish them;

Rrrridin' along in my automobile!
I was anxious to tell her the way I feel...
So I told her softly and sincere
And she leaned and whispered in my ear
Cuddlin' more and drivin' slow -
With no particular place to go!

A brilliant thing about Berry's vocal style lies in his ability to convey both lechery and dainty finesse - You really understand both the carnal impulse and how the driver might be a practised seducer.

Rarely has a blues structure supported a pop song so well, too. The riff that follows each line sounds like a release of joy, but is so clipped that it also conveys a certain frustration, too. On top of this, there a tinkly piano that just tickles you into submission.

The evening reaches it's make-or-break moment;

No particular place to go -
So we parked way out on the Kokomo!
The night was young and the moon was gold
So we both decided to take a stroll...
Can you image the way I felt?
I couldn't unfasten her safety belt!

I don't think that we're supposed to understand this as a literal occurrence.

By the third chorus - this is not a single that outstays its welcome - all of the joys have remained untasted, and the guitar line now sounds more cross than cheery;

Rrrridin' along in my calaboose!
Still trying to get her belt a-loose!
All the way home I held a grudge -
For the safety belt that wouldn't budge!
Crusin' and playin' the radio!
With no particular place to go!

As with Jerry Lee Lewis, the idea of Chuck Berry holding a grudge is rather scary, but restrained in the comic-book world of his songs, the frustration is authentically comic and true to life.

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