Sunday, June 5, 2016

Johnny B. Goode

You know "Johnny B. Goode": ripping guitars, punchy pianos, and that rags to riches story of the original guitar hero.  There's well over a hundred cover versions and tributes.  The VVers realized that they have lots of variations on the same song from various decades of vinyl.  Here is the round-up:

Chuck Berry - The original, written and performed by Berry in 1958, is perfect.  Quite stellar.  It was even selected to be a Voyager Golden Record, sent to space on the Voyager I launch in 1977 as a  representation of culture on planet Earth.  No more need be said.

DEVO - Q; Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO - 1978
"Come Back Jonee" is a tribute, not a cover, marrying DEVO's new-wave punk vibe to Berry's core song.  This one has impressive whistling synths, rapid fire drumming, and galloping guitars to pay homage to the original.  Differing from the original tune, the lyrics speak of a guitar guy who breaks his lady's heart and then runs off to be famous, but instead drives his Datsun into an oncoming truck.  Bravo.

The Nighthawks - Jacks and Kings Full House - 1979
Local Silver Spring-area band, the Nighthawks, provide a very respectable cover called "Little Queenie" to start off this LP.  They credit Mr. Berry in the appropriately title-switched track.  It starts with original lyrics as if singing to an onlooking female listener/dancer to basically the same tune of "Johnny," then awkwardly switches back to the Berry lyrics two-thirds through the song.  Good piano scales and horns to accompany the scintillating guitar lead make this a rockin' blues track.

Men at Work - Business as Usual -1981
"Be Good Johnny" again, not a cover, is a reference to the original and is also super 80s and super Australian.  Lyrically, this one is about a daydreaming kid who keeps getting reminded to "be good."  The chorus is catchy, but it's not enough to save this one, nor to justify it as any kind of homage to the original.  Meh.

Peter Tosh - Mama Africa - 1983
A good way to cover a song is to take the original and adapt it to the music you know and perform best, which is what Mr. Tosh does here.  Straight covers of songs are boring.  The reggae-ized version of this features some creative touches such as a bleating horns section, the echoed "Go Johnny" in a peppy female voice, and some appropriately changed lyrics "leader of a reggae band."  Exceptional guitar work from Tosh helps this track keep true to Berry's original.

Judas Priest - Ram It Down - 1988
Dear Judas Priest, why?  It has nothing on the original, yet somehow the chugging guitar of K. K. Downing and screeching Rob Halford play nice to make a good/bad, near-straight adaptation.  It's sounds like a spoof.  It also seems totally out of place on this album of halfway decent originals.

The Spiders - Big Lizard Stomp - sometime between 1966-1969
This version is extra surfy sounding and a decent straight cover.  The singing is pretty atrocious, but consider it is a live cover by a Japanese rock group and you might give them some credit for effort.  From the intensity and straight energy exuding from this recording you can tell that they are having fun covering this classic song.

Other versions of the song from artists that seem promising include: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and the Sex Pistols.  Is this a prompt to go running out to get these on vinyl?  No.  It is just a total coincidence that so many versions of "Johnny B. Goode," spanning many decades and musical styles, are in the VVers collection.

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