New York, Los Angeles, oh, how I yearned for you
Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge
Let alone just to be at my home back in ol' St. Lou
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If you've never heard of Chuck Berry, shame on you. Shame shame shame. The man basically invented rock n roll (with a little help from Marty McFly, of course). Born to a middle class family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry started playing music when he was young and never stopped. After spending a short time in jail for robbery, he joined up with a band and started performing. Once he went solo, he got big, and rock n roll showed up. Granted, there were a lot of other people who helped shape what we know and love as rock n roll, but Chuck Berry had a massive part in it. His song "Johnny B Goode" is widely considered to be one of, if not the
greatest rock n roll song of all time. But what I'm here to talk about is one of his other great songs, "Back In The U.S.A."
Missouri Botanical Garden
"Back In The U.S.A." sounds like every other Chuck Berry song. Like, literally, every single Chuck Berry song. It starts off with the same little guitar riff as "Johnny B. Goode" or "Sweet Little Sixteen," and runs on off into a nice little classic Chuck Berry song. The entire song is about how wonderful the U.S.A. is and how happy Berry is to be back in the country. It is said that this song was inspired by a trip to Australia he took. After seeing the living conditions of the Australian Aborigines, Berry was so relieved he didn't live that way that he wrote this song. Rather than writing something about how terrible it must be to be an Aborigine, like those wimpy artists of today, Berry decided to write a "Man, I'm glad I'm me" song. "Back In The U.S.A." has been covered by everybody and his brother - and his brother's friend from college. Most famously, it was parodied by The Beatles on their White Album
and made into "Back In The U.S.S.R.," a song that not only parodied Chuck Berry, but the Beach Boys as well. Other than The Beatles, "Back In The U.S.A." was a big hit for Linda Rondstadt on her 1978 relevantly-titled Living In The U.S.A.
album, as well as for MC5 on their also relevantly-titled Back In The U.S.A.
album. The song has also been notably covered by Edgar Winter's White Trash, The Modern Lovers, and Gene Summers. And, at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000 where Berry was honored, The Black Crowes played "Back In The U.S.A." for probably the whitest crowd it's ever been played for.
Old Courthouse, St. Louis
Photo: Maha, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
At this point you might be asking yourself, "Ben, this is great and all, but I'm on Songplaces. This website has to do with places in songs. Are you really going to do an article about the entire country?" And to that I say I would, but then this article would be far too long and you would never read it because you have a short attention span. That's why I'm going to tell you a little bit about Berry's hometown, and the place he mentions most fondly in the song, St. Louis, Missouri. If there's anything St. Louis is known for, it's the Gateway Arch, the St. Louis Cardinals, and violent crime. Lots and lots of violent crime. In fact, there is only one city in the entire country that has more violent crime and more murders than St. Louis, and that's New Orleans. It even beat some of the typical heavy-hitters like Detroit and Baltimore. But regardless of the violence, St. Louis is a nice city. It's hosted a World Fair, the Olympic Games, and a World Series-winning baseball team. In fact, the St. Louis Cardinals have the second most World Series wins in baseball history at 11, behind only the New York Yankees' 27. And then, you know, there are the St. Louis Rams, perhaps the antithesis of the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis residents would probably rather us not mention them. It's just worth noting that, aside from one Super Bowl appearance that was basically Kurt Warner putting the team on his back, they have not been very good. And, of course, don't forget the Gateway Arch, the monument to the U.S.'s westward expansion, built in 1947, perhaps the most iconic part of St. Louis.
One might be able to call St. Louis technically one of the birthplaces of rock n roll, considering that is where Chuck Berry is from. Whatever you want to call it, Berry obviously enjoyed it and was happy to be back to his favorite country when he did get back. And thanks to that, we have one of the genre-defining songs of rock n roll.Ben Palmer
September 16, 2014
Back In The U.S.A. Songfacts
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