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Chuck Berry’s Finest Deep Cuts: 10 Overlooked Gems

Delve deeper into the rock originator’s legacy with a selection of great tracks that goes beyond the huge hits

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Go beyond Chuck Berry's biggest hits with our list of 10 great overlooked tracks.

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Chuck Berry‘s peak years of artistic genius produced many classics beyond his
well-known hits. He was still making great recordings in the 1970s and even
the 1980s. Here are 10 obscure must-hear gems from throughout his
career.

“You Two” (1964)

A hipster double date, involving “the cozy clan of four” taking a ride to drink in some country air and roast hot dogs, with a portable record player in tow to provide some jazzy sounds. “Listening to my idol Nat Cole prompted me to sing sentimental songs with distinct diction,” Berry wrote in his autobiography. This gentle swinger is one of his sweetest, a portrait of domestic bliss and modern leisure. 

“I Want to Be Your Driver” (1965)

Recorded in late 1964 while on tour in England, this track is just about the only thing worth hearing on Chuck Berry in London. Berry stretches a standard blues sex metaphor to the limit – “Your rounded-body, wheel-to-roll limousine/I’ve never had the thrill of riding such a wonderful machine … Drive you so slow and easy you won’t want to put me down” — with a desperate vocal and whip-snap guitar that turns the subject every which way but loose. “I Want to Be Your Driver” came out in May, 1965. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Beatles recorded “Baby You Can Drive My Car” five months later.

“Have Mercy Judge” (1970)

The sequel to “Tulane,” which was about a dope-dealing couple on the run, finds Tulane’s man Johnny locked up, “charged with traffic of the forbidden” and facing an almost certain trip “to some stony mansion.” His woman won’t wait, and he doesn’t blame her. “Have mercy on my little Tulane,” the poor boy pleads. “She’s too alive to try to live alone.” Berry had been trying this kind of tears-on-the-guitar-strings blues since 1955. Here he finally got it right.

“Wuden’t Me” (1979)

“Promised Land” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” were coded race parables. The lead track from Berry’s last original album, Rock It, was explicit: Our hero runs a stop sign in the South, gets in trouble with his mouth and is tossed in jail with “no phone, no bail, no plea.” So he breaks out, gets chased by a Grand Dragon posse and seven bloodhounds. “Just meters from a canine jubilee” he’s saved by a kindly trucker – who’s wearing a “Swasti-KKK” armband. Vowing self-reliance (“That’s when he knew he had to get on, help himself/Instead of sitting, depending on somebody else”) he disappears into the woods, bound for freedom.

“Oh What a Thrill” (1979)

Celebrating love and sex and music, as ever. And as much a phrasemaker as ever: “squeezing and teasing and pleasing the evening away,” “All the clouds from the west go east to confess it’s spring,” “those same sweet songs of a golden yesterday.” This tune was covered by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe’s Rockpile a year later, but with less of the easy sunshine and simple joy of being granted the privilege of staying the night with that beautiful someone.

“Wee Wee Hours” (1986)

Chuck idolized Muddy Waters and wanted to play the blues. But he was better at inventing rock & roll. He lives out his original dream, though, on this 1986 live take of the B-side of “Maybelline,” recorded at the 60th birthday concert captured in the documentary Hail, Hail Rock & Roll. Keith Richards leads a band that includes Berry’s original piano man, Johnnie Johnson; Eric Clapton joins on vocals and guitar. Johnson’s right hand swirls in rapture, and Clapton delivers a typically impressive B.B. King-style solo. “Take another one,” Chuck calls out. So Clapton does, unfurling impossibly rapid-fire notes that bend time, then slowing down to show how much sustained double-string bending and bell ringing he – and everyone else – learned from Berry himself.

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