Forty years ago this fall, Chuck Berry’s career was in renaissance. His last hits of any consequence had come in 1964, but in 1972 he benefited from the ongoing rediscovery of blues and rock pioneers by young British stars. The London Chuck Berry Sessions paired him with Ian McLagen and Kenney Jones of the Faces for a side of studio recordings, and with members of the Average White Band for a live set on the other. The album became his lone top-10 album in the States, but not because American record buyers wanted to thank Berry for songs like “Maybelline” and “Johnny B. Goode.” They wanted “My Ding-a-Ling.”
“My Ding-a-Ling” was first cut by Dave Bartholomew in 1952; Berry had recorded a version of it as “My Tambourine” in 1968. On the live side of The London Chuck Berry Sessions, the song runs 11:33. The mind boggles, because even edited to 4:18 for the single, it ‘s interminable. Its success (which can be laid at the door of Boston radio personality Jim Connors, if Wikipedia has it right) may have been inevitable, however, because dick jokes never go out of style.
They are not always considered fit for broadcast, though. Some radio stations refused to play “My Ding-a-Ling.” Top 40 giant WLS in Chicago didn’t, although I don’t know whether it was because of the lyrics or simply because they believed it was one of the World’s Worst Songs.
Chuck Berry’s roll call of hits is incredible: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Maybelline,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” to name a few. Yet only “My Ding-a-Ling” reached #1 in Billboard, with a two-week run beginning on October 21, 1972. If you seek convincing evidence for the nonexistence of God, there it is.