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Digital Subscriptions > Vintage Rock > Jul/Aug 2019 - Stray Cats > CLASSIC ALBUM

CLASSIC ALBUM

Its title was a light-hearted pun on the image of a strawberrysprinkled sundae, but the double meaning was clear – and when Chuck Berry Is On Top hit the racks 60 years ago its creator was soaring high after the most successful 18 months of his career

CHUCK BERRY IS ON TOP

CHUCK BERRY

Berry in the studio: he first recorded for Chess on May 21, 1955 – and one of those songs ended up on Chuck Berry Is On Top
©Gilles Petard/Redferns)

In January 1958, Chuck Berry recorded the semi-autobiographical rock’n’roll epic Johnny B. Goode. Destined to become one of his greatest and most influential recordings, the song was released as a single in March and spent 15 weeks on the chart, rising to No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on the R&B chart. It was the first of eight chart hits Berry would score that year – and four more would follow in the first six months of 1959.

During the same period Berry undertook more than 100 live performances, some of them on a successful tour of Australia. A highlight of the run was an appearance at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival in July 1958, preserved on film for the documentary Jazz On A Summer’s Day.

Berry also added to his movie résumé by appearing in the 1959 film Go, Johnny Go!

In addition to serving as a showcase for the song Johnny B. Goode, Berry’s appearance went beyond a mere musical performance; as a supporting character in the film, he was awarded a sought-after speaking role. Now Berry was a recording and movie star, a songwriter and an in-demand live performer. His income soared, and he invested his profits wisely. In mid-1958 he launched Chuck Berry Music Inc, making him one of the first rock’n’roll songwriters to self-publish. At the same time he began construction of Club Bandstand, an integrated nightclub in one of St Louis’ wealthiest (and predominately white) neighbourhoods, along with Berry Park, an amusement park/entertainment complex built on 30 acres of farmland just outside Wentzville, Illinois, which eventually included a nightclub, business offices, a campground and a luxury residence for Berry and his family.

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