Chuck Berry – Photo: Courtesy of Terry Fincher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
“It was a teenage wedding, and the old folks wished them well,” wrote Chuck Berry, setting the scene as vividly as ever. “You could see that Pierre did truly love the mademoiselle.” The rock’n’ roll pioneer was setting out on another storytelling adventure, this time bringing us the romantic tale of Pierre and his betrothed.
The record, of course, was “You Never Can Tell,” produced by the Chess brothers in their Chicago studio in the early weeks of 1964. Released in the summer, this glorious gem in the Berry catalog made its Hot 100 debut on the chart of August 1 that year, at No.83, when this musical pioneer was enjoying a new period of popularity. Back on the scene after his incarceration of 1962-63, he had returned to the American Top 10 for the first time in all of six years with the equally indelible “No Particular Place To Go.”
The new single was full of the richly imaginative detail and characterization for which Chuck had few equals. They detailed the couple’s new-found home life with such magnificent couplets as “They furnished off an apartment with a two room Roebuck sale…the coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale.” Here was the master of language creating another word of his own, as he had done memorably with “motorvatin.” The flow of the lyrics was a vital part of his armoury, and “refrigerator” didn’t scan, neither did “icebox.” Hence, “coolerator” it was.
“I concentrate on the lyrics usually,” Chuck told Guy Stevens in Record Mirror earlier in 1964, “and then I work out the song on my guitar when I have the lyrics on paper. Then I tape it to get an idea of the overall sound, after which I record it. Most of my songs come from either personal experience or other people’s experiences or from ideas I get from watching people. I would say that I aim specifically to entertain and make people happy with my music, which is why I try to put as much humor into my lyrics as possible.”
The maestro was also climbing the US album charts at the time with Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits, and “You Never Can Tell” was to take him into the Top 20 again. Its No.14 peak would be his best showing until “My Ding-A-Ling” gave him a surprise, and eventual, No.1 in 1972.
Buy or stream the Chuck Berry single on You Never Can Tell: His Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966.