John Sieger
Sieger on Song

Chuck Berry Rocks Your Christmas

“Run Rudolph Run” has the classic Chuck rhythm and the lyrics are a stitch.

By - Dec 22nd, 2016 02:17 pm
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Chuck Berry. Photo from Facebook.

Chuck Berry. Photo from Facebook.

Chuck Berry is my nomination for the first head on Mt. Rockmore, a monument America surely needs. Hell, I’ll carve the damn thing myself. For there is no overestimating Berry’s contribution to rock and roll and American culture. He goes deep and he goes wide. You try to run from his influence and his shadow falls over you like it fell on The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Band and The Rolling Stones. He made those amazing records just 90 miles down the road at Chess Records in Chicago and turned the world on its ear.

What did he do? He arranged the shotgun wedding of blues and country. “Maybelline,” his first hit, was originally a country song called “Ida Red.” He outfitted it with an out of control backbeat and chugging guitar style that would be stolen a million times. It wasn’t all musical either — he was a poet of the first order, with the ability to shape a story in a few words. Some of those words, like “coolerator,” were his inventions. He was also a wild and wily showman, playing guitar while duck-walking across the stage.

Chuck Berry songs dominated jukeboxes and the Top Ten all through the late 1950s. He hit a rough spot when he was convicted of having relations with 14-year-old Apache girl who worked at his club. He did a year and a half for that one. When he came out, he was no longer the center of the rock’n’roll universe, but still did all right. The Beatles and the Stones, along with every other band in the world, were recording his songs — imagine the royalties. He even had more hits with three brilliant songs, “Nadine”, “You Never Can Tell,” and “No Particular Place To Go.” The last one may be the funniest song about teenage frustration ever written. There’s a lot more I have to leave out, or we’ll never get to this week’s song. It’s worth reading his autobiography or any book on him, really.

“Run Run Rudolph,” which is what everyone calls it, though the title is actually “Run Rudolph Run,” is the rare Berry recording he didn’t write. Johnny Marks, the guy who wrote “Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer,” was the author, along with another guy named Marvin Brodie. It sounds like they had Chuck in mind, but then again, I’ve never heard their version. Anyway, this is an holiday energy drink, driven by Berry’s signature low-string rhythm. This is the very rhythm that propelled so much of blues, rhythm and blues and rock. Any guitarist worth his or her salt has to get it down and then spend the rest of their lives refining it. It’s the most natural rocking rhythm known to mankind — so inevitable it sounds like it was created on the 8th day of creation.

The song is a stitch. The lyrics, already wacky, get the special Berry treatment. It winds up supercharged, with so much delirious momentum it’s a wonder it ever stops.

Out of all the reindeers you know you’re the mastermind
Run, run Rudolph, Randalph ain’t too far behind
Run, run Rudolph, Santa’s got to make it to town

Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph ’cause I’m reelin’ like a merry-go-round

Said Santa to a boy child what have you been longing for?
All I want for Christmas is a rock and roll electric guitar
And then away went Rudolph a whizzing like a shooting star

Run, run Rudolph, Santa’s got to make it to town
Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph, reeling like a merry-go-round

Said Santa to a girl child what would please you most to get
A little baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet
And then away went Rudolph a whizzing like a Saber jet

Run, run Rudolph, Santa’s got to make it to town
Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down
Run, run Rudolph ’cause I’m reelin’ like a merry-go-round

© Johnny Marks / Marvin Brodie

If you can sit still while this is on, check your pulse. The vitality in this song and his work in general is a big part of our culture. Chuck Berry is turning 90 and putting out a new record next year. Like Tony Bennett, also 90, he endures and endears. He is one more example of the special gift we receive every day from the people who were brought here against their will. Thank you Chuck, thank you Santa and Rudolph. We are so lucky.

I hope your holidays are happy and next year unfolds for all of us with less drama and more joy.

Note: The Chuck Berry Rhythm, or as many musicians refer to it, “just play some Chuck,” is explored a little bit in this SOS video.

6 thoughts on “Sieger on Song: Chuck Berry Rocks Your Christmas”

  1. Dale Pautzke says:

    Diane and I read Chuck Berry’s autobiography. Loved it!

  2. John, big thanks for the ongoing amazing masterclasses in song appreciation—

  3. John, big thanks for the amazing masterclasses in song appreciation

  4. Virginia Small says:

    It would be great if we heard this on those endless loops of radio Christmas music. It reminded me a bit of “Go, Johnny, Go.”

    I love the lyrics but was half expecting the verse about the little girl’s wish would have been for a drum kit or other instrument. Instead it bowed to the social norms of the times. The boy wants a kick-ass guitar and the girl dreams of a baby doll. I’m glad we got Bonnie Raitt and other female blues and rock artists–despite that pervasive social conditioning.

  5. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I saw a documentary on Chuck Berry and when he was asked how he wrote his songs, he said that he wrote about cars and girls, which would appeal to young guys who bought the records. But as we all know, there’s a lot more to it than that (like talent and intuition and poetry)!

  6. Brin Quinn says:

    My first choice for Mount Rushmore would be Elvis Presley. He was the complete package.

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