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Johnny B. Goode

Johnny B. Goode


by Chuck Berry


Johnny B. Goode is a song about a country boy's fantasy of becoming a famous guitar-player, fitting considering Berry's general focus on fame, fantasy, and teenage life in his lyrics. But what is most significant about Berry's songwriting in "Johnny B. Goode" is not so much the subject matter as Berry's use of description and narrative storytelling. Instead of a series of disconnected verses about one topic, Johnny B. Goode is a story. It has an introduction, a climax, and a conclusion.

The introduction gives us a setting and a character: a log cabin "made of earth and wood" and a boy who plays the guitar "just like ringing a bell." In just six lines, Berry provides us with a clear image: the back woods, a boy with talent, and nothing but a cabin to explore it in. In the second verse, as in any good story, Berry presents a problem: the boy has no place to play! He sits under a tree by the railroad and strums to the rhythm of the passing trains. He's so good that he is noticed by train engineers and passers-by. The story begins to sound familiar—he's one of those old bluesmen, out in the backwoods just playing to whoever will listen, hoping to make a break somehow.

The third verse is the most important part of the story, presenting the climax by predicting the future. Berry introduces the character of Johnny B. Goode's mom to take us through the steps. "Someday," she tells Johnny, "you will be a man." We are presented with two images: the future life of the famous guitar-player Johnny wants to be, and the current life of a young boy listening to his mom tell him that he is going to be great when he grows up. This dual narrative is the story's climax, because it indicates the moment when Johnny realizes that he needs to "go, Johnny, go" until he makes it to that dreamed-of fame. If all goes well, the future holds his name in lights and people screaming "Johnny B. Goode!" The denouement (that's the conclusion or tying up of a story or drama)? That unforgettable refrain of "go, Johnny, go" reminding the boy of what he needs to do to get there.

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