"Sweet Little Sixteen" was the perfect rock n' roll song for 1958: it was an ode to teenage yearnings and cross-country rock tours. Chuck Berry, a young African-American musician, was the headliner of the latest fad (known as rock n' roll
), and it appeared that popular music might be on the path to racial integration. But by 1963, the song's iconic writer had spent the peak of his career in prison, and the Beach Boys had released a direct rip-off of the song with new lyrics: "Surfin' USA." Chuck Berry found himself on the sidelines of the very music he was partially responsible for creating, listening to other people—white people—sing his songs on the radio.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||Chuck Berry (guitar, vocals)
|Album||"Sweet Little Sixteen" (single)|
|Producer(s)||Leonard and Phil Chess|
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Chuck Berry is considered one of the inventors of rock n' roll: his upbeat, easy-to-hear lyrics and driving guitar riffs were the new genre at its best. But after a racially-motivated prison sentence took him off the scene at the peak of his career, he emerged from prison to find that many of the black stars responsible for shaping rock n' roll
in the 1950s
were back on the fringes of the popular music scene. White rock and pop stars like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles
(who both cite Berry as major influences) were on the rise. "Surfin' USA," a poppy, California-loving rehash of Berry's rock classic, pleased the teenage masses but pissed off Berry, who was not initially credited for the song. Is the story of "Sweet Little Sixteen" also the story of an uphill battle for racial equality
On the Charts
"Sweet Little Sixteen" peaked at #2 on the U.S. Hot 100 and #1 on the U.S. R&B Charts. In terms of the pop charts, it was Berry's second biggest hit—his only #1 charting song was the lewd (and somewhat ridiculous) 1972 release "My Ding-A-Ling."
"Sweet Little Sixteen" was listed at #272 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
, just behind a Beach Boys song at #271 but beating out Springsteen's iconic "Born in the U.S.A."
Chuck Berry is #6 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, and #5 on their listing called "The Immortals: The 500 Greatest Artists of All Time."
Berry received a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 1984, and in 1986 he became one of the early inductees to the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame (according to this biography