Study Guide

Sweet Little Sixteen

Sweet Little Sixteen Introduction

In a Nutshell

"Sweet Little Sixteen" was the perfect rock-and-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 and 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' U.S.A." 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

ArtistBerry, Chuck
Year1958
LabelChess Records
Writer(s)Chuck Berry
Producer(s)Leonard and Phil Chess
Musician(s)Chuck Berry (guitar, vocals)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumSweet Little Sixteen (Single)

Music Video

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Influences on Berry, Chuck

Nat King Cole
Fats Domino
Louis Jordan
Charles Brown
Charlie Christian
T-Bone Walker
Carl Hogan
Muddy Waters

Influenced by Berry, Chuck

The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
Bob Dylan
Buddy Holly
The Beach Boys
John Doe
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sweet Little Sixteen Resources

Books

Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, by Chuck Berry (1989)
Berry's autobiography is actually considered a definitive Berry biography. But the singer is still alive and kicking, so a new bio would have to add 20 years of strangeness.

Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard times of Chuck Berry, by Bruce Pegg (2005)
An unofficial biography, it is still the only non-Berry authored bio around.

Albums

The Definitive Collection: Chuck Berry (2006)
It is what it sounds like.

Best of Chess: Original Versions of Songs in Cadillac Records (2008)
Chuck Berry, Etta James and Muddy Waters are the big names on this album, which also includes Howlin Wolf, Little Walter and Bo Diddley.

The Chess Box: Chuck Berry Box Set (1988)
Three discs of Berry's essential Chess Records releases (plus some unreleased tracks, too).

Images

Berry and his teen fans
Rocking out to "Sweet Little Sixteen" while it was at the top of the charts.

"The Chess Years" Album Cover
Berry sporting his classic look.

Old-school "Sweet Little Sixteen" cover
Sheet music from back in the day.

Berry and Lennon
A match made somewhere good.

Movies & TV

Hail, Hail Rock N' Roll (1987)
The definitive Chuck Berry documentary was created surrounding a huge show put together by the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards for Berry's 60th birthday in 1986. Though Richards and Berry have since had a falling out, Berry's influence on Richards is huge in the history of rock.

Cadillac Records (2008)
Mos Def gives a charming and dead-on performance as Chuck Berry, but his character is overshadowed by Beyoncé as Etta James, Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, and Jeffrey Wright as the star, Muddy Waters.

Websites

Chuck Berry Official Website
Get tour dates, a more flattering version of the bio, and some great pics.

Chuck Berry biography on Biography.com
A brief but clear record of the singer's life.

"Criminal Records: Pop Stars in Prison," by Tim Jonze (2010)
The Guardian UK. George Michael just got a prison sentence; the Guardian reviews famous artists who have done prison time. Berry plays a key role in this story.

Video & Audio

"Sweet Little Sixteen" Live in 1958
You can really hear the mix of blues and country into early rock n' roll here. You can also see young white people dancing in the audience towards the end of the video—a big deal for 1958.

Chuck Berry on Johnny Carson, ca. late 1980s
A couple of great live performances and some Berry silliness. Chuck does the duckwalk, and then confuses a rubber chicken with a duck.