Posted by Jason Diamond
“Memphis, Tennessee” isn’t just one of the greatest Chuck Berry songs, it’s one of the greatest rock n’ roll songs ever written, recorded, and covered over and over by a variety of different artists.  The lyrics of the song lead you to believe that there is a relationship between an older man and a six-year-old girl, until the story finally unfolds and we find out it’s a father trying to get in touch with his daughter.  Whether or not Berry–one of rock’s all time lyrical geniuses–wanted to make people believe there was a sexual relationship going on between the man and the young girl isn’t entirely known.  But it’s interesting to note is that the song is the B-Side of the “Back in the U.S.A.” single which came out a year after Berry’s contemporary and rival, Jerry Lee Lewis, was exposed for marrying his 13-year-old cousin.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5ezeUM6c74&w=420&h=315]

The song has been covered numerous times by dozens of different artists. And while Berry has one of the great songbooks in American history, it’s this B-side that has gone on to be his most popular song.  Not the Diddleyesque “Maybellene,” the proto-“Louie Louie” “Havana Moon,” or any of Berry’s odes to teenage fun and rock n’ roll. The wide array of artists to cover it is a testament to that.

1. Hasil Adkins

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQR0K4JT-rA&w=420&h=315]

2. The Beatles

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMVpVqXvFiA&w=420&h=315]

3. The Ventures

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL4-QSj5PYM&w=420&h=315]

5. Johnny Rivers

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMKQgnT_fTY&w=420&h=315]

6. Al Green

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6AGtPC_XyY&w=420&h=315]

7. Elvis

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyipQ-oD5nk&w=420&h=315]

8. Jerry “The King” Lawler

Listen: “Memphis, Tennessee” by Jerry “The King” Lawler

9. Silicon Teens

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTXP5Mu_ZNg&w=420&h=315]

10. Buck Owens

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgUO1QkvJjY&w=560&h=315]

Added: (Thanks to Levi Asher for reminding us of this one)

John Cale

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mWlVjEY_Pc&w=420&h=315]

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  • John Cale did a killer version — should be on this list.

    Rod Stewart also sang it, though you could leave that one off the list.

  • Jason Diamond

    You’re totally right. I’m updating this.

  • George Thorogood covered it too, on his Maverick album.

  • Nice that you take on such a task, I like that. For your information I am working on a list of Berry covers (book actually), and so far I have 430 versions of “Memphis, Tennessee” by 383 artists/groups. Still counting. By the way, John Cale has two versions, one from 1977 (studio) and one live from 1979. It seems like you played the ’77 one.
    I am afraid to tell you that it’s actually “Johnny B. Goode” which is Berry’s most covered song, 626 versions by 536 artists/groups, still counting.
    And we’re only talking records, not VHS, DVD or TV, and no bootlegs.
    Morten Reff