Friday, July 27, 2012
Is The Promised Land Chuck Berry's greatest song? It's my favorite anyway.
" Now, some people might suspect the motive of a songwriter who could write such a paean to place when the place in question subjected him to constant racial harassment. But Berry never concealed his motive – to make as much money as possible. How American is that? That a man who had every reason to begrudge his country could write “The Promised Land” or the even more besotted “Living in the USA” (“Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner café . . . / Yeah, and the juke box jumping with records like in the USA”) is, for me, cause for the profoundest patriotism. Furthermore, unlike “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie’s national anthem of Depression-era populism, “The Promised Land” doesn’t ask that you hate the rich or share the singer’s sectarian politics. (Listen to the rarely sung verses four and five if you don’t believe me.) I do hate the rich, but that’s because I’m not as generous of spirit as Chuck Berry is. All that “The Promised Land” and “Living in the USA” ask of you is that you love American place names, not be a complete stiff, and maybe appreciate a “rare hamburger sizzling on an open grill night and day.'"In an odd way it seems to me that The Promised land and Back in the USA may be Chuck's most personal songs, and I think it is probably worth noting that Irving Berlin never wrote a more appealing song about what makes it good to be an American. I don't think anybody ever did, and Chuck Berry wrote two, and made it look easy.