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Classic singles: Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" (1964)

Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" was released in 1964
Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" was released in 1964

Chuck Berry was absent from the charts in the years between 1960 and 1964 because was imprisoned after a questionable (probably racially motivated) conviction for violating the Mann Act. A lot changed musically in those years, and some of the greatest bands to emerge in that time (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys) were huge Berry fans, covering and rewriting his songs on their early recordings.

Berry was no doubt flattered by their admiration, but surely also wanted to prove he was still as relevant as they were despite pushing 40.

So after his release in October 1963 he recorded a group of songs to rank with his greatest Fifties singles - "Promised Land," "You Never Can Tell," "Nadine," and "No Particular Place To Go." The latter was the biggest hit of the four, but also the weakest - not bad, but a little generic.

In "Promised Land," released late in 1964, Berry had a lot of particular places to go, and he got through them in less than two and a half minutes. After a charged-up variation on his signature riff Berry tells his story at breakneck speed.

A poor boy from Norfolk, Virginia is determined to go to California, we presume to become a star of some sort. It's similar to "Johnny B. Goode" except the tempo of "Promised Land" almost makes the former sound like Coldplay.

The poor boy boards a Greyhound bus which carries him through North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama before it breaks down in Birmingham.

Still determined, he's able to catch a train that goes through Mississippi, then Louisiana, where he apparently runs out of money in New Orleans.

Our hero, however, is able to charm some locals into buying him a plane ticket to California (and a new suit - nice job). After a lightning-quick guitar solo his flight touches down in Los Angeles and the record ends with the poor boy eager to call his family in Virginia to let them know he's reached his destination after much aggravation.

"Promised Land" was Berry's last truly great single, and though it just missed the Top 40, it captures everything that made him great as a guitarist and a lyricist. If the poor boy was even half as good he probably made it just fine.

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