Old music: Chuck Berry – My Ding-a-Ling

Scoff all you like at the song – but have you ever featured on a No 1 hit? No? Pipe down then

Here’s a quiz question: which Chuck Berry single was the only one to go to No 1 in the UK? Was it Maybelline, No Particular Place to Go, or Johnny B Goode? Try again? If you really want to know, the answer is that cringe-making, novelty number My Ding-a-Ling.

This is where I declare an interest. My voice is among those bellowing: “My Ding-a-Ling!” at Chuck’s instigation. OK, it’s the cheesiest example of the great man’s oeuvre. But I have been on a No 1 hit.

At the time of the recording I was doing what turned out to be a one-year degree course. Philosophical logic and me, it was becoming clear, were not natural bedfellows. I’d just had a prang with a maths lecturer’s car that was comprehensively my fault. To cheer myself up, and in keeping with the solitary existence I was leading at the time, I booked to see Chuck Berry on the early show at the Locarno ballroom in Coventry, part of the famous Lanchester arts festival bill that had been front-page news in the Melody Maker a few weeks before. Pink Floyd were on later; all my mates in our student house in Leamington had tickets for that.

That night in January 1972 Chuck was sleek, sharp, with a wolfish look, and the knowing, confidential manner between numbers of a used car salesman. Hey, hey, rock’n’roll! The thrill of seeing one of the prime inspirations of the Beatles and the Stones in the flesh; fancy my mates opting for the pomp-rock pretension of the Floyd, when they could have had this instead. We cheered his celebrated duck walk during Johnny B Goode. So when he came up with My Ding-a-Ling as his closing number, the audience couldn’t quite believe it – but wanted to humour him. We went along with the rather tedious practice session, as seen in the YouTube clip – not filmed at Coventry, I don’t think, we were far noisier – and performed with genuine gusto when it came to it.

The second time we couldn’t quite believe it was when the whole pantomime was released as a single, after a number of live Lanchester tracks featured on an album that came out that summer. The third time we couldn’t believe it was when it went to No 1, despite Mary Whitehouse’s attempt to ban it. Innocent days. I still remember stumbling out of the Locarno that February night and seeing some of my mates outside in the cold, queuing to see the Floyd. They eyed me pityingly, as they often did. Little did they know. No 1, that’s me.

Greg Freeman

The GuardianTramp

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