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"Maybellene" is a song recorded by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry
Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" , "Roll Over Beethoven" , "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B...

, adapted from the traditional fiddle tune "Ida Red
Ida Red
"Ida Red" is an American traditional song of unknown origins. It is chiefly identified by variations of the chorus:Verses are unrelated, rather humorous, and free form, changing from performance to performance. Ida Red's identity is unknown, but is feminine in most uses.The earliest recording is a...

" that tells the story of a hot rod
Hot rod
Hot rods are typically American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. The origin of the term "hot rod" is unclear. One explanation is that the term is a contraction of "hot roadster," meaning a roadster that was modified for speed. Another possible origin includes modifications to or...

 race and a broken romance. It was released in July 1955 as a single
Single (music)
In music, a single or record single is a type of release, typically a recording of fewer tracks than an LP or a CD. This can be released for sale to the public in a variety of different formats. In most cases, the single is a song that is released separately from an album, but it can still appear...

 on Chess Records
Chess Records
Chess Records was an American record label based in Chicago, Illinois. It specialized in blues, R&B, soul, gospel music, early rock and roll, and occasional jazz releases....

 of Chicago, Illinois. It was Berry's first single release and his first hit. "Maybellene" is considered one of the pioneering rock and roll
Rock and roll
Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music...

 singles: Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

 magazine wrote, "Rock & roll guitar starts here." The record is an early instance of the complete rock and roll package: youthful subject matter, small guitar-driven combo, clear diction, and an atmosphere of unrelenting excitement.

The song was a major hit among both black and white audiences and it was quickly covered
Cover version
In popular music, a cover version or cover song, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song...

 by several other artists after its initial release. The song has received numerous honors and awards throughout the years.

The song is often misspelled "Maybelline" on several releases.

Origins and writing of the song

Many have considered the story of the evolution of the country
Country music
Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

 song "Ida Red
Ida Red
"Ida Red" is an American traditional song of unknown origins. It is chiefly identified by variations of the chorus:Verses are unrelated, rather humorous, and free form, changing from performance to performance. Ida Red's identity is unknown, but is feminine in most uses.The earliest recording is a...

" important to the history of rock 'n' roll's emergence as a popular music. According to Berry, his favorite song to sing at “salt and pepper clubs” as he called them, (black and white clubs) was the traditional country song "Ida Red", an uptempo dance number made popular by Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys
Bob Wills
James Robert Wills , better known as Bob Wills, was an American Western Swing musician, songwriter, and bandleader, considered by music authorities as the co-founder of Western Swing and universally known as the pioneering King of Western Swing.Bob Wills' name will forever be associated with...

 with their 1938 recording. With encouragement from Muddy Waters, Berry in 1955 brought to Chess Records a tape of his cover of Bob Wills' version of the tune which he had renamed “Ida May” and a blues
Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads...

 song he wrote “Wee Wee Hours
Wee Wee Hours
"Wee Wee Hours" is a song composed and recorded by Chuck Berry in 1955. Originally released as the B-side of Berry's first single "Maybellene", it went on to become a hit, reaching #10 in the Billboard R&B chart....

”, which he stated was inspired by Joe Turner
Joe Turner
Joe Turner is the name of:* Big Joe Turner , blues singer* Joe Turner , jazz/stride pianist* Joe Lynn Turner , rock musician* Joe Turner , English footballer...

’s “Wee Baby Blue”. To Berry’s surprise, Leonard Chess
Leonard Chess
Leonard Chess was a record company executive and the founder of Chess Records. He was influential in the development of electric blues.- Early life :...

 showed little interest in the blues material but was enthusiastic about the commercial possibilities in a “hillbilly song sung by a black man”. Chess wanted a bigger beat for the song and added a bass and maracas player to the trio at the recording session. He also felt the titles “Ida Red” and “Ida May” were “too rural”. Spotting a mascara
Mascara is a cosmetic commonly used to enhance the eyes. It may darken, thicken, lengthen, and/or define the eyelashes. Normally in one of three forms—liquid, cake, or cream—the modern mascara product has various formulas; however, all contain the same basic components of pigments, oils, waxes, and...

 box on the floor of the studio, according to Berry’s partner Johnnie Johnson
Johnnie Johnson (musician)
Johnnie Johnson was an American pianist and blues musician. His work with Chuck Berry led to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.-Career:...

, Chess said, “Well, hell, let’s name the damn thing Maybellene” altering the spelling to avoid a suit by the cosmetic company. The lyrics were rewritten at the direction of Chess as well. “The kids wanted the big beat, cars, and young love,” Chess recalled. “It was the trend and we jumped on it.” It has been claimed that taking old recordings and modifying them, by changing the instrumentals and the lyrics was a common practice in the 1950s. With these changes the original songs were often not detectable particularly if the melody was slightly modified. This practice took place because copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 laws on older recordings were rarely enforced.

As Chess had predicted, the lyrics struck a chord with teenagers fascinated by cars, speed, and sexuality. "Maybellene” became one of the first records to score big on rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of popular African American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a...

, country and western, and pop charts. Featuring some inimitable Chuck Berry riffs, some blues-style picking on a country guitar, and Johnson’s piano, which added a hummable rhythm to the steady backbeat, "Maybellene" was a pivotal song in the emergence of rock 'n' roll. This exciting fusion of a rhythm and blues beat with a rural country style was the catalyst for the type of rock 'n' roll that emerged in the mid-1950s.


In the 1950s, some record companies assigned co-composer credits to disc jockeys and others who helped "break" a record, a form of "payola
Payola, in the American music industry, is the illegal practice of payment or other inducement by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on music radio, in which the song is presented as being part of the normal day's broadcast. Under U.S...

" via composer royalties. This accounts for disk jockey Alan Freed
Alan Freed
Albert James "Alan" Freed , also known as Moondog, was an American disc-jockey. He became internationally known for promoting the mix of blues, country and rhythm and blues music on the radio in the United States and Europe under the name of rock and roll...

 receiving co-writer credit for "Maybellene". Russ Fratto, who had been lending money to Chess, also received credit. The Freed and Fratto credits were later withdrawn.


In 1955, the song, a 12-bar blues, peaked at number five on the Billboard
Billboard (magazine)
Billboard is a weekly American magazine devoted to the music industry, and is one of the oldest trade magazines in the world. It maintains several internationally recognized music charts that track the most popular songs and albums in various categories on a weekly basis...

 rock/pop charts and was a number one R&B hit. Billboards year end charts ranked "Maybellene" as #3 on 1955's Top R&B Records Retail Sales and the Juke Box Plays charts.

Honors and awards

In 1988 "Maybellene" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame
Grammy Hall of Fame Award
The Grammy Hall of Fame Award is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance"...

 for its influence as a rock and roll single. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a museum located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It is dedicated to archiving the history of some of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers and others who have, in some major way,...

 included "Maybellene" in their list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list, as well as "Rock and Roll Music
Rock and Roll Music
"Rock and Roll Music" is a song written and recorded by rock and roll icon Chuck Berry which became a hit single in 1957 and has been covered by many artists....

" and "Johnny B. Goode
Johnny B. Goode
"Johnny B. Goode" is a 1958 rock and roll song written and originally performed by American musician Chuck Berry. The song was a major hit among both black and white audiences peaking at #2 on Billboard magazine's Hot R&B Sides chart and #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.The song is one of Chuck Berry's...

". In 1999, National Public Radio included it in the "NPR 100," the one hundred most important American musical works of the 20th century as chosen by NPR music editors. "Maybellene" is currently ranked as the 81st greatest song of all time, as well as the second best song of 1955
1955 in music
-Events:*January 1 – RCA Victor announces a marketing plan called "Operation TNT." The label drops the list price on LPs from $5.95 to $3.98, EPs from $4.95 to $2.98, 45 EPs from $1.58 to $1.49 and 45's from $1.16 to $.89...

, by Acclaimed Music.

Cover versions

Columbia records released a version by Marty Robbins
Marty Robbins
Martin David Robinson , known professionally as Marty Robbins, was an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist...

 (21351) by the end of August 1955. Robbins' version was the #13 "Most Played by Jockeys" in the Country & Western market by mid October. and soon Columbia was touting it as one of its "Best Selling Folk Records". By November it was noted that the record had "won considerable pop play". Other versions available in mid October 1955 were by J. Long (Coral 61478), J. Lowe (Dot 15407) and R. Marterie (Mercury 70682) with the song listed as #14 top selling in the nation.

Allmusic lists cover versions by more than 70 performers, including Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

, Simon and Garfunkel
Simon and Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel are an American duo consisting of singer-songwriter Paul Simon and singer Art Garfunkel. They formed the group Tom & Jerry in 1957 and had their first success with the minor hit "Hey, Schoolgirl". As Simon & Garfunkel, the duo rose to fame in 1965, largely on the strength of the...

 in a medley with "Kodachrome"
Kodachrome (song)
"Kodachrome" is a song written and recorded by Paul Simon. It appeared on his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin' Simon.-Description:The song is named after the Kodak 35mm film Kodachrome...

, George Jones
George Jones
George Glenn Jones is an American country music singer known for his long list of hit records, his distinctive voice and phrasing, and his marriage to Tammy Wynette....

, Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins
Carl Lee Perkins was an American rockabilly musician who recorded most notably at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning during 1954...

, Bubba Sparks, Foghat
Foghat are a British rock band that had their peak success in the mid- to late-1970s. Their style can be described as "blues-rock," or boogie-rock dominated by electric and electric slide guitar. The band has achieved five gold records...

, Gerry & The Pacemakers
Gerry & the Pacemakers
Gerry and the Pacemakers were a British beat music group prominent during the 1960s. In common with The Beatles, they came from Liverpool, were managed by Brian Epstein and recorded by George Martin. They are most remembered for being the first act to reach number one in the UK Singles Chart with...

, Johnny Rivers
Johnny Rivers
Johnny Rivers is an American rock and roll singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. His styles include folk songs, blues, and revivals of old-time rock 'n' roll songs and some original material...

, and Chubby Checker
Chubby Checker
Chubby Checker is an American singer-songwriter. He is widely known for popularizing the twist dance style, with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard's R&B hit "The Twist"...


In 1955, the Brownie McGhee Sextet
Brownie McGhee
Walter Brown McGhee was a Piedmont blues singer and guitarist, best known for his collaborations with the harmonica player Sonny Terry.-Life and career:...

 recorded "Anna Mae" which was a double-time rewrite of "Maybellene". It can be found on the four-disc compilation "Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label 1944-1961."

"Maybellene" is Steve Howe
Steve Howe (guitarist)
Stephen James "Steve" Howe is an English guitarist, known for his work with the progressive rock group Yes...

's first released single (1964) with his band The Syndicats
The Syndicats
The Syndicats were an English group, who were Steve Howe's first band. Their three singles on Columbia were produced by Joe Meek. When lead guitarist Howe left for Tomorrow in 1965, he was replaced by Ray Fenwick. Fenwick played lead guitar on the band's most famous song "Crawdaddy Simone"...


In 1964 Johnny Rivers
Johnny Rivers
Johnny Rivers is an American rock and roll singer, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. His styles include folk songs, blues, and revivals of old-time rock 'n' roll songs and some original material...

 version of "Maybellene" reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100
Billboard Hot 100
The Billboard Hot 100 is the United States music industry standard singles popularity chart issued weekly by Billboard magazine. Chart rankings are based on radio play and sales; the tracking-week for sales begins on Monday and ends on Sunday, while the radio play tracking-week runs from Wednesday...

 and #9 on RPM
RPM (magazine)
RPM was a Canadian music industry publication that featured song and album charts for Canada. The publication was founded by Walt Grealis in February 1964, supported through its existence by record label owner Stan Klees. RPM ceased publication in November 2000.RPM stood for "Records, Promotion,...

 magazine's Top 40-5s Singles chart.

In 1972, Foghat
Foghat are a British rock band that had their peak success in the mid- to late-1970s. Their style can be described as "blues-rock," or boogie-rock dominated by electric and electric slide guitar. The band has achieved five gold records...

 recorded a cover of the song.

In June 2007, the punk rock
Punk rock
Punk rock is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk rock bands eschewed perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock...

 group Social Distortion
Social Distortion
Social Distortion is an American punk rock band formed in 1978 in Fullerton, California. The band currently consists of Mike Ness , Jonny Wickersham , Brent Harding and David Hidalgo, Jr...

 released a cover version of the song as a bonus track on their Greatest Hits album. The track is only available via the Apple iTunes Store
ITunes Store
The iTunes Store is a software-based online digital media store operated by Apple. Opening as the iTunes Music Store on April 28, 2003, with over 200,000 items to purchase, it is, as of April 2008, the number-one music vendor in the United States...


In 2008, American rapper Mos Def
Mos Def
Dante Terrell Smith is an American actor and Emcee known by the stage names Mos Def and Yasiin Bey. He started his hip hop career in a group called Urban Thermo Dynamics, after which he appeared on albums by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul. With Talib Kweli, he formed the duo Black Star, which...

 recorded his version for the movie Cadillac Records
Cadillac Records
Cadillac Records is a 2008 musical biopic written and directed by Darnell Martin. The film explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, chronicling the life of the influential Chicago-based record-company executive Leonard Chess, and the musicians who recorded for Chess...

 based on the rise and fall of Chess Records. The song was released on the soundtrack Cadillac Records: Music from the Motion Picture
Cadillac Records: Music From the Motion Picture
Cadillac Records: Music From the Motion Picture is the Grammy-nominated soundtrack album to the Golden Globe nominated film Cadillac Records...

 the following year.

In 2011, blues guitarist/singer Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter
John Dawson "Johnny" Winter III is an American blues guitarist, singer, and producer. Best known for his late 1960s and 1970s high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances, Winter also produced three Grammy Award-winning albums for blues legend Muddy Waters...

 recorded a cover of the song on his album Roots, featuring Vince Gill
Vince Gill
Vincent Grant "Vince" Gill is an American neotraditional country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He has achieved commercial success and fame both as frontman to the country rock band Pure Prairie League in the 1970s, and as a solo artist beginning in 1983, where his talents as a...

 on guitar.

External links