The lyrics of Chuck Berry have few rivals in their wit, imagination and incisiveness. But even by his standards, Chuck was on brilliant form as he entered two of Billboard’s R&B charts on October 6, 1956 with “Too Much Monkey Business.”
Berry’s quickfire writing and delivery, based on his obvious love of words, had him bemoaning his lot in an eloquent inventory of all the things that had been sent to try him. “Runnin’ to-and-fro, hard workin’ at the mill.” he began. “Never fail, in the mail, yeah, come a rotten bill.” But it wasn’t just his financial situation that was cramping his style.
The song proceeds to describe his misfortune in love, at school, at work and even in the army, all described with such great style that one of the lyrics (“Wipe the windows, check the tires, check the oil, dollar gas”) became the near-title of the 1976 live album by the Allman Brothers Band.
Not enough pop business
Perplexingly, even as the follow-up to “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Too Much Monkey Business” failed to make the pop chart in America. But it debuted at No.5 on both Most Played R&B In Juke Boxes and Most Played R&B By Jockeys. It peaked at No.4 and, two weeks into its run, was joined on the charts by its other side, the similarly whip-smart “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” soon to be covered by Buddy Holly.
Billboard’s review of Berry’s single praised the “potent two-sided disk,” describing “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” as “novelty blues” and “Monkey Business” as “a more traditional blues…with novelty lyrics.” It was also included on Chuck’s first LP, 1957’s great After School Session. Countless other versions of the song ensued, including those for various BBC radio shows by The Beatles, including this one for Pop Go The Beatles in 1963.
“Too Much Monkey Business” is on After School Session, which can be bought here.
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