323. ‘My Ding-A-Ling’, by Chuck Berry

And so we come to our alma mater. We must do our alma mater

bb24-2017-coda-berry-billboard-1548-768x433

My Ding-a-Ling, by Chuck Berry (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 19th November – 17th December 1972

Come along one and all, for the touching tale of a young boy and his favourite childhood toy: When I was, A little bitty boy, My grandmother bought me a cute little toy… Silver bells, Hanging on a string, She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling…

In this live-est of live number ones, the audience sing approximately half of the song. The girls in the audience give us My… While the boys give us Ding-a-Ling! Girls: I want you to play with my… Boys: Ding-a-Ling! While Chuck croons his encouragement: Beautiful! I think it’s a beautiful little song, really I do…

Mum takes the boy to grammar school, but he stops off in the vestibule. (Find me, if you can, another #1 single that includes the word ‘vestibule’.) Every time that bell would ring, Catch me playing with my ding-a-ling-a-ling… Life brings along many trials and tribulations for the hero of the piece but first and foremost, no matter the danger, the lad looks after his prized possession. Climbing the garden wall, swimming across Turtle Creek… All the while holding onto his ding-a-ling. You can guess where every verse is going after the first line; but that’s the beauty of it. Like all lame jokes you can see it coming a mile off, bounding over the horizon like a big dumb dog.

And Chuck Berry’s enthusiasm for this silliest of silly songs really helps to sell it. The spoken asides – the two girls singing in harmony, the guy singing in rhyme (that’s alright, brother, you gotta right baby) – are the best bits. In an extended version that runs to well over eleven minutes, Berry can be heard briefing the audience on how to sing. It is complete end-of-the-pier, pantomime smut, with lines like: We’ll teach the boy’s first, cos they’ve only got one part… (You notice how the boy’s part starts rising right there?)… Now boys you gotta come in strong with your ding-a-lings… It’s a very funny listen – those aren’t even the dirtiest bits – if your sense of humour is as underdeveloped as mine… When it comes to the verse dedicated to those who will not sing, the glee in Berry’s voice as he changes the lyrics to Your ding-a-ling, Your ding-a-ling, We saw you playin’ with your ding-a-ling…! is unmistakeable.

Chuck+Berry+My+Ding-A-Ling+-+Inj-493600

I’ve been looking forward to writing about ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ ever since I started this blog. For a start, it’s Chuck Berry finally getting a #1 single. He, more than any other artist, is rock ‘n’ roll. He’d only had one (1!) Top 20 hit in the fifties – ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, which peaked at #16! In the sixties, when his influence on beat bands became evident, he started hitting the top 10 with discs like ‘No Particular Place to Go’. By 1972, though, he was a veteran; a legacy act. This had been recorded in February, at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, and was belatedly pushed as a single by a radio station in Boston.

The other reason I’d been looking forward to writing about this record? The controversy, of course. Radio stations refused to play it (duh). Not that there’s anything wrong with the lyrics on face-value, but the fun that Chuck and the audience are having singing along like drunks at closing time means that even the most innocent of minds can get in on the innuendo. Mary Whitehouse, last seen campaigning against Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’, claimed that whole classes of young boys across the nation were lowering their trousers, ‘singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation… that is so obvious.’ Which, if they weren’t doing before Mary made this claim; they certainly were afterwards.

This tune had been around for a long time, since the 19th century in fact, in the form of the American folk number ‘Little Brown Jug’. It was first recorded as ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ by Dave Bartholomew in 1952, and if you thought Berry’s version was bawdy then you’re in for a treat with the original (sample lyric: When you’re young and on the go, Your ding-a-ling won’t ever get sore…)

There are a lot of people who think of it as sacrilege that this was Chuck Berry’s biggest hit. Which I understand, on one level. But, at least it’s fun. Compare and contrast with Eddie Cochran – another rock ‘n’ roller who, after genre-defining hits like ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’ reached #1 with the soppy ‘Three Steps to Heaven’. Plus, he was dead. Chuck Berry had decades of playing with his ding-a-ling to come after this (though, given some of the allegations made against him over the years that might not be the best way to phrase it). He died in 2017, aged ninety.

To conclude, then. This may be puerile, and silly. It may not be anywhere near as momentous a record as ‘Johnny B. Goode’, or ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Music’, or ‘Maybelline’, or hundreds of Chuck Berry’s earlier hits. But I love it for what it is. Somehow, some way, ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ is every bit as rock ‘n’ roll as his classic hits.

Follow along with my #1s Blog playlist, here.

17 thoughts on “323. ‘My Ding-A-Ling’, by Chuck Berry

  1. LOL! I reviewed a Chuck Berry CD and that was the first time I heard this song and I was like “WTF??” but I couldn’t stop laughing. I doubt they’d have understood the innuendo in the 50’s, which is why this is a 70’s song. Then again in the 70’s The Brady Bunch kids would call each other a “ding-a-ling” when they were trying to call someone stupid. So I guess The Bradys were still living in a world of naiveté. 😀

  2. I’ve read many a bad review on this because the great Chuck Berry dare sing such a tongue-in-cheek song. I like it. It is fun. It makes me smile every time I hear it.

    Did you know that there is a National Ding-A-Ling Day?

    1. Thing is, Chuck Berry was capable of some pretty raunchy live versions. His live version of Reeling and Rocking makes this look very tame.

      How does one celebrate National Ding a Ling Day…?

  3. A couple of fun facts relating to this track:
    it was recorded in 1972 at the Locarno in Coventry – which was the same place where the Special A.K.A recorded “Too Much Too Young” seven years later – two live Number 1s at the same venue.
    Also Slade’s Noddy Holder was in the crowd for this show. If we assume that he was singing along, could this count as another number one that Noddy appeared on?

    1. That rings a bell about Noddy Holder – I must have read that somewhere… I will forever count it as his 7th number one single. Did not know about the Specials, though. Fun fact!

  4. Pingback: 324. ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’, by Little Jimmy Osmond – The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. badfinger20 (Max)

    I don’t mind him doing a corny song…it’s the fact that none of his great songs reach number 1…it makes no sense. Mary Whitehouse was something…she also wanted to ban Doctor Who because of some of the things Tom Baker did…I know she didn’t like Jagger and I think he debated her.

    1. Oh yeah, Mick Jagger would have represented everything she hated. I think she gets away with being remembered as a sort of disapproving grandma type figure, but she actually held some pretty extreme views on morals, women, gay people … and songs about ding-a-lings. She discriminated indiscriminately!

  6. Rolf Harris made this acceptable on totp by drawing a series of cartoons clearly showing what a ding a ling was, ooh no missus dont….love the irony there when Rolfs ding a ling caused him problems later in life.

    Its a yoyo 🙂 I was 14, we all knew what it was about, and it was no worse than a Carry On innuendo or Benny Hill. It was amusing, no we teens werent all playing with our ding a lings in public due to Chuck Berry. More it got on our nerves after weeks of over exposure ooeerr missus like mostly novelty tracks they get more tired more quickly. And the follow up was much dirtier anyway and neither track was banned by the BBC – i happily recorded them both off the chart show. Now you want banned tracks ftom 1972? Big Six by Judge Dread, very naughty for the time, but nothing compared with the current UK number one. Should make interesting reading down the line WAP….:)

    1. I like that it exists, more than I like listening to it. If I were to put on a Chuck ‘Best Of’ I’d probably skip ‘My Ding-a-Ling’, but I definitely never skip his filthy live version of ‘Reelin and Rockin’. I am disappointed to discover that it didn’t cause a mass ding-a-ling-off in the playground at break time, though… What on earth would Mrs Whitehouse have made of ‘WAP’, I wonder…? By the time I get to writing about it I’ll be an old codger so just for the record, in 2020, I think it is hilarious!

  7. Pingback: Recap: #301 – #330 – The UK Number Ones Blog

  8. Pingback: 407. ‘Show You the Way to Go’, by The Jacksons – The UK Number Ones Blog

  9. Pingback: 450. ‘Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! EP’, by The Specials – The UK Number Ones Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s