Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry are both 1950s icons, however, they found success well into the 1970s. While Elvis had several No. 1 hits in the 1950s and 1960s, he didn’t have a No. 1 hit in the 1970s. Here’s how Berry prevented this from happening.
How Elvis Presley got swept up in a 1950s nostalgia trend
Firstly, some background. Usually, artists release their most famous songs early in their careers. On the other hand, Elvis released many of his most iconic songs during his comeback period, or after he appeared in the ‘68 Comeback Special. For example, “Always on My Mind,” “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “If I Can Dream,” and “Rubberneckin’” all came from the last leg of his career.
Perhaps his most famous 1970s track is “Burning Love.” It’s a fun throwback to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, with a guitar riff and piano chords reminiscent of the era. That was just what people wanted in the 1970s, as 1950s nostalgia was common in 1970s media. After all, that decade gave the world Grease, Happy Days, a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Blondie’s doo-wop song “In the Flesh.”
Chuck Berry made a comeback with a risque song
Of course, this nostalgia also helped one of Elvis’ rock ‘n’ roll peers: Berry. According to Stereogum, he came back to the charts with his only No. 1 single: “My Ding-a-Ling.” “My Ding-a-Ling” is a risque novelty song about the singer’s genitalia. It’s a far cry from the revolutionary music Berry made in the 1950s. When the track reached No. 1, it prevented “Burning Love” from reaching the top of the chart. “Burning Love” would peak at No. 2.
“My Ding-a-Ling” was a lot sillier than Berry’s previous work. Rolling Stone reports he still saw the song as one of the greatest of his career. He compared it to his hit “Johnny B. Goode” and wished he could write another song like it. In addition, he was proud of the money it generated. “Made a lot of money: a $200,000 check,” Berry revealed. “I’ll never forget that check. And it’s all dirt. Nice, cleeean dirt!”
Despite this success, Berry would still refuse to perform the song in concert at times. “Give people what they want — that’s true,” Berry said. “I’m searching for who is attentive out there in the audience. I can look around and be singing ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ and stop and sing ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ because some people will be sitting out there looking like they’re from church. There’s certain songs and thoughts, for that matter, that almost make tears come to their eyes. I’d give it to them if that’s what they wanted.” America certainly wanted to hear “My Ding-a-Ling” — more than it wanted to hear “Burning Love.”