The Late Movies: "Promised Land"

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Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" is one of humanity's finest achievements. One part rock and roll creation myth and one part musical cartography, it tells the tale of "the poor boy," a Virginia kid with California on his mind, who overcomes numerous hurdles as he heads westward by bus, train and airplane through America's sonic heartland, the hallowed ground of the blues, country and zydeco. When he finally arrives in the Golden State, with the the first free moment he's had to take a breath since his journey began, he rushes to the phone to tell the folks back home that he's made it. Tomorrow the journey continues, as he presumably seeks fortune and fame in the promised land, but for now, he just wants everyone that helped get him this far know that he's alright.

(Young) Chuck Berry

There's a little bit of irony in the fact that Berry wrote the song not on one of his own cross-country tours, but in the confines of a federal prison cell, where he spent three years for transporting a minor across state lines for "immoral purposes" (he had to borrow a U.S. atlas from the prison library to plot the poor boy's journey).

Johnnie Allan

When the Cajun swamp pop pioneer released his version of the tune in 1971, he wrote to Berry about it, but got a cold shoulder. He said, "All I wanted was an autographed picture. But I never heard from him."

Meat Loaf

Michael Lee Aday replaces the verse that Allan skipped, but then skips one later on.

Elvis Presley

Elvis' driving version of the song can be heard in a scene in Men In Black, prompting a brief conversation about The King and Tommy Lee Jones' explanation that "Elvis is NOT dead. He just went home."

Dave Edmunds

Not bad for a Welshman!

(Older) Chuck Berry

When Berry was released in October 1963, on his birthday, he began recording again and put "Promised Land" on his 1964 album, St. Louis to Liverpool, and released it as the first single.

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August 24, 2010 - 6:55pm
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