“Memphis, Tennessee” is indeed a Chuck Berry cover song by The Beatles from 1963. Moreover, they used this song as one of the tracks for their Decca audition tape. They also recorded the song a few times while doing radio shows for the BBC. Therefore, there are a couple of different versions on their albums.
Recorded: 10th July, 1963
BBC Radio Shows: Pop Go the Beatles, 30 July, 1963 (“Live At The BBC”), Saturday Club, 5th October, 1963 (“On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2”)
Track Duration: 2:13, 2:15
Songwriter: Chuck Berry
Producer: Terry Henebery
Chuck Berry first released “Memphis, Tennessee” in June, 1959, however, this was a B-side to the single, “Back In The USA”. It reached number 37 in the Billboard Hot 100 but number 16 in the R&B charts. Meanwhile in the UK, in 1963, it was a single release that reached number 6 in the charts.
There was another single release in the UK by Dave Berry and the Cruisers at the same time. In deed, this version managed to get to number 19 in the charts. So, those who liked the song had a choice of artist.
There were numerous other artists that covered the song but most shortened the title to “Memphis” For example, during 1964 in America, the Johnny Rivers and Eddie Rubin version got to number 2 in the charts there. Other artists who charted with the song with the shorter title were Lonnie Mack and another by Fred Knoblock.
The Beatles would also record the song five times for various BBC Radio shows. However, those were using the full title, “Memphis, Tennessee”.
“Chuck Berry was another massive influence… We’d go up to John’s bedroom with his little record player and listen to Chuck Berry records, trying to learn them. I remember learning Memphis, Tennessee up there”.
The singer is trying to contact a girl called Marie who is his six-year-old daughter. Her mother took her away from the family home when the family broke down. In order to find Marie, the singer is speaking to a long-distance operator.
“Memphis, Tennessee” is one of the songs from The Beatles’ Decca Records audition tape from the 1st January, 1962. However, as yet there is no authorised commercial release of this track. Decca turned The Beatles away then, but the rest is history as they say!
In the early sixties, The Beatles made many appearances on various BBC Radio shows. They sang “Memphis, Tennessee” as part their first BBC radio appearance on “Teenager’s Turn”. Pete Best was the drummer that day and the programme went out on the 9th March, 1962. They recorded it in Manchester’s Playhouse Theatre.
Come June and the band were regulars on BBC Radio. They recorded another version for “Pop Go The Beatles” on the 1st of that month at the BBC Paris Studio in London for airing on the 18th.
Beatles’ fans heard the song again on the “Saturday Club” radio show on the 29th June from a recording made at the Playhouse Theatre in London five days previously.
In the Aeolian Hall, London, The Beatles recorded the song again on the 10th of July. This was for the BBC radio programme “Pop Go The Beatles” airing on the 30th of July and this is the version we hear on their 1994 album, “Live At The BBC”.
The version from their 2013 album, “On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2”, is from their recording for the “Saturday Club” on the 7th September. This recording from the Playhouse Theatre in Manchester aired on the 5th October.