Rewinding the Charts: In 1972, Chuck Berry Took His 'Ding-a-Ling' to No. 1

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Sunshine via ZUMA Press
Berry onstage in Amsterdam in 1973.

The rock‘n’roll legend’s only Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper was a bawdy novelty song that, unlike his other hits, he didn’t write.

CHUCK BERRY WROTE HIS most recognizable hits, but it was a cover — one full of double entendres about masturbation, no less — that shot the rock’n’roll legend to his first and only No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972.

Originally written and recorded by Dave Bartholomew in 1952, “My Ding-a-Ling” first surfaced in the Berry canon in 1968 as “My Tambourine” with key lyric changes. (“I want to play with my ding-a-ling” became “I do like to shake my tambourine,” for instance.) When he played the song live, however, Berry slipped in his own racy lyrics, and one of those performances was included on his 1972 hybrid album of studio and live tracks, The London Chuck Berry Sessions.

Berry had been landing self-penned hits on Billboard’s charts since the mid-1950s, including “Johnny B. Goode,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” although each of those songs was released — and rose to popularity — before the launch of the Hot 100 in August 1958.

An edited version of “My Ding-a-Ling” from the London sessions album became an unlikely hit single for Berry, reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 dated Oct. 21, 1972, and spending two weeks at the top. (Berry’s last top 40 hit before then, “You Never Can Tell,” had charted in 1964.)

The popularity of “My Ding-a-Ling” came in spite of some radio stations’ refusal to play it due to its risque lyrics. Berry didn’t seem to mind that a novelty song became his biggest Hot 100 hit. “Give people what they want,” he said when asked about the song in a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone.

Following his first leader, the rocker would appear on the Hot 100 just one more time, peaking at No. 27 with “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” in 1973. His 1979 album Rock It was his last for nearly 40 years until, on Oct. 18, 2016, his 90th birthday, he announced that a new album was forthcoming. Chuck was released June 9, a few months after Berry had died on March 18 of cardiac arrest at his home in Wentzville, Missouri.