Promised Land (Chuck Berry song)

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"Promised Land"
Promised Land - Chuck Berry.jpg
Single by Chuck Berry
from the album St. Louis to Liverpool
B-side "Things I Used to Do"
ReleasedDecember 1964
RecordedFebruary 1964
Studio Chess (Chicago) [1]
Genre Rock and roll
Label Chess Records
Songwriter(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Leonard Chess, Philip Chess

"Promised Land" is a song lyric written by Chuck Berry to the melody of "Wabash Cannonball", an American folk song. The song was first recorded in this version by Berry in 1964 for his album St. Louis to Liverpool . Released in December 1964, it was Berry's first single issued following his prison term for a Mann Act conviction. The record peaked at #41 in the Billboard charts on January 16, 1965.



Berry wrote the song while in prison, and borrowed an atlas from the prison library to plot the itinerary. In the lyrics, the singer (who refers to himself as "the poor boy") tells of his journey from Norfolk, Virginia, to the "Promised Land", Los Angeles, California, mentioning various cities in Southern states that he passes through on his journey. Describing himself as a "poor boy," the protagonist boards a Greyhound bus in Norfolk, Virginia that passes Raleigh, N.C., stops in Charlotte, North Carolina, and bypasses Rock Hill, South Carolina. The bus rolls out of Atlanta but breaks down, leaving him stranded in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. He then takes a train "across Mississippi clean" to New Orleans. From there, he goes to Houston, where "the people there who care a bit about me" buy him a silk suit, luggage and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Upon landing in Los Angeles, he calls Norfolk, Virginia ("Tidewater four, ten-oh-nine") to tell the folks back home he made it to the "promised land." The lyric: "Swing low sweet chariot, come down easy/Taxi to the terminal zone" refers to the gospel lyric: "Swing low sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me Home" since both refer to a common destination, "The Promised Land," which in this case is California, reportedly a heaven on earth.

Billboard called the song a "true blue Berry rocker with plenty of get up and go," adding that "rinky piano and wailing Berry electric guitar fills all in neatly." [2] Cash Box described it as "a 'pull-out-all-the-stops' rocker that Chuck pounds out solid sales authority" and "a real mover that should head out for hit territory in no time flat." [3] In 2021, it was listed at No. 342 on Rolling Stone's "Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". [4]

Chart history

Chart (1964–65)Peak
Canada RPM Top Singles [5] 30
UK [6] 26
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [7] 41
U.S. Billboard R&B 41
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 [8] 35

Elvis Presley version

"Promised Land"
Promised Land - Elvis Presley.jpg
Single by Elvis Presley
from the album Promised Land
B-side "It’s Midnight"
ReleasedSeptember 27, 1974 (single); January 8, 1975 (album)
RecordedDecember 15–16, 1973
Studio Stax Studios, Memphis, TN
Label RCA
Songwriter(s) Chuck Berry
Producer(s) Felton Jarvis
Elvis Presley singles chronology
"If You Talk in Your Sleep" / "Help Me"
"Promised Land" / "It's Midnight"
"My Boy" / "Thinking About You"

In December 1973, Elvis Presley recorded a powerful, driving version. Presley's version of "Promised Land" was released as a single on September 27, 1974. It peaked at number 14 on the Hot 100 Billboard charts, [9] and 9 on the UK Singles Chart in the fall of 1974. [10] It was included on his 1975 album Promised Land . The Presley version was used in the soundtrack of the 1997 motion picture Men in Black .

Chart history

Chart (1974–75)Peak
Canada RPM Top Singles [11] 19
Ireland (IRMA) [12] 7
UK Singles (OCC) [10] 9
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 [13] 14
U.S. Cash Box Top 10022


Other versions

There are numerous other versions of this song:

Johnny Hallyday version (in French)

"La Terre promise"
Single by Johnny Hallyday
Released1975 (1975) (France)
Label Philips
Johnny Hallyday singles chronology
"La Fille de l'été dernier"
"La Terre promise"
"Requiem pour un fou"
Music video
"La Terre promise" (INA archive, 1975) on YouTube

The song was covered in French by Johnny Hallyday, using an adaptation of Presley's arrangement. His version (titled "La Terre promise") was released in 1975 and spent one week at no. 1 on the singles sales chart in France (from November 1 to 7, 1975). [18]


Chart (1975)Peak
France (singles sales) [18] 1

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  2. "Singles Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. December 5, 1964. p. 31. Retrieved 2021-04-02.
  3. "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. December 5, 1964. p. 14. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  4. "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 2021-09-15. Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  5. "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada".{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. "Official Charts Company".{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  7. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN   0-89820-089-X
  8. Cash Box Top 100 Singles, January 16, 1965
  9. Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955-2012. Record Research. p. 673.
  10. 1 2 2nd to None (Media notes). Elvis Presley. Columbia Records. 2003.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  11. "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 1975-01-11. Retrieved 2021-10-04.
  12. "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Promised Land". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved November 28, 2021.
  13. Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955-2012. Record Research. p. 673.
  14. "The SetList Program - Grateful Dead Setlists, Listener Experiences, and Statistics". Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  15. "Grateful Dead Family Discography - The Promised Land". Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  16. "Covered Berries". Official Chuck Berry Website. Archived from the original on 19 March 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
  17. "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction on LP". Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  18. 1 2 "La Terre promise - Johnny Hallyday -" . Retrieved 2017-11-13.