Chuck Berry first issued the song on
Chess Records in 1959 as a
single which reached number 37 in the
Billboard Hot 100. It also reached number 16 on the
R&B chart. The song was later included on Berry's 1962 album More Chuck Berry. The song's lyrics were supposedly written based upon Berry returning to the United States following a trip to
Australia and witnessing the living standards of
Australian Aborigines. Berry's biography on the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website states Berry "saluted such everyday pleasures as the drive-ins and corner cafes 'where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day/Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the U.S.A.'"
The song was recorded on February 17, 1959, in Chicago, Illinois.
Ronstadt had heard the Berry original while being driven around Los Angeles by
Glenn Frey who had once been in her band, the track being on a home-made cassette Frey had playing in his tape deck. Ronstadt recalls that she'd been reminding Frey "how we used to sit around
the Troubadour bar and go: 'Oh it's so horrible and I can't get a record deal.' We were so broke and so miserable and we'd feel so sorry for ourselves and we were so precious about it. Then all of a sudden I looked at him and I went: 'Boy, life's really tough. We're going off to ski [at Aspen] with all this money in our pockets, we're going to have a good time, and we've got great music on the tape player.' Just then "Back in the U.S.A." came on and I went: 'Boy that would be a great song to sing. I think I'll do that one.'"
The single of Ronstadt's version rose as high as number 11 in Cash Box and reached number 16 on the
Billboard Hot 100 chart. (It was Top Five in the Detroit market place.) On October 16, 1987, Ronstadt joined Chuck Berry onstage at the
Fox Theater in
St. Louis as part of a concert celebrating Berry's sixtieth birthday. According to production assistant Mark Slocombe, despite Ronstadt having rehearsed with the band playing in the key of C, Berry's guitar playing on the actual concert performance of "Back in the U.S.A." necessitated the band performing in the key of G: Slocombe – "Linda Ronstadt's such a pro, you really don't hear her strain or muff it. But ... she was so pissed off when she walked off that stage she went right through the Green Room, right out the stage door, climbed into her limo and never came back for the second show. [Berry's birthday fête consisted of two concerts planned to feature identical set lists and guest performers.]" The Ronstadt/Berry performance of "Back in the U.S.A." was featured in the filmation of Berry's sixtieth birthday concert: the 1987 movie release Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, with the track being included on the soundtrack album: according to Slocombe, "they had a hard time getting [Ronstadt] to sign the release for the [performance] because she was so pissed off."