April 1st, 2015

ChuckBerryComplete

Title: The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-61

Artist: Chuck Berry

Label: Acrobat Music

Formats: 2CD, MP3

Release Date: March 10, 2015

 

From his first Chess Records release, Chuck Berry tore up the R&B charts. “Maybelline,” released in July 1955, hit #1 on the charts.  Over the next 6 years, Chess issued 25 singles by Berry, and many of them charted, four hitting #1 among R&B hits.

UK-based Acrobat Music has compiled the Chess singles in chronological order, A side then B side. The sound quality varies, but none are unlistenable. The discount price (about $14 for 50 tunes) excuses the cheap-looking package and middling sound quality. The booklet, spared of any fancy layout and with only a handful of stock photos, includes detailed discography info, and a music-centered biographical essay by Paul Watts. Overall, a fine value for rock music fans wanting to fill out the “founding fathers” section in their collection.

Those who know Chuck Berry’s music are probably very familiar with the A sides, so one way to enjoy this set is to load only the B sides into a playlist. There are some surprises. For instance, some of the songs favored by British Invasion rockers like “Too Much Monkey Business” (covered by the Yardbirds and others), “Reelin’ and Rockin'” (Rolling Stones), “Around and Around” (Rolling Stones) and “Memphis Tennessee” (covered by the Rolling Stones in their first demo session) were all B-sides.

Also surprising is the range of styles that Berry was comfortable tackling. Songs like “Havana Moon,” “Hey Pedro” and “Lajuanda” have a Latin flavor and beat whereas “Wee Wee Hours,” “The Downbound Train” and others are blues songs that would work well for Chess stablemates Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. There are also instrumentals, featuring Berry’s ground-breaking guitar playing as well as several outstanding piano runs by Lafayette Leake.

By taking blues structures and motifs, speeding them up and mixing in R&B, Latin and other influences, Chuck Berry helped invent what came to be called rock music.  This 2CD set offers a listen to the genre under construction, by one of its prime architects.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

Review Genre(s): Popular, Rock, and Misc.


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