Chuck Berry – The Complete Chess Singles, As & Bs 1955-1961 – Acrobat Music (2 CDs)

by | Mar 18, 2015 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Chuck Berry – The Complete Chess Singles, As & Bs 1955-1961 – Acrobat Music ADDCD3122 (2 CDs) [3/10/15] ****:

There have been seminal moments in the annals of Rock & Roll. Bill Haley and The Comets’ blistering “Rock Around The Clock” (especially in the film Blackboard Jungle) comes to mind. Elvis Presley’s 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan show left an indelible impression on America. The genre emanated from its roots in blues, boogie-woogie jump swing, r & B, gospel and Western swing. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact point of origin. But there was one musician who refined this music for future generations. His name was Chuck Berry.

Berry was born and raised in St. Louis. Despite his middle class upbringing, he was equal parts guitar hero and trouble. Influenced by blues master T-Bone Walker, Berry developed the 12-bar blues into a new format. After meeting Muddy Waters, he was signed to Chess Records. He became the label’s first rock & roll star. His songwriting acumen, performance vitality and guitar riffs made him a superstar. His innovative guitar became the template for rock music. Everyone from Keith Richards to Eric Clapton; from Bruce Springsteen to George Harrison are in ways derivative of Chuck Berry. His sound dominated the airwaves and was imitated (and in some cases, plagiarized) by hundreds.

Acrobat Music has released a two-CD compilation of Berry’s early Chess catalog. Chuck Berry – The Complete Chess Singles, As & Bs 1955-1961 is a mind-boggling 50 tracks. Arranged chronologically, the collection starts off with “Maybelline”. This is a rockabilly jam with a distinctive twanging guitar. But it captures the angst of love and cars in a compact, radio-friendly way. The next big single is the primer for rock & roll, “Roll Over Beethoven”. With its steady rhythm and trademark guitar intro, this is a turning point for Berry and music in general. His accessible lyrics (…roll over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news…”) spoke for a generation of music lovers who parents disapproved of the new music. Having established the structure for his compositions, Berry seized the moment. “Rock And Roll Music”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Reelin’ and Rockin’” (incredibly a “B” side) epitomized Fifties youth culture.

The succession of catchy tunes is relentless. Another phenomenal two-sided single came out two months later. “Johnny B. Goode” (with Lafayette Leake on piano) is part of the American culture. A hit on pop and R & B charts, the infectious homage to Louis Jordan is timeless. The narrative (…but he could play the guitar like ringing a bell…”) recounts the universal story of rock & roll. Again, the “B” side “  (“Around And Around”) is strong. Certainly, Berry worked the “Roll Over Beethoven” groove repeatedly, but the songs were memorable and just plain fun! “Carol”, “Back In The U.S.A.” and “Little Queenie” were charted and eventually covered by an assortment of rockers. There was “doo wop” (“Almost Grown”), Christmas fare (“Run Run Rudolph”, “Merry Christmas Baby”) and country grooves (“Memphis Tennessee”). And he did all of this in six years.

Not all of the material on Chuck Berry The Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-1961 is groundbreaking, but it is authentic. The mono fidelity captures the cohesive framework and crisp guitar work. Long live the king!!!


CD 1: Maybelline; Wee Wee Hours; Thirty Days (To Come Back); Together (We Will Always Be); No Money Down; The Downbound Train; Roll Over Beethoven; Drifting Heart; Brown Eyed Handsome Man; Too Much Monkey Business; You Can’t Catch Me; Havana Moon;  School Day (Ring Goes The Bell); Deep Feeling; Oh Baby Doll; Lajaunda; Rock And Roll Music; Blue Feeling; Sweet Little Sixteen; Reelin’ And Rockin’; Johnny B. Goode; Around And Around; Beautiful Delilah; Vacation Time; Carol

CD 2: Hey Pedro; Sweet Little Rock And Roller; Jo Jo Gunn; Run Rudolph Run; Merry Christmas Baby; Anthony’s Boy; That’s My Desire; Almost Grown; Little Queenie; Back In The U.S.A.; Memphis Tennessee; Broken Arrow; Childhood Sweetheart; Let It Rock; Too Pooped To Pop; Bye Bye Johnny; Worried Life Blues; I Got To Find My Baby; Mad Lad; Jaguar And Thunderbird; Our Little Rendezvous; I’m Talking About You; Little Star; Come On; Go-Go-Go

—Robbie Gerson

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