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Pop - Released April 18, 2006 | Geffen

There have been many, many Chuck Berry compilations released by Chess over the years, but as of the spring of 2006, there was no comprehensive single-disc set in print; there was the double-disc 2005 set Gold, which itself was a retitled reissue of 2000's Anthology, but the classic comp The Great Twenty-Eight was long out of print, and nothing had replaced it until the 2006 release of The Definitive Collection. This generous 30-track selection offers nearly everything that was on The Great Twenty-Eight and in nearly the same sequence -- "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Roll Over Beethoven" are swapped, for instance, but it's not really a noticeable change. "Bye Bye Johnny" is the only song missing from The Great Twenty-Eight, which is not a huge omission, especially since it's been replaced with two great singles, "You Never Can Tell" and "Promised Land." "My Ding-A-Ling" is also here and, while it is a worse song than "Bye Bye Johnny," it was Chuck's only number one single, so its inclusion makes sense -- and it hardly sinks a collection that is by far the best, most comprehensive single-disc Chuck Berry set yet assembled. Sure, there are some great Berry songs that are absent, but all the major songs are here; plus, if you need more than 30 songs, turn to either Gold or The Chess Box. If you want a single-disc best-of collection of all of Chuck's finest, this is the one to get. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1988 | Geffen

Over the course of three compact discs, The Chess Box contains most of the highlights from Chuck Berry's career, including all of the hit singles. In addition to the familiar items, which are all included here, there are numerous tracks that are lesser-known but equally as good. That's particularly true on the stellar first two discs, where album tracks, B-sides, and forgotten singles like "Downbound Train," "Drifting Heart," "Havana Moon," "Betty Jean," "Bye Bye Johnny," "Down the Road a Piece," and "The Thirteen Question Method" get equal space with "Maybellene," "Thirty Days," "No Money Down," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "School Day," "Rock & Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Carol." Some serious fans, however, also found disc one, and especially the earlier songs on that disc, to be very controversial; part of the intrinsic nature of Berry's music was the sheer noisiness of the songs -- tracks like "Maybellene," "Thirty Days," "You Can't Catch Me," and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" insinuated themselves into listeners' consciousness over the radio and on the jukebox with their sheer raucous, in-your-face sound (frequently near overload). But at the time The Chess Box was done, the philosophy about CD mastering was to clean up the noise in original recordings whenever it was too pronounced, lest the "hot" digital sound make the track too harsh. (Note: this "problem" especially afflicted "Layla" by Derek & the Dominos, so much so that the producers of the Clapton box remixed the song). Thus, the first 15 or so tracks on the first disc of The Chess Box may sound too "clean," lacking some of the raw edge from their vinyl editions. On the plus side, the detail revealed -- every note, and even the action on the guitar on the opening of "Roll Over Beethoven" -- is always interesting, and occasionally fascinating, and it is difficult to complain too loudly about hearing Johnnie Johnson's or Lafayette Leake's piano, or Willie Dixon's upright bass in such sharp relief. Additionally, for many years this set had the only undistorted CD version of "Come On" -- a relatively minor Berry song, but one that provided the Rolling Stones with their debut release -- that you could find, but potential purchasers should also be aware of the compromise in the sound. That caveat aside, the programming manages to get in most of the best album cuts, including tracks like Berry's hot cover of "House of Blue Lights" and the "Memphis Tennessee" "sequel" "Little Marie," though not quite enough material from 1964-1965. And toward the end of the set, the quality of the material begins to sag a bit, but there are still forgotten gems like "Tulane" that prove Berry's songwriting hadn't completely dried up. The now out of print Great Twenty-Eight collection remains the definitive single CD hits collection, and the audio quality on MCA's two-CD Anthology, released a dozen years later, is superior, but The Chess Box offers a flawed but near essential overview of his work for any serious fan, either of Chuck Berry or rock & roll. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1982 | Geffen

This is the place to start listening to Chuck Berry. The Great Twenty-Eight was a two-LP, single CD compilation that emerged during the early '80s, amid a brief period in which the Chess catalog was in the hands of the Sugar Hill label, a disco-oriented outfit that later lost the catalog to MCA. It has proved to be one of the most enduring of all compilations of Berry's work. Up until the release of this disc, every attempt at a compilation had either been too sketchy (the 1964 Greatest Hits album on Chess) or too demanding for the casual listener (the three Golden Decade double-LP sets), and this was the first set to find a happy medium between convenience and thoroughness. Veteran listeners will love this CD even if they learn little from it, while neophytes will want to play it to death. All of the cuts come from Berry's first nine years in music, including all of the major singles as well as relatively minor hits such as "Come On" (which was more significant in the history of rock & roll in its cover version performed by the Rolling Stones as their debut release). The sound is decent throughout (surprisingly, except for "Come On," which has some considerable noise), although it is considerably outclassed by the most recent round of remasterings. In the decades since its release, there have been more comprehensive collections of Berry's work, but this is the best single disc, if one can overlook the relatively lo-fi digital sound. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 9, 2017 | Decca (UMO)

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Three months after putting on his pine suit, Chuck Berry sent us this final message, direct from heaven. This was no act of base self-interest from Berry's estate: the pioneer of rock'n'roll announced the publication of Chuck himself on his 90th birthday: 18 October 2016. The first record from the man since his Rock It of 1979, it was recorded near St Louis with his family and friends including his children Charles Berry Jr. on the guitar and Ingrid Berry on the harmonica, as well as bassist Jimmy Marsala, the pianist Robert Lohr and the drummer Keith Robinson. Dedicated to Themetta Berry, his 68 year old wife, he handles 8 of the 10 songs by himself and invites some famous guests including Gary Clark Jr., Nathaniel Rateliff and Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. Chuck has, above all, the merit of a very raw, and very modern sound. No overproduction here: instead, a simple approach (never simplistic) which suits Chuck Berry's style wonderfully. One also has to concede that his voice - even if it is the voice of a man of 90 summers - has a real grain to it, and an affecting swagger. With Chuck, Chuck Berry bows out with style and humour. © MD/Qobuz
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Rock - Released November 1, 1964 | Geffen

This album puts the lie to the popular myth that Chuck Berry's music started to fade away around the same time that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, et al. emerged covering his stuff. His songwriting is as strong here as ever -- side one is packed with now-familiar fare like "Little Marie" (a sequel to "Memphis, Tennessee"), "No Particular Place to Go," "Promised Land," and "You Never Can Tell," but even filler tracks like "Our Little Rendezvous" and "You Two" are among Berry's better album numbers, the latter showing off the slightly softer pop/R&B side to his music that many listeners forget about. Side two includes a bunch of tracks, including the hard-rocking "Go Bobby Soxer" and the even better "Brenda Lee," the slow blues "Things I Used to Do" (with a killer guitar break), and the instrumentals "Liverpool Drive" and "Night Beat," one fast and the other slow, that never get reissued or compiled anywhere. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1961 | Geffen

Chuck Berry's fifth Chess Records album, New Juke Box Hits, was recorded and released in the midst of the legal difficulties that would put him in jail the following year. That distraction seems to have kept him from composing top-flight material, while the attendant publicity adversely affected his record sales, such that the album contained no hits. The included single was "I'm Talking About You," later successfully recorded by the Rolling Stones, and the album also contained "The Thirteen Question Method" and "Don't You Lie to Me," worthy minor entries in the Berry canon. Elsewhere, Berry filled out the record covering others' hits -- Nat "King" Cole's "Route 66," B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen," Little Richard's "Rip It Up." The result is a good rock & roll set, but not in the same league with Berry's earlier albums. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 1, 1958 | Geffen

Chuck Berry's second album is ever so slightly more sophisticated than its predecessor. Although One Dozen Berrys is hooked around a pair of hit singles, "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Rock & Roll Music," most of what's here doesn't really sound too much like either of those songs -- rather, the other ten tracks each constitute a close-up look at some individual component of the types of music that goes into brewing up the Chuck Berry sound. Thus, the slow instrumental "Blue Feeling" is a look at the blues sound that Berry initially proposed to bring to Chess Records; "How You've Changed" presents him in a slow ballad, singing in a manner closer to Nat "King" Cole than to any rock & roller of the era; and "Lajaunda" shows off his love of Latin music. "Rocking at the Philharmonic" is a rippling guitar/piano workout, a compendium of the sounds that lay beneath those hit singles, and a killer showcase not only for Berry, but also for Lafayette Leake at the ivories, and also a decent showcase for Willie Dixon's bass playing. "Oh Baby Doll" is a return to the beat of "Maybellene," this time carrying a lyric that's more sensual (in a bluesy sense) than rollicking fun, though it comes out that way amid the pounding beat and Berry's crunchy, angular guitar solo. "Guitar Boogie" is yet another guitar instrumental, one of four on this album, leading one to wonder if he was running short of first-rate lyrics in mid-1957, amid his frantic pace of recording and touring -- no matter, for the piece is a killer track, a pumping, soaring working out for Berry's guitar that had some of the most impressive pyrotechnics that one was likely to hear in 1957; what's more, the track was good enough to form the template for Jeff Beck's more ornate adaptation, "Jeff's Boogie," from the 1966 album Roger the Engineer (aka The Yardbirds aka Over Under Sideways Down). The best of the album's tracks is easily "Reelin' & Rockin'," which is also just about the dirtiest song that Berry released in all of the 1950s (and for many years after that), essentially a blues-boogie recasting, on a more overt level, of the extended feats of sexual intercourse alluded to in Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." The one totally weird track here is "Low Feeling," which is nothing but "Blue Feeling" doctored in the studio by Leonard and Phil Chess, slowed down to half speed and edited to create a 12th track -- doing that to the original was bad enough, but sticking it on the same LP with the original was downright bizarre. And the album's closer, "It Don't Take But a Few Minutes," is a reminder of just how much Berry owed to country music for his sound, and explains, to anyone coming in late, how he could have been mistaken for a white hillbilly in those early days, based on the sound of this song and "Maybelline." © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released December 21, 2007 | Geffen

John Lennon once said that if you were going to give another name to rock & roll you might as well call it Chuck Berry -- a phrase that has been repeated to exhaustion precisely because it is no exaggeration. More than any other single musician, Berry defined the sound, style, and attitude of what rock & roll is, pushing guitars and cars to the forefront, constructing a world of soda shops and jukeboxes that resided just down the road a piece, finding an endless world within three chords. Fats Domino may have started the big wheel rolling, the Everly Brothers invented the power chord, Buddy Holly married pop with tough rockabilly, Little Richard had the manic energy, and Elvis Presley broke down the barriers, but Chuck Berry was the one that created the culture. How he did it is at long last chronicled in detail on Hip-O Select's Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings, a four-CD set containing all his singles from the '50s (which include most of his biggest hits), album tracks, and rarities, including demos and unreleased recordings. Berry, of course, had another decade of vital recordings on Chess ahead of him (and an often-overlooked series of worthy recordings for the label in the '70s), but within these '50s sessions is where the heart of his legacy lies, as this is when he created rock & roll out of jump blues, country boogie, juke joint R&B, Harry Belafonte calypso, and Nat King Cole crooning. Listening to Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings is an entirely different experience than The Great 28 or any other hit-heavy compilation where all the brilliant singles sound so much of a piece that they give the impression that they were all cut at roughly the same time. Those who learned Berry's music through these compilations -- and there are generations of listeners who did -- may be surprised that certain hits like "No Particular Place to Go" or "You Never Can Tell" arrived well into the '60s and so are absent here, perhaps jarringly so. What "Johnny B. Goode" does a superb job of is putting Berry's music in context, illustrating what happened when by methodically going through every existing recording in the Chess vaults, including alternate takes, instrumental jams, a few live tracks, a single by the Ecuadors featuring Chuck on guitar, and a handful of unreleased cuts. Unlike Hip-O Select's similar Bo Diddley I'm a Man: The Chess Masters 1955-1958 there are no major unreleased songs (I'm a Man had Bo's original "Love Is Strange"); instead, this has a plethora of alternates, all sequenced in succession, which would give this the feel of an excavation if the music itself wasn't so energetic and enjoyable. Many of the alternate takes here have seen the light of day elsewhere, usually on the Rock 'N' Roll Rarities or Missing Berries series (a heavy dose of these were also first unearthed on the 1974 LP Chuck Berry's Golden Decade, Vol. 3), but the value of "Johnny B. Goode" is in having all of this music in one place -- not just for the sake of completists who need to have everything an artist cut, but to hear how the artist developed. That is true here, as Berry gets more confident as the years pass, but the remarkable thing about "Johnny B. Goode" is that it shows how Chuck emerged almost fully formed with "Maybellene" and then continued to mine that same vein of blues, hillbilly, jazz, and R&B for years. His wit sharpened quickly, while his music jelled so the boundaries between his influences evaporated, but the only major introduction to come later in the set is his signature opening guitar riff, debuting on "Johnny B. Goode." Indeed, it's a bit of a shock to realize that it took him so long to nail this defining musical turnaround, but that may be the biggest revelation on this set. Instead of being filled surprises, Johnny B. Goode engenders a deeper appreciation of Berry's art. Hearing the successive alternate takes pile up after each other, it's easy to appreciate Chuck's verbal dexterity, how he spins from one scenario to another on "Reelin' and Rockin'," suggesting just how quickly the words came to him. This, in turn, makes it easier to appreciate the potency of his poetry, but comparing this rapid-fire humor to the finely crafted details of "Memphis Tennessee," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," and "No Money Down," or the vivid teenage renderings of "School Day" and "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Almost Grown" demonstrate just how carefully crafted his lyrics were. Similarly, Johnny B. Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings also offers an understanding of how rich and varied his musical gifts were. Listening to all the recordings in a row emphasizes how deep the blues ran within his music, and nowhere is that truer than on lengthy unreleased instrumentals, simply titled "Long Fast Jam" and "Long Slow Jam," where Chuck, longtime pianist Johnnie Johnson, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Jasper Thomas lay back and play for over 11 minutes for each cut. As Berry's brevity always seemed key to his brilliance -- his singles always were succinct, never lasting longer than they should -- it might seem that such prolonged jams would be flabby, but they're mesmerizing, particularly in how they showcase Johnson's fluid, rolling piano. The blues is at the core of Berry's rock & roll and he never abandoned it, even if he enthusiastically turned it inside out. As Johnny B. Goode shows, Berry hit upon his formula early -- the first disc alone contains "Thirty Days," "You Can't Catch Me," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," and "School Day," while the second has "Rock & Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Around and Around," classics and standards one and all -- and he was savvy enough to know not to fix something that wasn't broken and so he didn't. He continued to refurbish and ever so slightly expand his formula into the '60s, creating some of his greatest music in the years to come -- -- and with any luck, Hip-O Select will document that in future releases -- but Berry's '50s recordings for Chess prove one of the greatest bursts of creativity in American music. This is not only the foundation of Chuck's music, but rock & roll and pop culture of the 20th century, and it's thrilling to finally have it all as a complete box set. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1960 | Geffen*

The two classic cuts that bookend this album should be enough to attract the uninitiated -- Berry at his best wrote danceable little "vest-pocket" screenplays dealing with teen life, of which "Bye Bye Johnny" and "Let It Rock" were two of his best; but because they've been so heavily anthologized, those two cuts don't have the pulling power here that they would have had 40-some years back. So get this record for everything else that's on it -- Rockin' at the Hops not only has no filler, but it's chock full of records that show off a bluesy side of Berry's output that was never fully appreciated at the time. His version of Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues" shows how good a bluesman Berry might've been had he been more the Muddy Waters-type player and singer that Chess had been looking for; "Down the Road a Piece," a song written by Don Raye (of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" fame), is a lost Berry single that could've rated right up there with "Roll Over Beethoven," except that its roadhouse ambience and story line were more mature than a lot of kids might've embraced in 1959; and Walter Brown's "Confessin' the Blues" and "Driftin' Blues" fit into the same category, Berry the adult bluesman rather than the teen-oriented teaser. "Childhood Sweetheart" is a sequel to "Wee Wee Hours," Berry's very first blues side, lifting a fragment or two from Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" for its guitar break. "Too Pooped to Pop" and "Betty Jean," by contrast, are a pair of enjoyably upbeat rock & roll numbers, each featuring uncharacteristic elements, a sax solo on the former, and a male chorus on the latter; in between them is "Mad Lad," an instrumental that presents Berry drifting into what would later be defined as a surf guitar mode -- a quicker tempo would have done it (and does anyone want to bet that a young Carl Wilson didn't wear out a copy or two listening to this track?). © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released April 26, 2005 | Geffen

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Rock - Released July 1, 1959 | Geffen

If you had to sweat all of Chuck Berry's early albums on Chess (and some, but not all, of his subsequent greatest-hits packages), this would be the one to own. The song lineup is exemplary, cobbling together classics like "Maybellene," "Carol," "Sweet Little Rock & Roller," "Little Queenie," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Around and Around," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Almost Grown." With the addition of the Latin-flavored "Hey Pedro," the steel guitar workout "Blues for Hawaiians," "Anthony Boy," and "Jo Jo Gunne," this serves as almost a mini-greatest-hits package in and of itself. While this may be merely a collection of singles and album ballast (as were most rock & roll LPs of the 1950s and early '60s), it ends up being the most perfectly realized of Chuck Berry's career. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1967 | Island Mercury

Anyone spotting this album beware. It is not a compilation of hits, but consists of all-"new" (mid-'60s) recordings by Chuck Berry of his classic Chess hits for his then-new label, Mercury, with one new song added. The re-recordings wouldn't be a problem, except that Berry and whoever produced this record decided to update his sound, not only mixing it in stereo but also replacing the upright bass on the original hits with much flashier electric bass (played by Forrest Frierson) that screws up the solid rhythm section that's essential for any of this material to work. The addition of a saxophone, courtesy of Carey Enlow, is only a distraction on "Rock & Roll Music," and Berry's efforts at embellishing the lead guitar parts on "Memphis," "Maybellene" (where Johnnie Johnson makes the regrettable decision to play an organ), "Around and Around," and "Roll Over Beethoven" add nothing to the originals and are often downright annoying. "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" almost works in its more laid-back incarnation here, until the band seems to let the beat go completely for a moment. "School Days" also sort of works as a studio recording of the way he was doing it on-stage, and "Reelin' and Rockin'" is the one track that's 100-percent what it should be, dirtier than the Chess original and the one place where, stylistically, Berry transcends his original work. In one instance, "Back in the U.S.A.," he would have had another passable track but for his gratuitous addition of lots of unenthusiastic "yeah yeah yeah yeah"s between the verses. And based on nearly half the tracks here, one might also add that Berry even seems on this record to have lost any knack for knowing how to end a song. Finally, the one new composition, "Club Nitty Gritty," doesn't measure up to the least of the classics alongside which it appears, and whatever worth the album might've had is compromised by the stereo mastering, the excessively clean sound, and the echo that drenches Berry's voice. Except for the implicitly salacious "Reelin' and Rockin'" (which would sound dirty even if sung by a choir of nuns), nothing here approaches the in-your-face raunchiness of Berry's classic Chess sides. Golden Hits was a lousy inaugural effort for his new label. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Blues - Released September 29, 2017 | BDMUSIC

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Blues - Released January 1, 2009 | Geffen

On the 1961 single "Go Go Go," a side that went nowhere on the charts, Chuck Berry sang that he was "Mixing Ahmad Jamal in my 'Johnny B. Goode'/Sneaking Erroll Garner in my 'Sweet Sixteen'/Now they tell me Stan Kenton is cutting 'Maybellene'" -- as always, Chuck is stretching the truth to fit his story. Kenton never cut "Maybellene" but Berry did sneak some jazz into his rock & roll in the '60s, along with plenty of blues, country, and some folk, all evident on You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966, Hip-O Select's second volume of Chuck's Chess recordings. Of course, Berry never was stylistically pure -- he invented rock & roll by marrying hillbilly and the blues -- but on his '60s sides he had the opportunity to both stretch out and dig deep, sometimes cutting a set of blues, sometimes expanding with horns or backing vocals or cutting a Twist. The latter is pretty good evidence that some of these wanderings may have been reflections of the times, but as a whole body of work the four-disc You Never Can Tell -- which gathers all the master studio takes, adds some alternates to the mix, and unveils a previously unheard live date that presents the rarest of things: a full adult-oriented concert given by Chuck at a Detroit casino where he was backed by an uncredited group of Berry Gordy's all-stars -- feels like the work of a man who is fully aware of his strengths and abilities, able to subtly tweak them toward the times without losing his identity. Indeed, one of the striking things about the set is how vigorous Chuck Berry seems in the first half of the '60s, a time that did not treat all '50s rock & rollers particularly well. Of course, Chuck was not immune to the downward dip in rock & roll in the early '60s: he was arrested for a Mann Act violation in 1959 and spent the first years of the '60s embroiled in a legal mess leading to a five-year jail sentence of which he served roughly a year and a half. Before he entered prison, he recorded furiously: about the first disc and a half of You Never Can Tell dates from 1960 and 1961, as Chuck was laying down as many sides as he could, just in case he went away for a long time. Some of these sessions do seem a little hurried -- there aren't many originals, particularly in 1960 -- but this did give him an opportunity to record some very good blues-heavy sessions, where he was able to indulge in his fondness for Charles Brown, Nat King Cole, and Amos Milburn. And while there weren't many originals, those that were there were quite good, especially the "Johnny B. Goode" sequel "Bye Bye Johnny" and his latest car song, "Jaguar and Thunderbird." The 1961 sessions produced an even stronger crop of originals with "I'm Talking About You," "Come On," "Go Go Go," the "Junco Partner" adaptation "The Man and the Donkey," and "Trick or Treat," the latter two appearing on the excellent fake live album Chuck Berry on Stage (the cuts here being presented without the audience overdubs). Chess planned to launch Chuck's post-prison comeback with a genuine live album recorded at Walled Lake Casino in Detroit in October of 1963, but the record was scrapped, laying in the vaults unreleased until this set. The very reasons why the album was abandoned are why it's such thrilling listening now: the performances are rough and ragged, with Chuck lurching from mood to mood on the closing medley of "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight," "Johnny B. Goode," "Let It Rock," and "School Day," and he spends an inordinate amount of time telling corny old jokes from the stage. It's hardly perfect, but it's a rare glimpse into Berry's on-stage charms and a vital live document of early rock & roll that's more interesting now than it might have been at the time. In any case, Chuck didn't need the boost from the live set: he came back stronger than ever in 1964 with the hits "Promised Land," "No Particular Place to Go," "You Never Can Tell," and "Nadine," all featured on his classic LP St. Louis to Liverpool, its title an explicit reference to how his music inspired the British Invasion. Discounting Elvis, who existed in his own category by that point, and the Everly Brothers, who continued to have hits, Chuck Berry was the only rock & roller who rubbed shoulders with his progeny, due both to his clear influence on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and also his vigorous writing. Berry's mid-'60s work rivals his late-'50s work, perhaps not in terms of innovation but in sheer lyrical and musical might; this is plainly apparent in the aforementioned quartet of hits, each one as crisp and clever as "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Johnny B. Goode," but he had plenty of unheralded gems during this stretch, including the dynamite "Dear Dad" (a song so compact and blazing that plenty of punks cut it about a decade later), "It Wasn't Me" (a song he revisited in the '70s), "My Mustang Ford," "It's My Own Business," and "Ramona Say Yes." Add to that Chuck's instrumental jam LP with Bo Diddley -- an album consisting of two tracks that ran well over ten minutes, a length nearly unheard of on a rock & roll record in 1964 -- and some additional blues, and Berry's '60s sessions amount to a truly remarkable run that deepens and adds new dimensions to what was already one of the greatest legacies of 20th century American music. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released August 13, 2012 | DMI

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Blues - Released January 1, 2003 | Geffen*

Chuck Berry grew up on the blues, taking Muddy Waters as a particular hero, so when he signed with Chess Records in the mid-'50s, the label undoubtedly figured they were getting a blues artist. Which Berry was, but his bright, skittering guitar style and penchant for writing songs with lyrics that set aside blues clichés for something closer to beat poetry meant Berry's forward-looking version of the blues became something else altogether, creating the very template for rock & roll. It also brought a younger teenaged audience into the game, and Berry increasingly aimed for it. But before that groundbreaking shift in style and demographic, Berry turned out some interesting straight blues sides for Chess, several of which are collected here, and it's intriguing to wonder what might have happened had Berry stuck with the blues rather than redefining it into rock & roll. Highlights include the powerful "Wee Wee Hours," a chugging version of Don Raye's "Down the Road a Piece," a try at Guitar Slim's "Things I Used to Do," the hybrid "Driftin' Blues," which features a near doo wop backup chorus, and a revved up and rocking rendition of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Berry's guitar work is revealing on these early numbers, his tone always bright and fresh, as if he was a colt who just couldn't wait to get out there and run. And run he did. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1986 | Geffen*

On this follow-up to The Great Twenty-Eight, the songs are familiar, but the versions are not. Delving into the Chess Records archives, producer Steve Hoffman has come up with 20 tracks, many in unreleased or unusual versions. Some are demos, some are stereo recordings of songs usually heard in mono. Hoffman has remixed many of them, bringing up the '50s and '60s sound quality to near-'80s standard. Start with The Great Twenty-Eight, but come to this collection for interesting new ways to hear the old Berry favorites. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released January 1, 1987 | Geffen*

This is the soundtrack to a documentary film chronicling a concert held to celebrate Chuck Berry's 60th birthday. The band was led by Keith Richards and featured Berry's regular pianist, Johnnie Johnson, Richards' regular pianist, Chuck Leavell, Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys, bassist Joey Spampinato from NRBQ, and drummer Steve Jordan from Richards' solo band. The guests included Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, and Etta James. Berry was ragged-voiced but enthusiastic, the band had spirit, and the guests, even if they were sometimes unlikely, were sincere. The best way to hear Berry's music is to obtain the original recordings, of course, but as a souvenir of the Taylor Hackford film, this is an enjoyable romp through the catalog. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo

Pop - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

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Following an unsatisfying three-year stint at Mercury Records, Chuck Berry returned home to Chess in 1969, just like Phil Chess predicted. Heading home didn’t necessarily mean retreating, as the four-disc Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 illustrates. During his time at Mercury, Chuck followed the kids wherever they went, aligning himself with the psychedelic ‘60s in a way none of his peers did. This shift is immediately apparent on “Tulane,” the very first song he cut upon his return to Chess. An ode to a couple of kids who dealt dope underneath the counter of a novelty shop, “Tulane” puts Chuck on the side of the counterculture, and over the next five years, he never strayed back to the other side of the fence, often singing about getting stoned, dabbling with a wah-wah pedal, rhapsodizing about rock festivals, cheerfully telling smutty jokes. All these elements, along with his propensity for playing with pickup bands -- he cut 1971’s San Francisco Dues with amiable garage rockers the Woolies outside of Lansing, MI, and roped Elephant's Memory into the studio to knock out much of 1973’s Bio -- defined the last act of Chuck’s career. But the big difference between the five years documented here and what came afterward is that Berry was still active as a writer and record-maker during the first years of the ‘70s, conscious of his legacy but not encumbered by it, still attempting to graft new fads onto his three-chord boogie while spending more and more time playing the blues and ballads of his youth. Have Mercy chronicles all of this and more, putting his final Chess recordings into CD circulation for the first time, and adding 22 unreleased cuts to the mix. If there are no major revelations among this unheard material there are at least minor ones in the form of a studio version of “My Ding-A-Ling,” which is lighter in touch and marginally more charming than the live hit, and the preponderance of loose, instrumental blues jams culminating in an extended studio version of “Turn on the Houselights,” the song he used to play toward the end of concerts. All these blues -- and there are many with vocals, too, including a very good take on Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” and a ripping live version of Big Joe Turner’s “Roll ‘Em Pete” -- find Berry coasting somewhat, preferring to rework standards instead of write new ones, which is a sentiment that also applies to how “My Ding-A-Ling” re-jiggers Dave Bartholomew’s song, but Chuck always did turn blues tropes into something of his own, so what’s new is how infrequently Berry was writing during this final stretch. The originals may not have flowed freely, but he did pen a handful of classics: “Tulane,” its slow sequel “Have Mercy Judge,” the dreamy spoken poem “My Dream,” and the cracking autobiography “Bio” all belong in his canon. But the thing about Have Mercy is that it proves that an artist as great as Chuck Berry has pleasures that lay outside the canon, that his sly touch invigorates classics from “Jambalaya” to “Swanee River Rock”; that it’s good to hear him just lay back and riff, that there’s a delight in hearing him affect an absurd Mexican accent on “South of a Border.” Sure, these are pleasures only for the committed, but in light of the lack of new recordings following this -- just 1979’s Rock It, which did produce the minor classic “Oh What a Thrill” -- it’s easier to cherish this music for the minor, yet lasting, pleasures it provides. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released March 7, 2019 | 10TEN MEDIA