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Blues - Released January 1, 2007 | Universal Music

When a musician has a beat named after them, there's no doubt that they have their own signature -- a calling card that is recognized as their own even when others play it. It's rare that a musician gets credited with something so unique, but such an honor can also be a mild curse, as it implies that's all there is to their music. Bo Diddley, the man who patented a propulsive variation of the shave-and-a-haircut beat so instantly identifiable as one of the main strands of rock & roll's DNA, suffers a bit from that curse. Not that anybody denies that Bo is one of the architects of rock & roll, but the omnipresence of the "Bo Diddley" beat can lead some listeners to dismiss him as a one-trick pony. Also, the sheer primal urgency of his rhythms and his no-nonsense persona could be overshadowed by the flamboyance of Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, or the quick-fire verbal skills of Chuck Berry. Diddley has had moments of resurgent popularity, his songs have been covered by generations of rockers; bands play his music without realizing their debt, but he's never quite had his work undergo a critical reappraisal, one that would let more than the diehards know how rich and varied his work is. With any luck, Hip-O Select's new double-disc set I'm a Man: The Chess Masters, 1955-1958 will help usher in that long overdue reappraisal. "I'm a Man" chronicles the first four years of Bo's career, when he was cutting singles instead of albums, just like almost all other rockers in the late '50s. Such emphasis on singles gave sessions a purpose: there was no room for filler, nothing recorded with the intent of padding out an album, so they were often concentrated and intense, as Bo's were. This covers sessions recorded between March 2, 1955 and December 1958, proceeding in chronological order so the alternate takes pile up quickly and there are a lot them -- roughly twelve, some of them unreleased, some of them previously appearing on various compilations over the years, including the excellent Rare & Well Done. Sometimes, alternate takes differ only minimally from the master, but that's not the case with Diddley's early Checker/Chess recordings. Here, there are some startling differences, notable almost immediately with the two previously unreleased alternates of his calling card, "Bo Diddley." Both are almost brutal in their rhythms, which is where the real difference on these takes lie: over the course of three takes, it's possible to hear the "Bo Diddley" develop, as the rhythm becomes lighter and danceable, more rock & roll and less blues. The rest of that first session is hard blues, highlighted by "I'm a Man" which turned into nearly as big an anthem as "Bo Diddley." Bo never backed away from the blues after that session -- his rock & roll always had an earthy, gritty grounding in the blues -- but in the wake of the success of "Bo Diddley," he started opening up his music almost immediately, with his second session producing the A-side "Diddley Daddy," a much lighter rock & roll tune where the presence of Little Walter on harp is mediated by the Moonglows' cheerful harmonies, a bit of a surprise considering the down-n-dirty precedent of "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "Little Girl," and "You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)." As the next few years rolled on, Bo was often full of surprises like that, turning out some of the hardest, toughest, early rock & roll singles, but he could also be light on his feet, boisterously, bawdily funny and sometimes just flat-out strange, as on the murky, ominous "The Great Grandfather" and the sawing violin of "The Clock Strikes Twelve." Much of this is evident on the best Bo hits comps, but it comes into sharper relief on I'm a Man because of the context. Hearing Diddley's music develop -- and rather rapidly, for that matter -- illustrates his depth and range and provides no small share of revelations, either. Chief among these, of course, is the first release of Diddley's original version of "Love is Strange," a hit for Mickey & Sylvia that bears the writing credit of Ethel Smith, who was Diddley's second wife. Bo's version isn't a duet and it's heavier on the rhythm than Mickey & Sylvia's, plus it lacks Mickey Baker's guitar riff that ushers out the chorus -- all essential differences that illustrate how Diddley's music had an essential, earthy core. He may have been grounded in this blues and rhythm -- and more than any of his peers, he placed equal emphasis on both -- but he expanded it to encompass dusty, atmospheric, almost cinematic instrumentals like "Spanish Guitar," rock & roll love songs like "Dearest Darling," or the sweeter-still, previously unreleased "Our Love Will Never Go" whose dreaminess was echoed in "Crackin' Up," only there he flips the sentiment around and blames the girl for a relationship going south, proving that you can't take the swagger away from Bo -- after all, during these four years he had no less than sixsongs with his name in the title! Of course, much of this was delivered with his tongue firmly in cheek, and this was hardly the only instance of his wicked sense of humor: whenever he and Jerome Green (his main man on maracas) trash talked, the results were riotous, whether it was on the very funny "Cops and Robbers" or the immortal "Say Man," also heard here in a very different alternate take with a few different jibes. Here, Bo's humor and easy experimenting stand out because of the session-by-session context, but they also serve a dual purpose of emphasizing just how hard his core classics rock. In this setting, "Bring it to Jerome," "I'm Bad," "Who Do You Love," "Hey! Bo Diddley," "Mona," "Before You Accuse Me," and "Diddy Wah Diddy" pack an enormous wallop, sounding bigger and badder than they do on most regular Diddley comps. That restored vitality is nearly as instructive as the clear, evident progression of Bo's music over these four years, which is why this is a necessary historical document, but to belabor that point is to make I'm a Man seem academic, which it decidedly is not. It's "Bo Diddley" music, after all, so it's a party that never ends. Let's just hope the party continues on further volumes that extend into the '60s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock - Released March 18, 2016 | Platinum Masterpieces


Rock - Released January 30, 2013 | Rumble Records


Rock - Released June 20, 2012 | Fremeaux Heritage


Rock - Released September 6, 2011 | Le Chant du Monde


Blues - Released September 20, 2016 | Ideal Music

Legendary guitarist, gifted songwriter, master of rhythm, snappy dresser -- Bo Diddley is all these things and more, and this two-fer CD, which reissues Diddley's first two albums on one convenient compact disc, offers a solid introduction to this man's special brand of musical innovation. While anyone looking for a full overview of Diddley's career should obviously go elsewhere ([RoviLink="MW"]His Best [Chess 50th Anniversary Collection][/RoviLink] is a great one-stop shopping place for beginners), these 23 tunes serve up a young Bo Diddley at his raw and primal best, and confirm that right out of the box the guy didn't sound like anyone else in rock & roll. Between Diddley's hypnotic, rhythmic guitar lines; the implacable rattle of Jerome Green's maracas; the spacy echo that threatens to envelop everything around it; and the borderline surrealism of the lyrics (witness the updated "Mr. Bones" routine of "Say Man," the overpopulated family of "Say Bossman," or the supreme bad-ass-ism of "Who Do You Love"), this man's music existed in a world of its own, and while you might not want to live there, the one-hour tour offered on Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley makes it sound like a great place to take a vacation. In the interest of accuracy, this disc even includes the same take of "Dearest Darling" twice, since the tune managed to appear on both Bo Diddley and Go Bo Diddley; nice to know someone at Chess' reissue department was paying attention to the details. ~ Mark Deming

Blues - Released June 11, 1967 | Geffen* Records


Rock - Released January 1, 1997 | Chess


Blues - Released January 1, 2008 | Universal Music


Rock - Released June 4, 2012 | Saga


Blues - Released February 17, 2017 | Best Value Music


Blues - Released January 1, 1974 | Geffen* Records

Having tried everything else in his search for a new sound, Bo moved into a jazz vein on this record, and the results are not bad, but not they're not really Bo, either. His cover of Van Morrison's "I've Been Workin'," and his rendition of "Hit Or Miss" aren't half-bad, but they're just classic Bo-- just Bo fronting some really good jazzmen in New York. For the first time, the Bo Diddley beat appears nowhere on one of his albums. There is one good blues tune here, however, in "Evelee," the only Bo original on Big Bad Bo. It features a powerful performance by the Originator, who working for most of its length with a relatively stripped down band; this one number should've been the model for the whole album. ~ Bruce Eder

Pop - Released September 19, 2017 | golden times


Blues - Released January 1, 2009 | Hip-O Select Retail (MC)


Blues - Released January 1, 1968 | Geffen*


Blues - Released January 1, 1972 | Geffen* Records

Johnny Otis and Pete Welding produced this surprisingly successful soul effort by Bo, which succeeded in reshaping his sound, not as a Sly Stewart wannabe or a lounge act covering Creedence Clearwater Revival hits. Bo at least sounds comfortable and natural doing songs like "Look At Grandma" and "Woman," and the latter is a pretty damn good song -- Bo finally emerged as a soul singer in his own right, and it worked, artistically at least. "Hey Jerome" even recalls tracks like "Say Man" in a not-unflattering light. Unfortunately, none of this mattered to the people who still cared about Bo Diddley -- they wanted the beat and the old sound, which was present here on "I've Had It Hard," and the extraordinary "Bo Diddley-itis," but not in the kind of quantity they craved. He gave them his classics in concert, but not on this album. And it all came so late in the day: not only in terms of Bo's identification as anything but an oldies act , but as part of the history of Chess Records (now subsumed into the GRT corporate operation, the Chess imprint having no meaning or significance), that Where It All Began vanished from sight, leaving scarcely a trace or a ripple on the charts. ~ Bruce Eder

Pop - Released August 6, 2018 | Bella Donna


Blues - Released March 14, 1955 | RPM records


Rock - Released June 17, 2013 | Fremeaux Heritage

Five years after Bo Diddley first released an album called Bo Diddley, he went and released another LP with just his name on the front cover, and really, what else do you need to know about an album that features the wit, wisdom, sound, and rhythm of the great man also known as Ellas McDaniel? The 1962 Bo Diddley doesn't boast quite as many immediate classics as his 1957 debut, but any album that includes "You Can't Judge a Book by Looking at the Cover" and "Bo's Bounce" need not make any excuses, and "You All Green" and "I Can Tell" confirm Bo had plenty of other tricks up his sleeve. Elsewhere, Bo offers his take on the politics of the day in "Mr. Khrushchev," reveals he can keep up with the latest dance crazes with "Mama Don't Allow No Twistin'" and "Bo's Twist," and rejects brazen infidelity in "Who May Your Lover Be." Of course, despite the great songs, the real attraction here is hearing Bo's gloriously hypnotic guitar work, which chugs along with the power of the Super Chief, and the relentless rhythm poured out by Bo, his guitar foil Norma Jean Wolford (aka the Duchess), maraca man Jerome Green, and a handful of drummers and bassists, with some of the best moments coming in instrumental numbers like "Diddling," "Sad Sack," and the relentless "Give Me a Break." Part of Bo Diddley's brilliance was that he could come up with amazing music like this seemingly at will, and when you can do that, your name really is all the description your records need. Hey Bo Diddley, indeed. ~ Mark Deming

Rock - Released January 31, 2013 | SINETONE AMR

Not only does it sport one of the most striking album covers of its era (Diddley decked out in cowboy finery, about to get the drop on some unfortunate varmint with one of his fieriest guitars lying at his feet), this 1961 album contains some fine music. The title track continues the legend of you-know-who, while "Ride on Josephine" and "Cadillac" rock like hell (and Ed Sullivan must have been glad to see that Diddley finally learned "Sixteen Tons"). Two bonus cuts, "Working Man" and "Do What I Say," make this one a must. ~ Bill Dahl

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