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Rock - Released April 8, 1997 | Geffen

With Bo Diddley's various hits and anthology packages all out of print and the multi-disc deluxe box set out of pocketbook reach for most casual consumers, MCA finally comes up with a 20-track compilation that hits the bull's-eye and makes this rock pioneer's best and most influential work available to everyone. The song list reads like a primer for '60s British R&B and '90s blues bands: "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "Diddley Daddy," "Pretty Thing," "Before You Accuse Me," "Hey! Bo Diddley," "Who Do You Love," "Mona," and "Roadrunner" are the tracks that made the legend and put his sound on the map worldwide. The transfers used on this set are exemplary, the majority of them utilizing masters that have a few extra seconds (or more) appended to the fades, which will cause even hardliners to hear these old standards with fresh ears; especially revelatory are the "long versions" of "I Can Tell" and "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover." If the box set is too big a trigger to pull and you want all of Bo's influential sides in one package, this one should be first-stop shopping of the highest priority. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1968 | Geffen

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This is easily a "super super blues bust." Power trios, of course, were hip in the late '60s -- even at down-home Chess Studios, where ad hoc "supergroups" were assembled for 1967's Super Blues and its sequel, Super Super Blues Band. (No one ever accused Chess Records of being subtle.) The band on Super Super Blues Band included two-thirds of the original Super Blues headliners -- Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley -- with Howlin' Wolf replacing Little Walter to round out the trio. Unlike Walter, who was willing to cede the spotlight to Diddley and Waters on Super Blues, Wolf adamantly refuses to back down from his rivals, resulting in a flood of contentious studio banter that turns out to be more entertaining than the otherwise unmemorable music from this stylistic train wreck. Although Wolf and Waters duke it out in earnest on the blues standards, the presence of Diddley (and his rave-up repertoire) makes the prospect of an ensemble impossible; in the end, there are just too many clashing ingredients (the squealing "girlie" choruses vs. Wolf's growl, Diddley's space guitar antics vs. Waters' uncompromising slide guitar) to make the mix digestible. Meanwhile, as the three frontmen struggle to outduel each other on every song, they drown out an underused, all-star backing band made up of Otis Spann on piano, Hubert Sumlin on guitar, Buddy Guy on bass, and Clifton James on drums. At least it sounds like they had fun doing it. © Ken Chang /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1958 | Geffen

For anyone who wants to play rock & roll, real rock & roll, this is one of the few records that you really need. Along with Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and a few select others, Bo Diddley was one of the founders of the form -- and he did it like no other. Diddley had only one real style, that being the Bo Diddley beat: a syncopated, rhythmic drive, loaded with tremolo. There are 12 examples of it on this record, and that is about all you need. It's one of those records that, after listening to just a few cuts, will find you tapping the beats on every available surface. Diddley's guitar and vocals have a gruff feeling that recalls bluesmen such as Waters, yet he has his own style. Buttressed by drums, funky piano, and usually maracas, it's absolutely infectious. This is one of the greatest rock sounds that you're likely to hear, and it's all on this one record, too. © Matthew Greenwald /TiVo
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Blues - Released July 26, 1990 | Geffen

Not every single track you'll ever want or need by the legendary shave-and-a-haircut rhythm R&B/rock pioneer, but a great place to begin. Two discs (45 songs) in a great big box with a nice accompanying booklet contain the groundbreaking introduction "Bo Diddley" (never again would he be referred to as Ellas McDaniel), its swaggering flipside "I'm a Man," the killer follow-ups "Diddley Daddy," "I'm Looking for a Woman," "Who Do You Love?," and "Hey Bo Diddley;" signifying street-corner humor ("Say Man"), piledriving rockers ("Road Runner," "She's Alright," "You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover"), and numerous stunning examples of his daringly innovative guitar style. © Bill Dahl /TiVo
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Blues - Released September 1, 2007 | Geffen

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 /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1960 | Geffen

Amazingly, Bo Diddley's third album -- containing classics such as "Cops and Robbers," "Run Diddley Daddy," and "Mona (I Need You Baby)" -- has only been reissued on vinyl, and even that's out of print. More than one British Invasion band learned what they needed to know about American rock & roll from the songs on this record (the Stones cut "Cops and Robbers" at their earliest recording session, and later released a killer version of "Mona," though the most interesting British version of the latter was done by an all-girl band with an attitude called the Liverbirds). This record is every bit as raunchy as Diddley's first two albums (the guitars may even be crunchier, and the singing shows more range), and has more than enough to recommend it to collectors and fans. This is the album that began the funny cover photos on Diddley's records. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 2011 | Hip-O Select

A blistering live album, especially in mono, cut by Bo Diddley and company in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on July 5 and 6, 1963. This album contains 30-plus minutes of the best live rock & roll ever issuedd on record. Diddley and company are "on" from the get-go with a killer instrumental erroneously credited as Chuck Berry's "Memphis" (which it isn't), that's a showcase for Diddley's attack on his instrument and a crunching assault by the rest of the band (all in that shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits beat), cymbals on top of an overloaded bass, and what sounds like every rhythm guitar in the world grinding away. And even that instrumental seems to "talk" to the audience, telling a story. Once Diddley's voice comes in on "Gunslinger," the picture is complete, and perfection is achieved on the frantic, gyrating "Hey, Bo Diddley." The crowd is driven into an audible frenzy as the thundering band crunches in time to Diddley's sometimes shrieking punctuation around his rhymes. Some repertory here may elude modern listeners; this was a dance, and any tune that could be turned into one was fair game, even "On Top of Old Smokey" as a slow number, which leads into the frenetic "Bo Diddley's Dog." Diddley does even better adapting the Larry Verne novelty tune "Mr. Custer," making it his own, and has some fun on "Bo Waltz" before switching gears to the softer, ballad-like "What's Buggin' You," all of which leads to the roaring finale on "Road Runner." Diddley and the band show off most of their bag of tricks amid the man's joyous, buoyant laughter. Apparently, the shows weren't entirely a laughing matter: the police threatened to arrest the band when Jerome Green leaped into the audience with his maracas waving and the female members surrounded him; this all happening in the still-segregated south of 1963. Mishaps, provocations, and non-musical spontaneity aside, this is some of the loudest, raunchiest guitar-based rock & roll ever preserved for public consumption, and it captures some priceless moments. "I'm All Right" was lifted wholesale by the Rolling Stones for their live sets, from 1964 until as late as the end of 1966. The whole approach to music-making here lay at the core of practically every note of music that the Stones recorded or performed for the first three years of their history; indeed, no Stones collection is truly complete without this record attached to it. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 20, 2008 | Geffen

Road Runner, the second volume of Hip-O Select's ongoing chronicle of Bo Diddley's complete Chess/Checker master recordings, covers roughly one calendar year whereas its predecessor, I'm a Man, spanned four -- a good indication that 1959 was an eventful year for Bo. During this one year, he had his biggest pop hit in the jive-talking "Say Man" and had another sizable R&B hit with "Crackin' Up," but both these sides were cut in 1958 and released as a single in 1959. As they climbed the charts, Diddley was frenetically recording, spinning off his "Bo Diddley" into "Nursery Rhyme aka Puttentang" while mythologizing himself yet again in "The Story of Bo Diddley," attempting to steal back his signature beat from Johnny Otis' "Willie & the Hand Jive" with "Willie Fell in Love," slamming out a sequel to "Say Man," trying to catch the Caribbean winds that were blowing in, hauling out his violin, pushing his amp on instrumentals -- basically doing anything that popped into his head. So many ideas were spilling out of his head that perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that by the time 1959 was coming to a close, Bo set up his own studio in his house, then delivered finished tapes to Chess -- a practice completely unheard of that year! All this is a roundabout way of saying that if I'm a Man provided the foundation of the Bo Diddley myth with its early hits and rock & roll standards, Road Runner showcases Bo the Innovator, the rock & roller who was as fascinated with the record as a recorded product instead of a capturing a live performance. There was still plenty of high-octane blues and rock & roll cut during 1959, but the overall impression left by this double-disc set is that of a musician who could use the studio as an instrument, whether he was slyly adding piano to "Story of Bo Diddley," pushing levels to the red on "Mumblin' Guitar," or figuring out how to give "Road Runner" that dirty low-riding groove. This experimentation -- not so much fearless as giddy, testing the limits of what can be done -- is why Road Runner remains gripping even though it has long stretches of repeated alternate takes (as many as four different versions of "She's Alright" follow in succession). Some of these are simple attempts to get the right vibe but more often they're radically different, as when "Prisoner of Love" is given an infectious uptempo treatment and a noir-ish slow take. In addition to the alternate takes, there are unreleased songs, most quite good, even when he's working out "Walking and Talking" (in two takes called "Walking" here), merely sketching out a mood as on "Jungle," or injecting phrases from "Love Is Strange" in "You Know I Love You So." Many of these songs showed up on Have Guitar, Will Travel, Bo Diddley in the Spotlight, and Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger, three of Diddley's strongest LPs, but presented here in session order the music has a far different effect than it does on those albums. There, the music is tight, percussive, addictive; here, it's wild, unpredictable, experimental, a musician testing his limits. And that's why this set of complete Chess masters is so valuable -- by presenting Bo's complete recordings in session order it paints a picture of Bo the Innovator that is discernible in his LPs but leaps to the forefront here. Here's hoping the series goes all the way to the end. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2004 | Geffen*

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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 8, 2016 | Acrobat

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Rock - Released July 1, 1959 | Geffen

Bo Diddley's second album, 1959's Go Bo Diddley, didn't have as many hits and instant classics as his self-titled 1957 debut, but in terms of ceaseless rhythm, choppy guitar heroics, fearless statements of purpose, and inspired eccentricity, it's nearly as brilliant as Bo Diddley, and no one who follows Bo's genius should be without it. Go Bo Diddley has it all -- oft-covered classics ("Oh Yea," "Dearest Darling"), hoodoo blues workouts ("You Don't Love Me"), red-hot dance numbers ("Don't Let It Go"), tall tales ("The Great Grandfather," "Willie and Lillie"), stories of romantic difficulties ("Crackin' Up"), Bo getting frantic on his guitar ("Bo's Guitar," in case you couldn't tell), Bo and maracas man Jerome Green trading insults ("Say Man"), and even Bo showing off his skills on the violin ("The Clock Strikes Twelve"). The recording is full of that priceless five-foot-thick Chess Records echo, which only adds to the epic-scale mystery of these performances, and Bo is audacious and energetic on all 12 tracks. Bo Diddley was always one of the most unusual artists in the first wave of rock & roll, a guy whose sound and songwriting style always set him apart from his peers, and Go Bo Diddley finds him sounding truly individualistic, and truly entertaining to boot. An essential item for fans of early rock at its most beautifully bent. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 8, 2016 | Acrobat

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Blues - Released June 11, 1967 | Geffen

This is the first of two super session albums that Chess produced in the late '60s. Time has been a bit kinder to this one, featuring Muddy, Bo Diddley and Little Walter, than the one cut a year later with Howlin' Wolf standing in for Walter. It's loose and extremely sloppy, the time gets pushed around here and there and Little Walter's obviously in bad shape, his voice rusted to a croak and trying to blow with a collapsed lung. But there are moments where Bo's heavily tremoloed guitar sounds just fine and the band kicks it in a few spots and Muddy seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. Granted, these moments are few and way too far between, but at least nobody's playing a wah-wah pedal on here. © Cub Koda /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1964 | Geffen

"...from every perspective, this disc is far nore important now than it was 28 years ago..." © TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1968 | Geffen

This is easily a "super super blues bust." Power trios, of course, were hip in the late '60s -- even at down-home Chess Studios, where ad hoc "supergroups" were assembled for 1967's Super Blues and its sequel, Super Super Blues Band. (No one ever accused Chess Records of being subtle.) The band on Super Super Blues Band included two-thirds of the original Super Blues headliners -- Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley -- with Howlin' Wolf replacing Little Walter to round out the trio. Unlike Walter, who was willing to cede the spotlight to Diddley and Waters on Super Blues, Wolf adamantly refuses to back down from his rivals, resulting in a flood of contentious studio banter that turns out to be more entertaining than the otherwise unmemorable music from this stylistic train wreck. Although Wolf and Waters duke it out in earnest on the blues standards, the presence of Diddley (and his rave-up repertoire) makes the prospect of an ensemble impossible; in the end, there are just too many clashing ingredients (the squealing "girlie" choruses vs. Wolf's growl, Diddley's space guitar antics vs. Waters' uncompromising slide guitar) to make the mix digestible. Meanwhile, as the three frontmen struggle to outduel each other on every song, they drown out an underused, all-star backing band made up of Otis Spann on piano, Hubert Sumlin on guitar, Buddy Guy on bass, and Clifton James on drums. At least it sounds like they had fun doing it. © Ken Chang /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 2009 | Hip-O Select

One of the great things about Bo Diddley, something that often goes unmentioned, is that he was a home-recording pioneer, building his own studio years before any other rocker. The full fruits of this labor can be heard on Ride On: The Chess Masters, Vol. 3 -- 1960-1961, Hip-O Select's third installment in their complete Bo Chess/Checker masters and easily the weirdest set yet. All 54 songs here were recorded over the course of 13 months: a whopping 17 them have never been released (an additional seven have never seen release in the U.S.), every one of them was cut in his home studio in Washington DC, and not a one reached the charts. That lack of commercial success should in no way be seen as an indication that the music on Ride On is subpar -- odd and messy, yes, but the music here is fueled by a mad genius that could only have flourished in a hothouse setting like a personal home studio. Bo wound up succumbing to every studio habit that would eventually become cliché: he messed around with tempos, tinkered around endlessly with the same theme, left instrumental backing tracks without vocals, sped up his own voice to create an alter ego (Frankie Jive, who jousted with Bo on the "Say Man" rewrites "Funny Talk" and "Bring Them Back Alive"), kept sloppy notation so records by other musicians were called his (Peggy Jones claims to have recorded everything on the instrumental "Aztec"). On top of this, Diddley wrote a clutch of cheap, infectious dance-rock cash-ins, appropriated old folk tunes as his own, wrote plenty of self-mythologizing tunes ("[Bo Diddley's A] Gunslinger," "Bo Diddley Is an Outlaw," "Bo Diddley Is a Lover," "Bo's Vacation"), and tossed off some killer-diller jokes and a few classic rockers like "Ride on Josephine," which gives this collection its name. Much of this music was heard on the classic LPs Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger and Bo Diddley Is a Lover, but in many ways the way to hear it is on this wild, woolly complete compilation, where all the flights of fancy sit next to the big, booming rockers, where the variety proves Bo to be the visionary he is. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1974 | Geffen

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 /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 27, 1996 | Rhino Atlantic

Bo Diddley's major-label '90s comeback effort A Man Amongst Men is overflowing with guest stars, but it rarely gels into something distinctive. The presence of such heavyweights as Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Jimmie Vaughan actually weighs down the set, preventing Diddley from digging deep into the grooves. The band never quite rocks hard enough and no one tears off an inspired solo -- A Man Amongst Men is pleasant, but it never approaches compelling listening. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Blues - Released January 1, 1972 | Geffen

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 /TiVo
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Blues - Released December 1, 1962 | Geffen

This album is almost worth owning just for the cover photo of Bo Diddley and the Duchess, aka Norma-Jean Wofford, each with their axe. What makes it really cool, though, is the music, which is among the best of Diddley's 1960s output. "Bo's a Lumberjack" is one of the most ferociously sexual and funny signature songs Diddley ever cut, "(Extra, Read All About It) Ben" is a sort of sideways version of "Say Man," with a rollicking beat and very effective use of piano in the backing band, with a grim subject matter handled in a humorous manner, and "Help Out" is one of Diddley's better guitar workouts, with the man getting lots of help from the Duchess. It was records like this that helped keep Diddley's reputation alive in England when Americans stopped buying his stuff. "Met You on a Saturday" is an unusual slow, romantic number for Diddley, very much in a late-'50s style that was probably a few years late to capture anyone's imagination. Other material, like "Diana" (a reworking of "Hey Bo Diddley") and "Little Girl" are less compelling but still solid rock & roll, as are "Gimme Gimme," "Same Old Thing," "Met You on a Saturday," "Put the Shoes on Willie" (written by Earl Hooker), and "Pretty Girl." The latter has a great chorus, and turned up in the repertories of several British Invasion bands. © Bruce Eder /TiVo