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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

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

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

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

Rock - Released April 6, 2019 | Play Music


Rock - Released March 1, 1958 | Geffen


Pop - Released April 18, 2006 | Geffen


Pop - Released February 19, 2013 | Geffen


Rock - Released July 1, 1959 | Geffen


Blues - Released January 1, 2009 | Geffen


Rock - Released April 26, 2005 | Geffen


Rock - Released January 1, 1971 | Geffen

Chuck Berry's second record for Chess following his return to the label in 1970 is a sincere effort at sounding contemporary that yields mixed results. Parts of it, such as "Oh Louisiana," are moodier, more meandering pieces than one is used to from him, and "Bordeaux in My Pirough" is a not too skillful rewrite of "Jambalaya." Others, such as "Your Lick" and "Festival," are attempts at adapting his classic sound to the tastes and sensibilities of the late '60s/early '70s -- the latter track, the title cut, "Viva Rock & Roll," and "Lonely School Days" are all respectable efforts, if not nearly enough to hang an album around, and none would be out of place on an appropriate anthology covering Berry's post-1965 career. "My Dream (Poem)" shows Berry getting serious (and playing the piano for a change) and presenting a side of himself that is usually masked by his prodigious musical cleverness. For all of its good points, however, too much of San Francisco Dues just isn't that interesting as music, a charge that could never have been leveled at even the poorest of Berry's late-'50s work. Ironically, it was his next album, The London Chuck Berry Sessions, that would recharge his commercial batteries, principally by going back to the roots he was drawing on only furtively here. © Bruce Eder /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 1970 | Geffen

Back in Chicago and on Chess, Berry comes back true-to-form, reconstituting his 1950's sound. Berry keeps his reputation for shaping the English language his own way, only in a late 1960's setting. "Tulane" and "Have Mercy Judge" are the two best known songs, but there's not a bad track here, even if none of it is what he's known for. Unfortunately, Berry found the new, more business-like Chess Records--with Leonard Chess no longer running things--less to his liking than the old, and it began to show in some of the recordings, which were simply less inspired than his old work. © Bruce Eder /TiVo

Rock - Released November 1, 1964 | Geffen


Rock - Released January 1, 1989 | Island Mercury

Chuck Berry in Memphis was the artist's first effort to record an album of new material under his contract with Mercury Records -- it followed a blatant cash-in attempt, Golden Hits, on which Berry had cut new versions of his classic Chess Records hits. Recorded over a three-day period in Memphis in March of 1967, the record features Berry mixing blues and pop with rock & roll. None of it is bad, though his version of the Nat King Cole hit "Ramblin' Rose" raised a few eyebrows. Much more encouraging were the bluesy "It Hurts Me Too" and "Back to Memphis," and the recut "Sweet Little Rock and Roller." The main problem with the record, however, was that it was too slick-sounding, especially when compared to Berry's classic Chess Records sides -- backed by the Memphis Horns and a contingent of the city's top session musicians, the resulting sides also lacked the inherent "dirtiness" of those earlier sides, as well as a measure of excitement. Still, it's not a bad album, and shows that as late as 1967, Berry was still serious about making records. © Bruce Eder /TiVo

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

Rock - Released January 1, 1967 | Mercury Records

During June of 1967, while the Sgt. Pepper's album was redefining the meaning of rock music in peoples' minds, Berry was playing a series of gigs in San Francisco with the Steve Miller Band, highlights of which appeared on this album released the following October. As a live album and a historical document, this is a worthwhile recording, because Berry's shows were still exciting. One of the few '50s rockers who continued to work regularly and effectively into the late '60s, Berry here shows the strategy that he used to survive before the nostalgia boom took him up and turned him into an oldies act: he became a bluesman again and played relatively little of his classic rock & roll. But that was OK, because Berry started out as a bluesman; the slow blues "Wee Wee Hours," not the rollicking "Maybellene" (which was recorded as a parody), represented his "real" music in 1955. Among the standards represented are Pete Chatman's "Everyday I Have the Blues," Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," Chuck Willis' "C.C. Rider" (done as a slow blues), and a variation on John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." He plays a few familiar rockers, including a relatively uncensored "Reelin' and Rockin'" and "My Ding-a-Ling" (in a version far shorter than the subsequent hit from The London Chuck Berry Sessions album). © Bruce Eder /TiVo

Rock - Released January 1, 1965 | Geffen


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

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

Pop - Released January 1, 1968 | Mercury Records

Chuck Berry's fourth in a five-LP set released during his stay at Mercury is only partly successful, with a handful of genuinely good songs -- the rocking "Misery," the rollicking "Mum's the Word," and the ravishing "Song of My Love" (maybe the prettiest Spanish, or in this case, Mexican-style number that Berry ever cut) -- interspersed with some far less well-thought-out and executed pieces, such as "The Love I Lost." The album also bore a funny pop culture footnote for containing Berry's first official release of "My Tambourine," a dirty New Orleans-spawned song about what used to be politely called "self-indulgence" that had been in his concert repertory for at least 12 years, which he eventually redid and released, as part of a live concert recording, as "My Ding-A-Ling." © Bruce Eder /TiVo