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So Elvis Presley was the king of rocknroll? Well, he might have been the biggest star of them all, but his occasional posing with a guitar around his neck didnt fool anyone that his instrumental prowess was pretty slight. Hell, if anyone actually invented the guitar riff in the 50s it was Chuck Berry, the man who played his guitar like a-ringin a bell. And unlike Elvis, Chuck wrote his songs as well. All right, Ill qualify that - its more than possible that his late pianist Lonnie Johnson had a hand in writing the music as well, even if they rarely used more than three chords, and even if his claim for a share of the composing royalties was thrown out of court, but when all is said and done, Chuck was the man.
Rocknroll came from the blues, and it was basically about three chords. So dont expect anything too sophisticated on this collection. Musically limited? Maybe. But of all the innumerable Berry compilations available, this 40-track double CD can hardly be bettered.
In the 60s and 70s his influence on up and coming bands, from the Beatles and Stones onwards, was immense. Practically every self-respecting rock band cut their teeth on several of these songs. Granted, they may not mean so much to anyone under 30, but, er the rest of us will always wield a gentle air guitar to many of these, mentally if not physically.
The collection kicks off with arguably the most famous of the lot, Roll Over Beethoven. Listen to the first few seconds again. Could that guitar lick be anybody else (well, apart from Dave Edmunds, or George Harrison, or any other one of 3,000 guitarists who have worked hard to perfect their own imitation)? Sweet Little Sixteen rearranges the formula a little. Still those same three chords, but still great. Johnny B. Goode ditto. The song which 99% of all self-respecting bands have probably used at least once as an encore.
You want me to list the other 37? No, I didnt think so either. Ill just remind you of a few highlights like No Particular Place To Go, which Johnnie Walker has used for some time as the 6-5 Special theme on his Radio 2 drivetime show; Come On, which the Stones covered as their first single in 1963; Carol, Memphis Tennessee, Promised Land, You Never Can Tell, Tulane, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Run Rudolph Run, Bye Bye Johnny, Little Queenie, and Maybellene, all of which have been recorded by several other acts. Oh yes, and Too Much Monkey Business, which was more or less the template for Bob Dylans Subterranean Homesick Blues. There you are, Ive listed some of them already. Naughty me.
Just occasionally, very occasionally, does the beat change. Merry Christmas Baby is a slow mournful blues, and after associating him with the aforementioned anthems so long, its a surprise to hear him sing this way.
And theres bound to be a clunker somewhere. By 1972 Chuck was regarded as a has-been, then back he came with the single My Ding-a-Ling, which surprisingly topped the charts in the UK and the US, the only time he ever did so. Sadly, it was far and away the worst record he ever made. A naughty singalong ditty recorded live with an audience eagerly joined in, it gained some street cred when certain moral guardians, insisting it was about, called for it to be banned. Very hip but as a record its immensely irritating after youve heard it twice (or even once). Its ironic that his greatest success was his artistic nadir, and I'm tempted to knock one star off for this one. But it's only one track among many, so just press the Skip button, right?
Varied it isnt. You could say the same about one of the several CDs of the complete recorded output of legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, or many other similar acts of the 30s to 50s. But Chuck was the pioneer, and the songs that made him a pioneer are all here. Nuff said.
Amazon are selling it new at £6.97, with secondhand copies on marketplace for less as usual.
When I was tiny my hero was my grandfather, Billy, a diminutive Welshman with more than a spattering of black and Arabic blood. "I'm a product of Swansea port, fach," he used to tell me. Billy's twin passions were music and vegetable growing and his hero was that whippet-lean, guitar-toting Chuck Berry. And funnily, in summer, skin darkened after days out in his allotment, Billy looked rather like him with that thin, smiling face and those eyes that twinkled irresistibly. I sure did love Billy and I sure did love the parties that Billy attended because his love of life, of music, of dancing, of good friends and a good time always infected everyone. Billy's anthem was Johnny B. Goode and, in honour of him, that's the particular song I'd like to tell you about. DeepdowninLouisianacrossfromNewOrleans Waybackupinthewoodsamongtheevergreens In the first few seconds of this song voice and guitar come together, imitating each other and introducing perhaps the best, and certainly the most famous, guitar riff in history. Chuck Berry couldn't have found a better or more exciting way to pull you into his story of Johnny B. Goode, a poor country [black] boy with his guitar, singing the blues and dreaming of a better future for himself. That guitar riff (modernised by Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys Fun Fun Fun) is like a series of machine gun bullets, forcing the song, the singer and his guitar deep inside you from the first moment you hear it. Chuck Berry wasn't a fool: of course he could have sung "black" and not "country" but by choosing the latter he made Johnny B. Goode a character who represented not only black people in a segregated America but also the poor white gospellers who had thrown up Elvis Presley as their icon. Johnny B. Goode was an anthem and told of a person who appealed to many. Yet despite the political landscape only too well-known to Berry, this song is a wake up
call and a hymn to the power and joy not only of dreaming of a better world but to the notion of carpe diem, seize the day. Johnny B. Goode is a classic song for all these reasons: for the riff that provided the basis of work from such people as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, the Rolling Stones; for its comment on a time and place that for many people could have been better; for its refusal to submit and for its rallying cry to enjoy, to be free; but above all because it's an irresistible rock and roll song that includes you, pulls you to your feet and makes you want to dance. So that's the story of Johnny B. Goode. For me, inside that story is also Billy's story. Music is one of the most emotive things there is and often its effect on a person is ineffable, unable to be described. Johnny B. Goode brings Billy back to me whenever I hear it and that's why I love it. Billy loved it because he loved passion in music and because the story was partly his own. Just as the Johnny Chuck Berry sang of was a poor country boy, so was Billy, just as Johnny suffered discrimination, so did Billy when he moved to London from Wales seeking work during the thirties. Like Chuck Berry too, Billy was never a man to be downcast though and his endless enthusiasm for life echoes the forceful, boundless optimism we hear in Johnny B. Goode. Billy was never a rich man, and he never owned an electric guitar much as he'd have loved one. I do, though, and one day I'm going to learn to play that Johnny B. Goode riff behind my head, just like Chuck Berry did. And when I do, I'll think of Billy. I don't listen to, or even particularly like, straightforward rock and roll music. It's just not the music of my generation. Yet, because of Billy, I own this album, listen to it fairly often and always enjoy it. Mostly, it's because it provides me with a sense of continuity and some attachment still to Billy. But listening to it, I can't
deny its quality. Chuck Berry is a great performer: alive; energetic; joyous; polemic; sardonic; witty. And he was one of the best and most original guitar players ever. He made number after number all his own. They're all here on this album. And I guess I should mention more than just the one track. There is Back In The USA which could be about feeling homesick, or could be a rather bitter rant from a man fresh out of prison on a false charge (Berry was jailed on Mann Act offences). There is Roll Over Beethoven - with its unbelievably fast guitar and its upstart arrogance in challenging the classical greats. Remembering those Mann Act charges there is also Sweet Little Sixteen. This song, according to Berry himself, is about a teenage autograph hunter he saw once at a concert, but its other implications probably didn't stand him in good stead at that trial. It's a rocking song featuring, for once, drums and piano over the artiste's guitar. Oh, y'know. I guess you know them all. These songs have become part of collective consciousness, haven't they? We all know them, whether we like them or not. There's Maybelline, the Berry number with country roots, but which twists around the country "little woman" to the girlfriend with the more powerful car, typically Berry in its wit. There's another favourite of mine, Brown Eyed Handsome Man (in true Berry tradition, for Eyed read Skinned, of course) which has the same juddering, brittle guitar line and torpedo-like vocal delivery of Johnny B Goode. And there are many more. Cast your eyes to the top for the tracklisting, I'm not about to bore you all with it here. I may not be the world's greatest rock and roll fan. This music may not be anywhere near my favourite sort of music. But I sure do like Chuck Berry.
Well maybe I'm over doing it a little with the title, but for me Chuck Berry is, or at least his music IS Rock 'N Roll; that is, if you wanted to give someone an idea of what Rock 'N Roll is about, then look no further than Chuck Berry and this album. I should add that this album is called 'The Best Of Chuck Berry', and that there are a lot of Chuck Berry compilations like this about, only with differing tracks, so don't be surprised if the one you have, or might get is different. Now you may not have heard of Chuck Berry (I'd be surprised, though) but you will have heard his music, I mean, if your a fan of The Beatles, then you've heard Chuck's music, if you like Buddy Holly or The Rolling Stones or The Manic Street Preachers, then you've heard Chuck's music (lets face it, if you like music, then you've heard his music), if you seen films such as Back To The Future, Young Einstein, Pulp Fiction then you've heard Chuck's music, because the thing is, even though the recordings themselves maybe dated, the music is timeless, and the songs on this album are great examples of timeless music. It was a love of The Beatles that made me, somewhat of a fan, of Chuck's, though I have to admit I only have this collection (something I'll have to rectify), and the reason why I like the Beatles is because.........well maybe because my dads a fan and I remember the music playing when I was young(er), but the real fact of the matter is that, the music is great, I love good music, especially the more up beat, feel good stuff, anything that makes you/me want to get up and dance, or puts a smile on my face, and makes me feel that little bit better I love, and that pretty much sums up Rock 'n Roll. So I have amounted a number of 'Best of......' collections over the years, such as Jerry Lee-Lewis, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Billy Haley, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins (the man be
hind 'Blue Suede Shoes'), and although Little Richard may have created Rock 'n Roll, and Elivs may have dressed it up well and they've all had great hit songs, in my opinion, Chuck's the one who really made it. ~~So Who Is Chuck Berry?~~ Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on the 18th October 1926 in San Jose, California, America, he learnt to play the guitar and was nearly 30 when he released his first single, and that was in 1955, previously, at the age of 18, he'd spent some time in prison, for armed robbery, later in 1951, he recorded some of his songs on a home tape recorder and went on to join two other musicians and played the clubs. He met Leonard Chess, due to a meeting with Muddy Waters, and Leonard, after hearing a song on Chuck's demo tape called 'Ida Mae', was so impressed that he got Chuck to re-write it, and, after changing it the title to 'Maybelline', it became Chuck's first single. He released a number of singles over the next couple of years, all of which did well in the charts, he had/has a reputation for his now famous 'duckwalk', and also appeared in a few films. However, despite his success, he was sent to prison again, for 20 months, in 1961, on the charge of 'Transporting an underage girl across state lines for immoral purposes', coming out in '63 was like he'd never been away, he continued to write and achieve hit songs, aided by bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (their first single was Chuck's 'Come On') recording covers of his songs. As things go the music scene changed as the sixties becomes the seventies, and Chuck had his greatest hit in 1972, with a live version of 'My Ding-A-Ling'. More recently he's been trouble again after a camera was found recording images in the ladies toilet in his restaurant, his defence lay in that he wanted to know why
they used so much toilet paper!. He also successfully sued John Lennon after John admitted that Chuck?s 'You Can't Catch Me' influenced, or was rather the basis for John?s Beatle?s track 'Come Together', the result was John's 'Rock 'N Roll' album, which included the song 'You Can?t Catch Me' and also Chuck's 'Sweet Little Sixteen'. ~~The Album~~ I bought it on tape for the very reasonable price of £3.99, it has 20 songs, 10-a-side, and they are, No Particular Place To Go School Day (Ring, Ring Goes The Bell) Sweet Little Sixteen Let It Rock Memphis Tennessee Nadine (Is It You) You Never Can Tell Promised Land Reelin' and Rocking' My Ding-A-Ling Maybelline Roll Over Beethoven Johnny B. Goode Carol Almost Grown Back In The USA Little Queenie Brown Eyed Handsome Man Sweet Rock And Roller Rock and Roll Music The inlay card gives you plenty of information about Chuck and the hits. ~~The Music~~ Is exceptional, although the music is often very similar (much like the music of Oasis and Status Quo, for instance), its really good, I could dance to this music all night, which is more than I can say for a lot of the music these days. The term rock and roll, comes from the slang expression for sex, and listening, you can really see why. As I've said I love rock and roll, for me its the greatest, and if you can listen to this music without wanting move to the music, then frankly you have no soul. The recording themselves aren't that great, a sign of the times perhaps, and although I've heard great versions by other people, the originals are always the nice to have. As I write this I'm listing to the album and am finding that I'm spending most of the time clicking my fingers and clapping my hands and such to the music, its soo good.
As well as musically, the songs are also lyrically good, Reelin and 'Rockin 'I looked at my watch and to my surprise, I was dancing with a woman who was twice my size' Memphis Tennessee 'Last time that I saw Marie she was waving me goodbye, with hurry home teardrops on her cheek, that tricked from her eye....' Rock And Roll Music 'Let me hear some more of that rock 'n roll music, Any old way you choose it, Its got a back beat you can blues it, Any old way you use it, Its gotta be rock roll music, If you wanna dance with me.' ~~A Bit About The Songs~~ 'Johnny B. Goode' was used in Back To The Future, (Marti played it at the dance) 'You Never Can Tell' was used in Pulp Fiction, (Vincent and Mia won the dance contest to it) 'Rock and Roll Music' was used in Young Einstein (the young Einstein played it at the end of the film), its also been covered by many bands from The Beatles to The Manic Street Preachers 'Roll Over Beethoven' was used by George Harrison as the last song in his consorts 'Brown Eyed Handsome Man', is thought by most, to be Buddy Holly's, as it became a posthumous hit for him, even Paul McCartney only realised that it wasn't Buddy's, when he recorded it on his last album of Rock 'n Roll covers. Mostly the songs deal with love, growing up, and the love of rock and roll, with a piano in addition to the guitars and drums, the music sounds really lively, all the songs are written by Chuck which is something I like in artists. So what more do you want?, any band playing Chuck's songs live, couldn't go wrong, if you don?t have a Chuck Berry CD/tape or such in your collection, then I suggest you make room. The Solid Grey
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 No Particular Place To Go
2 School Day (Ring Ring Goes The Bell)
3 Sweet Little Sixteen
4 Let It Rock
7 You Never Can Tell
8 Promised Land
9 Reelin' And Rockin'
10 My Ding-A-Ling
12 Roll Over Beethoven
13 Johnny B. Goode
15 Almost Grown
16 Back In The U.S.A.
17 Little Queenie
18 Brown Eyed Handsome Man
19 Sweet Little Rock & Roller
20 Rock & Roll Music