Johnny B Goode: His Complete '50s Chess Recordings

Chuck Berry

Hip-O Select, 2008

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


No one can definitely say who invented rock ‘n’ roll, but Chuck Berry was there at the beginning and probably contributed more to its early evolution than just about any other person living or dead.

He took a guitar sound, moved it out front as the lead instrument, and fused it with rhythm & blues. When he was finished, it was rock ‘n’ roll.

While his career has now reached the vicinity of six decades, it was his 1950s recordings that remain his best and most influential. Johnny B Goode: His Complete ‘50s Chess Recordings gathers all 102 of his 1950s tracks onto four discs. From 1955s “Maybelline” to 1959s “Too Pooped To Pop,” some of the most memorable songs in rock ‘n’ roll history are presented here .A booklet containing an annotated discography is also included.

The set can be a little long and overwhelming for anyone unfamiliar with the era or his music. There are five versions of “Sweet Little Sixteen” and three of “Reelin’ And Rockin,’” which may be a bit much for a lot of people. The studio conversation is more interesting than essential, plus the unreleased tracks really add little to his legacy.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When you get to the heart of his music, however, it just does not get any better. The sound is much clearer than on his previous releases. His guitar sound is crisp and the man is one of the best guitarists of his generation and the two that followed. His ability to write catchy melodies and hooks was always outstanding and his lyrics, while bawdy in places and somewhat dated in others, are always entertaining.

Songs such as “Maybelline,” ”Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock And Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Reelin’ And Rockin,’” “Memphis Tennessee,” and “Back In The USA” are flat out 1950s rock ‘n’ roll at its best. They may be somewhat simple by today’s standards, but his guitar playing is spectacular and the songs essential to the history of American music. The live versions of “Maybelline” and “Roll Over Beethoven” provide a nice look into Berry being able to perform his music in a concert setting as opposed to the studio.

Even some of his more obscure songs shine. “House of Blue Lights,” “That’s My Desire,” “Childhood Sweetheart,” “Do You Love Me,” “Almost Grown,” and others are somewhat more sophisticated than many of his big hits and he branched out musically to a blues sound and returned to this r&b roots.

There are a number of instrumentals included. They were intended as filler at the time of their release but today tracks such as “Berry Pickin’,” “Rolli Polli,” “Blue Feeling,” “Guitar Boogie,” “Rock At The Philharmonic,” and “Long Fast Jam,” demonstrate his guitar prowess as the limelight is squarely on his instrument.

His 1950s songs were not all masterpieces, but when taken as a whole, they form one of the most influential bodies of work in rock history.

He received a great deal of recognition and commercial success from these recordings as his singles sold tens of millions of copies and consistently crossed over to the white/mainstream pop charts.

Johnny B Goode: His Complete 50’s Chess Recordings includes music that has been essential to rock ‘n’ roll for over 50 years.

Rating: A

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