The Anthology

Chuck Berry

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Duckwalking into History

"Don't give me any sophisticated crap," John Lennon once told an interviewer. "Give me Chuck Berry." Rock's first great guitarist and the originator of so many of its archetypal anthems, Berry appeared as a change agent, blasting away at postwar cultural stagnation with a heedless, joyriding roar. He was the first rock figure to skewer the elite (see "Roll Over Beethoven"), and the best at backing up his taunting words with diabolical guitar. Everything he did, and certainly everything contained on this set, was a jolt of illicit pleasure, or generational rebellion, or both. Berry's cocktail of jump blues, hillbilly giddyap, and pure hormonal energy was so potent that everyone who followed (including Elvis Presley, who was a year away from Sun Studios when Berry's first single, "Maybelline," hit) had to have at least a sip. Lennon considered Berry his teacher; Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys once described his group as "Chuck Berry guitar with Four Freshmen harmonizing."

For all of his abandon, Berry was sophisticated—in his deliriously inventive lyrics and sly musicianship. He understood the nuances of blues (his early B sides were downcast, last-set club blues in the style of Charles Brown) and the shuffling propulsion of swing. Many of his signature riffs, including "Johnny B. Goode," are essentially big-band horn catcalls translated for the electric guitar. His solos are feats of firewalking wonder, made more impressive when you consider that in concert, he was often doing an elaborate dance step (the duckwalk, the buggy ride) while performing. Unlike virtually all who copied him, Berry cranked out solo breaks that weren't just a smidgen hotter than the vocals, but exponentially more intense. The notion of rock as catharsis starts (and some would say ends) right here.

There have been many Berry anthologies, none of them perfect. The single-disc The Great 28 is the most succinct barrage of hits, but it skips key B sides and at least one gem, "You Never Can Tell." This two-disc set, issued in 2000, is more comprehensive and features the sharpest sound of any Berry reissues.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2000, Chess/MCA
Key Tracks: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Reelin' & Rockin'," "Little Queenie"
Catalog Choice: DVD: London Rock and Roll Show (1972)
Next Stop: Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley
After That: John Lennon: Rock 'n' Roll
Book Pages: 85–86

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#1 from Nicholas, Fort Lauderdale, FL - 02/13/2009 11:37

Kind of off topic but since they were sort of named after him, how did we leave buckcherry’s 15 album off the list? Does it atleast get an honorable mention?

#2 from IMO, San Diego, Ca - 03/01/2009 3:57

Buckcherry? And seriously now, is that the only album you’ve ever listened to? Because I’m scratching my head wondering why anyone would expect that on here. Just wondering.

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