The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. In this edition we discuss Chuck Berry’s Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade.
Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry was born in 1926. He is American singer-songwriter/guitarist and one of the pioneers of rock and roll. Berry developed rhythm and blues into the elements that made rock and roll distinctive.
Berry is to rock what Louis Armstrong was to jazz because he established the basic mode of expression on the genre’s key instrument—the guitar. His approach shaped almost everything that was played after his rise. As a composer his influence was also great.
Witness the tuneful tale of teen romance and hard luck, the devoted pursuit of a half-demonic, half-comedic American dream in the lead-in to the 24-song set “Maybelline”, “Johnny B. Goode” and the double-album’s closer “Back in the U.S.A.” Songs such as “Deep Feeling”, “Wee Wee Hours”, “Thirty Days” and “Havana Moon” paint pictures as big, brilliant and personal as anyone’s. The most striking aspect of Berry’s style when it first appeared with “Maybelline” in 1955 was the quick, ringing tone of his electric guitar.
While he recorded in Chicago on the Chess label, close to such urban blues masters as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Berry effected a rather drastic change in their twelve-bar blues style. He sped it up and simplified it by merging it with the standard thirty-two-bar pop-tune format. Berry has long ago said that country & western and Louis Jordan are significant sources or influences.
The basic guitar sound in songs such as “No Particular Place To Go”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, “Oh, Baby Doll” and “You Can’t Catch Me” was simple enough to move any number of teens to attempt to copy it. Everyone from The Beach Boys and Lonnie Mack to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals and more were playing Berry’s music. His sound was simplistic enough to imitate but was also endlessly adaptable as anyone who has truly listened to The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” can attest.
This volume tells a great deal of the story: “Nadine”, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, “Almost Grown”, “Reelin’ and Rockin’”, “’Round and ‘Round”, “Sweet Little Sixteen”, “Rock and Roll Music” and others are at the heart of the rock repertoire. Most of these were not hits when they were first released. In truth, only four of Berry’s records from 1956 to 1960 made the Top Ten.
Still, they have become very familiar to almost every true rock fan because so many other artists use them to supplement their performances and flesh out their albums. This alone makes them essential to an understanding of the music. But Berry was often inspired as any rock musician of his generation, ranking up there with Elvis Presley and Little Richard at the very pinnacle of the rock genre.
Even Berry’s guitar solos and showmanship would be a major influence on subsequent rock and roll artists. The emotions expressed in his music are more often lively and bright as opposed to brooding and dark—one more aspect that sets him apart from the blues artists—although this can perhaps conceal the sharp, ironic eye of tracks like “Roll Over Beethoven” and “School Days” or even the moving tale of Little Marie in “Memphis”.
Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade covers the decade spanning 1955 through 1965 and also includes such selections as “Too Pooped to Pop”, “Bye Bye Johnny” and “Anthony Boy”. Released in 1967, the double-album made it to number 72 on Billboard‘s “Pop Albums” chart and was critically well-received. In fact, Rolling Stone noted that the work was “the album you must get” when “looking for the Chuck Berry standards”.
Years later, in 1980, rock journalist Robert Christgau would put this project on his list of essential albums for “A Basic Record Library: The Fifties and Sixties”. Indeed, Chuck Berry’s Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade/Chess 1514 is truly an essential part of any truly comprehensive collection . . . and Berry did all by himself with just his talent, his voice and his guitar. He didn’t even use his “Ding-a-Ling”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.