Deep Album Cuts Vol. 87: Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry passed away on Saturday at 90 years old, and I've spent a lot of the past week poring over his catalog, which was larger than I expected. We tend to think of pre-Beatles rock'n'rollers in these kind of one dimensional terms, and assume that they just made a bunch of singles with no albums of real consequence. But Chuck Berry's body of work is pretty well contained in albums. Other than 4 early sides that appeared on the soundtrack to the film Rock, Rock, Rock! (the first Chess Records album release), pretty much all of his important songs appeared on his albums. And the majority of his 19 studio albums are original compositions with just the occasional instrumental or cover, which is to say he wrote over a hundred songs in his distinctive, world-changing voice.

Chuck Berry Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Down Bound Train
2. Berry Pickin'
3. Havana Moon
4. Reelin' And Rockin'
5. It Don't Take But A Few Minutes
6. Low Feeling
7. Around And Around
8. Blues For Hawaiians
9. Betty Jean
10. Diploma For Two
11. Thirteen Question Method
12. Liverpool Drive
13. Go Bobby Soxer
14. You Two
15. I Got A Booking
16. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
17. Right Off Rampart Street
18. Sweet Little Rock And Roller
19. Flying Home
20. My Tambourine
21. Ma Dear
22. Good Looking Woman
23. Christmas
24. Let's Do Our Thing Together
25. Viva Viva Rock 'N' Roll
26. I Will Not Let You Go
27. Got It And Gone
28. Too Late
29. Wuden't Me

Tracks 1, 2 and 3 from After School Session (1957)
Tracks 4, 5 and 6 from One Dozen Berrys (1958)
Tracks 7 and 8 from Chuck Berry Is On Top (1959)
Track 9 from Rockin' At The Hops (1960)
Tracks 10 and 11 from New Juke Box Hits (1961)
Track 12 from Two Great Guitars with Bo Diddley (1964)
Tracks 13 and 14 from St. Louis To Liverpool (1964)
Track 15 from Chuck Berry In London (1965)
Tracks 16 and 17 from Fresh Berry's (1965)
Tracks 18 and 19 from Chuck Berry In Memphis (1967)
Tracks 20 and 21 from St. Louie To Frisco (1968)
Track 22 from Concerto In B. Goode (1969)
Track 23 from Back Home (1970)
Tracks 24 and 25 from San Francisco Dues (1971)
Track 26 from The London Chuck Berry Sessions (1972)
Track 27 from Bio (1973)
Track 28 from Chuck Berry (1975)
Track 29 from Rock It (1979)

I used a bit of every original studio album Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (which is entirely rerecordings of earlier songs for a different label). He did repeat songs on albums from time to time, though, most notably "Havana Moon," which appeared on his very first album, 1957's After School Session, as well as the last album released in his lifetime, 1979's Rock It.

Chuck Berry never really stopped writing what we think of as '50s style rock'n'roll, but that was only because he shaped that era so much that simply being himself started to seem old fashioned. But it's fun to hear him stick to his guns and let studio technology catch up to him and producers add a little more polish to his records. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. New Juke Box Hits and Chuck Berry In Memphis add horns to Berry's sound to great effect. The production on Rock It is absolutely abysmal, but I was pleasantly surprised that that was about the only of his '70s albums where he really lost a sense of his sound. The later albums are certainly less essential, but rarely unpleasant. And I have high hopes for Chuck, his first album in 38 years that he finished shortly before his death.

He has a ton of songs that are themed around different cultures and locations, often with goofy accents and broad stereotypes about hispanic people or Native American people and so on. Of those songs, I think only "Blues For Hawaiians" has aged relatively well, partly because it's an instrumental with no opportunity for lyrical gaffes.

There's several songs here that are as perfect a rock'n'roll anthem as anything Chuck Berry was famous for, but also some really interesting curios. 1968's "My Tambourine" is basically a clean version of "My Ding-A-Ling," the phallic novelty song that became his first and only #1 pop hit 4 years later. 1958's "Low Feeling" is a reprise of the same album's earlier track "Blue Feeling" with the tape slowed down. It sounds cool and really surprised me, since I think of most rock experiments with tape speed not happening until the late '60s, to say nothing of how the track kind of beats DJ Screw to the punch by over 30 years.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher
Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige
Vol. 30: The Black Crowes
Vol. 31: Ne-Yo
Vol. 32: Blink-182
Vol. 33: One Direction
Vol. 34: Kelly Clarkson
Vol. 35: The B-52's
Vol. 36: Ludacris
Vol. 37: They Might Be Giants
Vol. 38: T-Pain
Vol. 39: Snoop Dogg
Vol. 40: Ciara
Vol. 41: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Vol. 42: Dwight Yoakam
Vol. 43: Demi Lovato
Vol. 44: Prince
Vol. 45: Duran Duran
Vol. 46: Rihanna
Vol. 47: Janet Jackson
Vol. 48: Sara Bareilles
Vol. 49: Motley Crue
Vol. 50: The Who
Vol. 51: Coldplay
Vol. 52: Alicia Keys
Vol. 53: Stone Temple Pilots
Vol. 54: David Bowie
Vol. 55: The Eagles
Vol. 56: The Beatles
Vol. 57: Beyonce
Vol. 58: Beanie Sigel
Vol. 59: A Tribe Called Quest
Vol. 60: Cheap Trick
Vol. 61: Guns N' Roses
Vol. 62: The Posies
Vol. 63: The Time
Vol. 64: Gucci Mane
Vol. 65: Violent Femmes
Vol. 66: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Vol. 67: Maxwell
Vol. 68: Parliament-Funkadelic
Vol. 69: Chevelle
Vol. 70: Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio
Vol. 71: Fantasia
Vol. 72: Heart
Vol. 73: Pitbull
Vol. 74: Nas
Vol. 75: Monica
Vol. 76: The Cars
Vol. 77: 112
Vol. 78: 2Pac
Vol. 79: Nelly
Vol. 80: Meat Loaf
Vol. 81: AC/DC
Vol. 82: Bruce Springsteen
Vol. 83: Pearl Jam
Vol. 84: Green Day
Vol. 85: George Michael and Wham!
Vol. 86: New Edition
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