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Chuck Berry: St. Louis To Liverpool / Berry Is On Top

Mike Perciaccante By

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John Lennon was quoted as saying, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'!"—one hell of an endorsement. If taken solely on the merits of the individual tracks on this single disc collection, encompassing two of Berry's classic albums, Lennon was clearly making an understatement. Berry Is On Top (Chess Records, 1959) and St. Louis to Liverpool (Chess Records, 1964) are both jam-packed with hits. Each timeless track features the All-Star Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame band, led by Berry and driven by the thumping Johnnie Johnson or Lafayette Leake piano that, combined with Willie Dixon's bass and additional fretwork supplied by either Bo Diddley or Matt Murphy creates an amazing musical backdrop to the lyrics. It must be noted that these albums were compiled from various singles and session tracks by Chess Records. At the time, the record industry's fortunes were based more on the release of singles than 12" LPs.

Chuck Berry is the original poet laureate of Rock 'n' Roll. He brought complex song structure to what had been previously described as primal simple music, paving the way for today's chart-toppers. Berry Is On Top, which might as well have been released as a "Greatest Hits" collection features "Carol" (later covered by The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Paul Bley, Charlie Daniels and others), "Maybellene" (the song that introduced the word "motorvating" into the vernacular), "Sweet Little Rock & Roller" and "Around And Around." Additionally, the album contains "Johnny B. Goode," "Little Queenie" and "Roll Over Beethoven," each featuring the signature guitar lick that young guitarists, to this day—over forty years later—still imitate.

St. Louis to Liverpool proved that while The Beatles changed the face of rock, they didn't close the door on Berry. Featuring "Little Marie" (the companion or, more likely, the response to his "Memphis, Tennessee"), "No Particular Place to Go" (with its staccato rhythm sounding very much like "School Days" with different lyrics), "Promised Land," "You Never Can Tell," "Merry Christmas, Baby" (originally recorded by Charles Brown) and a great cover of Guitar Slim's "Things I Used to Do," this album doesn't shine quite as brightly as Berry Is On Top. It is still, however, pretty impressive.

The number of great songs on this reissue is astounding. If a current artist released a CD featuring half as many blockbuster tracks as Berry Is On Top alone, it would be hailed as a masterpiece. Three bonus tracks—"Fraulein," "O'Rangutang" and "The Girl From Central"—all appeared on the most recent CD reissues of St. Louis to Liverpool.

Mobile Fidelity Sounds Labs (MOFI) has remastered the albums with care and attention to detail, spending over two years meticulously transferring each song from fifteen different reels of original analog master tape. The result is magnificent—crystal clear early, bluesy, rock 'n' roll on an enhanced audiophile Ultradisc II 24 KT Gold CD housed in a mini-LP style gatefold jacket. Each CD has its own hand-stamped gold foil serial number.

Track Listing: Berry Is On Top: Almost Grown; Carol; Maybellene; Sweet Little Rock & Roller; Anthony Boy; Johnny B. Goode; Little Queenie; Jo Jo Gunne; Roll Over Beethoven; Around And Around; Hey Pedro; Blues For Hawaiians; St. Louis To Liverpool: Little Marie; Our Little Rendezvous; No Particular Place To Go; You Two; Promised Land; You Never Can Tell; Go Bobby Soxer; The Things I Used To Do; Liverpool Drive; Night Beat; Merry Christmas Baby; Brenda Lee; Fraulein O'Rangutang; The Little Girl From Central.

Personnel: Berry Is On Top: Chuck Berry: guitar, vocals; Fred Below: drums; Bo Diddley: guitar; Willie Dixon: bass; Jerome Green: maracas; Eddie Hardy: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano; Lafayette Leake: piano; George "Harmonica" Smith: bass; Jasper Thomas: drums; St. Louis To Liverpool: Chuck Berry: guitar, vocals; Fred Below: drums; Willie Dixon: bass; Ebby Hardy: drums; Johnnie Johnson: piano; Lafayette Leake: piano; Matt Murphy: guitar; Odie Payne: drums; James Robinson: tenor sax; Jasper Thomas: drums; Paul Williams: piano.

Title: St. Louis To Liverpool / Berry Is On Top | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs


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