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The Chess Box

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Chuck Berry 11/28/1988

Review

Over the course of three compact discs, The Chess Box contains most of the highlights from Chuck Berry's career, including all of the hit singles. In addition to the familiar items, which are all included here, there are numerous tracks that are lesser-known but equally as good. That's particularly true on the stellar first two discs, where album tracks, B-sides, and forgotten singles like "Downbound Train," "Drifting Heart," "Havana Moon," "Betty Jean," "Bye Bye Johnny," "Down the Road a Piece," and "The Thirteen Question Method" get equal space with "Maybellene," "Thirty Days," "No Money Down," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "School Day," "Rock & Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Carol." Some serious fans, however, also found disc one, and especially the earlier songs on that disc, to be very controversial; part of the intrinsic nature of Berry's music was the sheer noisiness of the songs -- tracks like "Maybellene," "Thirty Days," "You Can't Catch Me," and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" insinuated themselves into listeners' consciousness over the radio and on the jukebox with their sheer raucous, in-your-face sound (frequently near overload). But at the time The Chess Box was done, the philosophy about CD mastering was to clean up the noise in original recordings whenever it was too pronounced, lest the "hot" digital sound make the track too harsh. (Note: this "problem" especially afflicted "Layla" by Derek & the Dominos, so much so that the producers of the Clapton box remixed the song). Thus, the first 15 or so tracks on the first disc of The Chess Box may sound too "clean," lacking some of the raw edge from their vinyl editions. On the plus side, the detail revealed -- every note, and even the action on the guitar on the opening of "Roll Over Beethoven" -- is always interesting, and occasionally fascinating, and it is difficult to complain too loudly about hearing Johnnie Johnson's or Lafayette Leake's piano, or Willie Dixon's upright bass in such sharp relief. Additionally, for many years this set had the only undistorted CD version of "Come On" -- a relatively minor Berry song, but one that provided the Rolling Stones with their debut release -- that you could find, but potential purchasers should also be aware of the compromise in the sound. That caveat aside, the programming manages to get in most of the best album cuts, including tracks like Berry's hot cover of "House of Blue Lights" and the "Memphis Tennessee" "sequel" "Little Marie," though not quite enough material from 1964-1965. And toward the end of the set, the quality of the material begins to sag a bit, but there are still forgotten gems like "Tulane" that prove Berry's songwriting hadn't completely dried up. The now out of print Great Twenty-Eight collection remains the definitive single CD hits collection, and the audio quality on MCA's two-CD Anthology, released a dozen years later, is superior, but The Chess Box offers a flawed but near essential overview of his work for any serious fan, either of Chuck Berry or rock & roll. ~ Bruce Eder
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  1. # Track Artist Length
  2. 1 Maybellene [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:18
  3. 2 Wee Wee Hours Chuck Berry 3:2
  4. 3 Thirty Days [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:22
  5. 4 You Can't Catch Me [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:41
  6. 5 No Money Down [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:56
  7. 6 Down Bound Train [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:48
  8. 7 Brown Eyed Handsome Man [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:15
  9. 8 Drifting Heart [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:47
  10. 9 Roll Over Beethoven [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:22
  11. 10 Too Much Monkey Business [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:53
  12. 11 Havana Moon [Single Version] Chuck Berry 3:5
  13. 12 School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell) [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:40
  14. 13 Rock and Roll Music [1958 Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:30
  15. 14 Oh Baby Doll [1957 Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:35
  16. 15 I've Changed Chuck Berry 3:4
  17. 16 Reelin' and Rockin' [Single Version] Chuck Berry 3:15
  18. 17 Rockin' at the Philharmonic [EP Version] Chuck Berry 3:21
  19. 18 Sweet Little Sixteen [Original Master] Chuck Berry 3:10
  20. 19 Johnny B. Goode [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:37
  21. 20 Time Was Chuck Berry 1:55
  22. 21 Around and Around [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:38
  23. 22 Beautiful Delilah [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:12
  24. 23 House of Blue Lights Chuck Berry 2:23
  25. 24 Carol [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:46
  26. 1 Memphis, Tennessee [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:10
  27. 2 Anthony Boy [Single Version] Chuck Berry 1:50
  28. 3 Jo Jo Gunne [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:43
  29. 4 Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:19
  30. 5 Merry Christmas Baby [Single Version] Chuck Berry 3:11
  31. 6 Run Rudolph Run [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:42
  32. 7 Little Queenie [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:39
  33. 8 Almost Grown [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:18
  34. 9 Back in the U.S.a. [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:26
  35. 10 Betty Jean Chuck Berry 2:28
  36. 11 Childhood Sweetheart [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:42
  37. 12 Let It Rock [Single Version] Chuck Berry 1:43
  38. 13 Too Pooped to Pop [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:33
  39. 14 Bye Bye Johnny [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:3
  40. 15 Jaguar and Thunderbird [Single Version] Chuck Berry 1:48
  41. 16 Down the Road Apiece Chuck Berry 2:12
  42. 17 Confessin' the Blues Chuck Berry 2:7
  43. 18 Thirteen Question Method Chuck Berry 2:12
  44. 19 Crying Steel Chuck Berry 2:30
  45. 20 I'm Just a Lucky So and So Chuck Berry 2:49
  46. 21 I'm Talking About You [Single Version] Chuck Berry 1:48
  47. 22 Come On [Single Version (Mono)] Chuck Berry 1:47
  48. 23 Nadine (Is It You?) [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:34
  49. 24 Crazy Arms Chuck Berry 2:11
  50. 25 You Never Can Tell [1964 Single Version (Mono)] Chuck Berry 2:40
  51. 26 The Things I Used to Do [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:41
  52. 27 Promised Land [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:21
  53. 1 No Particular Place to Go [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:41
  54. 2 Liverpool Drive Chuck Berry 2:53
  55. 3 You Two [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:7
  56. 4 Chuck's Beat Chuck Berry 10:33
  57. 5 Little Marie [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:34
  58. 6 Dear Dad [Single Version] Chuck Berry 1:48
  59. 7 Sad Day, Long Night Chuck Berry 2:41
  60. 8 It's My Own Business Chuck Berry 2:8
  61. 9 It Wasn't Me [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:32
  62. 10 Ramona Say Yes Chuck Berry 2:40
  63. 11 Viva Viva Rock 'N' Roll Chuck Berry 1:59
  64. 12 Tulane [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:35
  65. 13 Have Mercy Judge [Single Version] Chuck Berry 2:38
  66. 14 My Dream Chuck Berry 5:55
  67. 15 Reelin' and Rockin' [Live (1972/Lancaster Arts Festival)] Chuck Berry 7:6
  68. 16 My Ding-a-Ling [1972/Live at Lanchester Arts Festival] Chuck Berry 4:22
  69. 17 Johnny B. Goode [Live Edit (1972 Lanchester Arts Festival)] Chuck Berry 3:13
  70. 18 A Deuce Chuck Berry 2:31
  71. 19 Woodpecker Chuck Berry 3:30
  72. 20 Bio Chuck Berry 4:22

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