CHUCK BERRY IS ON TOP, BUT YOU KNEW THAT
John Lennon famously said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” While some of Mr. Berry’s contemporaries most likely took umbrage with the comment, there is no getting around that the mind-bogglingly deep catalog of cuts contains some of the most recognizable and enduring music of the time.
While his 1955 debut album, “After School Session,” is no slouch in the classics department, Chuck’s third long player is stuffed with so many hits that, from a distance of 62 years, it’s forgivable if the LP is mistaken for a mini anthology. Released in 1957, the only weak point on “Chuck Berry is on Top” is its half-hearted pun-of-a-title. Move past the cover to the platter, however, and discover 12 tracks that represent the roots of rock & roll in sub-three-minute chunks of essential listening.
With a backing band that featured Chuck’s peers, including Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Johnnie Johnson, and the Moonglows on background vocals, this album is a testament to the excitement of the music pouring out of jukeboxes and car radios across the globe. Eleven of the 12 tracks appeared on singles long before Chuck was ready for a career recap. While “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven” rank as the most recognizable songs on the album, they are far from the only familiar names.
“…Session” receives the audiophile update from time to time, so it’s worth scouting out a copy sites and at events that cater to like-minded audio obsessives. But even if you have an original or, heaven help you, a third-generation CD copy circa 1987, there’s no escaping the power of a young Chuck Berry proving himself at a time when popular music was experiencing an accelerated growth period. Rock & roll may have evolved severalfold in the intervening years, but it never sounds better than a Chuck Berry original.