Chuck Berry

Rock & Roll Anthology

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It's most certainly an unauthorized compilation despite the presence of a prominent bar code on the back cover, but Rock & Roll Anthology does collect an astonishing quantity of Chuck Berry footage from the mid-'50s to the mid-'80s, lasting just under three hours. Before you get too excited, it has to be emphasized that the image quality and transfer, while decent in most respects, is erratic and, more crucially, always has the slightly jerky motion typical of files downloaded from the Internet. Taking the attitude that seeing this in almost 100-percent of the quality it should boast is better than not seeing it at all; there is certainly a lot of interesting and occasionally historic footage on the DVD. A bunch of clips catch Berry in his '50s prime, though most of these are lip-sync jobs from quickie rock & roll exploitation movies and TV shows, the only genuinely live bit being his performance of "Sweet Little Sixteen" (with an ill-fitting clarinetist in the band) at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. A bunch of mimed mid- to late-'60s TV clips follow, in turn followed by some 1973-1975 film and TV sequences (including a particularly bizarre medley of "Mr. Bojangles"/"The Good Ship Lollipop" from Donny & Marie with a Shirley Temple-like girl singer). As if that's not strange enough, Berry also duets with Tom Jones on "School Days" in another clip from the period. Almost the entire second half of the disc is devoted to undated clips, mostly from the 1970s and mostly from European TV, including a British television interview shortly after the publication of his autobiography in the late 1980s.

There are a lot of good performances here; though obviously artificial, the lip-synced clips from the '50s movies are still electrifying in their display of Berry in his most gymnastic on-stage glory. And though his later shows were often criticized for his use of inadequate backup bands, it must be said that on most of the '70s material, he sings and plays well, never looking less than fully engaged, and usually enjoying sufficient musical backup. You do have to be a big Berry band to see so much of him in one go, as he plays his signature tunes over and over again -- there are a half-dozen versions of "Johnny B. Goode" alone. Even so, there are some nice lesser-known classics and odd tunes thrown in, going all the way back to his rendition of "Oh Baby Doll" in the 1957 film Mr. Rock & Roll. Certainly it's fortunate the camera caught him doing the obscure B-side "Wee Wee Hours" on piano on German TV, for instance; also interesting is a rousing "Roll 'Em Pete" on Soul Train, though the '70s versions of "Reelin' & Rockin'" with updated obscenely suggestive lyrics aren't as fun. But while you marvel at such an abundance of visual documentation of a giant who was both a great musician and a great showman, you're also frustrated at how much better this could be would only a legitimate company take the care to present it with the care it so richly deserves.