Chuck Berry

His Best, Vol. 1

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Strictly focusing on his single tracks in a chronological manner, this first of two volumes in MCA's Chess 50th Anniversary collection hits all the high spots of Chuck Berry's career up to 1958. It also serves as the first compilation to really showcase his development as a songwriter over the first three years of his massive crossover success, including the seldom-anthologized "Downbound Train" (perhaps the darkest and most demonic ditty he ever recorded) juxtaposed against his car songs ("Maybellene," "You Can't Catch Me"), his calculated and carefully crafted instant classics for the 1950s teenage market ("Reelin' and Rockin'," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "School Day"), and his celebrations of the music itself ("Rock and Roll Music," "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven"). There's a ton of great music here (with a second companion volume to complete the picture), and for a big chunk of what makes Berry perhaps rock & roll's original triple-threat package (singer, songwriter, and guitar hero), there's much here to tip the scales in its favor to recommend this volume as a first-time purchase.

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