Chuck Berry

Reelin' and Rockin': The Very Best of Chuck Berry

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This European compilation is the longest double-CD set collection of the highlights of Chuck Berry's recording career yet released, containing 56 tracks in more than two-and-half-hours of music, which makes it more extensive than its American counterpart, the 50-track 2000 release The Anthology (reissued in 2005 under the title Gold). There isn't a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes Berry's best -- the two albums share 43 of the same recordings, with only seven tracks appearing on The Anthology that are not on Reelin' and Rockin', while 13 of those on the European release are not on the U.S. one, and the disagreements are over relatively minor songs. One major reason that American consumers might prefer The Anthology or Gold over Reelin' and Rockin' is price; Gold is discount-priced, while Reelin' and Rockin' is a pricey import. Another reason, however, concerns sequencing. The American release is chronologically sequenced, which is a good way to present Berry's music, not only to show his musical development, but also because recording technology changes over the period of his recording career. In contrast, compiler Peter Doggett writes of Reelin' and Rockin' in his liner notes, "Unlike previous anthologies, it's been sequenced for listening pleasure rather than as a chronological history lesson." One may ponder what on earth that's supposed to mean, but it may be that Doggett was concerned, especially because his collection contained a lot of minor material, that there might be a sense of declining quality as the set went on if he sequenced it chronologically, as Berry began to repeat himself on later records. In fact, a subjectively chosen sequence does nothing to obviate such a problem; it just mixes up the great stuff with the merely good. And, contrary to "listening pleasure," it also creates an album in which mono and stereo tracks are interspersed oddly. Strangely enough, after making a point of not using a chronological sequence as a compiler, Doggett the annotator then proceeds to slavishly follow Berry's recording sessions in chronological order in his essay. As the listener reads, there is a natural desire to want to hear the music in the order that it's being described. Instead, the last recorded track to be included, "Bio" (1973), turns up fifth on the first disc, followed immediately by the first recorded track, "Maybellene" (1955). If that's listening pleasure, it is pleasure of a somewhat perverse sort. Nevertheless, no double-disc Berry compilation is as packed as this one.

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