Chuck Berry was a lot of things. He was an astute businessman, for one. He was also a raw and kinetic electric guitarist who understood what rock & roll could be, and he understood that playing a show meant putting on a show, so he was well aware of its visual aspect as well. Most importantly, he had a poet’s soul, and he wrote the first of the genre’s great songs, the best of which capture a whole new world of cars, guitars, and motion that is an amazingly precise view of America. Songs like “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” “School Days,” and even the lusty “Sweet Little Sixteen” and the Christmas novelty “Run Rudolph Run” are concise, kinetic narratives that paint complete pictures over infectious and joyful shuffles laced with Berry’s crude but stinging guitar runs. And make no mistake -- he was a first-class songwriter. “Rock and Roll Music” is still the best song ever written about the enduring charms of the genre, while “Memphis, Tennessee” tells a complete story with appropriate emotional release points with all the skill of a first-class novelist. This delightful 24-track set has all the above songs in the original 1950s Chess versions, and while later Berry gems like “No Particular Place to Go” and “You Never Can Tell” from the 1960s aren’t included, it still provides an essential playlist, one that shows how much rock & roll forever owes to Chuck Berry. This is where it started.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett