Chuck Berry's Golden Hits

by: Chuck Berry

Anyone spotting this album beware. It is not a compilation of hits, but consists of all-"new" (mid-'60s) recordings by Chuck Berry of his classic Chess hits for his then-new label, Mercury, with one new song added. The re-recordings wouldn't be a problem, except that Berry and whoever produced this record decided to update his sound, not only mixing it in stereo but also replacing the upright bass on the original hits with much flashier electric bass (played by Forrest Frierson) that screws up the solid rhythm section that's essential for any of this material to work. The addition of a saxophone, courtesy of Carey Enlow, is only a distraction on "Rock & Roll Music," and Berry's efforts at embellishing the lead guitar parts on "Memphis," "Maybellene" (where Johnnie Johnson makes the regrettable decision to play an organ), "Around and Around," and "Roll Over Beethoven" add nothing to the originals and are often downright annoying. "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" almost works in its more laid-back incarnation here, until the band seems to let the beat go completely for a moment. "School Days" also sort of works as a studio recording of the way he was doing it on-stage, and "Reelin' and Rockin'" is the one track that's 100-percent what it should be, dirtier than the Chess original and the one place where, stylistically, Berry transcends his original work. In one instance, "Back in the U.S.A.," he would have had another passable track but for his gratuitous addition of lots of unenthusiastic "yeah yeah yeah yeah"s between the verses. And based on nearly half the tracks here, one might also add that Berry even seems on this record to have lost any knack for knowing how to end a song. Finally, the one new composition, "Club Nitty Gritty," doesn't measure up to the least of the classics alongside which it appears, and whatever worth the album might've had is compromised by the stereo mastering, the excessively clean sound, and the echo that drenches Berry's voice. Except for the implicitly salacious "Reelin' and Rockin'" (which would sound dirty even if sung by a choir of nuns), nothing here approaches the in-your-face raunchiness of Berry's classic Chess sides. Golden Hits was a lousy inaugural effort for his new label. ~ Bruce Eder

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