Monday, June 18, 2007

No. 21: The Great Twenty-Eight

Band: Chuck Berry
Album: The Great Twenty-Eight
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Chuck Berry is as responsible for modern rock and roll as anyone and his early singles were covered by everyone in the early days of the form. When popular rock and roll music was in its infancy, Berry was one of the artists who popularized the art form. Everyone covered Berry's songs and continue to cover them today.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Being a modern music fan, one sees the similarity in a lot of the songs. Berry's formula was effective, but it was a formula nonetheless.
Best song: The first half of "The Great Twenty-Eight" is full of songs you already know. "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Too Much Monkey Business," "Rock & Roll Music" and the incomparable "Johnny B. Goode" litter the first 14 tracks.
Worst song: The second half falls off a little. Thankfully, "My Ding a Ling" isn't on here. That song is awful.
Is it awesome?: Awesome and influential. It probably should be higher.

The inherent problem with a list of greatest albums list is that a lot of early rock and roll artists were singles artists. The art of the album was mostly relegated to the jazz artists of the mid-century. Rock and roll relied on radio play and most DJs weren't exactly going to play the whole side of a record and teenagers didn't have the attention span for it.

So, for some of the most important and influential artists of early rock and roll, these greatest hits packages end up on Rolling Stone's list. This is why Elvis' "Sun Sessions" is no. 11 on the list. There isn't necessarily an Elvis record that rivals the import of his singles. Not even close.

Ditto Chuck Berry. The St. Louis rock and roller released tons of singles in the '50s, but "The Great Twenty-Eight" came out in 1983, almost thirty years after the singles came out. Released while Sugar Hill Records had bought the old Chess Records catalog (albeit briefly) and wanted to get these tracks on one double album, all of Berry's classic early singles litter "The Great Twenty-Eight."

It's hard to overestimate the influence Chuck Berry had on the early superstar rock and roll groups. The Rolling Stones covered Berry and, of course, a couple of the great early Beatles records are Berry covers ("Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock & Roll Music").

Chuck Berry created the template: Blues-based riffs done in double-time over C&W vocals. Sing about girls, school and cars. It is/was a wonderful formula and bands continue to follow it today. Without Chuck Berry, there are probably no Beatles, probably no Stones, probably no Yardbirds and certainly a totally different musical landscape.

1 comment:

bob_vinyl said...

I was going to make the very same point about greatest hits packages and early (pre-Beatles) artists. Generally, I don't think it's fair to include these albums, but the singles-era artists (and the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady) are the exception.

Now that iTunes, etc has turned popular music back into a singles game, I wonder how that will change these lists ten or twenty years from now? Will there even be best albums lists if albums are only limited runs for collectors like vinyl is now?