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In October of 2006 Chuck Berry will be 80 years old. Of the founders of rock `n' roll, he is today the one whose honor and esteem is most out of whack with his actual contributions. By any standards, Chuck Berry is one of the founding titans of rock. Musically, he contributed more than any other of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Elvis put rock `n' roll on the map, but Chuck is the one who drew it. Before Bob Dylan and the rash of great rock `n' roll song writers to spring up in the wake of Beatlemania, Chuck Berry was hands down the finest rock songwriter, with the lone exception of his equal Buddy Holly. It is only a slight over implication to state that most rock since Berry has been a variant of his original adaptation of rhythm and blues. And lyrically Berry was the most gifted lyricist before the advent of Bob Dylan. Of all the rock and roll performers, Berry was the easiest to understand when he sang, precisely pronouncing every word and for a very good reason: they were good words. Indeed, his diction was so superb that his earliest listeners refused to believe that he was a black man; they were convinced he was white. Chuck Berry has long been criticized for his lack of involvement in the Civil Rights movement and for reinforcing some negative images of black males, but by presenting himself as an undeniably intelligent and gifted black at a time when many whites were denying that blacks were as intelligent was itself an important contribution. Besides, working as a black crossover artist he was sometimes able to get his own back by subtle messaging. We all know, for instance, that in "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" he wasn't really talking about eye color. My hope is that for his birthday Berry will be recognized for what he was: the equal of anyone in making rock the popular musical form it became.

Apart from Berry's musical contributions, which were formidable, he brought a sense of playful theatricality that was key in defining early on that rock `n' roll, whatever else it was, was fun. Many of the early rock `n' rollers were great, great showmen in a way that few today aspire to be. Most contemporary performers rely on light shows, gimmicks, and props for their shows, but several early performers were precisely that: performers. To this day few guitarists have been as much fun to watch as Berry, not just during his legendary duck walks, but in a myriad of minor antics onstage.

But most of all, Chuck Berry has established a legacy of great, great songs. Most people know that the lone rock `n' roll song put on Voyager's data disc for any extraterrestrial who happens upon it was none other than Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." Perhaps one day it will be as big a hit in Alpha Centauri as it has been on earth. What many today may not know is just how much very great music he produced. In fact, his string of hits outstrips nearly any of his contemporaries other than Elvis. His notorious stint in prison probably kept him from charting a few more hits (that he transported an underage girl across state lines is undeniable, but it is hard today to realize how vigorously he was prosecuted by St. Louis authorities and he certainly seems innocent of incitation to prostitution charges), but he eventually recovered from his ordeal to generate a second run of hits in the sixties.

Luckily, though in my and others' opinion Berry is not today given the credit he deserves for his major role in creating rock `n' roll, he has been exceedingly well served by a host of absolutely first rate anthologies. What I would like to do here is map out the five Chuck Berry collections I would most recommend. Each has its virtues and none any vices and it would be very hard to go wrong with any of them. I do think a couple of choices are better than others. Here are the main Chuck Berry collections available today:

CHESS BOX--If price is no consideration and you want almost all of the great music that Chuck Berry, this is unquestionably the one to get. The 3-CD set collects over 70 songs and has every one of the songs that the vast majority of music fans will have heard, all the way to his Christmas hit "Run Rudolph Run." There are a few cuts that are less than essential, but no current collection gives such a great view of his work as a whole, except for the complete collection of his Chess work, but in my opinion it collects too much that is of at most secondary interest.

ANTHOLOGY--Chess released this superb 2-CD culling from the larger CHESS BOX. Though less than half the price of the box, it collects over two-thirds of the songs, though without the Christmas songs that I frankly find endearing. But if you are willing to live without "Run Rudolph Run," this has just about all the Chuck Berry that most fans could crave.

GOLD--This is the big bargain of Chuck Berry anthologies. It contains all the major hits and familiar songs--though, again, without "Run Rudolph Run," which for some reason is omitted from almost all hits collections--and several nice extras as well. Though its 50 songs are slightly different than the one from the ANTHOLOGY, the heart of both collections is the same. If you don't own any Chuck Berry and are not sure that you want to spring the bucks for the CHESS BOX, this is probably the safest best. Lots of Chuck Berry for not very much money.

THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION--Well, no, this isn't definitive, but this newest Chuck Berry is arguably the finest single-disc edition. But here is the problem: The GOLD collection is only a buck more and contains 20 more songs. Plus, one of the 30 songs on this disc is the dreadful gimmick song "My Ding-A-Ling," a slightly ribald and not very good song that was Berry's last hit in the early seventies. My own belief is that shorter anthologies are improved by its exclusion.

THE GREAT TWENTY-EIGHT--This is back in print after being unavailable for a long time. Unlike THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION, this is pretty much definitive. Most anthologies basically take the songs off this disc and then add to it. It is canonical in a way that none of the other discs is. Nonetheless, while I think it deserves five stars simply for the role it has played in introducing fans to Berry and for its historical importance, I think it has been surpassed by other collections. Also, the sound on the later discs is better than what you will find on this disc. (Caveat: I own an earlier version of this disc, and it is not impossible that on its re-release the remastered versions of the recordings have been utilized.) Still, for a long, long time this was the Chuck Berry disc to get.

So, if I were buying my first Chuck Berry disc and couldn't afford the CHESS BOX, which one would I go for? I would probably go with the GOLD collection. It is cheap, contains a heap of songs, and has decent sound quality. Then, if I were sufficiently moved to the point where I wanted more, I would go for the CHESS BOX. That really is the best one to get, but there are some really inexpensive compromises that one can make and still get a lot of music by one of the towering figures in rock `n' roll.
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on July 8, 2006
The "Box Set", "Anthology", "Great 28"....I've got most of them. So, when I picked this up for the car cd player I was not expecting much, especially with the word "remastered" added to the title. Boy was I wrong. What hit me hardest about this collection is the clarity of Berry's guitar. The tone & "reverb" seem more full & upfront than other Berry collections. Also a few other sonic improvements: it seems Johnny Johnson's keyboards are a bit clearer than other releases, Berry's vocals seem a bit brighter with more range & tone, & finally 30 tracks (everyone of them a winner). Not much can be added to Berry's legacy that hasn't been said already. The songs are classics and the foundation of rock & roll. The question here is which collection or best of release to purchase.
While other multi-disc collections may be a bit more in depth, this one is a sure fire winner if you only have the cash for one disc. "Definitive Collection" has the exact same tracks as "The Great 28" but adds two great songs "Promise Land" and "My Ding-A-Ling" making it the single disc compilation of choice. No way you can go wrong with this one.
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on April 22, 2006
Since The Great Twenty-Eight went out of print, there have been several Chuck Berry compilations. For huge fans, the Chess Box Set is the one to get. For intermediate fans, Anthology or Gold (they are the same set, buy the cheaper one) will be great, both having 50 great songs. For the basic fan or casual listener, the 20th Century Masters- The Millennium Collection, an 11 song compilation, will probably do. There are also 2 supplementary sets released by Chess, which you should avoid unless for some reason you only want one half of Chuck Berry career to listen to. These two CDs have only 40 songs, so get Gold or Anthology instead. This set makes it easy for the casual or intermediate fan to get all the great Chuck Berry songs on one disc. If you want one Chuck Berry disc, get this one.
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on December 29, 2006
Chuck Berry is quite possilby the most important artist in rock and roll. Most people may credit Elvis Presley with that title, and while he is worthy, Chuck is far more worthy. Without Chuck, there'd probably no Elvis. Or Jerry Lee Lewis. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, even Bob Dylan - none of them probably would've came into focus. Each of the artists listed was influenced by Chuck Berry in one way or another. John Lennon himself perhaps put it best: "If you were to give rock and roll another name, it would be Chuck Berry".

As with all influential artists in rock and roll, Chuck Berry has anthologized an almost obscene number of times. However, as with all artists, only a few of his collections are worth getting. And for those just getting into Chuck Berry, there is no better place to start than "The Definiitve Collection".

This 30 song, single disc collection contains all the ideal Berry classics for the casual fans: "Maybellene", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", "School Day", "Rock And Roll Music", "Sweet Little Sixteen", the timeless "Johnny B. Goode", "Little Queenie" and a host of others are all here, all in chronological orders, all digitally remastered and sounding better than ever. The sound quality alone is enough to get even the most avid Berry fan to add yet another compilation to their collection.

The liner notes by Bud Scoppa do an excellent job at empahsizing Berry's impact on the music world, and the packaging as a whole is quite excellent. If you're just beginning the music of Rock's Prime Minister, than this cd is a must have.
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on March 16, 2013
The sheer joy of this music has never been equaled in the history of rock 'n roll. To say that Chuck was one of a kind is an understatement. It's hard to imagine what rock 'n roll would have been like if he hadn't come along.
Unfortunately this release lacks some of the great Chuck Berry hits like Bye Bye Johnny and Back in the USA. To get all the essential Chuck songs you need to buy the Chuck Berry Gold package. It's only a few dollars more but with lots more great songs.
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VINE VOICEon February 15, 2008
"Chuck Berry: The Definitive Collection," (Chess, 2005) actually is one of the best, most inclusive of the numerous compilations of the great early guitar hero/rocker's work. It gives us 30 songs, including most of the big hits, going way back to the seminal mid 1950's, when they were new, and so was rock and roll, and Berry was helping to make it. "Maybelline," his first hit, for the Chicago studio Chess, reached #5 on the Billboard Pop chart in the summer of 1955, months before Elvis Presley signed with RCA Records. "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," followed in spring, 1956.

Somewhat embarrassing admission: I was a suburban New York high schooler then, and there was the piano in the living room. One day, Dave Goddard, a friend from Valley Stream Central High School, who'd had his very own rock and roll hit with his group "The Aquatones," was over visiting. Mom found out he could play, and begged him: he sat down and asked, "Mozart or Beethoven?" "Oh, Beethoven," she said. "Roll Over Beethoven" came booming out; it was the greatest moment of my teen-aged life. (By the way, Goddard can still play a mean "Roll Over Beethoven;" I've got it in "My Music".)

Well, shortly after that, Chuck Berry got himself into trouble, serving 20 months in prison for violating the federal Mann Act, supposedly taking a young girl across state lines for immoral purposes. The man did write "Sweet Little Sixteen,""Schoolday," and "Sweet Little Rock & Roller," after all, not to mention, "Almost Grown."

Be that as it may, Berry still tours, I believe: I caught him a few years ago, in New York. He was a long way from high school, but he still had that swaggering duck walk. Can't personally vouch for the truth of it, but the professional musician with whom I caught that show said that, almost unique among touring performers, Berry didn't carry a band with him. All he had to do in any city was walk into the local musicians' union hiring hall, and say, "I'm Chuck Berry and I play Chuck Berry, any questions?" There never were any. How could there be?
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on November 28, 2015
The look he's givin' you on the cover says it all. Chuck is the ringmaster, the baddest man alive, THE Devil's Son in Law. Slick, fast, urbane, profane and truly the poet laureate of RocknRoll. He didn't invent it but his claim is as good as anyone else's. His records were the lexicon, the bible, this is the teat they all sucked from, black, white, English, American... he was the one you learned from the Sith Lord you followed. And Lord could he play that f****n' guitar! He's still around, heaven won't have em and the devils skurd he'll kick him out. Black snake basterd! All hail the true King of Rock and Roll!

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on March 17, 2007
I saw Dennis Miller on "The Tonight Show" one time and he said, "what planet are Brando and the Beatles from and why can't we find it?" I feel the same way about Chuck Berry. I guess it would be hard to explain to a Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears fan, but if you are a fan of good ol' rootsy, r&b influenced rock n' roll, you know in your soul that Chuck Berry is the savant.

How can a guy come up with those riffs? Those simple, yet poetic lyrics? One of his rivals was the output of the Brill Building writers, but that was a group of enlightened kids (influenced by Berry, among others) feeding off of each others energy and ideas. Maybe the closest "rival" was Buddy Holly. Here is a poor guy from St. Louis who even pushed Presley, not to mention how he (along with Holly) inspired the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Bottom line: great sound, finally a great single disc overview of one of the greatest musical minds since 1950 and certainly one of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" if you are looking for the genesis of rock n'roll.
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on May 26, 2015
I wanted to get a good combo of Chuck Berry's songs for my own, so after reviewing many albums and their reviews, I settled for this Definitive Collection as it contains all I wanted of his stuff all in one unit. The records are reproduced with great quality and sounds. This is a must buy and a good keeper for any collection. Chuck Berry at his best.
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on June 28, 2012
I agree with the other reviews in that this CD replaces The Great 28, because it has basically the same song selection with some added tracks. The Promised Land is a great addition. The only one left out from the 28 album is Bye Bye Johnny, which was always my least liked song from that album so honestly I don't miss it on the Definitive Collection. My only gripe with this CD is the lack of sound quality on some tracks, and I think that's due to degradation on the master tapes from "remastering" Chuck's Chess recordings so many times. By far the most obvious master tape damage can be heard after the guitar solo in Maybellene. It sounds like the tape was badly stretched for several seconds. This is not evident on The Great 28 album (not on my LP copy, CH 8201. I haven't listened to my cassette copy for a long time but my guess is it's not there either). I prefer to blast Chuck's music loud on vinyl but this CD is great for the car. Hopefully the Chess master tapes can last many more years to come, but at this rate it isn't looking good.
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