Though one might argue that he, erm, pissed away his career, one cannot deny that Chuck Berry’s legacy in the history of rock and roll is secure. Like many early rock & roll artists, his career burned bright in the 1950s, faded but never disappeared in the 1960s, and would be revived in the 1970s. It’s instantly obvious when listening to this deluxe reissue of Berry’s debut album, After School Session, that Berry’s legacy is real: many of the twenty-two songs are now part of the 1950s canon, and what’s more, they’re prophetic of what would come in the 1960s. The Beatles performed many of these songs, and their take of “Rock and Roll Music” is a near-faithful reproduction of Berry’s version. Sometimes, the truth is unpleasant; “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” was unceremoniously plundered by the Beach Boys for their hit “Surfin’ USA.”
Like many artists of the era, Berry was a singles man, his best work being delivered via the format of jukebox and radio and hi-fi stereos. The bonus tracks here cover the singles contemporary with After School Session, with some of them being his most beloved hits: “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Maybellene, and “Rock and Roll Music” still shine bright, sixty years after their release. But don’t write off After School Session just yet; it is a surprisingly diverse record, and one that highlights Berry’s dynamic range. “Wee Wee Hours” and “Deep Feeling,” are deep, straightforward blues numbers; there’s a hint of doo-wop on “Together (We’ll Always Be),” while “Havana Moon” and “Berry Pickin’” find him blending calypso and Latin rhythms together. “Ring Ring Goes The Bell” and “Too Much Monkey Business” would become hits in their own right, classics that Berry still performs.
It’s not easy to disassociate Berry with his non-musical scandals, or the chronic theft of his melodies by later bands, and that’s a shame. This reissue shows that Berry was one hell of a performer in his prime, an artist versatile enough to master many different styles of music and blend them and mix them into a sound we now call rock and roll. Moreover, After School Session is simply a fun, potent album, one that burns with the eternal flame of the spirit of youth and rebellion.
After School Session is available now from Hoodoo Records
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