Tuesday, 9 September 2008

"After School Session" by CHUCK BERRY (2004 Geffen/Chess 'ROCK 'N' ROLL 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION' CD Remaster with Bonus Tracks) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Roll Over Beethoven..."

This 2004 USA-Only Universal CD is part of their "Rock 'n' Roll 50th Anniversary Edition" Reissue Series (see list below) and gives us all 12-tracks of Chuck Berry's much-loved debut album on Chess Records. This mighty start was released in the USA in May of 1957 on Chess LP 1426 in Mono - when we here in Blighty had to wait until November 1958 for an album debut in the shape of "One Dozen Berrys" on Chess HA 2132.

"After School Session" was like a lot of albums in those early pioneering days of Rock 'n' Roll - a cluster of market-tested seven-inch singles (A's and B's) with some new tracks thrown in to tempt fans and newcomers alike. All 12 tracks of the original MONO LP have been remastered for this new reissue - upgraded to their best-ever sound quality from the 1st generation master tapes by head Engineer ERICK LABSON of Universal. This man has handled hundreds of reissues and has remastered most of the vast Chess Records catalogue – so he knows his way around a reel or two. And a typically bang-up job has been done here. By way of extras – this Expanded Edition gives us three Bonus Tracks – singles issued around the release of the American LP. Here’s why Beethoven rolled over and the details you need to tell Tchaikovsky...

US released March 2004 – "After School Session: Rock 'n' Roll 50th Anniversary Edition" by CHUCK BERRY on Geffen/Chess B0001685-02 (Barcode 602498613504) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Three Bonus Tracks and pans out as follows (40:51 minutes):

1. School Day (Ring Ding Goes The Bell)
2. Deep Feeling
3. Too Much Monkey Business
4. Wee Wee Hours
5. Roly Poly
6. No Money Down
7. Brown Eyed Handsome Man [Side 2]
8. Berry Pickin'
9. Together (We'll Always Be)
10. Havana Moon
11. Down Bound Train
12. Drifting Heart

13. You Can't Catch Me
14. Thirty Days (To Come Back Home)
15. Maybelline

The exclusion of "Roll Over Beethoven" as a bonus track is a damn shame especially as there was ample room to include it. Still, with sequencing, the bonus tracks and album now allow you to line up and play both sides of his first six 7" singles on Chess as follows (excluding "Roll Over Beethoven" of course):

1. Maybellene b/w Wee Wee Hours (1955, Chess 1604)
2. Thirty Days (To Come Back Home) b/w Together (We'll Always Be) (1955, Chess 1610)
3. No Money Down b/w Down Bound Train (1956, Chess 1615)
4. Roll Over Beethoven b/w Drifting Heart (1956, Chess 1626)
5. Too Much Monkey Business b/w Brown Eyed Handsome Man (1956, Chess 1635)
6. You Can't Catch Me b/w Havana Moon (1956, Chess 1645)

The booklet exactly reproduces its famous front sleeve on Page 1 with its rear sleeve on the last page of the inlay - a nice touch. In between is a new essay on the album by ANDY McKAIE with the original liner notes also reproduced on Page 9, sessions details etc

The house band for most cuts reads like a roll call of Rhythm 'n' Blues giants - JOHNNIE JOHNSON on Piano, WILLIE DIXON on Bass with FRED BELOW and EBBY HARDY alternating on Drums. OTIS SPANN contributed piano work on "Roly Poly", "No Money Down", "Berry Pickin'" and "You Can't Catch Me". JIMMY ROGERS played chugging-on-the- train-tracks guitar on "Down Bound Train" and there are three instrumentals on the album - "Deep Feeling", "Roly Poly" and "Berry Pickin'".

With regard to the MONO Audio - it should be noted that even with an ERICK LABSON Remaster this notoriously lo-fi album is not exactly an audiophile's wet dream. Produced in Chicago - Leonard and Phil Chess laid down these tracks rough and ready - done live in the studio and proceedings were more about ‘feel' than precision.

What is wonderful though is to hear these songs again in their original inspiring form and realise what an astonishing influence for good Chuck Berry and his music has been. When you think of every garage band, every bedroom poser, every guitar maestro on the planet and how they all cut their teeth on Chuck Berry songs at some point in their careers - his influence has been little short of World changing. The brevity, the wit and the cleverness of the lyrics - the infectiousness of the beat - its all here. Take "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" for instance - utterly irresistible - 52 years on and its being blasted out through speaker stacks in some dime pub somewhere - still bringing a smile to punter’s faces – hitting that dancefloor - unable to help themselves...

Rough around the edges for sure – but Chuck Berry's debut album "After School Session" is a fantastic listen - and this - an important and timely reissue. Start your journey to the dark side here children - and remember - best not tell your parents the reason for said joy - ROCK 'N' ROLL!!

PS: A few words on the "ROCK 'N' ROLL 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION" Series in general:
It should also be noted that this issue is part of the above named series issued in 2004 by Universal. 'Rock 'N' Roll 50th Anniversary Edition' is a secondary series title and is displayed vertically on the side inlay beneath the see-through tray of each release, but unfortunately, if you try to search the Amazon database for ANY titles under this moniker, it doesn't recognize the 'name' at all.

For those interested in a visual, I've placed a full list of all seven titles in LISTMANIA called "Rock 'N' Roll 50th Anniversary Edition Series". The other six titles are - all Reviewed:

1.  "Buddy Holly" by BUDDY HOLLY (1958 1st solo LP on Coral)
2.  "Rock Around The Clock" by BILL HALEY & HIS COMETS (Ground-breaking 1955 LP on Decca)
3.  "The Chirping Crickets" by THE CRICKETS (their 1957 Coral Records debut LP featuring BUDDY HOLLY)
4.  "St. Louis To Liverpool" by CHUCK BERRY (1964 STEREO LP on Chess)
5.  "Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger" by BO DIDDLEY (1960 STEREO Chess LP)
6.  "Rock, Rock, Rock! - Original Soundtrack" by VARIOUS (Chuck Berry, The Flamingos and The Moonglows) (1956 Chess Records 1st Rock'n'Roll Movie Soundtrack LP)

I bought all 7 of these titles and I can't recommend them enough - each album remastered to superb sound quality, colour artwork lovingly restored and each bolstered up with 3 or 4 relevant single releases from the time (some previously unreleased). Fans of Haley, Holly, The Crickets, Berry, Diddley and Rock 'n' Roll in general should quickly acquire all of these exemplary CDs. They make for the best basis of a collection in a minefield of lesser compilations...

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