Sunday, 19 April 2009

"The Chess Story - 1947 - 1975". A Review of the 15CD Universal Box Set.

You Can Get Less For More…And Should…

When this Chess label behemoth was released by Universal USA in 1999 - as you can imagine - it was something of an event. Remastered by tape maestro ERICK LABSON (over 800 credits to his name), it was housed in a hard card outer with three colour-coded wood-effect books inside and a further printed 70-page hardback beside them. It certainly looked the part.

Each book carried 5CDs - 15 in total - offering up 340 tracks dating from 1947 to 1975 across 13 audio discs - Disc 14 and 15 being an interview disc and a CD-Rom. Many were first time on CD and exclusive to this set. It was later broken down into 3 separate releases in 2001 offering a cheaper option. Ten years down the line into 2009, however, and time hasn't been to kind to either the original big box or the three reissues.

Each of the three 'books' has a crappy centred booklet at the top which lists the song and artist, but amazingly for a retrospective of this size, doesn't provide a catalogue number nor which personnel played on what. The 70-page hardback book is nice to look at, but again deceptively slight - it gives us a history of the label by Robert Pruter (of Chicago Soul magazine), a printed version of the interviews on Disc 14 (repeating itself) and a Chess R&B Charts list at the very end. While Pruter's story of Chess is very entertaining, and the music on Disc 1 to 13 simply sensational, precisely because of its cost, you still feel like you've been short changed.

I've reviewed all 3 boxes separately and provided track-by-track catalogue numbers, but reviewing the full box now - something occurs to me.

Good releases - especially between 2007 and 2009 - have made much of the box's exclusivity redundant and its price tag since deletion a bit of an expensive extravagance (300 to 400 sterling or 500 to 600.00 dollars). The now ludicrous cost of acquiring this set coupled with the less than stellar packaging makes me think that you must be able to get better elsewhere. So I set about a trawl to find alternatives and have come up with the following list, which will provide fans with 90% of what's on this 15CD box while throwing in a good 20% more - and all of it for less than half the money...

All of the following are remastered by the best labels and have superb and detailed liner notes:

1. The Very Best Of - FONTELLA BASS (2006 CD, 25 Tracks)
2. Gold - CHUCK BERRY (2005, 2CDs, 50 Tracks, Remasters)
3. Standing Ovation - The Very Best Of - THE DELLS
(2007, 2CDs, 39 Tracks, Remasters)
4. Go Go Power - Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966 -SUGAR PIE DeSANTO
(2009 CD, 26 Tracks)
5. Gold - BO DIDDLEY (2008, 2CDs, 41 Tracks, Remasters)
6. Gold - JOHN LEE HOOKER (2007, 2CDs, 35 Tracks, Hip-O Select Remasters)
7. The Real Folk Blues/More Folk Blues - HOWLIN' WOLF
(2003, 2LP on 1CD, 24 Tracks, US Hip-O Select)
8. Gold - ETTA JAMES (2007, 2CDs, 36 Tracks - Hip-O Select Remasters)
9. The Chess Collection - LAURA LEE (2006 CD, 20 Tracks)
10. Hoochie Coochie Man - Complete Chess Masters Vol.2 - MUDDY WATERS
(2004, 2CD Hip-O Select Book set, 51 Tracks)
11. The Real Folk Blues/More Folk Blues - MUDDY WATERS
(US Hip-O Select)
12. Fathers & Sons - MUDDY WATERS (2001, 2LP set on 1 CD with bonus tracks)
13. The Real Folk Blues/More Folk Blues - SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON
(2003, 2LPs on 1CD, US Hip-O Select)
14. Chess Uptown Soul - VARIOUS (1997, 24 Tracks, UK Kent Compilation)
15. Chess Club Rhythm & Soul - VARIOUS
(1996, 25 Tracks, UK Kent Compilation)
16. Chicago Radio Soul - VARIOUS
(1996, 26 Tracks, Chess Labels, UK Kent Compilation)
17. Chess Chartbusters Vol. 1 to 6 - VARIOUS
(UK Budget-Priced 20 Track Compilations, 120 songs in total)
18. Chess Tearjerkers - VARIOUS (UK Mojo Comp 20 Tracks)
19. Chess Soul Sisters - VARIOUS (UK Mojo Comp, 20 Tracks)
20. Chess Northern Soul - VARIOUS (UK Mojo Comp, 20 Tracks)
21. Chess Blues - VARIOUS (1993, 4CD Box Set, 101 Tracks)
22. Just Keep On Dancing - Chess Northern Soul - VARIOUS
(1996, 24 Tracks, UK Kent Compilation)

There are over 500 tracks on 1 to 22 above and the cost is about £150 including P&P. Universal can't of course be held responsible for retailers trying to chance £350 on a deleted and desirable rarity, but punters should know that the same material - and better - is available elsewhere - and for a fraction of the cost.

Like Atlantic and Motown, Chess is a label worth taking that time and effort for.

1 comment:

Clint's archive said...

Hi, very good point. You must forgive me, but as a cd and record buying, I aquired this set by 'other means' (times have been tough of late) but I have a massive collection of CDs, which I have always brought in the past and in better times. At least this way I could give it a listen, with the hope of perhaps buying it later. But as I said, you have made a very good point and will certainly consider this option. Great site! Have a feeling I will be sticking around. BTW, I used to love shopping in my home town of London, used to love Dean Street etc.

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