Friday, February 12, 2010

Chuck Berry's Missing Album: Got it and Gone!

One of the problems with Chuck Berry albums is that they tend to be a hodgepodge. In the early days, when the backup musicians were all Chess stalwarts, that didn’t make a big difference. But later it did. San Francisco Dues had a couple of older songs thrown in that didn’t quite fit. Bio had music from two different bands—a group of local St. Louis musicians, and musicians from Elephant’s Memory.

Now that I’ve heard what was actually recorded (on the wonderful "Have Mercy" package), I would love to step back in time and fix a few things—starting after The London Sessions.

Instead of mixing and matching on Bio, I would have issued an interim album between London Sessions and Bio. It would have been a bit of a mish-mash—but I think it would have been a game changer of sorts. The list? 

(Side One) (Remember, this was going to be an LP)

Got it and Gone
Annie Lou*
Me and My Country*
South of the Border (live)*
Sue Answer

(Side Two)

Roll ‘em Pete (live single edit)
Blues #1*
A Deuce

(The songs with an * were never released until now.)

This would have been a good follow-up to London Sessions.

For people who first learned of Chuck Berry from that half live album, there’s one half-live song—“Roll ‘em Pete.”

For people who liked the sexy humor of “Ding-a-Ling” and “Reelin’,” there’s a funny, live version of “South of the Border.”

For people who want to hear Chuck Berry do something completely different, there’s the solo version of “Annie Lou.” As I’ve said, I think this finger-picked Chuck Berry blues would have expanded the conception of who and what Chuck Berry is. 

For grown-ups generally—“Blues # 1,” a dynamite instrumental with two keyboards that both duel and complement each other. I’d love to know who’s playing. My guess is that it isn’t Johnnie Johnson on the acoustic—there are none of his frilly rills. And the electric piano is biting. Is this Baldori and Leake teaming up again? Who knows—but it’s good enough that Chuck Berry spends most of the cut happily playing sideman.

My album would have put “A Deuce” with the songs it was recorded with, instead of squeezing it onto a much later album. It would have a good rocker in “Got it and Gone.” It would have the funny “Sue Answer.” And it would have the interesting “Me and My Country.”

Only Chuck Berry knows exactly what this song is about. It almost sounds like the song he wrote to tell the world he was about to start cheating on his taxes! (He doesn’t want to buy, beg or steal, but he’ll do what he has to to give her what she wants). But it starts out absolutely nailing it with the lines:

I love my country
Its aims and intent
I believe in the system
As they have it in print

That’s a pretty profound line, since it’s easier to believe in the U.S. Constitution as written than the way we often abuse it.

Anyway—it’s close to being a really good song, and although I have a bit of trouble following its logic, it’s good enough, and interesting enough, that it should have come out. And the two blues DEFINITELY should have come out.

So there. And then, with Bio, you put on the two perfectly serviceable songs from the Elephant’s Memory sessions that were never realeased until now--"One Sixty Nine AM," and "Roll Away"-- and you have an album as cohesive as—Back Home.

Ah, but nobody asked me.  Which means I got to experience the pleasure of delay time.

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