Chess Rhythm & Roll
In addition to being one of the world's premier blues imprints, Chicago-based Chess Records presented some of rock & roll's earliest participants. Chess Rhythm & Roll (1994) is a five-plus hour celebration of essential proto-rockers cut between 1947 and 1967. The four-CD assemblage is a companion to the Chess Blues (1992) box set and picks up during the label's formative days when their repertoire was expanding to a greater audience beyond the realm of R&B. Boasting a total of 99 selections, this collection far exceeds your average "oldies" package, charting the course from ensembles including the jumpin' and jivin' Five Blazes -- whose "Chicago Boogie" commences the festivities -- to the plethora of talent who fused their own unique performance styles to create the foundation of practically every note of popular music that followed. It goes without saying that prolific pioneers Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry have significant spin time. However, it is the attention given to lesser-known artists and "one-hit wonders" that makes the anthology required listening for enthusiasts of all stripes and respective tastes. While the track list tells the story completely and perhaps more succinctly, it only intimates the impact of platters such as Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88," Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know," Sugar Boy Crawford's "Jock-A-Mo," the Moonglows' "Sincerely," Clarence "Frogman" Henry's "Ain't Got No Home," Clifton Chenier's "The Big Wheel," Dale Hawkins' "Suzie-Q," the Monotones' "Book of Love," Tommy Tucker's "High Heel Sneakers" and scores of others found here. Before the artists made names for themselves on Atlantic Records, Chess likewise introduced listeners to Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice, who were bandmates in the Falcons ("This Heart of Mine"), not to mention future Motown superstars Smokey Robinson & the Miracles ("All I Want Is You") and the Four Tops ("Country Girl") -- all of whom got their start on Chess. Slipped in among the classics are no less than 39 rarities, 14 of which are debuted in this omnibus. The sonics are superior, as is the accompanying 64-page booklet, housing reams of photos as well as thorough credits and fact-filled song-by-song annotations. To call Chess Rhythm & Roll essential is an understatement by any measure of the word.