A pivotal catalyst in the formation of rock & roll, Chuck Berry welded beat poet lyrics to revved up blues riffs, and with his easy knack for spinning believable and universal narratives in his songs, all of which seemed to feature cars and motion, he was a musical treasure long before anyone really realized it. He sketched out a new kind of American music in the mid-'50s, and then almost single-handedly put the electric guitar at the center of it all. This set combines his first two LPs for Chess Records, 1957's After School Session
(featuring Otis Spann
on piano, Willie Dixon on bass, and Jimmy Rogers
on guitar) and 1958's One Dozen Berrys
(with Dixon on bass and Hubert Sumlin
on guitar), on two CDs and adds in bonus tracks for each session. The result is some vintage Chuck Berry doing what Chuck Berry does on gems like "Too Much Monkey Business," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Maybellene," the spooky "Downbound Train," and the calypso-tinged "Havana Moon." This set doesn't really make for the "best" of Chuck Berry, though, in spite of the new title, since it lacks some key songs like the brilliant "No Particular Place to Go," the fluid and just slightly eerie "You Never Can Tell," and "Promised Land," but it still paints a nice portrait of the early Berry.