Chuck Berry's debut LP is fairly strong musically, as well as having a really cool cover (a still shot of Berry, guitar slung in front of him, from the movie Rock, Rock, Rock!). After School Session was just the second long-player ever issued by Chess -- only the soundtrack to the movie Rock, Rock, Rock! preceded it. This May 1957 release made Berry something of a late-bloomer among rock & roll's foundation performers -- he'd had his first recording session two years earlier, in May of 1955, and by the spring of 1957, Bill Haley already had a handful of LPs to his credit, Elvis Presley was gaining on him, and Clyde McPhatter's version of the Drifters was represented on album, with numerous others soon to join their ranks. Berry had actually enjoyed only two major pop (i.e. rock as opposed to R&B) chart hits at the time: "Maybellene" in the summer of 1955, and "Roll Over Beethoven," which had just made the Top 30 in the summer of 1956. It was "School Day," the lead-off track here, that heralded his successful 18-month assault on the Top 40, opening a string of hits that included "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," and "Carol," and resulted in the release of After School Session -- the title offers curious multiple meanings, incidentally, intended to attract Berry's teen audience in the most innocent of terms (in connection with the rock & roll cuts), but also subtly invoking more daring "extra-curricular" activity in its blues and ballads, and older, post-teen concerns. In those days, as a policy, Chess' rock & roll and blues LPs were comprised of previously existing single sides, and, thus, beyond the current single, the songs leap wildly across different sounds and styles -- impromptu blues ("Deep Feeling"), and dance ("Roly Poly," "Berry Pickin'"), instrumentals are interspersed with a trio of rock & roll jewels, "Too Much Monkey Business" and "No Money Down," with their accents on the joys and textures of teenage life, which somehow didn't catch on among mainstream listeners as singles, and the piercing, provocative "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," which showed how easily Berry could broach sensitive or provocative material if it were masked by a hot enough beat and loud enough guitar, bass, and drums; and we take detours into blues ("Wee Wee Hours," "Downbound Train"), ballads ("Together (We'll Always Be)," "Drifting Heart"), and even calypso music ("Havana Moon"). All of it was recorded in four separate sessions spread across almost two years; the rock & roll numbers and the guitar-driven instrumentals out-class most of the blues and ballads, but there's nothing here that could be classed as "filler," either -- a lot of British Invasion bands wore out copies of these same sides learning their basic repertory, and domestic roots rockers could have done worse than to listen to "Downbound Train" or "No Money Down."
Performance CreditsChuck Berry Primary Artist,Guitar,Steel Guitar,Vocals
Willie Dixon Bass
Johnnie Johnson Piano
Fred Below Drums
Jerome Green Maracas
Ebby Hardy Drums
Jimmy Rogers Guitar
Otis Spann Piano
Jasper Thomas Drums
Technical CreditsChuck Berry Composer
Leonard Chess Producer
Phil Chess Producer
Andy McKaie Reissue Producer,Reissue Liner Notes
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After School Session [Expanded] based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
While this wasn't recorded as a purpose-built album (what was in 1957?), it provides a terrific look at Berry's earliest recording sessions. The original issue sported 5 charting singles, and Geffen's digitally remastered 2004 edition adds three contemporaneously recorded tracks ("Thirty Days," "You Can't Catch Me," and "Maybelline"), each as good as the original dozen. The resulting collection captures nearly all of Berry's output from his first eighteen months as a recording artist. It's difficult to think of many other artists who recorded such classics and broke such new ground in as short a period of time, especially at the beginning of their recording career. ¶ Berry's guitar playing provides the soundtrack of rock 'n' roll being born with signature licks of "School Day" and "Maybelline," and the instrumental picking of "Deep Feeling" and "Roly Poly." Berry's guitar shouts with invention: partly blues, partly R&B, partly hillbilly, but all rock 'n' roll. Pianist Johnny Johnson provides texture, for barrelhouse blues like "Wee Wee Hours," and back-beat heavy instrumentals like "Berry Pickin." ¶ Beyond the obvious roots, Berry shows off broad musical taste that includes Calypso ("Havana Moon") and sophisticated Latin-ized ballads ("Drifting Heart"). Most impressive of all is Berry's lyrics, which move dialogue into rhyme with a fluidity (and vocabulary) unmatched by his contemporaries. The car and travel songs (e.g., "No Money Down" and "You Can't Catch Me") speak to dreams of freedom that were pitch-perfect for the Eisenhower era. ¶ If Berry's influences were the ground on which the house of rock 'n' roll was built, then the sides that comprise this album are the cornerstones of the foundation. ¶ 4-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings.