[This is a minor correction to the October 2011 rewrite of a blog article originally posted on September 7th, 2011. Additional research revealed more facts and corrected some factual errors in the original post.]
In July 
I had to correct some common knowledge about Johnny B. Goode
. Based on findings by Josep RullĂł of Barcelona/Spain we learned that there were some errors with the so-called "complete" release of Berry's 1950s Chess recordings on HIP-O-Select's 4-CD-set Johnny B. Goode (HIP-O-Select B0009473-02)
Josep had another comment:
Sweet Little Sixteen â€“ There's a lot of takes of this song in the Hip-O-Select set, but I think the one first released on the â€śAmerica's Hottest Waxâ€ť LP is not there. I haven't heard that album for ages, but I seem to recall it had a false start (guitar intro only) and a complete take, wherein Chuck mixes the lyrics of the last verse with the lyrics from the first verse, and ends with â€śback in school againâ€ť. This line is not heard on any of the five (well, really four) takes used on the Hip-O CD set.
Josep's email started a long discussion about the various versions of Sweet Little Sixteen
which can be found on the 4-CD set. And more importantly with the help of Morten Reff and Fred Rothwell we discussed in detail which versions can NOT be found on the 4-CD set.
The first part of Josep's comment was quite easy to solve. Just like with Johnny B. Goode take 2
the engineers at Universal clipped off the false starts when mastering the 2008 CD set. This happened to both the demo version (track 5 on CD2) and the previously unknown alternate take 11 (track 7 on CD 2). To listen to these false starts (and some studio chatter with the demo) you need to go back to records and CDs published in the 1980s.
The second part of Josep's comment lead into some more detailed discussions about the lyrics Berry sings because musically the multiple takes are very similar. Here's Josep again:
There are several lyrical differences between the available takes, but the most prominent one is in verses 1, 4, 5 and 7. On the master, Chuck sings â€śBoston, Pittsburgh, PAâ€ť in verses 1 and 7, and â€śBandstand, Philadelphia, PAâ€ť in verses 4 and 5. Taking this as a starting point, you can find several variations. On the demo, take 3 and take 11, he even sings â€śBandstand, Pittsburgh, PAâ€ť on verse 5, which is wrong not only lyrically, but also geographically !!. Of course, I think Chuck knew the lyrics perfectly, and in most of those takes he was merely trying to get the band together without paying much attention to the words, but this is useful to us today in order to tell one from the other.
By "master" Josep refers to the variant which finally made it to Chess single 1683 released January 1958. Given these lyrical variations one can differentiate between the four variants on the HIP-O-Select box easily:
- CD 2, track 5 - the "demo" version with Lafayette Leake on piano. Berry sings about Boston in verses 1 and 7, and about Bandstand in verses 4 and 5, but has the Bandstand mis-placed to Pittsburgh in verse 5.
- not on the set - the "demo" version complete with false start, studio talk and an extra guitar note at the end. This was first released on the bootleg LP "America's Hottest Wax" (Reelin' 001, 1979). The first legal release was on a German budget album called "The Giant's [sic] of Rock'n Roll" (K-tel TG 1367) in 1982, though less the false start. In full it appeared on Chess CXMP 2011 "Chess Masters" in March 1983 and Chess LP 9190 "More Rock'n'Roll Rarities" in August 1986. Note that for some reason the HIP-O-Select box only tells the original US releases.
- CD 2, track 6 - take 3 of the second recording session, the one which leads to the final recording and has Johnny Johnson on piano. This was unreleased until 2008 when it made it to the HIP-O set. Here Berry sings "Boston" in verses 1, 4, and 7, while the only "Bandstand" in verse 5 is mis-placed to Pittsburgh again. The recording ends with some studio talk.
- CD 2, track 7 - take 11, in which Berry puts "Boston" into verses 1 and 4, while verses 5 and 7 are about "Bandstand". Again Berry places the Bandstand to Pittsburgh during verse 5. This recording ends with someone coughing into the microphone. Again this version was unreleased before it was included into the HIP-O set - even though the box booklet incorrectly claims that this version had appeared as an alternate take on "Rock 'n' Roll Rarities" (Chess LP 92521, March 1986).
- CD 2, track 8 - take 14. Finally Berry gets the lyrics right in the way we know it: "Boston, Pittsburgh PA" in the first and last verse, "Bandstand, Philadelphia PA" in between, that is verses 4 and 5. The take ends with Chuck joking that they finally got it. This version of take 14, though without the final studio talk, was first released on the 6-LP set "The Chess Box" (Chess 80001) in 1988.
- CD 2, track 9 - take 14 again, though without the studio chat and accelerated by five per cent. It is this variant which was finally released as a hit single in 1958.
All of the variants listed above have Berry singing "back in class
again" at the end of verse 6. So where is Josep's "back in school
Indeed there is
a recording of Sweet Little Sixteen
which is very similar to the final take except for the piano solo and Berry singing "school" instead of "class". This was the next-to-final take 13 of the recording session. Josep found it on Chess RCD034-2 titled "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll", released in Spain in 1991. The take first surfaced on the two-LP set "Rock 'n' Roll Rarities" (Chess LP 92521
) in March 1986, though in edited form.
On that double album there is a so-called unreleased version of Sweet Little Sixteen
, which is take 13 preceded by a false start. However that false start does not belong to that take! Those who have access to the session tapes tell that the false start actually opens take 11, while take 13 never had a false start. Thus like we have found out with Johnny B. Goode
, we must learn that the CHESS/MCA engineers in 1986 created unreleased versions by clipping and pasting parts from multiple takes into what they found to be a reasonable sequence.
This also explains why the HIP-O set contains take 11 and claims that this was a known take: The engineers at HIP-O found the take with the previously known false start (take 11) and included it in the set, without noticing that the take did not continue as known - and in addition they clipped off the false start, which was the only segment of the take known before.
Thus for now we have to add the following variants to our list:
- not on the set - false start of take 11, originally released as the first part of the so-called unreleased version on "Rock 'n' Roll Rarities" (Chess LP 92521, March 1986).
- not on the set - take 13 in which Berry sings "back in school again" during verse 6, originally released as the second part of that unreleased version. In unmodified form released on "Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll" (Chess RCD034-2, Spain 1991)
This now makes sweet little eight Chess studio recordings and variants of this famous tune. Only five of them are on the HIP-O-select box. So far for "complete" ...
For the sake of completeness I do not want to forget to tell that there is another studio recording of Sweet Little Sixteen
made 1966 for Mercury. You can easily distinguish that one from the 1958 versions by the prominent tambourine playing.
I want to end this long post with another comment from Josep:
Man, can you believe the hours we've all spent listening to those takes? It shouldn't be that difficult to sort this out!!! If this isn't love for the music, then I donÂ´t know what it is...