If you followed our discussions about the Chuck Berry On Stage (Chess LP-1480) album, you will understand why there is such a huge confusion about the contents and appearance of this album. Since December 2014 we have been discussing the cover variants of the album
showing that none of the images on the net associated with this album represents the original first cover (except for the ones shown on this site).
In December 2017 we added a second discussion about Vinyl variants of this album
explaining why almost every description of CHESS LP-1480 includes an incorrect track listing. As the original record was supposed to be taken for a true live recording, it didn't had a track listing on the labels and just a non-ordered song list on the back cover.
Both the song list and the most common US cover include a song title never used by Berry: "Surfin' USA". The Chess brothers were trying to generate sales following the Beach Boys' hit record which indeed was a disguised cover version of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen". And following the Surf craze they also re-titled an instrumental originally called "Crying Steel" to become known as "Surfing Steel".
All in all it's no wonder partner record companies who licensed the On Stage album became confused as well. Which in turn again resulted in strange variants of record covers. Of course you need to collect Chuck Berry records as intense as this site's Morten Reff to notice the interesting variations of covers such as these two here:
The Australian version of Chuck Berry On Stage was released as CHESS CHL-211 not long after the US version in 1963. The front cover follows the US version closely except for the boxed CHESS in the upper right corner. The track listing on the back is a variant of the song list from the US album. It correctly distributes the songs to Side 1 and Side 2 but retains the incorrect sequence and naming.
Maybe due to complaints — Hey, I bought Surfin' USA from Chuck Berry but it isn't on the disk!
— some time later the company quietly replaced the cover with a slightly corrected version. Now on the front cover "Surfin' USA" became "Maybelline" [sic], and within the track listing "Surfin' USA" became "Sweet Little 16" [sic]. Also the song sequence on Side 1 is now as it is on the record. Since also the Chess logo in the upper right corner changed, this variant may have been released a year or more later.
The record itself including the printing on the labels did not change, though. Side 2 still incorrectly lists "Surfin' USA".
In the Netherlands, Berry's Chess records were released by Artone on their Funckler label. They designed their own cover for the On Stage album. When it came out as Funckler MGCH-9218 in March 1964, "Sweet Little Sixteen" already made it to the front cover correctly. However, "Surfin' USA" is still there, this time as an incorrect title for "Cryin'/Surfing Steel". This error is both on the front cover and in the track listing on the back.
Again, some time later Artone re-released the record. The had now licensed the Chess label name and logo and were releasing the records under the Chess International label. While exchanging the Funckler logo on cover and label, they also corrected the song title. On Chess International PAR-106 "Surfin' USA" was replaced by "Surfin' Steel" (keeping the apostrophe) on both cover and label.
One should note that Artone changed covers, labels and even packaging often. Either they printed too few copies or they sold much more than expected. According to Morten's research, the Funckler version also exists with an orange color label. The Chess International version has the album name printed in red on some copies while it's printed in black on others. Finally PAR-106 exists in a standard LP cover (with spine, open at only one side) as well as in the Artone-typical plastic sleeve. Artone tried to establish selling albums in a clear plastic sleeve which could be used for all LPs unchanged. The cover printing was on a folded thin cardboard open at three sides which was easier and cheaper to produce. Records by all the Artone labels such as Funckler, Prestige and even CBS International were released this way. This kind of packaging did not prevail, though. Even Artone finally came to use the industry standard glued cover.
And no, Morten is not sure that he has all the existing variants.
Thanks to Morten for the images and details plus thanks to Arne Wolfswinkel and Frank Jochemsen for background information about the Artone packaging.