The Mercury Era (1966-1969)

From 1966 to 1969 Chuck Berry recorded for Mercury Records. This era produced five albums, many of the songs also published on little successful 45 rpm singles. In later years Mercury also published some songs not released during Chuck's time with the company. This chapter first introduces the five Mercury LPs and then looks at the additional Mercury recordings.

The Original Mercury Records

Chuck Berry's first release with Mercury was the 45 rpm single Club Nitty Gritty b/w Laugh and Cry in November 1966 (Mercury 72643, image shows the picture cover of the Dutch version). Both were new songs. Since Laugh and Cry never made it to a Mercury album until the Nineties, this single was a long-time rarity for the Chuck Berry collector.

Club Nitty Gritty was also used for the following Mercury album. However, it was the only new song used. The remaining tracks on Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (Mercury 21103, March 1967) were as the name implied well-known: Back in the USA, Carol, Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, Memphis, Rock and Roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven, School Day, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Thirty Days. All these were re-recordings made in the Mercury studios.

Chuck Berry's Golden Hits was released with two covers and catalog numbers: one saying Mono (Mercury MG 21103), the other Stereo (Mercury SR 61103). However, both covers contained the exact same true stereo pressing etched "2/61103". Note that Club Nitty Gritty does not exist in true stereo: The album version is artificially created from the mono single. Chuck Berry's Golden Hits has been re-issued many times. The same name CD (Mercury 826256-2) has additional contents.

Because the audience did not want to hear Chuck performing his old hits once again, the next Mercury album came back to the line of the late Chess records: new Berry songs combined with cover versions of well-known standards. Chuck Berry in Memphis (Mercury 21123/61123 - this time in true Mono and true Stereo) appeared in September 1967. For a hardcore rock 'n' roll fan there was a bit too much saxes and trumpets included, but if you were more into Rhythm & Blues, you liked the album, specially Chuck's version of Nat Cole's Ramblin' Rose. Additional songs on this LP are Back to Memphis, Bring Another Drink, Check Me Out, Goodnight, Well It's Time to Go, I Do Really Love You, It Hurts Me Too, My Heart Will Always Belong to You, So Long, and re-recordings of Oh Baby Doll and Sweet Little Rock and Roller. Also the CD re-issue of Chuck Berry in Memphis (Mercury 836071-2) contains additional material.

The same month also saw the release of the very first Chuck Berry live album. For Live at Fillmore Auditorium (Mercury 21138/61138 - mono/stereo) Chuck was acompanied by the Steve Miller Blues Band. Contents of this album is mainly Blues and Rhythm & Blues. There's only one rock 'n' roll number on the whole LP: the closing song Johnny B. Goode combined with Goodnight, Well It's Time to Go. Additional songs are the Medley Rockin' at the Fillmore/Everyday I Have the Blues, C. C. Rider, Driftin' Blues, Feelin' It, Flying Home, I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man, It Hurts Me Too (duet with Steve Miller), Fillmore Blues, and Wee Baby Blues. Again the CD re-issue (Mercury 836072-2) contains additional material from the show. Also available is an incomplete CD re-issue by Rebound.

From St. Louie to Frisco (Mercury 61176, November 1968) contained just new songs, more or less written by Chuck himself. It's a mix of Rock 'n' Roll, Rhythm & Blues, and Soul. The record was released in the U.S. and in France, which made it some kind of rarity in most parts of Europe. The only release in the UK was on cassette tape. Most songs have been re-published on various budget LPs, though. On From St. Louie to Frisco you'll hear Louie to Frisco, Ma Dear, The Love I Lost, I Love Her, I Love Her, Little Fox, Rock Cradle Rock, Soul Rockin', I Can't Believe, Misery, Oh Captain, and Mum's the Word. In addition there is an early version of his later Number 1 hit My Ding-A-Ling, here named My Tambourine. Again the CD re-issue (Mercury 836073-2) contains additional Mercury recordings.

Chuck's last album for Mercury is called Concerto in B. Goode (Mercury 61223, June 1969). The album contains just five songs with the instrumental title track taking up a complete side of the LP. The Concerto in B. Goode lasts almost 20 minutes. The remaining songs are Good Looking Woman, My Woman, It's Too Dark in There, and Put Her Down. Concerto in B. Goode has been re-issued on CD (Mercury 836074-2, no additional tracks). Collectors should be aware that the 45 rpm promotional single released in parallel (Mercury 72963, August 1969, probably no regular release) contains Good Looking Woman and a version of It's Too Dark in There where the guitar solo is omitted. This 2:58 minutes edited version is only available on this hard to find promo single.

Mercury 72963 Promotional Cover

After the release of Concerto in B. Goode Chuck returned to Chess Records.

Additional Mercury Recordings

After Chuck left, Mercury re-used his recordings on many budget albums. Only two of these low-cost albums were of special interest to the Chuck Berry collector: Johnny B. Goode (Pickwick SPC-3327) was released in 1972, just at the time when Chuck back on CHESS was successfull with the London Sessions album and the My Ding-A-Ling and Reelin' and Rockin' live singles. Mercury had not published a re-recording of Reelin' and Rockin' yet, although they cut one during the sessions which led to the Chuck Berry's Golden Hits album. Thus in addition to some well-known re-recordings of Chuck Berry classics, this Pickwick album also came with a Mercury version of Reelin' and Rockin' prominently displayed on the cover.

Likewise the German album Rock! Rock! Rock 'n' Roll! (Mercury 6463044, 1980) re-used material from Chuck Berry's Golden Hits and Chuck Berry in Memphis (although the version of Oh Baby Doll contained here is the Chess recording). In addition this record contains both Reelin' and Rockin' and the previously unreleased Mercury version of Let it Rock.

In 1989 Mercury re-released the five original LPs on CD. These CDs contain the original songs and artwork, but even though the covers don't tell the first four of them include additional, previously unreleased recordings. On Chuck Berry's Golden Hits (Mercury 826256-2) you'll find the two songs from the Pickwick and German albums plus re-recordings of Around and Around and Brown Eyed Handsome Man. On Chuck Berry in Memphis (Mercury 836071-2) there's an additional studio recording of Flying Home. The re-release of Live at Fillmore Auditorium (Mercury 836072-2, or incomplete by Rebound) added five songs from the live show: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Bring Another Drink, Worried Life Blues, Reelin' and Rockin', and a first version of My Ding-A-Ling. Finally on From St. Louie to Frisco (Mercury 836073-2) there are unpublished versions of Almost Grown and The Song of My Love, the previously unreleased song Campus Cookie, and Laugh and Cry from Mercury's first Chuck Berry single, though now in stereo.

Chuck Berry - Rock And Roll MusicThe complete contents of the five CDs including all additional songs were re-released on Bear Family's omnibus Rock And Roll Music - Any Old Way You Choose It (Bear Family BCD 17273 PL, 2014). There are two more recordings from Berry's Mercury era in this 16-CD set: a slightly longer mix of Rock Cradle Rock and a so-called "synchronized version" of Oh Captain which has the two stereo channels in sync. They were separated several seconds on the original releases.

Smashing Pumpkin Records PMK-1126While working for Mercury, Berry also recorded a radio spot promoting the YMCA. While this spot was distributed to the radio stations on a not-for-sale record only, it finally appeared on the CD The Sheik of Chicago (Smashing Pumpkin Records PMK-1126, 2016).

Besides the shows recorded for Live at Fillmore Auditorium, there are three additional contemporary live recordings from San Francisco available online (for details read here). The December 29th, 1967 show has also been published on a bootleg CD called Career on the riffs (Vintage Masters VMCDR-116, 2011). All three concerts as well as a short concert from 1972 can be found on a 2-CD set called "Check Me Out!" (Crying Steel CSR02, 2014).

Vintage Masters VMCDR-116 CRYING STEEL CSR02


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Last modified: 20.11.2019