Following an unsatisfying three-year stint at Mercury Records, Chuck Berry returned home to Chess in 1969, just like Phil Chess predicted. Heading home didn’t necessarily mean retreating, as the four-disc Have Mercy: His Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974 illustrates. During his time at Mercury, Chuck followed the kids wherever they went, aligning himself with the psychedelic ‘60s in a way none of his peers did. This shift is immediately apparent on “Tulane,” the very first song he cut upon his return to Chess. An ode to a couple of kids who dealt dope underneath the counter of a novelty shop, “Tulane” puts Chuck on the side of the counterculture, and over the next five years, he never strayed back to the other side of the fence, often singing about getting stoned, dabbling with a wah-wah pedal, rhapsodizing about rock festivals, cheerfully telling smutty jokes.
Chuck Berry fanatics, your ship has come in, and it’s the Queen Mary — or maybe we should call it the Queen Maybellene. As you’d expect from the Bear Family label, which specializes in gargantuan reissues, this 16-CD, 396-song box doesn’t simply span Berry’s career, it embraces virtually every musical note the man has ever issued. You’ll find all of his released album tracks and singles, starting with an obscure 1954 recording and including everything from the Chess, Mercury and Atco labels, plus every surviving alternate take. Also here are five CDs’ worth of concert performances from 1956 to 1972.