Recorded between 1956 & 1962.
Liner Note Authors: Gary S. "Flip" Paxton; Eric Predoehl; Richard Berry.
Photographers: Rick Rillera; Paula Wiwugua.
Although Richard Berry had long been recognized as an important secondary pioneer of '50s rock & roll/R&B in general, and as the originator of "Louie Louie" in particular, his best and most influential material was out of print for decades. This 30-track compilation totally rectifies the situation, with both sides of all eight of his 1956-1960 Flip singles, as well as an almost equal number of early-'60s recordings for various labels, some previously unissued. The Flip sides in particular represent his most important work, if for no other reason than they include his original (and not often reissued) 1957 single version of "Louie Louie," the regional rock & roll hit that eventually became one of the most covered songs of all time. Otherwise, the Flip stuff shows him to be something of an R&B-rock jack of all trades, including doo wop ballads, uptempo Los Angeles R&B in the midst of transition to rock & roll, and novelty-tinged numbers that sound a little like some of the Coasters' early work. The quality on the Flip tracks is variable, and frankly not strong enough to qualify him as a major rock & roll artist, ranging from the ordinary and generic to the outstanding. In the outstanding category are "Louie Louie," the call-and-response vocal number "Sweet Sugar You" (where the Coasters connection sounds the strongest), a fun rock & roll version of "Besame Mucho" (also covered by the Coasters, lest we forget), and "Have Love Will Travel," his best song other than "Louie Louie." The early-'60s cuts were produced by another L.A. jack of all trades, Gary Paxton, and while some of them are good, they seem to have a bit of a slapdash try-anything-and-see-what-sticks mentality. Some of them are very much in Berry's '50s style; others are clearly trying to mimic the R&B-pop crossover of Brook Benton; and "Everybody's Got a Lover But Me" is a dead-on imitation of early, Latin-tempoed Impressions hits like "Gypsy Woman" that's enjoyable but quite derivative. It's an inconsistent compilation, then, but it's a worthwhile plug in the gap of Berry's discography, his complicated saga clarified by the outstanding, thorough liner notes. ~ Richie Unterberger