It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
Chuck Berry – Bio (1973)
Chuck Berry, perhaps the most influential musician in rock and roll history, died this weekend at the age of 90. I live just outside of St. Louis, Berry’s hometown, and it’s as if the whole area just took a fierce punch to the gut. He left the public eye years ago, but the city was still very much obsessed with Berry; he was one of us, no matter what demons he may have battled over his long career or what trouble he found himself in.
Many writers who are much smarter than me have written about Berry over these last few days, breaking down the brilliance of his early work and the impact his style and songwriting had on the history of popular music. So instead of just retreading familiar territory, I thought I’d shine a spotlight on Bio, a record Berry made in 1973 during his second stint with Chess Records. It’s admittedly an inessential record, much like most of Berry’s 70s output, but it’s still worth hearing, especially now.
There are seven songs total on Bio, but the real story here is the title track. On “Bio,” Berry hits listeners with a history lesson about his own beginnings. Yeah I was living in St. Louis in the year of 1955, he sings. Mama didn’t have no great mansion, just a little old country dive. He goes on to sing about going to Chicago to see Muddy Waters, writing a song of his own and then hitting the big time.
“Bio” is a terrific song, one you can listen to again and again, but there’s a significant drop off in quality after that. The other six tracks on Bio are average; nothing jumps up and grabs your attention and none of it downright terrible. I do have a soft spot for “Hello Little Girl, Goodbye” and the oddball instrumental “Woodpecker—the slow, straightforward blues of “Aimlessly Driftin’” are a nice surprise as well—but overall, I’ll be the first to admit there isn’t a whole lot to love here.
At the end of the day, though, middle-of-the-road Chuck Berry is still Chuck Berry, and Bio is an album fans should make sure they hear at least once. It came out back in 1973, but it’s still one of the last studio albums the man ever made. This is history, folks!
One random side note about this album: Berry’s backing band on most of Bio is none other than Elephant’s Memory, the group most famously known for backing John Lennon and Yoko. (No, Yoko doesn’t show up to sing with Chuck … sorry to get your hopes up.)
Berry wrote and performed some of the most impactful songs in rock and roll history. A good 95 percent of the time you listen to his music, I recommend you stick to the classics … but every now and then, do yourself a favor and venture into those forgotten 70s albums. Bio may not be a five-star classic, but it does have its moments.
Hail, hail, Mr. Berry. You’ll be missed.
Listen below …