deanvannguyen asked: Rushmore: Chess Records (the label, not the board game).
Ah, I like this one, though there’s a lot to comb through! “Johnny B. Goode”! Elmore James! Muddy Waters! Etta James! Northern soul obscurities! I have to impose some parameters: I’ll be choosing only from the sequentially numbered 45s on Chess (1425-2102), and leaving out LPs and all the imprints (ie Checker, Argo/Caget, Middle Earth, etc.). Also, I’m stopping at Leonard Chess’s death in 1969, because that signaled the end of the label as an independent company, which kills the possible inclusion of Etta James’ “All the Way Down.” This all unfortunately leaves out a ton of great music (I’m horrified to see there’s no Little Milton, and all of Etta’s 60s classics were on Argo), but I’ll be here all day if I don’t. Let’s see what we find.
1. Howlin’ Wolf: “Smokestack Lightnin’” (Chess 1618, 1956) ”Smokestack Lightning” is the apex of the earth-rending blues moan. Howlin’ Wolf had a voice like bag full of claw hammers, and the way his “woo-oohs” get swallowed by the primitive reverb on this recording is weirdly thrilling.
2. Muddy Waters: “Got My Mojo Working” (Chess 1652, 1957) I like Muddy most when the tempo’s cranked up and he can just blow over a boogie beat. This is a much-covered classic for a reason.
3. Pigmeat Markham: “Here Comes the Judge” (Chess 2049, 1968) When people talk about proto-rap, Markham doesn’t come up very often, but he ought to. His performance on “Here Comes the Judge” is rap, at least as much as anything that came out of the Bronx in ‘79. Also, the Chess house band is funky as hell, and the song is hilarious! Markham had made “Here Comes the Judge” his signature routine years earlier—Sammy Davis Jr. had even performed a version of it on Laugh-In—but this recording distills everything that was great about it.
4. The Radiants: “Hold On” (Chess 2037, 1968) ”Hold On” was never a hit in the US, but it became a Northern soul classic in Britain, and it thoroughly deserved it. I’m not sure if that’s Pete Cosey or Phil Upchurch on the fuzz guitar, but it adds a nice edge to the billowy orchestration.
Six more for a top ten: Tony Clarke: “Landslide,” Billy Stewart: “Summertime,” Chuck Berry: “No Particular Place to Go,” Floyd Jones & His Guitar: “Dark Road,” Black Merda: “Cynthy-Ruth,” Eddie Boyd & His Chess Men: “Tortured Soul”
And, oh hell, Chess albums (again, not including LPs on subsidiary labels)
Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley (1957)
Muddy Waters: Folk Singer (1964)
Koko Taylor: Koko Tayor (1969)
John lee Hooker: John Lee Hooker Sings and Plays the Blues (1961)