Bo Diddley – His Best

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

The Jesus and Mary Chain wrote “Bo Diddley Is Jesus” early in their career (and later covered, not terribly convincingly, “Who Do You Love?”). On the one hand, the Scottish brothers were only going back about 30 years, into a musical landscape that was a lot less fractured than it is now. On the other, I worry that future young musicians won’t make such connections (instead, the Jesus and Mary Chain themselves became a touchstone for bands in the 2000s), and that the thread that tied a playful, boasting African-American rock originalist to a pair of scabrous, antisocial misanthropes from northern Britain has been knotted and snipped, and there is nothing to take its place. Basically, I’m not sure today’s kids know their rock history, and while I would listen to an argument that that is not necessarily a negative development, I doubt I would agree.

What I Think of This Album

This phenomenal collection pulls together Diddley’s singles from 1955-59, with a few stray tracks from the ‘60s. Absolutely an essential purchase, this disc shows how influential Diddley was; along with Chuck Berry (who was far less earthy), Diddley was critical to the birth and development of rock ‘n’ roll.

Lead single “Bo Diddley” hypnotizes with a tremeloed guitar part and that trademark rhythm. B-side “I’m a Man” is surprisingly candid (for 1955) about Diddley’s alleged sexual prowess; Billy Boy Arnold’s iconic harmonica part makes the song. Arnold’s phenomenal harmonica also dominates on “You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care),” though Otis Spann’s piano solo is pretty cool, too.

The beat comes back on Diddley’s rendition of “Pretty Thing” (by Wilie Dixon, who played bass on many Diddley songs), with a killer guitar part and more unbeatable harmonica. The call and response of “Bring It to Jerome” (credited to maraca player and foil Jerome Green) is a showcase for Diddley’s vocals, as well as some great percussion. “Who Do You Love?” incorporates foreboding southern imagery into Diddley’s bravado (the title was a play on hoodoo, the swampland folk beliefs of Diddley’s birthplace) with astonishing lead guitar work from Jody Williams. 1957’s  “Hey Bo Diddley” is hopelessly retrograde, but the vocals are excellent, with the drums pushed to the front and the guitar deemphasized.

Diddley’s guitar and voice combine to make “Mona (a/k/a I Need You Baby)” a winner; this is the first appearance by guitarist Peggy Jones on this collection, and it’s hard to know who plays which guitar part. “Before You Accuse Me” is a classic blues number, with guitar fills by Jody Williams. Honestly, I can do without “Say Man,” probably Diddley’s biggest hit. Diddley expands his style on the hybridized Latin/doo-wop number “Crackin’ Up.” But he still knew enough to keep reminding his audience of his own healthy self-esteem, notably communicated on “The Story of Bo Diddley,” with the excellent throwaway “I’m a killer diller”; Lafayette Leake plays a fine piano on this one.

“Road Runner” is fantastic, with a couple of pick slides to die for. The New York Dolls wisely covered the inimitable, Latin-tinged “Pills.” The relative obscurity of “I Can Tell” is entirely undeserved, featuring another great vocal from Diddley. Willie Dixon also wrote “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover,” which contains more typical boasting from Diddley and essential maraca shaking from Green.

This album was rereleased in 2007 with the title The Definitive Collection.

The Best Thing About This Album

I can’t choose and thus will cheat:  the way the guitar, vocals, piano, maracas, and harmonica all come together.

Release Date

April, 1997

The Cover Art

The composition and palette are fine. The picture is okay, but they could have found something better (like the photo on the back).

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