Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Beatles Beginnings [Rhythmand Blues, 2009]
The young may find the second, "rock 'n' roll" volume educational, though not as educational as best-ofs by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, etc. But this misleadingly billed predecessor will enlighten and entertain almost any American, not with its perfectly OK roots-style material, which is less country than blues, but with its pop, especially its British pop. Top of which are some terrific skiffle records, the greatest of them Lonnie Donegan's runaway version of Huddie Ledbetter's "Rock Island Line," a novelty smash Stateside in 1956. But the choicest are names more read about than heard: George Formby, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber--every one proof of life on radio for eager '50s British kids. And then there are a dozen tracks illustrating pop's unpredictable fecundity in any period or context: "Your Feet's Too Big" and "Sheik of Araby," Marlene Dietrich and "Third Man Theme," Ray Charles' "My Bonnie" and Gene Vincent's "Summertime," even Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly joining in on "True Love." I hated that record when I was a musically rebellious teen. But as the notes point out, it's the direct source of John Lennon's "Good Night." Pick and choose, pick and choose--it's the way of pop genius. A-