TAYLOR HACKFORD'S film, "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" was a fascinating, if unsatisfying, portrait of Chuck Berry on the occasion of Berry's 60th birthday concert in his hometown of St. Louis in 1986.
The informal rehearsal and offstage interview footage proved much more interesting than the star-clogged concert itself. The soundtrack album from the film is a pleasurable souvenir but hardly a musical milestone in Berry's career.
Keith Richards, the album's producer and the concert's musical director, assembled a great band for the occasion -- everyone from Berry's original partner, pianist Jimmy Johnson, to NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato -- and they play up to their reputations. The guest stars were not so wisely chosen: Julian Lennon desecrates "Johnny B. Goode" with his callow vocal; Linda Ronstadt sounds fluffy on "Back in the U.S.A." and you can see an unrehearsed Etta James reading the lyrics to "Rock and Roll Music" off a cue card in the film.
Much better are Robert Cray and Eric Clapton who supply bluesy vocals and guitar on two songs. Better yet are the seven old hits that Berry sings with renewed enthusiasm. Best of all is a rehearsal version of "I'm Through With Love," the old ballad standard that Berry transforms into a confessional country-blues. Nonetheless, no one should be allowed to buy this soundtrack album unless he already owns Berry's "The Great Twenty-Eight" and "From St. Louis to Liverpool."
CHUCK BERRY -- "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (MCA 6217). Berry appears Saturday and Sunday at the Warner.