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A Salute to That Bo Diddley Style

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July 24, 1992|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

"Bo Diddley Beats" is one of the liveliest retrospective albums of the year, a salute to the kinetic rhythm style popularized in the '50s by the colorful singer and guitarist.

But the music in the Rhino Records package isn't limited to Diddley's own recordings. In fact, there's only one selection by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member: the original version of the song "Bo Diddley," a single that--remarkably in view of its eventual influence--never made the pop Top 100, though it did top the R&B charts for two weeks in 1955.

The other 17 tracks on "Bo Diddley Beats" are by artists who wrote or recorded songs that utilized the "nervous," guitar-and-drum-driven Bo Diddley sound.

These tunes include:

* Buddy Holly & the Crickets' "Not Fade Away." Though the 1957 recording was released as the flip side of the Top 10 single "Oh Boy!," it was such a raw yet infectious work that the Rolling Stones picked up on it and turned it into their first Top 50 hit in the United States seven years later.

* The Johnny Otis Show's "Willie and the Hand Jive." The Los Angeles songwriter and bandleader not only captured the Diddley instrumental feel in this 1958 single, but also wrote words that echoed the cheerful, playground attitude of the original Diddley hit.

* Shirley & Company's "Shame, Shame, Shame." This was one of the most memorable singles of the '70s disco era--a Top 20 hit that was the work of two women who had been part of successful vocal teams in the '50s. The writer-producer was Sylvia Robinson (think Mickey & Sylvia of "Love Is Strange" fame), while the singer was Shirley Goodman (think Shirley & Lee's "Let the Good Times Roll").

* Ben E. King's "Let the Water Run Down." The largely overlooked flip side of a 1964 near-hit ("It's All Over"), this heartache tale offers a remarkable mix of Diddley energy and the Drifters' romantic drama.

The other entries range from Big Daddy's good-natured Buddy Holly-meets-Prince version of "Purple Rain" and the Joe Reisman Orchestra & Chorus' unintentionally hilarious attempt in 1955 to translate the song "Bo Diddley" into an adult dance hit.

The Rhino album, however, doesn't only look at records influenced by the Bo Diddley beat. It also attempts, briefly, to trace the history of the sound, but includes only two pre-Diddley recordings as illustration, and King Cotton's liner notes are sketchy on the point.

For a more detailed discussion of the evolution of the sound--and for a comprehensive look at Diddley's recordings, try MCA Records' excellent two-disc "Bo Diddley" box set.

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