Monday, August 24, 2009

Jerry Lee Lewis

It was one day that I walked into A&A Records in Eaton Place that I came upon all these treasures. A&A was your typical shopping centre record store – top 40, popular soundtracks, a bit of back catalogue, sale items, maybe a small cutout bin. It wasn’t a place I’d go if I were looking for something special.

But there it was, a selection of Pickwick imports, and that’s where I got The Everly Brothers Cadence hits, and that’s where I got a double LP collection by Jerry Lee Lewis.

This stuff was hard to find in those days. Remember, the advent of CDs rejuvenated (for a while) interest in “musical history;” box sets started coming out of the woodwork, back catalogues were mined for their gold, reissues flooded the market, and never would anyone have expected the release of so many unreleased tracks.

So the point is this. You could look high and low back then, back then being perhaps the late 1980s or early 1990s, and you’d never find collections by Jerry Lee Lewis (or the Everly Brothers, for that matter).

So back in the store, I remember having to choose between two double LPs, one of which had his two big hits and one of which didn’t. I pondered it for a while, so it was as much of a no-brainer as it seems now, I don’t remember why really, but there you have it.

A few years later I picked up a picture disc called Jerry Lee Lewis Greatest Hits, and only 3 of its tracks were also on the aforementioned double LP, the three tracks being Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, Great Balls Of Fire, and Lewis Boogie. But now at least I had Breathless and High School Confidential, and that made me happy.

The picture on the picture disc was a famous one, you saw it everywhere. It’s on his 18 Greatest Hits cover now, but that’s the only place I can find it. And they’ve modified it.

I still, though, didn’t have all his Sun hits. I still don’t actually. But one song that wasn’t on either LP was What’d I Say, and I found a copy of that at Argy’s, with the original Sun label from Memphis, and I still have it somewhere.

Then came his Smash / Mercury recordings. I got Chanilly Lace from some obscure soundtrack that actually belonged to my friend AS, and the rest is a collection called Killer Country, which has 20 tracks, but only includes 3 of his 12 hits on those labels. I have the cassette version, and I think I picked it up at Sam The Record Man, in Garden City Shopping Centre, the story of which will have to wait for another day…

Jerry Lee Lewis

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On – If I’m not mistaken, Little Richard did this first. But Richard, savant that he was notwithstanding, didn’t get it right. For him it’s another rock and roll song. For Lewis, it’s an anthem. All that shakin’, all that dancing, the rhythm, it transcends its era and its style – and it will live forever. Shake it baby shake it. From the fall of 1957.
Great Balls Of Fire – It’s been suggested that there is something lewd about this, but if there is, it’s only in the sense that there is something vaguely lewd about everything Jerry Lee does. Another rock and roll anthem. From late 1957.
Breathless – This love was meant for you and I, he sings, sacrificing grammar to the muse. Used originally as part of a promotion for some chewing, his third top 10 single is not nearly as well known as the first two. From the winter of 1958.
High School Confidential – He never sings the title, what he sings is “high school hop.” The discrepancy between the title and the lyrics creates a another dimension to song. From the summer of 1958.
Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee – Stick McGhee & His Buddies hit from 1949. Jerry Lee takes the blues and smothers it in rockabilly. A remake of this paean to inebriation on Mercury just missed the top 40 in the spring of 1973.
Milkshake Mademoiselle – What a great description of a teenage girl in bobby sox.
Let The Good Times Roll – The Ray Charles song, not the Shirley & Lee. This could have been his theme; it’s what all his music is about.
Wild One – Not the Bobby Rydell song. There is a very obscure version of The Guess Who doing this, way back before These Eyes. Another song that could be his theme song.
The Crawdad Song – Only Jerry Lee could take a song about fishing and make a party out of it.
Put Me Down – Most people whine and cry about romantic disappointment. Jerry Lee brags about it.
Ubangi Stomp – A vaguely racist song about native African rock and roll, or something. Originally by Warren Smith, covered by John Prine.
Big Legged Woman – Now this is lewd…
Lewis Boogie – Jerry Lee takes all his tricks, puts them into one song, names it after himself, and away we go…
Carrying On (Sexy Ways) – It starts like Whole Lotta Shakin’, but it’s the Hank Ballard song. How many times can you say “wiggle” in one song.
Sweet Little Sixteen – It was bad enough when Chuck Berry sang about a 16 years old, but when Jerry Lee does it it makes you want to cringe. Great stuff. From the fall of 1962, when his career was in very slight and very temporary recovery mode.
Fools Like Me – This is downhome bar stool music, not unlike what he’d do for Mercury later on.
It All Depends – His ex, fallen on hard times. Classic tale of a dissolute woman.
Jailhouse Rock – Jerry Lee tackles Elvis. Elvis rocks it, Jerry Lee swings it.
I’ve Been Twistin’ – The song exists in the “boogie” category as well. This is Jerry Lee’s entry into the twist sweepstakes.
Jambalaya – Jerry Lee’s version of Hank Williams’ standard isn’t as country as the original, but it isn’t as rocking as his usual stuff.
Turnaround – Turn around, says Jerry Lee, I’ll be following you. He means it in the best possible way, as in I’ll always be there. But there’s always something creepy about songs like this. And the fact that it’s Jerry Lee Lewis doesn’t make it less creepy…
When The Saints Go Marching In – We’ve heard Bill Haley, we’ve heard Louis Armstrong, we’ve heard Elvis, and we haven’t heard the last of it. Jerry Lee highlights the spiritual component, all his is swinging rockabilly style.
You’re The Only Star (In My Blue Heaven) – Sweet talk, Jerry Lee style. No doubt the allusion to Fats Domino is not accidental.
Be-Bop-A-Lula – The Gene Vincent song, mellowed out, slowed down, aimed straight.
Am I To Be The One – Romantic competition. Difficult to believe that Jerry Lee would countenance competition.
C. C. Rider – The sax goin’ on here makes just a little soulful. Otherwise it’s standard Jerry Lee.
Johnny B Goode – True that Jerry Lee is a pioneer rock and roller, but listening to this next to the original by Chuck Berry you can hear just how country he is.
You’re Cheating Heart – The Hank Williams song. When Jerry Lee did rock he sounded country, and when he did country he sounded rock. That can only mean that his music is transcendent…
Big Blond Baby – Say no more…
Matchbox – The Carl Perkins song. The Beatles did this, but this is closer to the original, not surprisingly, given that Jerry Lee and Carl were label mates on Sun.
What’d I Say – Jerry Lee tackles Ray Charles. He has stiff competition – Elvis, Bobby Darin, The Searchers, Johnny Rivers, Rare Earth, Ray himself. He acquits himself well. This was a bit of a comeback hit in the spring of 1961. I have the original Sun single of this.
Chantilly Lace – Hellooooooo says Jerry Lee off the top, this is the Killer speaking, but the version I picked up off the soundtrack to “Eskimo Limon” (Lemon Popsicle) cut that line out. No reference to killers allowed. I remember this being a hit, that was in the spring of 1972, so I was surprised to learn that it only ever reached number 43 on Billboard. Lewis takes The Big Bopper’s song into another category of invitation.
Another Place, Another Time – This was Jerry Lee’s big comeback, from the spring of 1968. Here is where he reinvented himself as a country singer, and it was a natural metamorphosis. This sad tale of happiness gone by was big on the country chart, and snuck into the top 90 of the pop chart.
What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me) – Yet another country song about the relationship between heartbreak and inebriation. From the summer of 1968.
Walking The Floor Over You – Ernest Tubb’s signature song. Jerry Lee sounds positively exuberant.
The Hole He Said He’d Dig For Me – According to the liner notes this is the first recording he made for Mercury, back in 1963. A song of romantic revenge, pretty serious.
She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me) – The story of a reprobate, and a tribute to an enabler.
Waitin’ For A Train – Jerry Lee does Jimmie Rodgers
She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye – A man looks at himself as others see him, in the wake of a breakup. And in the midst of everything his sympathy is with her. She didn’t mean to be unkind. The opposite of Softly I Will Leave You, maybe. Then the “goodbye baby” at the end kind of changes everything…
Workin’ Man Blues – Jerry Lee sings Merle Haggard.
There Must Be More To Love Than This – It’s an affair; his woman is married to someone else, so Jerry Lee’s a bit unfulfilled.
Me And Bobby McGee – More rock and roll than one would expect, given the nature of the song and the general style of Jerry Lee’s music at the time. Lewis’ take on Krisofferson’s most famous song was a pop hit in late 1971, somewhat after Janis Joplin’s much more celebrated version.
Once More With Feeling – Another Kristofferson song, co-written with Shel Silverstein.
Touching Home – How it feels when you become desperate, more powerful for our not knowing exactly what’s going on. Dallas Frazier wrote this, the man who wrote Elvira.
Jack Daniels Old No. 7 – The theme here is a bit too up front and centre, a bit too forced. But heck, everyone has a bad day…
Think About It, Darlin’ – We know we are in different territory when we hear the strings that kick this number off, while Jerry Lee tries desperately to salvage a crumbling relationship. I know those strings…
Pee Wee’s Place – Next in line in a long traditions of songs celebrating great drinking and music places, Sugar Shack, 333, Down At Lulu’s. But Pee Wee’s must be some place, home to “rednecks and hippies too.”
He Can’t Fill My Shoes – No indeed, I bet he can’t. But judging by the relationship he seems to have had with her (“the hell she put me through”) maybe that’s a good thing. Sing it Jerry Lee… sing it….
Who’s Gonna Play This Old Piano? – Jerry Lee contemplates his own demise. The answer is no one, and I think that’s the point…
Middle Age Crazy – A bit of electric piano sets off this tale of a man in mid life crisis – a man “trying to prove he still can.” And the truth isn’t in the lyrics, the truth is in his voice, how he sings “bin a looong uphill climb,” man, you know it’s been long.
You’re All Too Ugly Tonight – Only Jerry Lee could get away with this. Gotta love him…
A Damn Good Country Song – A song written by Donnie Fritz, maybe he wrote it for Jerry Lee. Put it alongside Chuck Berry’s Bio as a true-to-life autobiography. The version here, according to the liner votes, has original vocals that were replaced later. It’s rough sounding, but I guess that’s the point.

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