Monday, November 14, 2011

Jerry Lee Lewis - A Half Century of Hits

Obviously, I've been on a little bit of a Jerry Lee kick lately, so when I found this 3 CD box set at a reasonable price, I picked it up. This contains cuts through the 90's, including several previously unreleased tunes, which makes it worth its while.

Of course, the Sun sessions that Jerry Lee cut are all stellar and are some of the most exciting r'n'r of all time. The man had boundless energy, a crazed piano style and, I think this is often overlooked, a fantastic and versatile voice. Disc one concentrates on this time, but does not contain everything and it leaves out some terrific cuts. It does include the big hits, from "Whole Lotta Shakin'" to "Great Balls of Fire" to "Breathless" to "High School Confidential" and even numbers that Sun did not release during Lewis' tenure there, such as the rockin' "Lewis Boogie". JLL always had a country side to him and one of his first recordings was Hank Williams' "You Win Again", which would help lead him back to the charts (albeit, the country charts) in the late 60's/early 70's.

I must confess that I have never been a big country fan, though I have gained a bit more appreciation for the genre (only the real stuff - not the modern pop crap that calls itself country), so disc 2's domination of C&W numbers that revived his career really does not do a lot for me, especially since most of the tunes are "sweetened" (i.e. weakened) with strings and female backing vocals. There are still goodies, such as "Hi Heel Sneakers", "I'm On Fire", "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" and "Meat Man", though even those suffer from the production. But, the disc ends with 2 tracks from his Live at the Star Club album, which bursts with JLL fire.

The third disc wavers from rockin' numbers to C&W again, to varied results, but ends with two true collector items - the very first numbers that Jerry Lee ever recorded back in 1952 and rescued from an acetate disc. This was simply a test recording that Lewis paid $2 to record, but shows that he was ready even then! "Don't Stay Away" was a then-current country hit and "New Orleans Boogie" was an improvised boogie-woogie that highlights his pounding piano style and proves that the rest of the world just had to catch up to him!

Again, since I am not a big country fan, much of this set does little for me, but considering the rarities included, it was well worth the price. Overall, though, I would stick to the Sun recordings to catch his most manic moments.