Jerry Lee Lewis is the last man standing among his famous Sun labelmates. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash are all gone, but old Jerry Lee rocks on. He is also one of the last of a rapidly vanishing list of 1950s superstars who helped form the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll.
His career has now reached the 55-year mark. He has produced dozens of pop and country hit singles, and his albums have sold tens of millions of copies. He has toured constantly for over a half century and been married seven times (including once to his 13 year old cousin once removed, which almost ruined his career). He has been elected to the Rock And Roll and Rockabilly Halls Of Fame.
While his career has moved in many directions and included rock, country, and rockabilly styles of music, it was his time with the legendary Sun label that has defined his career. 25 All Time Greatest Sun Recordings is a fine short overview of his almost seven years with the label. If you have the cash and the inclination, there is always the Bear Family label’s Classic: The Definitive Edition Of His Sun Recordings 1956-1963, which covers 244 tracks spread over eight CDs. If that box set is overkill, then this single disc compilation should do just fine.
The sound is just about as clear and pristine as its going to get, given the age of the songs and the recording equipment of the day. The producers wisely went back to the original source tapes and used modern technology to enhance the quality as much as is possible.
Most fans of early rock ‘n’ roll should be very familiar with his better known songs. If you fall into that category but don’t have any of his early material in your collection, then this is a good place to start. If you are unfamiliar with his music, then this album will be a real treat.
His biggest hits are some of the finest to emerge from the 1950s. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Breathless,” and “High School Confidential” are essential to understanding the early evolution of rock music. The energy and underlying sexual tension have remained an essential part of rock’s make-up. Add his pumping piano and showmanship to the mix and you have some of the best high octane rock of its era.
As with any compilation album, there will always be controversy as to what was included and what was left out. Once you get past his essential hits, there are any number of songs that could have been included. The material chosen tended to be somewhat haphazard, which worked well as it gave a taste of the many sides of his early career. There are rock covers (“Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Good Golly Miss Molly”), country covers (“Crazy Arms” and “You Win Again”), and the somewhat obscure (“Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” and “Lewis Boogie”).
Jerry Lee Lewis has always considered himself the greatest musician in rock history. Many of these tracks show that he was very close to being right.