Wanda Jackson presented a quandary for Capitol Records when she started recording for them in the 1950s. Even though she was not even old enough to drive, she could sing honky-tonk country as well as any “girl singer” out there, including Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline. But she could also rock as well as the male singers could, including Elvis Presley. They really didn’t know what to do with her. And that is the reason that we get the wild and wonderful collection that is The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles.
The first song on the CD is the strangest and illustrates perfectly Capitol’s dilemma. “I Gotta Know” is a weird hybrid of rock and country, with a go-go-stop style that is unique. There is no way this song should work, and the listener’s first reaction will probably be stunned disbelief. But it grows on you.
What Capitol did for a long time was to put a rock song on the A-side of a single, and a country song on the B-side. So you would flip over a single like “Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad” and get a song like “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” That particular pairing was one of the few where the country song was definitely the stronger.
While many of the country songs were not particularly memorable, Jackson also does a great job on “Right or Wrong” and “In the Middle of a Heartache,” which are still country music standards.
The rockers here definitely are the most consistant and one of them is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best rockabilly song ever recorded. “Let’s Have a Party” is a rave-up of a song, still guaranteed to get you “movin’ and a groovin’.”
“Mean, Mean Man” proves Jackson could hold her own with any rocker of the day. “Fujiyama Mama,” which today is so blatently politically incorrect, is an all out blast of sound that was a huge hit in Japan when it was released!
One of the best rockabilly numbers on this CD is the distaff version of “Riot in Cell Block Number 9,” with its lyrics, “Pass the dynamite, Molly!” The song was actually the B-side of a sweet but innocuous number titled “Little Charm Bracelet,” which proved that Jackson could sing a sweet rock ballad just as Skeeter Davis could, but otherwise breaks no new ground.
Not all of the 29 songs here are gems. To most modern ears, the honky-tonk sagas “Half as Good a Girl,” “No Wedding Bells for Joe,” and “Just a Queen for a Day” are going to sound way too melodramatic to take seriously. The novelty song “Don’A Wan’A” does not hold up well for today’s listeners either and some may even find it offensive.
But there are so many gems among both the songs that have become classics and the lesser-known songs like “You Bug Me Bad,” and “Rock Your Baby” that a few less-than-stellar numbers don’t really detract from the value of the collection. Once you get over the whiplash from the rapidly changing, drastically different styles, you can appreciate the immense talent and versatility of Jackson, who is still wildly popular in rockabilly circles today.
It would, in fact, have been worth it just for “Let’s Have a Party,” “Mean, Mean Man,” and “Riot in Cell Block Number 9.”