CARL PERKINS: THE ESSENTIAL SUN COLLECTION (1999; 1955-1958)
CD I: 1) Movie Magg; 2) Turn Around; 3) Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing; 4) Gone, Gone, Gone; 5) Blue Suede Shoes; 6) Honey Don't; 7) Sure To Fall; 8) Tennessee; 9) Boppin' The Blues; 10) All Mama's Children; 11) Dixie Fried; 12) I'm Sorry I'm Not Sorry; 13) Your True Love; 14) Matchbox; 15) That's Right; 16) Forever Yours; 17) Glad All Over; 18) Lend Me Your Comb.
CD II: 1) Honky Tonk Gal; 2) Perkins Wiggle; 3) You Can't Make Love To Somebody; 4) That Don't Move Me; 5) Lonely Street; 6) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 7) Somebody Tell Me; 8) Sweethearts Or Strangers; 9) Keeper Of The Key; 10) Be Honest With Me; 11) Caldonia; 12) Her Love Rubbed Off; 13) You Can Do No Wrong; 14) Put Your Cat Clothes On; 15) Roll Over Beethoven; 16) Only You; 17) Pink Pedal Pushers; 18) Right String Baby, Wrong Yo-Yo.
Sun Records' limited capacities were only enough to allow one LP record for Carl, right at the end of his tenure — everything else that he did for the label only came out as singles. Fortunately, the CD era has allowed for some convenient packaging: the double-disc Essential Sun Collection puts together approximately 90% of the officially released stuff (and, for that matter, works much better than the deceptively titled single-disc Complete Sun Singles, which actually omits at least three or four essential A-sides). All of Dance Album is here, along with most of the A-sides, B-sides, and some obscurities that never made it onto that LP — essential indeed, and more or less all the Carl Perkins that a regular rockabilly admirer would need to have.
In fact, maybe even a little more than necessary. With just a few exceptions, all of the songs here are fun, but if you rearrange them in approximate chronological order, there is very little development going on once the man hits his peak — never managing to go beyond the golden summit of the ʽBlue Suede Shoes / Honey Don'tʼ single from early 1956. Sam Phillips was a good guy, but once his protegés reached relative perfection with a certain formula, he showed little interest in pushing them to new heights, and thus, there is hardly any wonder in the fact that Carl's records sold less and less after the initial ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ boom.
At some point, Carl even got stuck with a «songs about clothes» formula: ʽPut Your Cat Clothes Onʼ and ʽPink Pedal Pushersʼ are both thematically related to ʽBlue Suede Shoesʼ (the former even namedrops the shoes in question), but neither manages to hit as hard. ʽPut Your Cat Clothes Onʼ, with an unmistakable Jerry Lee Lewis sitting at the piano, is the fastest Carl ever played, but as fun as the song is, it is just fun — lacking the parent-scary swagger and defiance of ʽShoesʼ. ʽPink Pedal Pushersʼ goes in a completely different direction, trying to be sexy and even a little salacious, but the truth is, Carl Perkins has too much of that «innocent country boy» spirit within him to sound fully believable when singing mid-tempo rockabilly about a girl who "comes strutting down the street in her sophisticated style" and going "ooh woppa doo-dah" as if he himself were one of the cats who "started gazing and called her out". Again — fun stuff, but hardly a genuine knockover of the kind that Elvis or Jerry Lee could do in their sleep.
But do not get me wrong: I am only trying to put the tip of the finger on some of the reasons why Carl's luck ran out so quickly, even way before the first wave of rock'n'roll started getting thin around 1959-60. Other than that, his Sun records are quite consistent, although I am not a big fan of the country ballads like ʽForever Yoursʼ: they are done in Carl's usual «rough» style, with shoddy Sun-style production, but do not have the oddly minimalistic «from-the-bottom-of-a-well» feel of the same type of songs on Elvis' early singles.
Some of the lesser known oddities include ʽHer Love Rubbed Offʼ, an interesting, even somewhat innovative attempt at crossing rockabilly with a mambo beat and seeing what happens (the seams show, but the song still cooks up a voodooistic aura that is quite unusual for our country boy); ʽThat's Rightʼ, co-written with Johnny Cash around a nagging little riff whose repetitive ring works on the brain with an almost drone-style effect; and ʽSomebody Tell Meʼ, a previously unreleased outtake (I think) whose very length is staggering — 4:22! (other than that, it is a conservative piece of blues boogie).
Of course, each and every one of these songs features one or more guitar solos from the man, and they are almost always the main point of attraction: instead of fluent, uninterrupted lines, Perkins likes playing these ragged, broken-up series of licks that sound like flurry dialogs or trialogs, never repeating each other — no wonder he became one of Harrison's favorite players, even if George's playing style eventually drifted far away from this approach (not on the early Beatles records, though, where George's «Perkins licks» are easily recognizable even on quite a few non-Perkins covers — something like ʽCan't Buy Me Loveʼ, for instance). To the modern listener's ear, like most guitar solos from the classic rockabilly era, they could sound clumsy and feeble, but they do have that unbeatable advantage of an almost child-like, giddy exploration of the capacities of the instrument — which makes the whole experience far more precious than listening to many a modern player who has already had those capacities presented to him on a platter.
Overall, this is just another hour and a half of Sun Records greatness, with Sam Phillips' echoey, downhome, «lo-fi» production as an added bonus — in a sense, everything sounds like crap, but it's healthy, fresh, nutritious crap straight from the oven, a much better proposition than the glossy, synthetic, orchestrated pop crap of the big studios. And it was, after all, the only environment in which Carl Perkins actually found himself thriving, even if his records did not sell, so thumbs up all the way.
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