(TheBlackMan.com) In our introduction to rockabilly, I dropped a few tunes that I felt were good introductory songs to the subgenre. Of course, there was the disclaimer that they weren’t the best collective of tracks or the best example of rockabilly. They were chosen because they were both enjoyable tracks and commercially successful during the subgenre’s peak.
Now we’re gonna look at those tracks and a few more and see just how good they are and how great of an example they actually are. The usual suspects of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis are here and yes, there have been views on their roles in music history as well as the latter’s personal life. However, the music they made stand out as particularly strong examples of this early form of rock music.
Elvis – “Blue Suede Shoes” (Carl Jenkins cover, 1956)
This song is often credited to Carl Jenkins—and his version is actually better. There’s more of a bite to it than when you hear Elvis’ 1956 which came about just a year later. The thing about the Elvis Presley version of “Blue Suede Shoes” is that it’s a version most of us have heard and are familiar with. Again, I prefer the OG version as well as the live performances by Carl Jenkins more but Elvis is no slouch in his cover and brings energy to the performance on the late 1950s talk show circuit.
Hell, he thought it was strong enough of an track to kick off his debut album—and I agree.
Jerry Lee Lewis – “Great Balls of Fire”(1957)
Lewis has a couple of hit songs to his name and honestly I’d say his two strongest introductory tracks are “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta of Shakin’ Goin’ On”. On the latter song, Jerry Lee Lewis has the best-known version and it’s a great song. I had a time deciding which of his songs to put as his contribution to intro rockabilly
The obvious pick won out as “Great Balls of Fire” is a song that gets played today. It pops up in films, TV shows, it was the name of a recent-ish WWE pay-per-view for some reason, and it’s played in part at some live sports events.
As a song, I really dig it and it’s probably my favorite in this five-pack. As mentioned in previous pieces: I’m a big fan of vocalists. I like to hear what they can do and picture them in different bands, different genres, and different lyrical content. Jerry Lee Lewis’ vocals on “Great Balls of Fire” really stand out and I can only imagine him doing shock rock in the same vein as contemporary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Buddy Holly – “Peggy Sue” (1957)
Holly is another artist with some 1950s bangers who gave me a bit of a time picking that song for them. In his case it was between “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”. I believe more have probably heard “Peggy Sue” but I believe “That’ll Be the Day” is a better Buddy Holly tune whether it’s with the Crickets or the Three Times.
“Peggy Sue” still has that twang and bounce to it that stands out about rockabilly but it’s a somewhat slower track than “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Great Balls of Fire”. That’s probably why I prefer “That’ll Be the Day” more—the tempo is more to my liking. That said, “Peggy Sue” is a fine introduction to the genre and I recommend checking out the sequel “Peggy Got Married”.
Billy Haley and His Comets – “Rock Around the Clock” (1954)
One thing I always liked about 1950s bands is branding. You’ve got your frontman and the rest of the band here. Billy Haley and His Comets: simple. This act had a hit in 1954 with “Rock Around the Clock” on Myers Records. If you’ve never heard of this band, you’ve definitely heard the song in an episode of The Flintstones, Happy Days and elsewhere. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if you heard most of these songs on Happy Days.
It has a catchiness to it in addition to having a tempo that would’ve definitely gone over well among 1950s youth. As far as holding up now as an intro to rockabilly: it’s fine. It hits the marks of what became popular out of the genre during that period and it’s a recognizable song decades later.
Carl Perkins – “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” (1957)
So, Elvis took the man’s song but I feel Carl Perkins should’ve been on the list and that he had more than just “Blue Suede Shoes” to his name. Now, “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” doesn’t have that mainstream appeal of “Great Balls of Fire” or the others but it was a popular song out of the gate for Perkins.
Not only that but it’s an all-round strong rockabilly classic. It doesn’t have that faster tempo but it has the sound down and also a bit of the storytelling that we get from Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”. It also exists in this spot where it’s a rockabilly song but could easily be presented as a country song. This is rockabilly that isn’t that far removed from that Western swing—more uptempo country music, basically the jazz of country —element in rockabilly.
And I really dig that about this song. It works for Perkins’ sound and it’s a fun introduction to the genre. It fits with the other four tunes here and won’t be a huge departure from what you’re checking out.
For those who enjoy rockabilly, let us know your five-pack suggestions for new listeners!
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.