Rockin’ Bones | Review

Classic Albums

Rockin’ Bones (Various Artists, Rhino Records June 20, 2006)

Trying to summarize an entire music genre in a boxed set can be a daunting task. The 2006 four CD collection released by Rhino aptly titled Rockin’ Bones comprehensively covers a generation of popular culture and music that we may have missed but can’t possibly ignore.

Sub-titled ‘1950’s Punk and Rockabilly’ the music of the ‘50s in the Rockin’ Bones collection is undoubtedly the catalyst of what was to follow in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the punk rock explosion.

Although ‘50s music became sanitized with the likes of Pat Boone, Rocking Bones focuses on the meaner streak of the era. Pulp-movies aimed at the burgeoning teen market, were becoming all the rage. Dispersed among its 76 tracks Rockin’ Bones has movie trailer sountracks by the likes of the Delinquents, The Flaming Teen-Age and Teenage Doll.

The promo for High School Hellcats “A kitten who has all the cats howlin’” and “She was a cool looking chick with a quick silver chassis“ sets the scene. It’s all switchblade knives, hot rods, leather jackets and teenage dolls. As the 65 page booklet explains the rockabilly phenomenon was "post-atomic devil may care music!”.

Every one of the 76 tracks is a winner highlighting a multitude of great artists who didn’t have the fame that Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash had by the late ‘50s.
Sun Records recorded many artists but not many females. The obvious early Presley sessions are well known yet I bet you’ve never heard Barbara Pittman (introduced to Sun Studios by Elvis) belting out  ‘I Need a Man ‘. The Presley inclusions are ‘Baby’s Let Play House‘ and ‘One Night of Sin‘, but even the King pales up against the primal scream of Ronnie Hawkins doing ‘Who Do you Love ‘ and Gene Vincent‘s ‘Cat Man”.

If you thought Rick Nelson was lame he has a credible kick on ’Believe What you Say’, only to be followed by Dwight Pullen’s kick–arse ‘Sunglasses after Dark'.
It’s interesting to hear the original artists who recorded gems that were later covered by many contemporaries.

Vince Taylor‘s ‘Brand New Cadillac’ was immortalized by the Clash on London Calling. Dale Hawkins’ Suzie Q took Credence to the charts. Johnny Cash’s ‘Get Rhythm’ was made popular by Ry Cooder, and Wanda Jackson’s wailing ‘Fujiyama Mama‘ is superior to both Pearl Harbor and the Explosions and the 5678’s. 

Yet the highlight is a young Roy Orbison (pre black sunglasses). Orbison was once described as an operatic rockabilly singer. On Rockin’ Bones Roy sings the Sam Phillips co–written ‘Domino’, which is a gem. I admit the first time I heard ‘Domino’ was by the late charismatic Lux Interior and The Cramps – a far cry from Roy’s rendition. 

The Rockin’ Bones package is accurate in its description of a period undergoing massive social change. As the opening line dictates “This is no history lesson, it’s about attitude “ If you had attitude you usually got a smack around the chops by your mum or dad, or both. The teenagers “lived today like there was no tomorrow “. So what’s changed?

Another aspect of Rockin’ Bones which is intriguing is the rapid improvement in recording technology - Presley used to ride the train back to Memphis holding the acetates under his arm. 

The guitar and its amplification is featured heavily in the liner notes with a whole chapter on Rockabilly Guitar, and what better introduction do you need to Link Wray’s ‘Rumble ‘. In the movie doco ‘It might Get Loud’ Jimmy Page plays air guitar to Link’s famous instrumental anthem.

If you’ve still got some rhythm in those Rockin Bones by the time you get to disc 4, well you better get a shot of something because your in for an adrenalin surge.
The final disc kicks off with Ronnie Dee’s ‘Action Packed’ (also covered by Johnny Dollar on disc 1) and then the very familiar riff of Johnny Kidd’s ‘Shakin all Over’. Ronnie Hawkins ‘Who do You Love ‘ is epic and then its Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ and Jack Scott’s ‘The Way I Walk ‘will have the sweat dripping from your brow.  We’re only up to track 4 out of 26 so take a spell...

There are plenty of songs about Cadillacs - Pink, Black, Brand New and My Pink. Chickens are also featured on Hasil Adkins’ ‘Chicken Walk’ and Fat Daddy Holmes’ ‘Chicken Rock’.

It certainly would have caused a stir at the time yet John and Jackie’s ‘Little Girl’ features Jackie in mock orgasmic screaming. John was in fact Gene Maltais who had been a bellhop in LA., a chauffer in Tucson and a police officer somewhere else.

There are hundreds of these anecdotes of what is essentially trivial information. Yet the intel and minutia is a further insight to the music biz at the time.  Like Aladdin Records going bankrupt or Jerry Lott approaching Pat Boone at church with an acetate. Pat was intrigued and signed him to his Cooga Mooga Records label.

Finally, check out Bill Allen’s ‘Please Give Me Something‘ and the Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery duet ‘Down The Line‘. If you’re ready for a rockin’ workout then a spin of these tracks will be more worthwhile and energetic then a month of Sundays at the gym!!

Harry Steilus

Featured Albums: Rockin' Bones

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