Jerry Lee Lewis, The Complete Sun Singles, vol. 1

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Herein resides some of the most explosive rock & roll of the '50s. Jerry Lee's piano style betrays no one major influence, but derives from the black boogie blues traditions of the rural Southern juke joint; there were a handful of country pianists like Moon Mullican (whose big hit was "I'll Sail My Ship Alone") playing boogie piano before Lewis, but they sounded unequivocally white — genteel, compared to the ominously rumbling left hand and hell-bent-for-leather right hand of the black piano pounders that the Killer synthesized. But his country credentials were also unimpeachable; his very first single paired one of his only original tunes ("End of the Road") with a rocked-up, drums-and-piano ride on Ray Price's dancehall shuffle "Crazy Arms." The next two singles are immortal: "Whole Lotta Shakin 'Going On" is a roadhouse grinder, complete with leering recitation, that stops just short of being too suggestive while still making its "meaning" unmistakable, and "Great Balls of Fire" calls for apocalypse now as it batters Jerry Lee's spiritual and carnal desires into one, er, great ball of fire. Lewis was brought down, of course, when it was revealed in 1958 that he had married his 13-year-old cousin; the charts became off-limits for the unrepentant wildman though his music remained strong as ever. Otherwise, nearly every one of these could have been a hit. Added bonus: "I Get the Blues When It Rains" and "In the Mood" were released on the Sun subsidiary Phillips by an artist listed as the Hawk, but one listen confirms it couldn't possibly be anyone else but the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis.