Jerry Lee Lewis, The Complete Sun Singles, vol. 2

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Jerry Lee Lewis was a marvel, and it's easy to see what he meant when he classified himself (along with Al Jolson, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams) as one of the only four "real" stylists in the history of American music. Long after his 1958 blackballing, when he didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting back onto the Top Twenty, he blithely continued to bend every kind of song imaginable to his will, reworking the tempo, instrumentation, phrasing, arrangement, whatever, to transform that tune into something that sounded like he alone had written it just for himself (when, in truth, he hardly wrote at all). The Killer became virtually his own musical genre, even if his remarkable output rarely — and barely — brushed the bottom of the Hot 100. His approach overpowered new rock material like "Livin 'Lovin 'Wreck" and rock covers like "Money" (a surf sound, no less). You want Lewisized country ("Cold, Cold Heart") and pop ("Ramblin 'Rose") standards? You got 'em. How about a boogying update of a folk song like "John Henry," or of a minstrel tune like "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia"? Jerry Lee, at your service. His take on Ray Charles '"What'd I Say" even charted as high as #30. The piano kept pumping, the voice kept throbbing and the band kept rocking. Jerry Lee was, and is, for the ages.