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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis
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44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2007
"Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis is the man a lot of first generation rockers claim "coulda been bigger than Elvis". In 1958, just over a year into his recording career, a bigamous marriage to his 13 year old cousin (twice removed) hit the tabloids. Many radio stations and concert venues blacklisted Lewis, and it nearly finished him for good. With characteristic defiance, he carried on playing regardless, and after 10 long years of struggle, 1968's 'Another Place, Another Time' started a second run of hits, this time on the country charts, that lasted all the way to 1980. By then, Lewis had become a living legend, and in 2007, he is still touring the globe, having just released a star-studded duets album, 'Last Man Standing'. Of course, the memory of the scandal never completely faded, and five additional wives, a bullet in his bass player's chest, a cadillac crashed through the gates of Graceland, and a phenomenal amount of pills and booze have all added fresh fuel to the fire over the years. And yet, despite the self-destructive streak that has cost him Elvis's huge commercial success, on record, the music of Jerry Lee Lewis is preserved to be judged on its own merit. So, who is the REAL "King of Rock 'n' Roll"?

'The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis' offers 40 tracks from Lewis's early career at Sun Records, from 1956-1963. Although this pre-dates his country comeback in 1968, Jerry Lee's influences were always eclectic - this compilation contains country, blues and boogie-woogie as well as vintage rock 'n' roll, often blended together to create what the artist simply described as "Jerry Lee Lewis music". As a musician, Lewis was a master piano player. While Elvis's guitar was never more than a glorified prop on stage, "The Killer" was capable of improvising intricate piano solos, and playing them with awesome speed and precision. Like Elvis, Jerry Lee almost never composed his own material, but his ability to reinvent and personalise the music of others was second to none. His trademarks included name-checking himself in the lyrics, throwing in adlibs ("easy now!"), and peppering his songs with lascivious laughter, purring and panting (!). Best of all, his irrepressible sexuality, sly humour and supreme arrogance were not part of an act. They came from the very core of his wild nature, untamed and untempered, and this gave his music a raw authenticity quite unlike Elvis's safer, more commercial style.

All the early hits are here, including 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On', 'Great Balls Of Fire' and 'Breathless'. However, as Lewis's songs are often under 3 minutes, there is room for at least another 10 tracks, which is all the more frustrating when noticing that superb cuts like 'It Won't Happen With Me', 'I Can't Seem To Say Goodbye', 'Hang Up My Rock 'n' Roll Shoes' and 'Teenage Letter' have all been left out. These tracks can be found on 'The Essential Sun Collection', which despite one or two omissions of its own - 'Wild One (Real Wild Child)' is disgracefully ignored - is a slightly better buy. As an introduction to the artist, then, this album is not ideal (thus only 4 stars). As a challenge to Elvis Presley's title, though, it throws down the gauntlet with fearsome conviction.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2007
This for my money is one of the better JLL R & R collections on the market, and let's face it, there are quite a few out there. The main problem Joe Public has, is that Jerry Lee made umpteen remakes on umpteen different labels. For the uncommitted casual buyer, my suggestion would definitely be to listen to his Sun output above all others, and that's what's covered here (though not comprehensively of course - there are other collections which do the job on this - it depends how hard you want to hit your bank account).

Lewis's music grew out of Rhythm & Blues, Gospel, C & W and the earthy nightlife of the Deep South. He developed into a brash performer, and eventually parlayed his way into the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis. He told them he "played the piano like Chet Atkins played the guitar". This got their attention and he hit the lower reaches of the charts with "Crazy Arms" - Country more than Rock, but soon he was into the big time with "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and the incomparable "Great Balls Of Fire". This last number won him a spot in the classic 1957 R & R film "Jamboree". The country-flavoured blues had given way to a hard-driving,boogie-woogie style which earned Jerry Lee his place as a pioneer of Rock 'N' Roll.

For me it was no coincidence that Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins had also made their names through Sun - the common denominator was the sound created by producer/entrepreneur Sam Phillips.

There was a sociological connection as well. At the time the record charts in the U.S. (especially in the South) were segregated along racial lines, the Black audience generally being associated with R & B and Gospel, and the White side had Country and Mainstream Pop. Phillips was shrewd enough to see that Jerry Lee could neatly fill a niche as competition for piano-playing Black vocalists like Fats Domino and Little Richard, who were having great success on the crest of the R 'N' R wave.

Phillips' formula was based on three-or four-piece bands and the vocals were liberally laced with slap-back echo. To listen to Jerry Lee's "Well"s, "Oohs" and "Ahs" as he went through his routine is to hear the seminal sounds of 1950's R 'N' R. Gene Vincent was another great exponent of this, and there were many lesser imitators. Lewis's instrumental work was superb - dynamic and flamboyant with the boogie riffs pushing things neatly along. Fats and Little Richard must have been looking over their shoulders.

As the 1960's came around, Phillips expanded to a bigger studio and the slap-back echo now became a more respectable reverb - and for me, at least, that magical Sun ingredient was lost. The tight, crisp sound on "Little Queenie" gave way to a booming, cavernous sound on "Save The Last Dance For Me".

Come 1963 The Beatles changed everything and Jerry Lee left Sun. He eventually "crossed over" into Country and (IMHO) bland mediocrity.

He left a great legacy from the Sun days, however, and I still love to listen to things like the above-mentioned "Little Queenie" (which for me, eclipsed the Chuck Berry original by a mile); "Good Rockin' Tonight", (the piano solo captures him at his frantic best); "Lovin' Up A Storm", "Breathless", "Milkshake Mademoiselle", "Sixty Minute Man" - to my mind this is the authentic Jerry Lee Lewis.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 January 2011
Jerry Lee Lewis AKA "The Ferriday Fireball", "Gods Garbage Man", "The Killer", sure has been the 'Wild Man' of Rock'n'Roll since he started performing in 1954. Now in his 76th year he has lost none of his ferocious persona which has remained unbroken throughout his entire life. He sums himself up "I'm a rompin', stompin', piano playin' son of a bitch. A real mean son of a bitch!" And having followed his scandal saturated career for many years, this description is spot on - he does, indeed, make Keith Richard look like a choirboy! Whatever may be said about him, Jerry Lee is a great man. Perhaps not always a good man but always a great man.

This 2 set anthology of Jerry Lee's work really speaks for itself and too much analysis is superfluous. It contains all of his mega 'rock' hits and includes the best of his love and feel for 'rockin' country music. It is unnecessary to pick out particular tracks as they as are all known to just about every Rocker Aficionado on the planet. This hillybilly hepcat is one of the true American originals and these discs are a fitting tribute to his immense contribution to World Music and continue the enjoyment that he has bestowed on us for over 50 years.

He has persevered and prospered through a career fraught with enough scandal, tribulation and insanity to push a mere mortal into the deep end. He is nothing nowadays if not philosophical and sums up his legacy as "When they look back I want 'em to remember me not for all of my wives, although I've had a few, and certainly not for any mansions or high livin' money I made and spent - I want 'em to remember me simply for my music." He has no worries here....who could possibly forget the mesmeric music of this legendary Rock'n'Roller?

A fitting inscription on his gravestone (a long way off yet I hope) might be from his own lips "I was born feet first, been rockin' ever since."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I've reviewed the earlier Jerry Lee 2 CD collection with a similar name, viz. "The essential Sun collection". I included the following words in my first paragraph:

Anyone putting together any kind of best-of compilation of Jerry Lee Lewis Sun material is on a hiding to nothing because they're bound to leave out something that someone, somewhere sees as essential. The reason for this being inevitable is that Jerry Lee didn't do duff material whilst at Sun. The quality control button was always set to high and the song selection matched his skills superbly. In addition he recorded a vast mass of material, quite a lot of which wasn't even released while he was at the label. Consequently any best-of that doesn't constrain itself to the hits - and, of course, after the '58 UK visit these dropped off for a time - is bound to disappoint someone.

Unlike that album which included the A and B sides of Jerry's Sun/London American singles from the first to the last (though with some omissions at the end), this set seems to aim more at a subjective view of which Jerry Lee tracks were essential - or which were essential enough to fit within an arbitrary constraint of 40 tracks!?!?!? That said they've probably done a pretty good job but as I observed above, not everyone will be happy!

The good news is that on this one we get "Don't be cruel" (wherein he absolutely massacres the Presley original!), "Hello Josephine" (a great take on a Fats Domino number), "Matchbox" and "Jambalaya" (Like "Don't be cruel" from that awesome first album), "Good Rockin' Tonight" (which I'd say was honours even with Elvis), and the weird and wonderful, "Ramblin' Rose" (what was all that about?), and there's also the totally manic "I've been twistin'".

Yup it's a good set and you even get some rather nice obscure country numbers.

I can't make your mind up for you. This one's pretty damn good as well (and it does have four extra numbers).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2009
Yes, all the greatest hits are here and some lesser known tracks also. The album just keeps rockin along and is great just to put on turn up the volume and dance to. Even better if you purchase a dvd of jerry lee then you have all the visual vibrant energy of one of the rock n roll greats.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 2009
The best of the best recordings. If you're looking for a single comprehensive set of the man's best from the Sun studios, then this is it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2011
How can anyone not love Jerry Lee, he is one of the true greats of rock n Roll so pay it loud!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2008
The original SUN stuff and no foolin' around! This double CD is the
real essence of the living legend called Jerry Lee Lewis. The man who
made Devil's music, who was literally crucified in Britain and USA
because of his marriage; the man who was banned by all radio stations
because of this although he was producing the best and most genuine
rock 'n roll ever! Anyway we know the story and he luckily came back
and would become a # 1 Country music performer during the seventies.
Here we have 40 of the purest rock 'n roll contributions with still a
lot of highlights one of them being "It hurt me so" a song that I had
never heard before in spite of all the JLL compilatons I own. At the
same time there's a lot of "early" country done the way he did it.
Jerry Lee started out, like mostly all stars in the 50's, as a country
performer and when he visited SUN records for the first time he even didn't
know what R&R was like and Jack Clement(the man who discovered and
believed in him) had to explain it to Jerry. The best buy to get if
you like true R&R and Country music at the same time. I was brought up
in both genres so I can tell!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2015
Great stuff from the killer. good sound
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on 3 August 2012
Bought this to add to my rock n roll collection and am very pleased with it. Good selection of tracks and good sound reproduction considering its age.
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