So many compilations are called ultimate collections but this is one of the few that justifies it, at least as far as the music is concerned. The liner notes are informative regarding her formative years (before she signed for Capitol) but don't say much about the actual music. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places from which this information is obtainable including Wikipedia.
Wanda Jackson started as a country singer but quickly switched to rock'n'roll. Later, she returned to country music although this phase of her career generally yielded mellower music than her brief early period as a country singer. On this compilation, the first CD is devoted to country music and the second to rock'n'roll. Of course, if you are only interested in one period of her career, there are plenty of other compilations of Wanda's music to choose from. This compilation is for those who enjoy all of Wanda's music.
Wanda's first Capitol single (I gotta know) opens the first CD. Also from 1956 comes Wanda's recording of Silver threads and golden needles. Wanda was the first singer to record this song but it seemed to have been ignored until Skeeter Davis included a cover of it on her debut album. The Springfields heard Skeeter's version, covered it and had an American pop and country hit with it. Linda Ronstadt recorded the song twice (once for Capitol and once for Asylum). Since then, it has become a popular song with country music fans, but few of them realize that Wanda Jackson was the original singer. The remaining tracks on the first CD are from the sixties. We'll come to those later.
The rock'n'roll CD opens with Let's have a party (a minor American pop hit) and includes Fujiyama Mama (a Japanese number one hit) that was itself a cover of a blues song first recorded by Annisteen Allen. The remainder of this CD contains plenty of covers of familiar songs associated with such stars as Connie Francis (Stupid Cupid), Buddy Holly (It doesn't matter anymore), Chuck Berry (Brown eyed handsome man, Memphis Tennessee), Little Richard (Long tall Sally), the Coasters (Yakety axe - an instrumental version of this title eventually became Benny Hill's theme tune) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Whole lot of shaking going on). There are also rocking covers of songs originally recorded by Hank Williams (Jambalaya) and George Jones (Who shot Sam). Wanda recorded some of the tracks on this CD after returning to country music, but the compiler wisely included them on this CD.
Wanda returned to country music in 1961, scoring top ten country hits with Right or wrong (the title of one of George Strait's early hits, but his song is completely different - it is not a cover of Wanda's song) and In the middle of a heartache. In subsequent years, Wanda had 23 more hits on the country charts, the last coming in 1972, but never again made the top ten. Some of these hits were very minor but all of Wanda's hits that really matter are included. If I cried every time you hurt me, The violet and the rose, The box it came in, Both sides of the line, Tears will be the chaser for your wine, My baby walked out on me, A girl don't have to drink to have fun, My big iron skillet, Two separate bar stools, A woman lives for love and Fancy satin pillows all made the top forty in the country charts and are included here. Two other top forty country hits (Because it's you, I already know what I'm getting for my birthday) are omitted, along with all the hits that didn't get that high. Wanda's fanatical supporters will (if able to afford it) already have the two Bear Family boxed sets that contain twelve CD's between them, so they won't worry about the omissions.
Instead of including as many minor hits as they could squeeze in, the compiler chose to include a selection of covers of songs made famous by others including three Hank Williams songs (I'm so lonesome I could cry, You win again, Cold cold heart) and two live duets with Mike Post of songs associated with Johnny Cash and June Carter (Jackson, Long legged guitar picking man).
This double CD contains all of Wanda's essential music and will satisfy most needs. Bear Family cater (at a price) for those who want everything that Wanda recorded on Capitol. The rest of us can listen to this and wonder why Wanda didn't become a huge star.
on 16 May 2009
This may sound fairly dramatic, but to my mind Wanda Jackson is one of the all time best female vocalists. Born in 1937, she grew up in Oklahoma and on winning a talent show in her teens, she was given her own local radio programme. Even at school age, she was clearly talented.
Her recording career began in at age 17 in 1954, primarily recording Country music, before switching to Rock `n' Roll. She would juggle both genres and satisfy both camps of her fan base by putting a Country song on one side of a single and a Rockabilly number on the other. Many artists did this at the time as nobody knew how long Rockabilly/Rock `n' Roll would last.
As can be seen on early TV appearances in the 50s (see YouTube), Wanda was almost too hot to handle - beautiful, sassy, talented, and armed with incredible stage presence (not to mention swinging hips!), she was a real first and incredibly different. It's surprising but true that what Shania Twain was doing in the late 90s - combining glamour with talent and a flirtatious stage persona - Wanda Jackson was doing forty years previously.
Beginning with her Capitol debut "I Gotta Know" from 1956, the first disc - comprising her Country recordings - gets things off to a flying start. It is a fitting opener as it showcases both of this young singer/guitarist's styles. At 19, her voice was mature and strong - and here she is singing a classic. The number begins as a Country waltz before launching into Rock 'n' Roll and back again into slow-tempo Country.
Most of her best Country hits are gathered on the first disc, including her 1961 signature hit "Right Or Wrong", which she penned herself. Other classics such as "In the Middle of a Heartache", "The Box It Came In", "Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine", "A Girl Don't Have to Drink to Have Fun", "My Big Iron Skillet" and many, many more brilliant songs pervade this disc.
Her style here is Traditional Country, similar to Loretta or Connie Smith, and with dashes of Patsy-esque torch pop. Talking of whom, Wanda's 1972 recording of "Crazy" is, in my opinion, superior to Clines' and is one of Wanda's very best performances; her vocals are soft and perfectly nuanced.
The second disc reveals her Rock 'n' Roll side. Wanda was and still is known as "The Queen of Rockabilly" (in other words, early Rock 'n' Roll). "Let's Have a Party" was an Elvis cover which became one of Wanda's biggest hits. Her raucous performance are sublime, but is surpassed by "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" from 1956 and "Money Honey" from 1959.
Even by this point of the disc, it is clear to the listener what a versatile vocalist Wanda Jackson is; a notion underlined with vibrant performances of Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and "Memphis Tennessee"; Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up"; Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't", Jerry Lee's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On" and more besides.
There are some truly great performances here: masterpieces of the period. Her recordings of "Hard Headed Woman", "Stupid Cupid", "My Baby Left Me", "Lonely Weekends" and her Japanese Number 1 "Fujiyama Mama", plus more, make for truly inspiring listening. The recording quality is startlingly fresh and could have almost been recorded last week.
Put simply, this album is an absolute bargain, and upon hearing it many times, I earned enough money selling on eBay to purchase her two extensive Bear Family box sets.
Upon conversion to Christianity in 1972, Wanda turned her attention to Gospel Music for the remaining decade. The European revival for Rockabilly in the 80s and 90s reignited the music community's interest in her and she now has younger generations - including me, I'm 20 - listening to and loving her fabulous music. She deserved to be a bigger star than she was -and by that I mean as big as Elvis, who she actually courted in 1955 and who encouraged her to record Rockabilly in the first place. Many comparisons have been made between the two, but if ever there was a male counterpart to Wanda Jackson, it would be Little Richard, one of her idols of the period.
Wanda has been inducted into the Country, Gospel and Rockabilly Hall of Fames respectively, and in early 2009 was finally inducted into the Rock `n' Roll Hall of Fame too. Having recorded Rockabilly, Country, Rock 'n' Roll, Pop and Gospel, such memberships in these Halls can only cement her position as one of the most versatile female artists in popular music history. Right or Wrong, that's what she is.