Monday, 20 September 2010
Jerry Lee Lewis - The Originals versus The Re-Cuts!
Jerry Lee Lewis has often re-recorded songs that he first recorded earlier during his 54-year professional career, with some of these being far superior & others most definitely inferior. I’ve attempted below to list 100 of the more notable of these, though it’s not quite a definitive list. I generally avoided (a) ‘live’ recordings (particularly the 1964 ‘Live At The Star Club, Hamburg’ album where he blows away every studio version), except in a handful of cases where the song was only recorded in the studio once, (b) recordings that only circulate unofficially or via bootlegs, & (c) alternate takes from the same sessions. Also I haven’t included ‘All Night Long’: Jerry recorded songs under that title in both 1957 & 1968, but these are actually two completely different songs (likewise some people confuse ‘As Long As I Live’ from 1960 with ‘As Long As We Live’ from 1977). I’ve also listed the “winning” version of each song, though this is of course just my personal opinion, & you can gladly tell me your opinion in the comments section. So sit back & enjoy, & if you own these recordings yourself perhaps this article will inspire you to take another listen…
1. A Picture From Life’s Other Side (1970 versus 1974)
In December 1970 Jerry cut a 6-song session in Memphis (probably with his road band at the time), none of which was released until the late 80s. Amongst these was an uptempo version of this song. In 1974 he recorded a slower version (in ¾ “waltz” time) during the final session for the mediocre ‘I-40 Country’ album. None of these versions really did the song justice though, with my favourite being a stunning 7-minute performance from a Rotterdam 1981 radio broadcast, which is sadly unavailable officially.
2. Bad Moon Rising (1973 versus 2010)
When running through this song at the 1973 London sessions, bassist Chas Hodges (of future Chas & Dave fame) started singing a harmony vocal. Jerry liked this, & asked for him to be given a microphone, resulting in the only duet on the 1973 ‘The Session’ double album (despite the presence of such luminaries as Alvin Lee, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher & Albert Lee). He re-recorded the song for his latest album ‘Mean Old Man’ with the song’s composer John Fogerty singing harmony, but the fact that Jerry was forced to sing it in a lower key, didn’t play piano & John Fogerty was quite obviously not in the studio with him all contribute to this being less than impressive.
3. Be-Bop-A-Lula (1962 versus 1973)
Often unfairly criticised by 50s rock & roll fans, Jerry’s 1962 recording is a slowed down & more bluesy performance than Gene Vincent’s fine original, though it wasn’t released until 1970 (on the Sun International album ‘Monsters’). At the 1973 London sessions he & the band emphasised the blues feel even further, recording an over-long slowed down dirge that quite rightly wasn’t released until years later.
4. Before The Night Is Over (1977 versus 2004 versus 2006)
The 1977 cut (released on his final Mercury album ‘Keeps Rockin’’ the following year) is probably the closest Jerry ever came to cutting a disco record! Perhaps a bit dated sounding now, I think it works quite well. Although I don’t know of a live version from before 1983, by the time Jerry re-recorded it in 2004 (released 2006) for his ‘Last Man Standing’ album (with a guitar overdub by none other than B.B. King) he was performing the song at most shows, even introducing the song as “From our new album…”. I like it alot, though there's been some studio "trickery" (the backing track has been speeded up a semi-tone). ‘Last Man Standing’ was sold by various download sites with exclusive bonus tracks, & of the 9 available tracks 3 were genuine studio outtakes from the album, though the other 6 were just quick live-in-the-studio run-throughs with his band, including this song. The playing is fine, but Jerry’s voice sounds extremely rough & quivery (he has rarely ever sounded good ‘live’ after 2004 unfortunately).
5. Big Blon’ Baby (1958 versus 1971)
Released as the B-side to the classic ‘Lovin’ Up A Storm’ in early 1959, the song (with it’s “jumping jehosaphat” tag) was an obvious attempt at writing another ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ (as was the A-side), & would’ve no doubt been a commercial success if his career wasn’t in tatters at the time. The 1971 re-cut (the only real rocker on the ‘Would You Take Another Chance On Me’ album) is hotter, faster & wilder, but also somehow lacks the charm of the earlier cut.
6. Big Boss Man (1965 versus 1973)
Probably inspired by Charlie Rich’s version from a couple of years earlier, this leftover from a 1965 recording session in New York was one of the better recordings on the patchy ‘Memphis Beat’ album the following year. The 1973 London recording is slower & heavier with a full-on “blues-rock” backing, but both vocals & piano lack the loose playfulness of the earlier cut.
7. Born To Lose (1956 versus 1969)
Recorded at his very first proper recording session on November 14th 1956 (the same session that produced both sides of his first single), this superb mid-tempo country performance wasn’t released until 18 years later on the U.K. Phonogram ‘Rockin’ & Free’ LP. The 1969 re-cut from the album ‘Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits Vol. 1’ is slower & more refined, but beautifully sung & played. It’s a very difficult choice, but if push comes to shove then I think the Sun cut has the edge…
8. Break Up (1958 versus 1963)
Apart from the rush-released “comedy” record ‘The Return Of Jerry Lee’ (with ‘Lewis Boogie’ wasted as a B-side), this was Jerry’s first A-side since the big scandal over his marriage almost ended his career. A top-notch Charlie Rich composition, it deserved to do so much better commercially. The 1963 re-cut (from his debut Smash album ‘Golden Hits’) is a bit more driving, & would probably have the edge if it wasn’t for the over-production.
9. Breathless (1958 versus 1963 versus 1988)
His classic 4th single, this was Jerry’s 3rd biggest U.S. hit, & in the U.K. it tied with ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ as his 2nd biggest hit (the biggest being ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ of course). Despite, this he’s rarely performed the song ‘live’ even during the 60s (he’s said on more than one occasion that he hates the song). The 1963 re-cut (for ‘Golden Hits’) has far more drive & enthusiasm, & is in my opinion superior despite having too many musicians & backing singers behind him. He re-recorded several of his early hits again in late 1988 for the ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie & soundtrack album the following year, & did a surprisingly good job on most songs including this.
10. C.C. Rider (1960 versus 1961 versus 1972)
Based on Chuck Willis’ hit version (though the song dates back much further), the 1960 cut is a tough mid-tempo performance with some strong saxophone & slightly hoarse (but perfect for this) vocals from Jerry. This didn’t see the light of day until the 1969 ‘Rockin’, Rhythm & Blues’ album, while the 1961 version (equally fine if it wasn’t for some annoying middle-of-the-road backing vocals) had to wait until Charly’s 1983 ‘The Sun Years’ ground-breaking 12-album box-set. The 1972 version from the fabulous (but curiously overlooked today) ‘The Killer Rocks On’ album includes one of Kenny Lovelace’s finest ever fiddle solos, a solo that he recreated on stage for years – until Jerry decided in 1989 that he didn’t want the fiddle in his stage act any more.
Jerry Lee Lewis' first album from 1958. 8 of the 12 songs would later be re-recorded either 'live' or in the studio.
11. Cold Cold Heart (1957 versus 1961 versus 1969)
Surprisingly for a ‘50s Sun recording, the 1957 version is the slowest. It’s not bad, but it’s perhaps a bit too plodding, & Jerry’s ‘50s Sun country recordings at 706 Union Avenue usually worked better with a bit more bounce. The classic 1961 cut is far superior though, & (as the flip side to the pop-rock ‘It Won’t Happen With Me’) was even a top 30 U.S. country hit during the otherwise barren early 60s era. The 1969 version from ‘Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits Vol. 2’ is quite similar, except Jerry plays around with the vocal melody a little more.
12. Corrine Corrina (1965 versus 1977)
From probably his greatest ever album (certainly his greatest studio rock & roll album) ‘The Return Of Rock’, the 1965 cut has a very expressive vocal & some fabulous pounding piano. The 1977 cut could never top this, but it’s still more than worthwhile, with great piano & fiddle solos, & should’ve been issued on the ‘Keeps Rockin’’ album (it’s far superior to ‘Blue Suede Shoes’) instead of remaining in the vaults for nearly a decade.
13. Crawdad Song (1957 versus 1975)
The frantic 1957 cut (first released on the ‘Olde Tyme Country Music’ album in 1970) has a real party atmosphere with screams & yelps in the background, reminiscent of some of Gene Vincent’s early sides. The 1975 version is very different, with a slow & bluesy “High Heel Sneakers” beat & prominent harmonica, though both versions are great in their own way. Whenever Jerry’s very occasionally performed the song ‘live’ (such as on the 1987 ‘Live In Italy’ album, & at London’s 100 Club as recent as 2008) he usually chooses a tempo somewhere between the two studio versions.
14. Crazy Arms (1956 versus 1963 versus 1965 versus 1988)
The A side of Jerry’s very first single (& a minor regional U.S. hit), he also recorded a couple of playful “solo” (without a band) versions during the first couple of years at Sun. This was re-cut for ‘Golden Hits’ in 1963, & then again in 1965 (with an uptempo saxophone-led arrangement) for the ‘Country Songs For City Folks’ LP. It was cut yet again in 1988 for the ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie & soundtrack album: most issues featured an overdubbed duet vocal by Dennis Quaid, though some releases (both official & bootleg) include the undubbed version.
15. Don’t Be Cruel (1958 versus 1972)
Riding high on the success of his biggest two hits in early 1958, Jerry went into the studio with his road band J.W. Brown on bass & Russell Smith on drums (there was no guitarist) & cut a session of mostly Elvis Presley hits. They all remained in the vaults until at least the late 60s with the exception of this song, which was the opening track on his first album ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ the following year. The 1972 cut from ‘The Killer Rocks On’ (coincidentally also the opening song) is faster with some great piano & a much bigger band, including a string section (recorded live in the studio!). I know that many purists hate this arrangement, but…
16. Don’t Let Go (1965 versus 1979)
Although this Roy Hamilton song was perhaps one of the weaker cuts on the 1965 ‘The Return Of Rock’ album, it still rocks along very nicely indeed. So, any later re-cuts are hardly going to be an improvement, right? Wrong! The 1979 opening cut from Jerry’s first Elektra album ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ absolutely blows it away, from the “1,2,3,4” count-in onwards, with James Burton’s stinging guitar, Hal Blaine’s tight drumming & The Ron Hicklin Singers’ backing vocals perfectly complimenting his performance.
17. Don’t Touch Me (1986 versus 1987)
In late 1986 Jerry cut an album with his road band at the time (Kenny Lovelace, Bob Moore & Buddy Harmon plus possibly a 2nd guitarist). Released as ‘Rocket’ in just a few countries 2 years later, many of the songs featured The Jordanaires mixed far too loudly, & this otherwise very good country performance is no exception. The following year Jerry cut a long session for Hank Cochran alone at a keyboard; released in 1995 as ‘At Hank Cochran’s’ (possibly as a widely available bootleg, I’ve never been entirely sure of how "official" this release was), for many songs he used a very cheap sounding portable keyboard rather than a piano, & some extremely cheesy & inappropriate backing was overdubbed onto most of the songs. The 1987 version of this song is at least listenable though (fortunately he played piano instead of the cheap keyboard here).
Another song that is on both ‘Rocket’ & ‘At Hank Cochran’s’ is ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, but as the latter version is a rough run-through alone at the piano (where he stops & talks halfway through) I don’t really regard it as a proper take.
18. Down The Line (1958 versus 1963 versus 1973)
Although only released as a B-side (of ‘Breathless’), the song gained legendary status amongst fans during the early 60s due to the fact that Jerry more often than not opened his shows with the song (I’ve only listed the studio versions here but for the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll experience check out the 1964 ‘Live At The Star Club, Hamburg’ version [actually not included on the original album though it’s on the Bear Family CD re-issue]). The 1963 ‘Golden Hits’ re-cut has a very different arrangement from the mid-tempo Sun cut, performed at a much faster tempo that’s closer to the Roy Orbison original. The 1973 version from ‘The Session’ would be a strong contender for the ultimate studio cut if it wasn’t for the way Jerry’s voice “goes” at one point (I cringe every time I hear that part).
19. Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee (1957 versus 1958 versus 1963 versus 1973)
A long-time favourite of Jerry’s (legend has it that this was the first non-religious song he ever performed in public way back in circa 1949), & every version is great in it’s own way. The first version from 1957 has a very memorable piano intro (I wish he’d recreate it ‘live’) though due to the subject matter (getting paralytic drunk) it had to wait until the 1970 ‘Monsters’ album before it was released. The 1958 version (actually 2 takes) wasn’t released until the 1983 ‘The Sun Years’ box-set, & the 1963 Smash cut was one of the highlights of the 1966 ‘Memphis Beat’ LP. Lastly, the 1973 cut from ‘The Session’ was also released as a single (times had changed since 1957), deservedly reaching the U.S. pop top 40. The song is still more often than not part of Jerry's stage show today.
20. End Of The Road (1956 versus 1963)
From his very first Sun session in November 1956, this was released as the B-side to his first single ‘Crazy Arms’ a couple of weeks later. Although Jerry did a “solo” performance at the end of the famed Million Dollar Quartet session (on December 4th 1956), there’s only been one released studio re-cut & that was for the 1963 ‘Golden Hits’ album (he also cut an interesting version of the song for Elektra in 1980 but this remains unreleased).
Golden Hits from 1963. All 12 songs were previously recorded for Sun during 1956-1958.
21. Flip, Flop & Fly (1965 versus 1970)
Another song from 1965’s ‘The Return Of Rock’, this has some interesting chord changes thrown into the chorus (though the guitar riff is a little annoying). The 1970 version is a ‘live’ recording from the ‘Live At The International Hotel, Las Vegas’ LP. The only rock & roll song on the original album, it’s not a particularly good choice (although it closes the album, it was actually the opening song from one of the recorded concerts).
22. Fools Like Me (1958 versus 1963)
Recorded in late April 1958 & released (with a male vocal group overdub) a few weeks later as the B-side to Jerry’s 5th Sun single ‘High School Confidential’, this is one of his most memorable early ballads. The 1963 ‘Golden Hits’ re-cut features a much fuller band complete with a string section, & this treatment suits the song perfectly, as do the girly backing singers.
23. Forever Forgiving (1974 versus 1982)
From the 1975 ‘Boogie Woogie Country Man’ album, this is a fine Mack Vickery-penned country ballad. Perhaps surprisingly, of the 24 released songs from the patchy 1982-1984 MCA era (two 10-track albums + a handful of outtakes) there was only one remake, & that was this song. From the ‘My Fingers Do The Talkin’’ LP, this is performed at a slightly slower tempo & probably has the edge due to the clearer vocals (he was having voice problems during 1974-1975).
24. Good Rockin’ Tonight (1958 versus 1962)
Both attempts at the Roy Brown (via Elvis Presley) classic were recorded for Sun, & both were deemed not worthy of release at the time. The 1958 cut is the wildest, & even features a snatch of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, but wasn’t issued until 1983 on ‘The Sun Years’ box-set. The 1962 cut is much slower & more laid-back, but features a tremendous vocal performance from Jerry (one of his best). This first saw the light of day via the 1969 ‘Rockin’, Rhythm & Blues’ LP.
25. Goodnight Irene (1957 versus 1975)
Recorded probably during the spring of 1957 before he had any big hits, it was overdubbed with a vocal group for Jerry’s first album ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ the following year. This is performed very respectfully at a slow tempo (though one of the alternate takes from the session is partly rocked-up), unlike the far sprightly 1975 re-cut for the 'Odd Man In' album. Unfortunately the latter is marred by a rather distracting 2nd vocal in the background, which “bled” into the piano microphone prior to him doing a vocal overdub.
26. Gotta Travel On (1969 versus 1994)
In 1969 Jerry recorded a full album of enjoyable duets with his sister Linda Gail Lewis, with this song being one of the highlights of the resulting 'Together' album. The re-cut from the ‘Youngblood’ album (which would be a strong candidate for his best album since 1980 if it wasn’t for the mushy production) is quite similar except that it’s performed without Linda Gail. Fine though it is, it sounds a little empty to these ears after years of being used to the duet.
27. Great Balls Of Fire (1957 versus 1963 versus 1975 versus 1988)
Jerry’s biggest & most famous hit, though personally it’s always been far from a favourite of mine. It’s incredible to believe that there are only two instruments on the Sun single cut; just piano & drums (no bass or guitar), unlike the 1963 ‘Golden Hits’ re-cut which features at least 3 times as many people, & is probably the weakest of all the re-cuts on this album. The 1975 version is very different, being given a sort of “ragtime” treatment! This (probably wisely) wasn’t deemed releasable at the time & wasn’t issued until the late 80s. Lastly but by no means least is the “movie” version, for the 1989 ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie & soundtrack album. This is nearly twice as long as the original, & features much inspired piano playing, as well as a guitar solo.
28. Hello Josephine (1961 versus 1962)
Only two albums were issued during Jerry’s 1956-1963 stay at Sun, ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’ in 1958 & ‘Jerry Lee’s Greatest’ in late 1961, the latter of which featured this song, driven along by some very fine sax playing from Johnny ‘Ace’ Cannon. For some reason Jerry recorded the song again 12 months later, this time with some fine guitar work by Roland Janes (or was it Scotty Moore?) replacing Johnny’s sax, though this wasn’t issued until the 1969 ‘Rockin’, Rhythm & Blues’ album (a 3rd version was cut at a session a week after the 2nd one, but this sounds like little more than a rough session warm-up so isn't included in this analysis). It’s difficult to choose between the two, though the 1962 cut features a more expressive vocal.
29. High Powered Woman (1961 versus 1962)
Two very different recordings of this song were recorded at Sun, though none were released until well into the ‘70s. The 1961 version features a ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ intro & some very fine saxophone, & wasn’t released until the Sun International ‘Golden Rock ‘n’ Roll’ collection in 1977. The 1962 cut features a strong Ray Charles influence right down to the ‘What’d I Say’ inspired intro, though at around 1 minute & 43 seconds it’s even shorter than the 2 minute version from a year earlier.
30. High School Confidential (1958 versus 1963 versus 1988)
His classic 5th single, & the title track from the movie of the same name which features Jerry & his band performing the song over the opening & closing credits. Although it was 25 years before we knew it, Sam Phillips spliced the ending from a different take onto the original release (the unspliced take was finally issued on ‘The Sun Years’ box-set in 1983). Like several of his hits, this song was re-cut both for 1963’s ‘Golden Hits’ & the 1989 (recorded 1988) ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie soundtrack album. Incidentally there’s also an instrumental version of the song on ‘The Session’ from 1973, but this does NOT feature Jerry.
The Return Of Rock from 1965, possibly the greatest studio rock & roll album ever made. 6 of the 12 songs are available as different versions elsewhere (& that's the late Alex Chilton dancing on the cover by the way!).
31. Honey Hush (1957 versus 1973 versus 1974)
This must be the unluckiest song in Jerry’s repertoire, as all three versions didn’t see the light of day until many years later (a further cut for Elektra in 1980 hasn’t been released at all!). A Big Joe Turner jump-blues tune, lyrics such as “If you don’t leave me alone I’ll knock you down with a base-ball bat” were hardly suitable for the ‘50s pop charts. Nevertheless, all cuts sound inspired. The 1957 version wasn’t released until the 1970 ‘Monsters’ album, while the 1973 ‘Southern Roots’ outtake (with none other than Carl Perkins on guitar) wasn’t released until the late 80s, the same as the ‘Boogie Woogie Country Man’ reject from the following year. All three are more than worthy versions.
32. Hound Dog (1958 versus 1960)
Jerry recorded this twice for Sun, both of which remained in the can for many years (like far too many other Sun recordings). The 1958 cut is from an April 1958 session of mostly Elvis covers, though this one doesn’t work quite as well as ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ or ‘Jailhouse Rock’. It was first issued on ‘Rockin’ & Free’ in 1974. The 1960 cut is far more bluesy, & owes as much to Big Mama Thornton’s original as it does to Elvis Presley’s more famous cover. Despite it’s quality, this had to wait until the ‘Don’t Drop It’ album in 1988 for a release (the song is also on both of Jerry’s 1964 ‘live’ albums).
33. House Of Blue Lights (1975 versus 1986 versus 1994)
A song that dates back to the 40s, it’s a little surprising that Jerry didn’t first tackle this at Sun. Instead he waited until the 1975 ‘Odd Man In’ sessions & cut a more than acceptable take on the song that’s certainly no worse than anything else on the album, but despite this it remained unreleased until the late 80s. The 1986 ‘Rocket’ version (released 1988) could almost be an alternate take of the 1975 cut, & they even both include a snatch of ‘Lewis Boogie’ (fortunately The Jordanaires sat this one out). For 1995’s ‘Youngblood’ album (recorded the previous year) producer Andy Paley went for a full 40s swing feel, similar to what Brian Setzer does with his orchestra. As with ‘Honey Hush’, all three versions are more than acceptable.
34. How’s My Ex Treating You (1962 versus 1966)
A superb bluesy modern (for 1962) country song, this features a tremendous opening riff similar to Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ by J.W. Brown on his bass (though a weaker alternate take from the same session doesn’t feature this). Released as the B-side to ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ in the same year, this was a minor hit in it’s own right in some territories, including Fort Worth in Texas; so when Jerry cut the live album ‘By Request (More Of The Greatest Live Show On Earth)’ there in 1966 the song was greeted with cheers.
35. I Can’t Help It / You Can’t Help It (1957 versus 1960)
Jerry cut several Hank Williams classics at Sun (& quite a few for other labels), including this heartfelt performance from 1957. For several years only available on an early 70s bootleg, it was finally made available officially on Charly’s 1977 ‘Nuggets Volume Two’ compilation. At one of his final Sun sessions at 706 Union Avenue in January 1960 Jerry cut several speeded up takes, altering the lyrics from ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’ to ‘You Can’t Help It (If You’re Still In Love With Me)’! An interesting (& egotistical) experiment, they didn’t see the light of day until the late 80s.
36. I Don’t Want To Be Lonely Tonight (1974 versus 2006)
A catchy pop-rocker, this was first recorded during the London sessions of January 1973: unfortunately this take was not issued & is now lost, but he cut it again in 1974 & it was released on ‘Odd Man In’ the following year. The 2006 version is one of those live-in-the-studio download-only bonus tracks that are very good instrumentally but ropey vocally.
37. I Forgot To Remember To Forget (1957 versus 1961)
Several takes of this song were attempted during a September 1957 session, though none of them are totally successful, with Jerry & the band attempting to find the right key, rhythm & tempo. All takes remained unissued until at least the 80s. Far superior is the February 1961 version, recorded in Nashville at the same session that produced the hit versions of ‘What’d I Say’ & ‘Cold Cold Heart’. Surprisingly this wasn’t released until 1974, via Charly's 'Rare Jerry Lee Lewis Volume 2' compilation. Incidentally, this has never been issued in true stereo on CD, though it was available on the Sun International ‘Roots’ LP in 1981 (but not the CD reissue!).
38. I Get The Blues When It Rains (1960 versus 1969)
In an attempt to get Jerry some much-needed air-play, Sam Phillips in 1960 came up with the idea of releasing an instrumental single by Jerry under the name ‘The Hawk’, releasing it on the Phillips International label. The ruse failed miserably, but ‘I Get The Blues When It Rains’ was the B-side of the single (the A-side was the old Glen Miller hit ‘In The Mood’). A vocal version (albeit with a long instrumental passage) was finally recorded for the ‘Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits Vol. 2’ album in 1969.
39. I Love You Because (1957 versus 1961 versus 1969)
The 1957 version is performed at a very slow & plodding tempo, though it’s not without its charm & features some nice piano. This remained unissued until the 1983 ‘The Sun Years’ box-set. Far better is the faster 1961 version (though the backing singers are a bit annoying), first released on ‘Original Golden Hits Volume Three’ in 1971. Lastly is the beautiful 1969 version, released on ‘Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits Vol. 1’.
40. I’ll Fly Away (1970 versus 1981)
Although Jerry has recorded quite a few gospel songs throughout his career, he’s only issued one complete studio album of gospel music, & that was ‘In Loving Memories (The Jerry Lee Lewis Gospel Album)’ in 1970. Most of the songs on this were slow to mid paced, all sung with a passion that can thrill even a confirmed non-believer like myself, but the one frantic uptempo (I guess ‘rockin’’ is the wrong word) song is ‘I’ll Fly Away’. Produced by Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis & with a superb mix (check out how loud & clear the piano is on this album) this is unbeatable. During Jerry’s 1981 European Tour he ended up jamming with Carl Perkins most nights, & on two occasions they both joined their old friend Johnny Cash & his band. The 1st time was in Rotterdam (available on a bootleg) & the 2nd time was in Stuttgart, where the highlights were issued as ‘Survivors’ the following year, including a loose but enjoyable mid-tempo jam on this song.
The Session from 1973, Jerry's first "all star" album. Fortunately most of the guests didn't sing though! Well over half the songs on the album are available in earlier or later versions.
41. I’ll Make It All Up To You (1958 versus 1963)
A beautiful Charlie Rich ballad, this was recorded at Jerry’s first recording session following the big scandal over his marriage to Myra, & was released as the B-side to ‘Break Up’ (also a Charlie Rich song & also recorded at this session). Unusually the piano on this is played by the song’s composer instead of Jerry: long-term fans (such as Chas Hodges of ‘Chas & Dave’ fame) always knew this due to the fact that the song is performed in “Eb”, not a key he plays in. The 1963 recut is a little faster & a little higher (key of “G”), & this time most definitely features The Killer himself on piano.
42. I’ll Sail My Ship Alone (1958 versus 1966)
Originally recorded & written by Moon Mullican (an early Jerry Lee Lewis inspiration), the Sun cut (& several alternate takes) feature an unnecessary saxophone honking away but it is otherwise a very good mid-tempo country-rock performance. Jerry recorded the song again for his 1966 live album ‘By Request (More Of The Greatest Live Show On Earth)’, this time with his road band including some tremendous drumming from the legendary Morris ‘Tarp’ Tarrant (a drummer who taught not one but two Lewis family members how to play the drums!).
43. I’m On Fire (1964 versus 1988)
Although no doubt sounding a bit “retro” even in 1964, this is a first-rate rock & roll song that deserved to do better when released as a single that year. In early 1989 I was one of 500 “extras” during the London concert scene in the movie ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ (being paid £25 to heckle Dennis Quaid was easy money!), & when there I was surprised to hear a Sun-styled re-cut of the song being mimed to by Quaid, not least because the scene was set in 1958 & the song wasn’t recorded until 6 years later! Although the vocal isn’t quite as hot as the 1964 single, the less cluttered backing suits this song perfectly.
44. I Sure Miss Those Good Old Times (1973 versus 1976)
Written by the late great Mack Vickery (perhaps the finest writer of Lewis songs during the 70s & 80s), the 1973 version is a drunken ramble with a curious mixture of horns & steel guitar amongst the backing. Recorded at the ‘Southern Roots’ sessions, the decision not to release this was probably a correct one for a change, & it didn’t see the light of day until 1987. Far more restrained & sober-sounding was the 1976 version for the apt-named ‘Country Class’ album.
45. It All Depends (Who Will Buy The Wine) (1957 versus 1979)
Recorded in 1957 & (along with 3 other songs) overdubbed in April 1958 with a male vocal chorus for inclusion on Jerry’s first album, this is one of his finest early country-pop ballads. The 1979 re-cut (released under the alternate title ‘Who Will Buy The Wine’ on the mostly brilliant ‘When Two Worlds Collide’ album the following year) is given the full Nashville treatment of fiddle, steel guitar, strings & girly backing vocals. Despite (or because of) this, it’s a more than worthy remake. However, for some reason I find Jerry’s more “innocent” younger vocals more appealing on this particular song.
46. It’ll Be Me (1957 versus 1957)
This song has the distinction of being the very first to be issued in two different versions (unless we include the extremely rare ‘Jamboree’ movie soundtrack album which featured an alternate version of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’). The faster & superior version was issued as the flip of Jerry’s 2nd single ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, while a quite different slower alternate version from a later session was issued the following year on his 1958 debut album ‘Jerry Lee Lewis’. I’ve always thought it a little strange that this wasn’t re-recorded for ‘Golden Hits’ in 1963, as all A & B sides of his first 5 Sun singles (plus his 7th Sun single) were cut with the exception of this song.
Winner: 1957 (1st version)
47. Jailhouse Rock (1958 versus 1986)
Recorded at the same early 1958 session as several other Presley titles, this would’ve made an ideal track for Jerry’s first album but had to wait until the 1970 Sun International ‘Monsters’ album for release instead. The 1986 re-cut (released on ‘Rocket’ 2 years later) isn’t bad, but The Jordanaires water things down considerable (even Elvis had the sense not to use them on this song!).
48. Jambalaya (On The Bayou) (1958 versus 1969)
A Hank Williams classic, the 1958 cut is a superb modern (for 1958) mid-paced rock & roll performance, & deservedly was included on Jerry’s first album that year. The 1969 version is given a drastic makeover, with rearranged chords & melody. Performed much faster than the earlier version, it is also notable for some outstanding fiddle playing from Kenny Lovelace (check out the live version on the ‘Live At The International Hotel, Las Vegas’ album from the following year too).
49. Jealous Heart (1970 versus 1977)
First recorded at a 1970 session in Memphis (none of which was released until over 15 years later), this song unusually features Jerry playing an electric piano. He re-cut the song in 1977, & this time it was released within a few months on the excellent ‘Country Memories’ album.
50. Jerry Lee’s Rock & Roll Revival Show (1976 versus 1987)
The 1976 ‘Country Class’ album has always been one of my very favourites though without a doubt the weakest song is the only rocker: this one. One of those contrived songs which mentions many other (better) rock & roll songs in the lyrics, this lacks drive & commitment (he cut a similarly contrived song called ‘The Fifties’ at the same session which thankfully stayed in the can for a decade). I have close to a thousand live concerts of Jerry Lee Lewis in my collection, but the only ‘live’ version of this song I can recall is from a concert in Rome in 1987. Songs from this concert & a concert in Milan the night before were released on the ‘Live In Italy’ album, which to be honest sounds no better than an average bootleg recording. The ‘live’ version does at least have a bit more drive than the earlier studio cut, but it still comes second best due to the ropey sound.
Jerry's debut Elektra album from 1979. Rightly regarded as one of his finest albums by fans & critics alike, this featured 2 songs previously recorded for Smash in the '60s (though another song was re-recorded for Jerry's latest album 'Mean Old Man').
51. Johnny B. Goode (1958 versus 1963 versus 1973)
Jerry first recorded a brilliant version of this solo (without a band) in May of 1958, though this probably was never intended for release (it wasn’t issued until Charly’s ‘The Sun Years’ box-set 25 years later). He recorded the song again 2 months later with a band, & although this isn’t a bad version, it’s marred by some sloppy “stops & starts” & wasn’t made available until 1969’s excellent ‘Rockin’, Rhythm & Blues’ compilation. The 1963 cut is from the ‘Golden Hits’ sessions in September of that year, & was issued on ‘The Return Of Rock’ 2 years later. Again it isn’t bad, but it’s still probably the low-light of the album, lacking the fire of the other Chuck Berry revivals ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ & ‘Maybelline’. Lastly is the 1973 version from ‘The Session’, recorded in London with various UK “rock” luminaries. Mostly I’m not so keen on the re-cuts on this album as I find them a bit overblown & bombastic, but in this case the treatment worked perfectly, with The Killer sounding genuinely inspired.
52. Last Cheater’s Waltz (1977 versus 2006)
A beautiful song recorded in ¾ “waltz” time (of course), this was issued on Jerry’s final album with Mercury while still with the label, 1978's 'Keeps Rockin''. It’s a pity it wasn’t released as a single as it would’ve no doubt been a big country hit, & indeed T.G. Sheppard reached number one in the U.S. Billboard country charts with the song in 1979. The 2006 version is one of several songs that was only made available as an exclusive download “bonus” track, & it’s a more than worthwhile remake. Sung in a lower key (there were some pretty high notes on the original) & with prominent harmonies by renowned session singers Bernard Fowler & Stacy Michelle, this song perfectly suits Jerry’s older voice. Incidentally, I was lucky enough to witness the only known ‘live’ version of the song back in 1983 at a concert in Cardiff when the song was requested by someone in the audience (up until the end of the 80s Jerry had a repertoire of literally 100’s of songs that he could seemingly play at the drop of a hat; nowadays there’s probably no more than about 20 songs that he could play perfectly in concert without rehearsal, something he’s far too lazy to do).
53. Last Letter (1970 versus 1977)
As with a couple of other songs featured here, this was first attempted at a December 1970 session with Jerry’s road band, & remained in the vaults until the late 80s. Unusually this features a double-tracked harmony vocal by Jerry, & it’s one of his finest duets! The 1977 version from the ‘Keeps Rockin’’ sessions is excellent too, but this too remained unreleased until the late 80s (there were enough top quality leftovers from 1976-1977 to compile a further album after he left the label if Mercury wanted to). It’s tough to choose a favourite, but the novelty of hearing Jerry harmonising with himself gives the earlier version the edge I think.
54. Let’s Talk About Us (1959 versus 1968)
Recorded in June 1959 (though some inferior run-throughs were also recorded 3 months earlier), this was released as a single later that year. A very good pop-rocker that is notable for it’s brilliant piano intro, the single is marred by some very insipid overdubbed female backing vocals (I’m not as anti-backing singers as many fans but in this case they were very bad!). The 1969 cut lacks the piano intro (why?), but is otherwise probably superior, & was issued as the one token rock & roll song on the otherwise all country ‘She Still Comes Around’ LP.
55. Life’s Railway To Heaven (1977 versus 2010)
Although Jerry had performed the song ‘live’ many years earlier (it’s featured on a fascinating live Memphis gospel recording from 1970, an album that wasn’t issued until the late 80s), it wasn’t until 1977 that he first cut it in the studio. Yet another ‘Keeps Rockin’’ reject that is the equal of anything on the album, this was first issued in 1986 on the Dutch ‘30th Anniversary Album’. Jerry cut the song again circa 2005 during (or possibly just after) the ‘Last Man Standing’ sessions. Rejected at the time, it was overdubbed several years later by Solomon Burke & released on Jerry’s latest album ‘Mean Old Man’. Although Jerry sounds OK (but not outstanding), there’s a very obvious splice or overdub a couple of lines into the song (much of ‘Mean Old Man’ sounds a little amateurishly recorded compared to Jimmy Rip’s sparking production on ‘Last Man Standing’) & Solomon Burke’s grunts & groans are truly dreadful, totally ruining what could’ve been a reasonable track.
56. Long Tall Sally (1964 versus 1964)
All songs listed in this blog post feature at least one studio recording – except this one, as both of these are ‘live’ concert recordings [no complete studio recordings of Jerry performing ‘Long Tall Sally’ are available, though a snippet was included as part of the ‘Rock Medley’ on ‘The Session’ in 1973, & it was performed in it's entirety on BBC radio’s ‘Top Gear’ programme in 1964]. In April of 1964 Jerry cut what is often regarded as the wildest rock & roll album of all time, ‘Live At The Star Club, Hamburg’. Backed by The Nashville Teens, his voice never quite sounded this wild before or after (for more on this ground-breaking & influential album check out Joe Bonomo’s excellent book ‘Lost & Found’). He recorded the song again in Birmingham, Alabama for another live album 3 months later, released as ‘The Greatest Live Show On Earth’. Backed by his own band this time, it’s nowhere near as well recorded as the Hamburg show (at times his vocals almost get lost in the mix), but this particular song is even more energetic than the earlier version.
Winner: 1964 (2nd version!)
57. Lucille (1977 versus 1986)
The Little Richard classic & not the insipid Kenny Rogers hit, Jerry was never going to top the original (I’ve never been too keen on his versions myself, despite some often excellent piano playing). Nevertheless this was released on the ‘Keeps Rockin’’ album in 1977. The 1986 version is quite similar, but probably has the edge due to a looser vocal & less cluttered backing. This was made available via the ‘Rocket’ album 2 years later.
58. Mathilda (1965 versus 1986)
Recorded at the inspired ‘The Return Of Rock’ sessions in 1965, this is a superb bluesy-pop song, & was first issued the following year on the ‘Memphis Beat’ album. Probably the only reason it was rejected initially is because it is a little similar to ‘Got You On My Mind’ on the same album (Jerry got both the songs via Cookie & The Cupcakes). The 1986 version (released on ‘Rocket’ 2 years later) is performed much slower & gentler, & has The Jordanaires singing along high in the mix. It’s OK, but certainly doesn’t compare to the earlier version.
59. Meat Man (1973 versus 1986)
A very risqué Mack Vickery-penned rocker, this was first recorded for ‘Southern Roots’ in 1973 with full Memphis soul backing (horns, soulful girly chorus, etc). Released as a single the following year, it didn’t stand a chance of becoming a hit. The 1986 version is more stripped down, sounding closer to the live versions he occasionally did around this time. I think I’d prefer this if it weren’t for the very annoying double-tracked “ad-libs” during Buddy Harmon’s drums intro. In recent years Jerry seems to have become a bit embarrassed by this song & the even more risqué ‘Big Legged Woman’, refusing any requests to play the songs.
60. Mexicali Rose (1960 versus 1987 versus 2006)
While scratching around for potential hit material at a January 1960 Sun session, Jerry thought it would be a good idea to cut a version of Gene Autry’s ‘Mexicali Rose’, splitting the tempo between slow for the 1st half & rocked-up for the 2nd half. Sam Phillips (probably rightly) remained unconvinced, but this is still wonderful music. The fast part (only) was issued on ‘Rockin’ & Free’ in 1974, while the complete uncut performance (slow & fast) was released on the Zu-Zazz ‘Keep Your Hand Off Of It!’ album of early 60s Sun outtakes in 1987. It was also in 1987 that Jerry attempted the song in the studio again, but unfortunately this time he recorded it without a band on a cheap (Casio?) keyboard; & even more unfortunately this was then overdubbed with some truly dreadful instrumentation. This was released on the mostly unlistenable ‘At Hank Cochran’s’ CD in 1995 for those that really need to hear it, but it really is only for sad completists (like myself!). Far better is the 2006 ‘Last Man Standing’ download-only bonus cut. Rocked-up all the way, this live-in-the-studio performance with his road band would be a strong contender for the ultimate version if it wasn’t for the trembling & croaky vocals (sadly Jerry’s voice has usually sounded very ropey during the past few years, & I personally am of the opinion that his 70th birthday in September 2005 would’ve been a good time to hang up those rock & roll shoes).
Despite what it says on the cover, these songs were recorded in 1986 (though the photo is from 1973!). Half of the album is available in other versions.
61. Middle Age Crazy (1977 versus 2010)
A very slow pop-country ballad that was unlike anything he’d recorded prior to 1977, this was released on the ‘Country Memories’ album the same year, as well as on a single where it (deservedly) became a giant country hit. Performed regularly in concert for the next decade or so but very rarely since then, I’ve always thought of it as one of the very few Jerry Lee Lewis songs that sounds far better in the studio than in concert. When I heard that he’d re-cut the song with Tim McGraw for the ‘Mean Old Man’ album I really didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised: although I still think the original has the edge, this comes very close, & is certainly one of the best duets on the album (the fact that Tim McGraw was actually in the studio with Jerry probably helps, unlike nearly all the other recent duets). A strong candidate for his best re-cut of the last 20 years.
62. Miss The Mississippi & You (1994 versus 2005)
Jimmie Rodgers had always been one of Jerry’s heroes, & he’d recorded memorable versions of several of his songs in the past (‘Waiting For A Train’, ‘Mother, The Queen Of My Heart’, ‘Carolina Sunshine Girl’), & this beautiful recording for the ‘Youngblood’ album was one of it’s highlights, with particularly impressive piano work. Even in 1994 this must’ve been a struggle to sing (he did very well), & when he attempted the only known live concert version a year later he aborted it halfway through. So whatever prompted Jerry to record it again solo at the piano (without a band) during the ‘Last Man Standing’ sessions is a mystery, as he often strays badly out of tune & out of time. Wisely unreleased at the time, it was (unbelievably) dug out for the 2010 ‘Mean Old Man’ album, being used as the closing track on the 18-track “deluxe” version. Never before as the saying “From the sublime to the ridiculous” been so apt.
63. Money (1961 versus 2010)
Later popularised by The Beatles, Jerry saw the potential of this Barrett Strong song a couple of years prior to their version. Recorded in September 1961 & released on his 2nd album ‘Jerry Lee’s Greatest’ at the end of that year, this is backed by powerful tom-tom drums, shrill horns & female backing vocals (it’s sometimes difficult to tell where the horns end & the backing singers begin). In stripped-down form this was a 60’s live favourite (check out the powerful version from Hamburg 1964 as well as the weaker version from Fort Worth 1966). The 2010 cut is Jerry’s most recently-released recording, being a bonus track on an exclusive edition of ‘Mean Old Man’ sold at the Million Dollar Quartet stage show in New York during mid September of this year. It’s possibly the most recently recorded too, as it certainly wasn’t amongst the bulk of “raw” ‘Mean Old Man’ recordings from late 2008 & early 2009, nor is there any record of it being recorded during any of the ‘Last Man Standing’ sessions during 2002-2005. Whenever it was recorded, the playing, the inspiration & the production is better than pretty much anything on the main album (& even the vocals aren’t too bad), though the one down-side is the over-dubbed duet vocal by Levi Kreis, the guy who plays Jerry in the stage show (it’s OK, but I would’ve preferred to hear Jerry singing this on his own).
64. Mother, The Queen Of My Heart (1971 versus 1987)
It’s difficult to imagine Jerry doing any bad versions of country songs during his initial chart “comeback” in 1968-1971, but this particular performance is even better than most of the others. A beautiful Jimmie Rogers song, Jerry’s own mother was desperately ill with cancer at the time he recorded this (she died a few weeks later), so his singing is particularly heartfelt & poignant. The song was released on the outstanding ‘Touching Home’ album that year. It’s impossible to imagine any re-cut topping this, but when it’s from the dreaded 1987 Hank Cochran sessions it stands no chance! Actually this isn’t quite as dreadful as many of the other songs from the session (available on the 1995 ‘At Hank Cochran’s’ CD); at least he’s playing a real piano this time, & the band overdubs are minimal. Jerry’s timing is a little out at times though, & his attempts at doing a Jimmie Rogers “yodelling” singing style are laughable.
65. My Blue Heaven (1959 versus 1961 versus 1969)
No doubt inspired by Fats Domino’s hit at the time, Jerry cut 4 fast takes of this old Gene Autry song in early 1959. The best of these was first issued on Sun International’s ‘Olde Tyme Country Music’ album in 1969, with the others issued during the 80s. He made a 2nd attempt at the song 2 years in a slower “cocktail” style, but none of them saw the light of day until the late 80s. These all pale into insignificance compared to the truly stunning 1969 cut (& check out those extra lyrics during the intro). Recorded at the productive ‘Country Music Hall Of Fame’ sessions in February 1969 where he recorded two albums in two days, it’s a mystery why this wasn’t released at the time (though when Jerry heard it again in 1987 he claimed there was a mistake during the piano solo). Instead it was issued on Bear Family’s ‘The Killer: 1969-1972’ box-set in 1986.
66. No Headstone On My Grave (1973 versus 2006)
A Charlie Rich blues song, this had been a semi-regular in Jerry’s stage show for at least 9 months prior to him recording it in London in January 1973, so he was very comfortable & familiar with it by then. Performed split tempo (unlike Charlie Rich’s original which was performed slow all the way through), it is still performed regularly today. The 2006 recording is another one of those live-in-the-studio download-only ‘Last Man Standing’ bonus tracks. Some great piano & backing, but marred once again by the rough vocals.
67. One Of Them Old Things (1987 versus 1994)
During March 1987 Jerry cut a superb 7-song session for producer Eddie Kilroy, which could’ve been part of one of the finest albums of his career: instead it was never released. Nevertheless, Jerry was enthusiastic enough about the songs to perform most of them during his European Tour the following month (a far cry from the past 20 years when he’s rarely bothered learning new songs whether they’re released or not). Recorded live in Milan, the issued 1987 cut was released on the ‘Live In Italy’ CD in 1988 (though NOT on the vinyl version the previous year). Sounding like little more than an average-quality bootleg, I was surprised when chatting to Jerry in 1989 that he actually classed this as an “official” album: I asked him when the song was going to be issued (referring to the unreleased studio cut), & he replied that it HAD been issued but the band didn’t know it properly so he wasn’t satisfied with it. He must’ve remembered this 5 years later during a 1994 recording session for Sire, as he cut the song again, & this time it was released on ‘Youngblood’ the following year.
68. Release Me (1958 versus 1968 versus 2010)
The Sun cut from late 1958 (or possibly early 1959 as no-one seems sure of the exact date) is a mid-tempo rock & roll treatment with a heavy drumbeat. It’s been suggested that Jerry doesn’t play piano on this, but it certainly sounds like him to me. This was first released on the UK ‘Rockin’ & Free’ compilation in 1974 (a superb collection of 22 previously unissued Sun cuts that seems to be almost forgotten by fans now). The preferable version for me is the stunning performance recorded for the ‘She Still Comes Around’ album in 1968 [some people may have noticed by now that I’m slightly biased towards this era; indeed my “creative peak” years for Jerry would probably cover the decade from 1961 to 1971, a time when he seemed almost incapable of making a bad recording or doing a sub-standard concert]. A re-cut for his new album ‘Mean Old Man’ can only come 2nd or 3rd best, but it is one of the more palatable tracks on the album, with Gillian Welch’s (very obviously) overdubbed duet vocal working quite well.
69. Rockin’ Jerry Lee (1966 versus 1979)
Backed by his excellent road band at the time (the soon-to-be Christened ‘The Memphis Beats’), the 1966 version was cut during the sessions for the ‘Memphis Beat’ LP but wasn’t released at the time. For years only available on a Dutch bootleg, it was finally issued on Bear Family’s ‘The Killer: 1963-1968’ box-set in 1986. The 1979 rerecording is faster & wilder, but as well as lacking the charm (& vocal clarity) of the earlier version it is all-but-ruined by some truly awful girly backing vocals. It was released on the otherwise superb ‘When Two Worlds Collide’ album early the next year, an album that (like the follow-up ‘Killer Country’) has criminally never been issued on CD.
70. Rockin’ My Life Away (1979 versus 2009)
A great Mack Vickery song, the 1979 version is one of the greatest studio recordings of all time. Crisply recorded with a backing band that includes James Burton & Hal Blaine, Jerry performs the song with real commitment, tearing through the verses & punctuating them with 3 imaginative piano solos (one of them double-length), as well as a tight but perfect 12-bar guitar solo from Mr Burton. Released on his debut Elektra album that year, the song has quite rightly been a mainstay of Jerry’s stage act ever since. In comparison the recent re-cut is extremely poor. Released over a year ahead of the main album, this was first issued via the 5-song ‘Mean Old Man’ download “EP” in the summer of 2009 (along with the title track & three other remakes), this (a) is over a minute shorter & (like much of the album) has a murky mix, (b) features a truly appalling vocal from Jerry’s worst ever duet partner Kid Rock, (c) has just one brief uninspired 12-bar piano solo, & (d) features a 24-bar guitar solo (twice as long as Jerry’s piano solo) from guest guitarist Slash, who proves that he’s no James Burton. Why such a poor version was released is beyond me, but I believe Jerry’s daughter Phoebe Lewis deserves at least some of the blame: she has a producer credit for the album, & no family member (especially one who considers every note he plays to be the work of a genius) is going to push him as hard as outside producers like Andy Paley did in 1994 & Jimmy Rip did in 2002-2005. Unbelievably being pushed as the main track during the recent U.S. promotional tour of TV shows, anyone who thinks this is great either hasn’t heard or has forgotten the 1979 original.
The re-makes for the 1989 movie featuring Dennis Quaid were surprisingly good (unlike the actual movie!).
71. Roll Over Beethoven (1965 versus 1969 versus 2005)
Recorded in Nashville during January 1965, this is a truly magnificent performance (The Beatles had recently helped re-popularise the song so perhaps this inspired him to give it his very best?). A real highlight of ‘The Return Of Rock’ later that year, an album that very rarely has a dud moment anyway. The 1969 version is a duet with Jerry’s sister Linda Gail Lewis that was released on their only album together, appropriately entitled ‘Together’, & released in 1969. Although it’s never been a favourite of mine (I tend to prefer their more countrified duets), this was released as a single & even became a minor U.S. pop hit. Towards the end of the lengthy ‘Last Man Standing’ sessions in 2005 Jerry did a live-in-the-studio session with Ringo Starr. A duet of ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ was released on that album, but this outtake (which features both Ringo & Jim Keltner on drums but no duet vocal) was dug out 5 years later for the ‘Mean Old Man’ album, where it stands out as having a production sparkle (courtesy of Jimmy Rip) that is lacking from the rest of the album. Though not a patch on the 1965 cut it’s still surprisingly good, perhaps only marred by the drums being mixed a little too loudly.
72. Seasons Of My Heart (1963 versus 1965)
The 1963 version is the first recorded duet between Jerry & Linda Gail Lewis, who Sam Phillips signed to Sun in an attempt to persuade Jerry to stay with the label when his contract came up for renewal a few months later (it didn’t work, as he still left the label for a 15 year association with Smash / Mercury). Released as a flop single shortly afterwards (as the B-side to ‘Teenage Letter’), Linda was only 15 at the time & sounds very inexperienced & nervous. Jerry re-cut the song a couple of years later for his ‘Country Songs For City Folks’ album, & although he inadvisably used a harpsichord instead of a proper piano, it is still preferable due to the lack of Linda’s harmony vocals.
73. Sexy Ways (1958 versus 1965)
Although Jerry attempted the song at two different sessions during 1958, he never actually sung “Sexy Ways”: during his first attempt in January he changed the lyrics to “Cool Cool Ways”, & then in April this became “Carrying On”. Both are impressive, but none of them were released until a couple of compilations in 1974. By 1965 the world had changed a little & he finally felt brave enough to record the proper lyrics: with a superb drums & cymbals intro (probably by Buddy Harmon) this inspired performance was one of the many highlights of ‘The Return Of Rock’ later that year.
74. Silver Threads (Amongst The Gold) (1957 versus 1973)
One of the many songs recorded during his early months at Sun that wasn’t released until many years later, this is a beautiful version of an old country song. It was first released on Sun International’s ‘Sunday Down South’ in 1970, an album of mostly gospel songs shared with Sun outtakes by Johnny Cash. The re-cut is given a mid-temp ‘High Heel Sneakers’ beat, & backed by instruments that include horns & steel guitar, an interesting experiment that didn’t quite work. Recorded during the sessions for ‘Southern Roots’, this was finally released in 1987 on Bear Family’s ‘The Killer: 1973-1977’ box-set.
75. Singing The Blues (1957 versus 1973)
The 1957 version is typical of his early Sun recordings, with superb “pumping” piano & a youthful energetic feel. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early album, & no doubt would’ve been released if Sam Phillips had released more of them (only two albums were released during Jerry’s 1956-1963 Sun period, & one of those was a semi “hits” collection), but instead had to wait until Sun International’s ‘Monsters’ collection in 1970. The 1973 version is taken at a more sedate pace, & is notable for some superb slide bottle-neck guitar. Recorded at the all-star London sessions, it somehow wasn’t included on ‘The Session’, & had to wait until Bear Family’s ‘The Complete Session Volume Two’ album in 1986. Personally I’ve always found ‘The Session’ a little overrated, but this is one of the more enjoyable recordings from those January ’73 sessions.
76. Sixty Minute Man (1957 versus 1973)
Although considered far too risqué to be released at the time, the 1957 Sun cut is a tremendous recording with a very inspired & flamboyant vocal & superb piano playing (not forgetting the contributions from guitarist Roland Janes & drummer James Van Eaton, two very important elements of most of his 50s recordings). Even Sun International during their prolific 1969-1971 releases somehow overlooked this track, & instead it had to wait until the 1974 UK ‘Rockin’ & Free’ collection. The 1973 cut isn’t bad, but lacks the energy of the earlier version, & at over 3 & ½ minutes (almost exactly twice the length of the 1957 cut) it’s a little over-long.
77. Slippin’ Around (1958 versus 1968)
Recorded at the same session that produced the single cut of ‘High School Confidential’, the 1958 version is performed as a blues song (despite it’s country origins). This first saw the light of day on the Dutch ‘Collector’s Edition’ album in 1974 (many younger fans probably don’t appreciate how difficult it was to collect all of Jerry’s released Sun recordings prior to the ‘80s box-sets!). While the 1968 version is far less adventurous musically, it’s a beautiful version. Initially released as the B-side to ‘She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me)’ that year, it made it’s album debut 2 years later on ‘The Best Of Jerry Lee Lewis’.
78. Someday (You’ll Want Me To Want You) (1958 versus 1971)
Unusually recorded with his road drummer at the time Russell Smith instead of the usual Jimmy Van Eaton (also with his father-in-law J.W. Brown on bass), this wasn’t released until Charly’s ‘Jerry Lee Lewis & His Pumpin’ Piano’ album in 1974, the first of three 16-song albums they released that year. It’s not bad, but Jerry’s more mature vocals on the 1971 cut blows it away. Recorded during the ‘Would You Take Another Chance On Me’ sessions, it wasn’t released at the time (despite being the equal or better than anything else on the album), instead being issued on the Dutch ‘The Mercury Sessions’ album in 1985. Jerry Lee Lewis at his vocal peak.
79. Sweet Little Sixteen (1961 versus 1962 versus 1977 versus 2005)
Backed by a band that includes Ace Cannon’s honking sax & drummer Gene Chrisman (who incidentally also played drums on the 1982 ‘My Fingers Do The Talkin’’ album), it’s surprisingly that Sam Phillips didn’t see the potential of this great version. 12 months later he cut another 4 takes, of which the slowest of these was selected as a single soon afterwards. Though the tempo drags a bit, it has a great vocal & a memorable bass guitar intro from session man R.W. McGhee. The fastest alternate take from this session was chosen for the ‘Rockin’, Rhythm & Blues’ album in 1969, while the other two takes weren’t released until the late 80s / early 90s. The 1977 version would potentially be the ultimate cut if it weren’t for the backing vocalists’ “oohs” & “ahhs”, but this was still one of the stronger tracks on his final Mercury album, 1978’s ‘Keeps Rockin’’. The 2005 version is a duet with Ringo Starr, & although he isn’t the greatest of singers, he’s perfect for this (as is his drumming style). The fact that they were actually in the studio together at the time makes this one of the most enjoyable & spontaneous-sounding tracks on the 2006 ‘Last Man Standing’ album.
80. Swinging Doors (1966 versus 2009)
A great Merle Haggard song, this was recorded during the 1966 ‘Memphis Beat’ sessions, & was released - with a strings overdub - 5 years later on the ‘Would You Take Another Chance On Me’ album (it was finally released without strings by Bear Family in the late 80s though personally I think the strings work very well here). The 2009 version is a duet with the song’s composer, but both Merle’s & Jerry’s voices are now a mere shadow of their former selves (& I also miss the fancy chord “turnaround” that Jerry incorporated into the 1966 version). This was initially released on the ‘Mean Old Man’ (so-called) “EP” in 2009, & on the album of the same name a year later.
1995's 'Youngblood', a strong contender for his finest album of the past 30 years if it wasn't for the horrible mono mixing. Only 3 of the 14 songs were remakes, not too bad for a latter-day Jerry Lee Lewis album (another song from this has been re-recorded for Jerry's latest album).
81. That Kind Of Fool (1975 versus 2006)
Released on that year’s ‘Odd Man In’ album, Jerry’s whisky-soaked voice perfectly suits this song about loss & regret, & is enhanced by some of Kenny Lovelace’s finest ever fiddle playing (god, how I miss hearing him playing fiddle on stage!). The re-cut for 2006’s ‘Last Man Standing’ would come very close to matching this if it wasn’t for Keith Richard’s vocal & guitar overdub (he can’t sing & his guitar is mixed too loud!).
82. That Lucky Old Sun (1957 versus 1988)
Both of these are just Jerry alone at the piano (no backing musicians). Not released at the time, the stunning 1957 cut was first issued on the Charly LP ‘Rare Jerry Lee Lewis Volume 2’ in 1974. It’s hard to imagine him topping this, but he did just that during the 1988 re-cut for the ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie soundtrack album, with his world-weary voice being far more suited to the song. Over 4 & ½ minutes (compared to just over 3 minutes in 1957) of pure heaven!
83. There Stands The Glass (1968 versus 1984)
This Webb Pierce classic had been performed occasionally on stage for years (I’ve a couple of performances from poor quality tapes recorded in New Jersey in 1962), but it wasn’t until his country “comeback” in 1968 that he recorded this for the ‘She Still Comes Around’ LP. In 1984 Jerry recorded the album ‘Four Legends’ with Webb Pierce himself, as well as Mel Tillis & Faron Young. Released the following year as a TV advertised mail-order only album, this simply produced traditional country album was like a breath of fresh air after the over-produced MCA albums, but sadly very few people heard it. ‘There Stands The Glass’ was included as part of a medley with other songs performed by Webb, Mel & Faron.
84. Trouble In Mind (1973 versus 2006)
The 1973 version was recorded in London, & released on ‘The Session’ later that year. A blues song running at nearly 6 minutes & with dual pianos (the other player being Tony Ashton of ‘Ashton, Gardner & Dyke’ fame), I’ve always found it a bit self-indulgent myself. The 2006 re-cut on ‘Last Man Standing’ (a couple of minutes shorter & featuring Eric Clapton on guitar), is perhaps less inventive musically, but I prefer this myself. A 3rd version was included as a download-only ‘Last Man Standing’ bonus track, but this live-in-the-studio performance with his road band is marred by extremely rough vocals.
Winner: 2006 (with Eric Clapton)
85. Waiting For A Train (1962 versus 1969)
Jerry actually recorded at least 5 takes of this song at different sessions in 1962: In June of that year 2 takes were recorded, featuring the expected guitars, bass & drums plus Shirley Sisk on the organ. The slightly faster version was released first: mistitled ‘All Around The Watertank’ it was issued on ‘Olde Tyme Country Music’ in 1970, with the slower version appearing on the UK album ‘Good Rockin’ Tonite’ 9 years later (the faster version was also released as single – backed by the dirty blues ‘Big Legged Woman’ of all songs - & was a top 20 US country hit). In September of 1962 he tackled the song another 3 times, this time without Shirley Sisk’s organ but with Boots Randolph’s saxophone! One of these takes was apparently issued on a Sun International single by mistake in the early 70s (though this didn't seem to be common knowledge amongst fans until well into the '80s), with the other takes released on various CDs during the ‘80s. Lastly, he recorded the song again for the ‘She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye’ album in 1969. Backed by a very tasteful & unobtrusive string section, once again (to my ears) a late 60s Smash recording blows away all the earlier versions.
86. Wedding Bells (1963 versus 1976)
As well as re-recording many of his biggest 1957-1958 hits, the September 1963 ‘Golden Hits’ sessions included about 10 songs that were used for other projects (both singles & albums) over the next few years, with this one being dug out for the under-rated ‘Soul My Way’ album in 1967. It didn’t really fit in with the theme of the album but is still a more than worthwhile version of the Hank Williams classic (despite the somewhat over-powering guitar riff). In 1976 (with his voice sounding newly rejuvenated following nasal surgery) he re-cut the song for ‘Country Class’, possibly his greatest post-1971 country album.
87. What’d I Say (1960 versus 1961 versus 1973)
Jerry recorded this song 3 times (at 3 different studios) within the space of 13 months while at Sun: at one of his final 706 Union Avenue sessions in January 1960; Sam Phillips Memphis studio across town at Madison Avenue in June 1960; & at the brand new Phillips studio in Nashville in February 1961. The January 1960 versions (2 takes) weren’t released for many years & indeed appear to have been “lost” until the end of the 80s when they were issued on Zu-Zazz’s ‘Don’t Drop It!’ in 1988 & the various artists ‘Sun Into The Sixties’ box-set in 1989. Both are perfectly acceptable spontaneous-sounding versions. The June 1960 version was initially released on the 1979 ‘Duets’ album as a faked duet with Orion (a.k.a. Elvis sound-a-like Jimmy Ellis). A raucous version with saxophone & raw vocals, it was finally issued undubbed on ‘The Sun Years’ box-set in 1983. The 1961 version was released as a tight-sounding single weeks later, reaching number 30 in the U.S. pop charts & number 10 in the UK; the backing singers prove that they’re no substitute for Ray Charles’ Raelettes, but nevertheless this was a well-deserved hit, something that very rarely happened in the decade following the 1958 debacle. A ‘live’ favourite for many years (though very rarely performed these days), the song was a natural for the album of (mostly) rock & roll standards recorded in London in January 1973. Released on ‘The Session’ that year, it is unfortunately overlong & self-indulgent, as several songs at those sessions were.
88. What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (1968 versus 2006)
Recorded during sessions for his first true country album in May 1968, this was released as a big country hit single soon afterwards, as well as on the ‘Another Place, Another Time’ album. Rightly regarded as a classic, Rod Stewart recorded it & had a big hit with the song in 1972, so he was a natural choice as a duet partner when the song was re-cut “solo” (without a backing band) for the ‘Last Man Standing’ album. Unfortunately he’s overdub sounds less than great here (as do Jerry’s own vocals), probably due to the fact that the key Jerry plays it in is a little too low for him. An interesting idea, but it didn’t really work.
89. Who Will The Next Fool Be (1964 versus 1979)
Although Jerry claims that nobody has influenced his musical style (much less after he started his own career), during much of the ‘60s his vocals showed a black gospel / soul influence that wasn’t there earlier. Probably influenced by Ray Charles & Jackie Wilson (two artists he often praised at the time), he never sounded quite as soulful as on the 1964 ‘live’ version of this song from ‘The Greatest Live Show On Earth’ album. By the time he recorded the song in the studio in 1979 he was no longer singing quite that way (he couldn’t have done so he’d tried due to his aged voice), but this is still an inspired & truly heartfelt version. Criticised by some as over-long, it comes within a whisker of surpassing the original.
90. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (1957 versus 1962 versus 1963 versus 1973 versus 1988)
Jerry has often claimed that his biggest hits were recorded in one take, & although it’s definitely not true of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, ‘Breathless’ & ‘High School Confidential’ it’s at least partly true with this song. Prior to recording the hit version (probably several weeks earlier though exact dates are lost) he quickly ran-through 4 takes of the song: although these are perfectly OK, they lack the passion of the well-known version & weren’t released at the time (the first released version from this session was on ‘The Sun Years’ box-set in 1983, with other takes following over the next few years). The single (his 2nd single following ‘Crazy Arms’) changed his life of course, launching his career & becoming one of the most revered (& covered) rock & roll songs of all time. By 1962 his career was pretty much washed-up, & in an attempt to cash-in on the then-current “twist” craze he recorded 2 takes as ‘Whole Lotta Twistin’ Goin’ On’. Unfortunately not released at the time (a shame as the song might’ve been a hit all over again), it was first issued on Charly’s ‘Jerry Lee Lewis & His Pumpin’ Piano’ in 1974, with the very similar alternate take appearing on the U.S. ‘Golden Rock ‘n Roll’ album 3 years later. The 1963 re-cut for ‘Golden Hits’ has a very similar “twist” beat to the 1962 versions, & would be a candidate for the best cut if it wasn’t for the over-production. In 1973 he cut the song again for ‘The Session’, a modern (for the time) “rock” treatment that works well apart from the unfortunate faded-in intro, & in 1988 he recorded it once again for the ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie & soundtrack album, again a more than creditable version. My favourite might surprise a few people…
Despite a slightly mixed response from fans, 'Last Man Standing' in 2006 quickly became the biggest selling album of The Killer's career. Although just 5 of the 21 songs on the main album are remakes, 8 of the 9 download-only bonus cuts were of previously recorded songs.
91. Why You Been Gone So Long (1982 versus 2006)
An excellent Mickey Newbury-penned pop-rocker, this was first recorded for Jerry’s first MCA album, 1982’s ‘Why You Been Gone So Long’. Although the album in it’s original form (like the follow-up ‘I Am What I Am’) has never been issued on CD in it’s original form, this track & a similar alternate take were included on Ace’s ‘Honky Tonk Rock & Roll Piano Man’ CD in 1991. Having the distinction of being the only song from the MCA era that’s still regularly performed ‘live’ today, Jerry re-cut the song as a duet with session singer Stacy Michelle for the ‘Last Man Standing’ project. Not released on the album proper, this was only made available as an exclusive download-only track. Despite not being quite as good as the original, this interesting Cajun-style arrangement (complete with accordion) deserves to be more widely heard, & would’ve been ideal for the current ‘Mean Old Man’ album.
92. Wild One (Real Wild Child) (1958 versus 1988)
Jerry must’ve found this song while touring Australia at the beginning of 1958 (his first overseas tour), as it was originally recorded by Australian rocker Johnny O’Keefe & was a big hit in his homeland. Recorded at Sun in April of that year, this would’ve made a great A-side but instead remained unheard until the ‘Rockin’ & Free’ collection in 1974 (with a slightly different alternate take appearing on ‘Jerry Lee Lewis & His Pumpin’ Piano’ a few months later). The producers of the ‘Great Balls Of Fire!’ movie (perhaps inspired by Iggy Pop’s 1986 hit record version) must’ve seen the potential of this too, as they persuaded Jerry to re-record the song for the soundtrack album, & excellent it is too.
93. Wild Side Of Life (1959 versus 1965)
Recorded at Sam Phillips brand new studio on Madison Avenue in late 1959 or early 1960 (his first ever session to be recorded in stereo), this superb version of the Hank Thompson classic is notable for some brilliant sax playing from Martin Willis. Not released at the time, this was first issued on the obscure U.S. Power Pak label’s 1974 ‘From The Vaults Of Sun’ collection. Jerry re-cut the song during the 1965 sessions for ‘The Return Of Rock’ album, though as it didn’t really fit on that album it was issued on his next one towards the end of the year, ‘Country Songs For City Folks’. Great though this is, the memorable saxophone on the earlier version makes that one the winner for me.
94. Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1959 versus 2010)
The 1959 take is a heartfelt & very respectful version of the well-known religious song. Not released at the time, it was the highlight of the ‘Sunday Down South’ album in 1970. The recent re-cut unusually features Jerry playing guitar (which probably explains why it’s in the key of “E”) & is performed with an interesting mid-paced rhythm. Unfortunately the Mavis Staples overdub almost obliterates Jerry’s vocal, & during the last 40 seconds or so he isn’t heard at all while she carries on wailing. Combined with the absence of piano, this almost makes Jerry sound like a guest on a Mavis Staples record rather than the other way round (this would never have happened if Jimmy Rip had produced it, as he always made sure that Jerry was the most prominent vocalist & musician on every song). With a piano overdub & without Ms Staples (& perhaps with a decent ending) this could’ve been a great cut…
95. You Are My Sunshine (1957 versus 2009)
Another “standard”, Jerry cut two superb (but similar) takes during his early months at Sun, both performed fairly fast & with the trademark “pumping” piano much in evidence. One take was issued on ‘Olde Tyme Country Music’ in 1970, while the alternate take was first issued on ‘The Sun Years’ in 1983. The re-cut is performed much slower, the prominent harmonica gives it a similar feel to his 1975 ‘Odd Man In’ album & for once the overdubbed duet vocal (by Sheryl Crow) probably genuinely enhances what was a more than OK track beforehand. Released on the ‘Mean Old Man’ EP in 2009 & again on the album of the same name this year, it’s an undoubted highlight of both the EP & the album.
96. You Belong To Me (1969 versus 2006)
The beautiful 1969 version was taped during those productive 2 days that produced both volumes of ‘The Country Music Hall Of Fame Hits’ LPs, though it wasn’t released until the 1976 ‘Country Class’ album (it’s a credit to his rejuvenated vocals on the album that few people suspected at the time that this particular song was recorded 7 years earlier). The 2006 re-cut is one of those live-in-the-studio download-only ‘Last Man Standing’ bonus cuts; beautifully played but raggedly sung.
97. You Can Have Her (1972 versus 2009)
A great Roy Hamilton song, the 1972 cut features one of Jerry’s most impressive vocals (check out some of those high notes) as well as great piano, & even the strings work well here. A 2009 re-cut with no piano & a monotone vocal was never going to be as good, though it’s given an interesting rockabilly-style arrangement with some great picking from both James Burton & Eric Clapton, as well as harmony vocals by the latter. For once the backing musicians far overshadow Jerry’s own contribution.
98. You Win Again (1957 versus 1963)
Jerry actually recorded this at two 1957 Sun sessions; initially he taped three inappropriate fast takes, & then a few weeks later cut the more well-known slower version. The fast takes stayed in the can for over a quarter of a century, with the first of these being issued on ‘The Sun Years’ box-set in 1983, while the slower cut (with a tasteful male vocal group overdub) was issued as the B-side to ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ (in the UK it was even issued as an A-side in it’s own right but sadly sold poorly). The 1963 re-cut reinstates the final verse that Jerry didn’t sing on the Sun single, & the fuller backing (including girly singers & strings) perfectly suits the material.
99. You’re The Only Star (In My Blue Heaven) (1956 versus 1957 versus 1958)
An obvious early favourite of Jerry’s, this was recorded at three separate sessions during the first couple of years of his career (four if you include the playful run-through at the end of the Million Dollar Quartet session), though none were released until years after he left the label. The 1956 version (actually 2 takes) was taped at his very first professional session (along with both sides of his first single & ‘Born To Lose’). Sounding a little hesitant compared to later versions, this wasn’t released until the ground-breaking ‘The Sun Years’ vinyl box-set in 1983. Much better (& faster) is the 1957 version, first released on ‘Olde Tyme Country Music’ in 1970, unlike the 1958 version (which features a couple of additional musicians to the earlier takes) which again wasn’t released until ‘The Sun Years’ in 1983.
100. Your Cheatin’ Heart (1958 versus 1960 versus 1963 versus 1975)
The Hank Williams country standard of course, though only 1 of the 4 recorded studio versions is actually performed country style. Both the Sun versions are rocked up, with the later cut being the fastest yet most polished. The 1958 version was released on ‘Monsters’ in 1970, while the 1960 version had to wait until ‘Keep Your Hands Off Of It!’ in 1970. The 1963 cut on the ‘Golden Hits’ album is the most countrified version, albeit with backing that includes horns (thankfully not too high in the mix). Lastly is the unique 1975 version from ‘Odd Man In’, with it’s ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’’-styled intro, harmonica & croaky vocals. In 2006 Jerry taped an official DVD called ‘Last Man Standing Live’ which included a duet with Norah Jones on this song (as well as ‘Crazy Arms’), something that would’ve fit perfectly into the current ‘Mean Old Man’ album.
The disappointing follow-up to 'Last Man Standing', Jerry's latest album features far too many inferior remakes (11 songs out of 18) & poorly-dubbed guest duets.
Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Comments, corrections & criticisms are welcomed, though please keep things civil...
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