1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2013, Music

The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles (2013) by Wanda Jackson

This is a compilation that, despite its title, appears to contain every single one of Jackson’s singles for Capitol between 1956 and the early ’60s. It shows off what could only be a pioneering fusion of country and rock music that I was completely unaware existed.

The A-side of “I Gotta Know” / “Half as Good a Girl” already starts off with a considerable dose of rock and roll input in the verses – alternating with pure country choruses – that was possibly unheard of within rockabilly. The B-side is considerably more traditional, country music wise and the lyrics have dated rather horribly.

The A-side of “Hot Dog! That Made Him Man” / “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” feels like pure rockabilly with a rather assertive lyric for the era. Again, it’s backed by a much more traditional country song, of the kind that inspired Lurleen on The Simpsons.

The A-Side of “Let Me Explain” / “Don’a Wan’a” is extremely soulful compared to a lot of other rockabilly of the era (it’s a ballad) but, like so much “White” rock music back then, it is backed by hilariously unsoulful traditional backing vocals, which dates it rather horribly. The B-side is an attempt to write some kind of Latin or Mexican number and it’s the worst thing on the disk by far.

The A-Side of “Cool Love” / “Did You Miss Me?” is classic rockabilly though again dated by those hilarious backing vocals. It was later reused as a B-side so it must not have performed as well as expected. The B-Side is another soulful rockabilly ballad that shows off her voice as good as anything in the collection. But those backing vocals…

The A-Side of “Fujiyama Mama” / “No Wedding Bells for Joe” is one of those bizarre American pop songs that makes reference to another country in a way that sounds only ignorant (and, to some, likely racist). Given the history with the Bomb, the choice feels even worse. But the music is pretty energetic rockabilly. The B-Side is one of those classic country portraits of lost love.

The A-Side of “Honey Bop” / “Just a Queen for a Day” is Jackson’s take on the dance song craze and it works just about as well as the rest of them. It’s pretty much a classic rockabilly song. Yet again a rockabilly song is paired with a traditional country song – another yearning, pining, mournful song about lost love.

The A-Side of “Mean Mean Man” / “(Every Time They Play) Our Song” is another upbeat rockabilly song with lyrics that could be interpreted as being relatively introspective for the time, I guess. The B-Side is one of Jackson’s very best super traditional country numbers.

The A-Side of “Rock Your Baby” / “Sinful Heart” is one of those overly simplistic, singalong early rock and roll (in this case, rockabilly) that both captures the appeal of this music but also the inanity. The drum fill at the end is at least a neat little thing. As is her want, the B-Side is another one of those country ballads. Not my favourite.

“Let’s Have a Party” / “Cool Love” – Jackson’s version of the A-Side is considered the definitive version of the song and it’s easy to see why. I don’t know the Elvis version but it’s hard to deny this: this is her rawest vocal performance and makes the silly lyrics more acceptable.

The A-Side of “Little Charm Bracelet” / “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine” is a change for her, given that the traditional country ballad about lost love is the A-Side here. It’s a pretty great example of the style, one of her very best. The B-side is an old Lieber/Stoller song reworded to be about a women’s prison. It’s pretty dumb.

The “Right or Wrong” / “Funnel of Love” single is, to my knowledge, Jackson’s first major country hit. It’s more uptempo than most of her country ballads, and about love, rather than lost love, but beyond her compelling performance, the song isn’t very remarkable. I think I hear a vibraphone, though! The B-side bridges the gap between rockabilly (the vocal, the guitar) and the backing music (much more traditional country). It’s the real star here, much better than the A-side.

The A-side of “In the Middle of a Heartache” / “I’d Be Ashamed” is so damn traditional, it’s gotta be one of her most traditional songs yet. It was an even bigger hit than “Right or Wrong” and the good news is that it’s a better song, despite the rather trite arrangement. The B-side is sort of like pop rockabilly: her vocal is pure rockabilly but everything else about it reeks of someone trying to understand rockabilly but failing, including more hilariously inappropriate backing vocals.

The A-side of “The Greatest Actor” / “You Bug Me Bad” is another traditional country ballad, one of her better ones, I’d say: a strong melody and a good lyric for the day. The B-side is better rockabilly for this late in her career. There’s still completely bizarre traditional country backing vocals, but the rest of the song is solid rockabilly.

The A-side of “But I Was Lying” / “Sympathy” is another in Jackson’s line of traditional country singles from this part of the decade. It’s pretty good, among her better ones, but not among her best. The b-side is rare for her, having an organ play the lead, and the style is much closer to girl group than anything else of hers I’ve heard (though the vocals are, as usual, from another place altogether). A really unique track for her, but the style has been done better by the people who actually played this style of music.

The A-side of “This Should Go On Forever” / “We Haven’t a Moment to Lose” combines traditional country themes with a rockabilly ballad backing, and it works pretty well, though by this point it was pretty dated. The B-side shows the reversal of her formula with the traditional country song back where it used to be. This one’s fine as it goes.

The disc gives a really good sense of Jackson’s early innovative sides – combining two genres on one single regularly and well – and her transition into more traditional material. I don’t know her well enough to know how representative this is – apparently she was releasing singles for other labels at the same time – but this is about as good as country gets for the era, far as I’m concerned.


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