“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, too much love drives a man insane, you broke my will, oh what a thrill, goodness gracious great balls of fire.”
Several days ago, with those words firmly implanted in my mind, I opened the definitive, and I mean definitive, Sun box set by Jerry Lee Lewis. The 18 discs contain every session and track recorded by Lewis during his seven years with the Sun label, 1956-1963. That’s 623 tracks if you are keeping count. Also included are two 300 page books; one contains a complete discography with comments and notes and the other presents hundreds of pictures, with 100 being previously unpublished.
Today, Jerry Lee Lewis in one of the grand old men of rock and roll. He was one of the original ten inductees into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. While his career is now into its sixth decade, his time with Sun produced a body of work that helped create the fabric of rock and roll.
This is not a release for the faint of heart but for hard core aficionados of good old rock and roll. There are multiple tracks of many songs that will only appeal to the person who wants everything either by Lewis or from the Sun label, but if you fall into that category there is a gold mine to be explored.
His well-known material is the roots of 1950’s rock. “Great Balls Of Fire,” “Breathless,” “High School Confidential,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” and others are a music history lesson. While many people may not need a dozen versions of these songs; the subtle differences and the final master create a traceable journey of how his songs took their final form.
His lesser known material and a few obscurities share the stage with his hits. He was never afraid to tackle songs outside his comfort zone as rock, pop, blues, country, and gospel all mingle together and emerge with his personal stamp. “Ooby Dooby,” “Love Letters In The Sand,” “Honey Hush,” “Singing The Blues,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “The Ballard Of Billie Joe,” and even “The Marine Hymn” all point to his flexibility as a musician.
The two books are a treat in and of themselves. The discography is a companion to the music as one is able to trace the various recording sessions in detail. The book of photographs is a trip in a time machine back to a very different era.
This is not a set for everyone. If you are not connected to Lewis or 1950’s rock and roll, there will probably be little interest. The other issue is the price given the enormity of the box set. If however you want to completely explore the early career of one of the legends of rock and roll and have a few dollars to spend; then this is a must purchase.