'This Town' Traces the Country in Rock

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Columbia Records' highly recommended Robert Johnson box set last year was a high point in a series of CD reissues that focus attention on the blues roots of rock.

Now, Rhino Records' "Rock This Town" pair of albums showcase the country component of rock. The music in the two 18-song packages doesn't go all the way back to Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and other country forefathers of rock, so the CDs are in no way a parallel of the Johnson set.

Instead, the CDs--both of which feature four bonus tracks not found on the cassette versions of the same albums--bring together some of the classic recordings in the country-flavored rockabilly movement that began in the mid-'50s and has largely been associated with Sun Records, the Memphis label that launched Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

While this package doesn't contain any of Presley's material from Sun, it does include Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes"--the 1956 hit that some consider the quintessential rockabilly recording--and Lewis' "High School Confidential," the title tune from the 1958 movie starring Mamie Van Doren.

Both are found in Vol. 1, along with two other Sun selections: Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" and Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot." Among the other noteworthy entries in Vol. 1: the Johnny Burnette Trio's "The Train Kept A-Rollin'," a song that has long been a hard-rock staple, and Bill Haley's "Rock the Joint," the 1952 prototype for Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" two years later.

Unlike the landmark "Clock" record on Decca that began, "One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock rock . . . we're gonna rock around the clock tonight," the "Joint" single--released on Essex Records--had pretty much the same upbeat dance arrangement, but began with Haley delivering these lines:

We're gonna tear down the mail box

Rip up the floor

Smash out the windows and knock down the door.

We're gonna rock ... rock this joint tonight.

Vol. 2 also contains a few '50s and early '60s recordings, including Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody" and Wanda Jackson's "Let's Have a Party," but it also reaches out to such '70s rockabilly exercises as Billy Swan's "I Can Help" and Dave Edmunds' "I Hear You Knocking." In addition, it includes such '80s efforts as the Blasters' "Flattop Joint" and the Stray Cats' "Rock This Town."

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