A Welcome Reminder of Jerry Lee Lewis' Vitality

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Don't forget Jerry Lee Lewis' "The Greatest Live Show on Earth" when drafting a list of classic concert recordings.

Recorded during the summer of 1964 at the Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Ala., the lively, 10-song collection offers an engaging mix of Lewis' colorful country, rock and R&B; influences.

Lewis' frenzied performance in the package--finally available in CD under the new title "The Greatest Live Shows on Earth" from Bear Family Records--is a welcome reminder that the Louisiana rocker remained a vital artist in the early '60s even though he virtually disappeared from the pop charts for years after his landmark '50s hits.

A key reason for Lewis' sales decline after such gems as "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" (which is included in the album) and "Great Balls of Fire" was that disc jockeys stopped playing his records following the controversy over his 1958 marriage to a 13-year-old cousin.

The live album was the second step in a campaign by Smash Records in 1964 to restore Lewis as a major seller. Though Lewis didn't generate a new hit single, his "The Golden Hits of Jerry Lee Lewis" on Smash--a less than essential collection of re-recordings of the old '50s hits--reached No. 116 on the U.S. album charts.

The follow-up was the live album, which made it all the way to No. 71--the highest he'd reach on the pop charts the entire decade. The material ranged from such rockers as Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" and Chuck Berry's "Memphis" to Buck Owens' country ballad "Together Again" and Charlie Rich's bluesy "Who Will the Next Fool Be?"

As usual with Lewis, however, the song is just the starting point as he either personalizes the lyrics or adds to the character of the interpretation with one of his trademark introductions.

On the Rich lament, for instance, he injects the line:

You wouldn't be satisfied, hon

If you had Elvis Presley.

The reason the album title was changed on the CD is that the disc also includes a sequel album that was recorded two years later in Texas and released under the title "By Request: More of the Greatest Live Show on Earth."

While not as compelling, the second group of 10 songs does show that Lewis and Smash were beginning to emphasize the country music strains that in the late '60s would restore Lewis as a sales force. Whereas the 1964 live album contained only one country song, the 1966 one contained four, including "How's My Ex Treating You" and "Green, Green Grass of Home."

Also recommended: Lewis' "The Complete Palomino Club Recordings," which was recorded between 1979 and 1985 during appearances at the North Hollywood club with a band that included former Presley guitarist James Burton.

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