November 19, 2019

Music Note: Good Rockin’ Tonight

posted on: Thursday November 8, 2001

by Dan Devine

Album info:
Various Artists
Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records
London-Sire Records

Sun Records, the legendary Memphis label responsible for breaking artists like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash (and some swivel-hipped kid with a velvet voice named Presley), has long been recognized as the birthplace of modern American rock music. The journey into music history that began with the July 1954 release of “That’s All Right Mama,” Elvis’s first recording, culminates in Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records, a star-studded effort intended to pay homage to the pacesetters of yesteryear. Good Rockin’ Tonight ranks among the greatest concentrations of rock talent in recent memory. Paul McCartney gets his hands dirty on the aforementioned “That’s All Right” (the “Mama” was inexplicably dropped from the title for this compilation), Elton John channels the fire of Jerry Lee Lewis on the Killer’s classic “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” and Bob Dylan turns in a beautiful (and surprisingly intelligible) performance of “Red Cadillac and A Black Moustache.” Backed by The Impressions, Eric Clapton reverently records The Prisonaires’ “Just Walkin’ In The Rain,” a soft and sweet doo-wop cut which diverges from the hugely influential “Sun sound” amalgamation of blues, country and gospel. Even amidst all these heavyweights, however, the biggest surprise on the album comes from the Wicked Gamesman himself, as Chris Isaak strikes gold on “It Wouldn’t Be The Same Without You.” Expecting something as insipid as his television show, I sat shocked as Isaak’s voice soared to meet the intricately picked guitar riffs and lovingly crafted harmonies, providing the album’s unlikely high point. Good Rockin’ Tonight loses its audience only when the artists seek to modernize the classics, like when Matchbox Twenty’s souped-up “Lonely Weekend” falls flat, Kid Rock adds some sickening rhymes on The Howling Diablos cut of “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” and Live pitifully attempts to update Johnny Cash’s pivotal “I Walk The Line.” Luckily, these brief indiscretions come at the end of the album, so by the time these mind-numbing renditions finish, you’re already reminiscing on Jeff Beck’s unbelievable guitar work with Chrissie Hynde on “Mystery Train” or how Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s smooth vibrato on “Don’t Be Cruel.” Good Rockin’ Tonight offers a much-needed kick in the pants to rock music by reminding us all that in order to find out where you should go, you need to look at where you’ve been.GRADE: A-

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