Title: They Tried To Rock Vol.3 & Vol.4
Label: Bear Family
I’ve already looked at the first two CD compilations in this series under The Hillbillies moniker. The essence being that, with the on-set of rock’n’roll in the 50s, many established artists and those upcoming in other genres realised, often with some trepidation or even panic, that rock’n’roll wasn’t a brief fad after all and wasn’t going away. It was a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em…’ and, more than that, “If I don’t at least try to tackle this genre then my own career, which is suddenly going nowhere because people aren’t interested anymore, might sink down the nearest pug hole.”
With the two volumes devoted to Hillbillies, you sensed the the nature of rock’n’roll bothered them, really disturbed them and caught them on the hop. Many struggled to cope, some even looked terribly foolish trying to sing rock’n’roll versions of their usual fare.
With both of these packages, though, the sense of unease is lessened. Maybe it’s the very nature of the pop-related genre that the are coming from but many were able to adapt well. Louis Prima was one such singer, here with Jump Jive and Wail, whose work was a proto-rock’n’roll in any case. Others were names that were so big that they didn’t really care and found the genre a pleasant diversion or addition to their income. Witness Sarah Vaughan who sings Hey Naughty Papa.
One of the tracks targeted as complete failures is Dean Martin’s Just Kiss Me. The liner notes describe it as ‘forgettable’ but, you know what? It’s not that bad. Apart from the hammering piano the tempo is more swing paced with a kink but Martin gets away with it.
Similarly, Teresa Brewer’s Rock Love is described as “out of place” but she takes a rock-like song and turns it into a broad pop MOR piece. Remove any lyrical references to ‘rock’ and you’ve got a straight ahead pop piece for the older generation. Brewer, in effect, ‘adapts’ and does it successfully.
What I’m getting at here is that pop singers had more in their armoury to cope with the rock changes that were happening all around them. No-one here actually bombs, in effect. The pop waters are shark infested and you had to be tough to navigate them successfully. No artist worth their salt would have survived them if a little thing like rock’n’roll was going to throw them off their stride.
Both of these compilations complete an interesting story and provide an interesting contrast with the Hillbillies volumes.