Choice Cuts: Wanda Jackson – Rockin’ with Wanda

Wanda Jackson, press photo, 1950s, Creative Commons (972x547)Is it possible to make old music sound sexy and essential in the space of a two-word header? Golden Oldies? Bygone Beats? Essential Echoes? Well, I’ll spare you anymore chocking examples of alliteration and get to the point.

Old music is fantastic. Whether it’s some forgotten hip hop mixtape from four years ago or an aging jazz LP from four decades ago, any music you haven’t heard is still new to you. So with this new series of posts, I intend to write about classic albums that I’ve been listening to, underappreciated artists whose music I’ve had on heavy rotation and perhaps even little-known relics you won’t find on Spotify.

So, my discerning reader, join me as we delve into crates and explore digital frontiers in search of audio gold.

To start with, an artist I learned of only last week, whose music has already hijacked many of my listening hours.

Wanda Jackson – Rockin’ with Wanda
Capitol, 1960

Wanda Jackson - Rockin with Wanda, 1960, album artwork, 500As one YouTuber puts it, ‘Fujiyama Mama’ “isn’t exactly the most PC song” out there. Jovial ditties comparing your killing prowess to atomic bombs and the destruction of Hiroshima are rarely going to be. Songwriter Earl Burrows probably wasn’t big on Japan when he wrote the 1957 song. Still, Wanda Jackson’s hot-rocking pizzazz makes it extremely difficult to resist what must have been a tongue-in-cheek party belter for the youth that heard it in the optimistic post-WWII era.

While ‘Fujiyama Mama’ may well upset your Japanese neighbours (ironically, it hit No.1 in Japan in 1959, but wasn’t a national hit in the US until 1960), the rest of Jackson’s 1960 LP, Rockin’ with Wanda, should be suitable for all audiences and is just as sizzling.

Jackson is often credited as the First Lady of Rockabilly – an early form of rock and roll, which blends country music with western swing. Plenty of popular US singers came out of the rockabilly scene, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley and, probably most famous, Elvis Presley. No women in that short list, of course. So, in my mind, this seems to make Jackson’s goldmine of a back catalogue even more of an achievement.

Rockin’ with Wanda is all you need for an evening of vivacious, foot-tapping swing. It’s not strictly a studio album. It’s a compilation of Jackson’s two-minute, 7-inch singles from the 50s. But, boy, does it do what it says. Jackson strums faster than a Cadillac on ‘Honey Bop’ as double bass strings and piano keys hurry to keep up. ‘Cool Love’, ‘Mean Mean Man’ and the bop-biddy-bop of ‘I Don’t Know’ (which sounds a bit like ‘Great Balls of Fire’), they all make you want to do the boogie-woogie, the jitterbug or the jive. And if you don’t know how, you might even be encouraged to learn.

Along with upbeat instrumentation and red-hot guitar riffs, Jackson’s voice is what completes this instant jump to the 1950s. Her raspy holler is the spice to the steaming grooves that bubble into your ears. Jive numbers aren’t her only forte, however. She adopts a teasing, pseudo-Latino accent for rockabilly salsa cut ‘Don’a Wan’a’. While ‘Did You Miss Me’, which shows off her poise for softer harmonies, is classic petticoats and dreamboats stuff.

As introductions go, Rockin’ with Wanda is the perfect place to get acquainted with the joy of this rockabilly queen. In a genre dominated by male stars and songwriters, it’s no wonder Jackson is viewed as pioneer. And the songs penned by her here laid the foundations for her future originals and hits, including the utterly irresistible ‘Funnel of Love’. Now in her 70s, Jackson released her 31st studio album, Unfinished Business, in 2012 and the The Party Ain’t Over (2011) with Jack White before that. The lady doesn’t let up. And the dizzying energy at the heart of her 1960s LP gives you some idea why.

Image: Capitol Records/PR-Creative Commons