Burned a CD today for a girl I know to listen to in the car, consisting of some fairly obscure 50s RAB and R&B tracks. After playing it for my too-rapidly-maturing daughter (she’s in a training bra now? RUFKM?!? How the hell did THAT happen?) on the way back from picking her up earlier today, it hit me what a solid-gold mix this collection is. It’s been a while since I gave any of these tunes a listen; fact is, I had just about forgotten I even had ’em in the first place. It’s a mistake I don’t think I’m likely to be making again.
My rediscovery of these neglected favorites inspired me to check YouToob for ’em so as to share ’em here, although I didn’t have high hopes of finding them, there or anyplace else online. I mean, why would they be available on the Innarnuts, really? Rockabilly was never hugely popular its first time around, although admittedly it’s stood the test of time quite well. In fact, it’s almost certainly way more popular than it ever was back then. Despite that, though, the songs I was looking to unearth would amount to obscurity squared, so far underground that they were buried at a level far below the one where their underground genre was planted.
Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when I scored on the very first try, with The Moonlighters’ sizzling “Rock-A-Bayou Baby.”
This rockin’ and ravin’ Texas outfit is not to be confused with the far-more-famous Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, natch, who churned out hit after hit in the same pop-music era. Just thought I’d mention that, apropos of not much.
“Rock-A-Bayou Baby” is a graduate-level edjumacation in what it is that makes rockabilly truly “nature’s perfect music,” as my old friend and columnist for the P-burgh Tribune Mike Seate quipped in a BP’s review that still makes me blush a little bit. Mike had the right of it, too.
If it was possible to boil the whole RAB style down to a single word (it isn’t), that word would have to be frenzy. The thumping, humping slap bass; the slashing, clawing, primitive guitar attack; the feral howls, snarls, and yelps from the singer—these are all no more than typical of well-executed rockabilly, both then and now. The best rockabilly is like that: raucous, ferocious, untamed and untamable. Whatever rockabilly might lack in music-school technique and finesse it more than makes up for with triple-decker dollops of passion and intensity. The appeal is no doubt lost on most—I’ve always considered it a miracle that many if not most of the early RAB tracks were even recorded at all, much less pressed and released—but for the cats ‘n’ kittens who dig this stuff, there really isn’t anything else that comes close.
Another good example of what I’m talking ’bout:
“Love Me” is a lot better-known both in and out of rockabilly circles than “RockA-Bayou Baby” is, probably due to the Cramps covering it for one of their early singles, a version also included on the 1983 Off The Bone compilation. The blurb from the guy who posted the Phantom original on the ‘Toob says it well: Chaotic wonder by Jerry Lott a.k.a The Phantom, fun, furious, essential!!! Pretty much. “Chaotic wonder” nails it down clean and tight, if you ask me.
Okay, let’s try and dig up one more of these crazy diamonds on YT, shall we?
Okay, no way. I really can’t believe this.
This one is the aural analog to the famous “chicken” scene from Rebel Without A Cause, or maybe the “Paradise Road” drag-race scene from American Graffiti. Especially the end, when Harrison Ford dumps that Bowtie POS hard.
Anyhoo, there you have it: some hellraisin’, off the chain buck-wildness, from the most off the chain, buck-wildest musical genre there ever has been. Though it will surely sound odd to ears accustomed to modern popular music, it’s bound to grab at least some of you folks, or so I hope. And with that, I think I need to create a few sub-categories under our “Twangin’ and Bangin'” catch-all, maybe. T and B is getting kinda crowded, with a diversity of musical styles all tossed in together. A bit more specificity in there might come in handy someday, I think.
I actually have that Phantom song on a Rockabilly CD compilation I had bought a long time ago.
The best of the three, but they’re all great.
Each one has a slightly different style. The yodeling on the last, the raw attack on Love Me, and the sort of Texas shuffle and Jordanaires background vocals on The Bayou song.