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ELDER MUSIC: Class of 55

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

I was reading a novel recently about a class reunion. It had nothing to do with music but because of its subject matter, it did remind me of an album that came out in 1986 that featured four of the most important musicians who began their career at Sun records around about 1955.

Class Of 55

Unfortunately by the mid-eighties, it was already too late to include the most important one of all but I’m going to rectify that today. I’ll feature those four plus the missing one with a couple of songs each, one from back then and another from now.

When I say “now,” I mean late in their career as only one of them is still alive and looking at them all from the vantage point of 1955, it’s not the one you’d have picked to outlast the others.

Four of them jammed together when they all happened to be in the studio and Sam Phillips started the tape rolling. The result was an album called “The Million Dollar Quartet.” I won’t include anything from that record but those who know it will know who’s going to be in the column today.


I’ll start with the one who conceived the record I mentioned at the beginning and sang the title tune, CARL PERKINS.

Carl Perkins

Carl could have been a real contender back in the day. He was good looking, played guitar brilliantly, wrote great songs – think Blue Suede Shoes.

However, just about the time his career was taking off, he was involved in a car accident that laid him up for quite some time so his potential moment was lost. We’ll never know.

He did have a good career as a second string rocker and he was greatly admired by The Beatles who covered some of his songs early on. I’ll ignore his big hit from then as I’ve played it before and go with Boppin’ the Blues, a song with which Ricky Nelson also had a hit.

♫ Carl Perkins - Boppin' The Blues

Carl’s influence grew over the years and he recorded with just about everyone who mattered, too many to mention here. Now the song from the album of the same name that inspired this column, Class of ’55.

♫ Carl Perkins - Class of '55

I wonder how many pianos JERRY LEE LEWIS has gone through in his lifetime.

Jerry Lee Lewis

I also feel sorry for the piano tuners at Sun studios when Jerry Lee was due to record. Or maybe not, it would mean steady employment for them.

There’s the story of the early days when a bunch of early rock & roll musicians were out on a package tour and Jerry Lee would set fire to his piano whenever Chuck Berry played after him just to upstage Chuck as he felt he deserved to close the show.

Anyway, to get a small glimpse of his early recordings, here’s Milkshake Mademoiselle.

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Milkshake Mademoiselle

Jerry Lee is the one muso today where we really can play the “now” recording or, recent at least. Here he sings Twilight with the help of Robbie Robertson from The Band, who wrote the song. It was taken from an aptly named album called “Last Man Standing.”

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Twilight

Now to the one who isn’t in the photo above. Apparently he was in the room initially, but left after a short time. ROY ORBISON didn’t stay long at Sun. He tried rockabilly but it really didn’t suit him and he moved on to record the fine music we usually associate with him.

Roy Orbison

However, Roy did record a couple of songs in that style. This is one of them, Ooby Dooby.

♫ Roy Orbison - Ooby Dooby

Roy’s songs from the early sixties are better than anyone else’s at the time. Between Buddy Holly and The Beatles, he was a beacon of musical light among the rather mediocre output then. More of a supernova really.

Sorry about those appalling metaphors, but is impossible to overestimate the quality of his songs from that time.

With this song from the last album he recorded, “Mystery Girl,” it seems to me Roy is channeling his huge hit Running Scared. Well, if you’re going to appropriate an earlier song there’s none better than that one.

This is The Comedians, written by Elvis Costello, who certainly knows his Roy Orbison.

♫ Roy Orbison - The Comedians

What is there I can say about ELVIS PRESLEY in a few lines that you haven’t heard before? Nothing really, so I’ll leave it at that.

Elvis Presley

I’ll just let the songs do the talking. The first is the young Elvis, pretty much inventing a new genre of music, mixing country and rhythm and blues. What a great track this is, Baby, Let's Play House.

♫ Elvis Presley - Baby, Let's Play House

The “now” for Elvis is, of course, the nineteen-seventies. Here he sings a terrific song by Tom Jans that’s been covered by many people; the versions by Millie Jackson and Dobie Gray are especially good.

It would have been a nice little earner for Tom if he’d lived long enough to take advantage. I have three of Tom’s albums he made in the seventies – he didn’t record many – on vinyl.I haven’t seen them on CD so I’m hanging on to them.

He was a really fine songwriter and a pretty good performer. Tom had a serious motor cycle accident and died as a result of his injuries a little time later, in 1984.

The song is Loving Arms.

♫ Elvis Presley - Loving Arms

JOHNNY CASH's head really should be carved on that mountain in South Dakota except that he wasn’t a president so I guess that rules him out.

Johnny Cash

The word that I would use to describe Johnny is integrity. He played the music he wanted to play. He stood by his friends when others dismissed them. He was his own man; there have been few others like him in the music biz.

I’ve decided not to go with one of his big early hits, but instead, one of the lesser ones, The Way of a Woman in Love.

♫ Johnny Cash - The Way of a Woman in Love

For the last few years of his life, Johnny recorded a series of albums, six in all, called generically “American Recordings” where he mixed traditional songs with those of current rock, punk and other contemporary musicians.

This was at the instigation of producer Rick Rubin who was mostly known for producing hard rock and rap records. Those interested in music owe Rick a debt for suggesting that these should be recorded.

You can hear how Johnny’s health is fading towards the end of these, but his integrity and dignity remain intact. He can even make a Neil Diamond song sound dignified. This is Solitary Man.

♫ Johnny Cash - Solitary Man


Hi Peter,

Once again you have hit a home run with this excellent post.

I loved all of these artists;especially Jerry Lee.

I really like Jerry Lee's song "The End of The Road."
and play it all the time.

Do you like that one,too?

Great Sunday morning listening.

Jerry Lee was definitely an egotistical ass but I did love his music as well as Orbison's.

Purchased the "Class of 55" album shortly after it was released. Thought it was a good album. Carl Perkins stole the show with his solo "The Birth of Rock & Roll" and Jerry Lee was close behind with his rendition of "Sixteen Candles". Had anyone wanted to bet me Jerry Lee could pull off a cover of that song, I would have lost my a**!

Thank you for featuring two of my most favorite singers:

Johnny Cash! You're right, Peter, he should be on Mt. Rushmore.

Roy Orbison! What an amazing vocal range.

A schoolgirl memory ... walking home, loudly singing "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog." I remember where I was and the shock I felt when the news hit that Elvis had died. It was as if a bit of my youth died with him. Maybe that's why people keep going to Graceland.

Early rock and roll ... ah, how sweet it was. And how wonderful that these men went on giving us music that makes our wild nature soar (and roar) at the same time as it soothes the soul.

Thanks again, Peter.

Peter, I Love, Love, Love Elvis. When I was 12 or so, I was a member of his fan club (the only fan club I ever belonged to) and so many days after school were spent twirling and dancing the hours away. Wasn't he just darling when he was young? See, I can still gush over him.

I didn't gush, neither did I twirl and dance the hours away. I only discovered these artists for real when I was well on the road to becoming an old lady. I was right in the flap, though, when everyone else was. It was an interesting look today at what was, what could have been, and what withstood the test of time. Carl Perkins did get better looking, didn't he?

Wonderful column. Thank you Peter.

I would have been in the class of "55 if I hadn't interrupted my studies to do a six year stint in the Marines. I finally did graduate in the class of '61. So Perkins and Jerry Lee were my contempoaries. Oh my!
I caught Elvis at the Blue Mirror in D.C. in '52 or maybe '53. Jerry Lee in Miami in '59?
Those were the good old days..."

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