With all of the amazing rockabilly music that has been created over the years, trying to pick the “best songs” is next to impossible. Of course, everyone has an opinion on the subject and it’s fun to talk to other rockabilly enthusiasts about which songs they consider to be the best. Everyone agrees that there are some songs that you simply have to know if you’re going to keep up with the conversation when it turns to rockabilly music–they just don’t always agree on which songs those are! In this article I’ll talk about five songs that I think are essential to an education in rockabilly music.
- Mystery Train: Elvis’ version of this song is simply amazing. It may be the best thing he ever recorded. It’s raw and sparse and it embodies the very essence of early rockabilly. If you’re not old enough to remember when this tune hit the airwaves, you’ll have to simply imagine what a departure this was from anything on the radio at the time. This is as lean as it gets: Elvis and his acoustic, Scottie Moore on guitar, and Bill Black holding the bottom and setting the rhythm with his slap bass. That’s right, no drums! And still one of the greatest rock and roll performances of all time.
- Blue Suede Shoes: Yes, after being a smash hit for both Elvis and Carl Perkins (who wrote it), it has become almost expected over the years and can get worn out by the commercial oldies stations, but this gem still rocks like nothing else. Perkins’ version features great guitar work, clever lyrics, urgent vocals, and trend-setting style. Everyone loves this song!
- Train Kept A’rollin’: This Burnette Brothers Rock and Roll Trio classic features one of the greatest rockabilly guitar solos of all time. The amazing guitar solo in this song has spawned one of the most heated arguments in all of rockabilly music! Some say it was played by ace session man Grady Martin, others say it was the trio’s regular guitarist Paul Burlison, and still others insist that there are two guitars on the record and both men played on it. Regardless of who played it, it’s clever and down right nasty. It sets the dirty tone for this rockin’ heartbroken lament and in his typical fashion Johnny Burnette slams it home with an equally insistent vocal performance.
- Who Slapped John: Classic Gene Vincent, this song lets loose with all of the abandon that makes rockabilly so compelling. More fantastic guitar solo work by the incomparable Cliff Gallup alternates beautifully with Vincent’s trademark unsettled vocals and the screams and yells provided by various Blue Caps (Vincent’s backing band) makes this a two-minute party that leaves you breathless.
- Rock Around With Ollie Vee: Everyone knows Buddy Holly, but most people don’t know him like this. This is pure rocking rockabilly and when you listen to it, it’s easy to see why Holly became such a sensation. In just a short time after this song was recorded, Holly became the polished and accomplished performer that we all know from his hits and that just makes it all the more fun to listen to his early, ragged rockabilly gems. This is Holly in all his brilliance, but raw.
These are just five songs that I think are essential. Not the only five to be sure! But if you become familiar with the five, you’ll get a great start on understanding rockabilly music and what makes it so special.
Buster Fayte is an author and rockabilly musician. He Blogs at “Buster Fayte’s Rockabilly Romp” where he writes about the passion he shares with millions of musicians and fans for rockabilly and oldies music. Buster has written several books including the “Complete Home Music Recording Start Kit”. He writes original songs, sings, and plays both guitar and bass.
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