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Rockabilly’s Sun Records’ Catalog Includes Many Of the Genre’s Greatest Songs
If you ask someone what they mean when you say “Sun Records,” you’ll probably get one of two answers:
- Never heard of it.
Anyone who has ever heard of rockabilly has probably heard of Sun Records. This record label has practically become synonymous with rockabilly music. Many of the genre’s greatest recordings were released on Sun Records in the 1950s. The record label and studio where these great songs were recorded (the Memphis Recording Service studio on Union Street in Memphis, Tennessee) was owned and operated by the legendary Sam Phillips, who discovered many of rock and roll’s biggest stars. Country music.
Considering the label was a tiny indie label that was only a few years old when it started releasing hits, Sun Records’ catalog is surprisingly full of rockabilly’s best-loved records performed by rockabilly’s biggest stars. Here are some great songs released on Sun records in the 1950s.
- “Red Hot”: “My girl is very hot!” screams Billy Lee Riley in this awesome song. “Your daughter is not a squatter!” – answers his backing band, the Little Green Men. Billy Lee never became a huge star, but he sure could have been. “Red Hot” is a great rocker that goes full speed ahead from start to finish. Riley’s ragged vocals are the epitome of great rockabilly, with sincerity in every note. Perfect or not, it doesn’t matter. This song is all about attitude and lots of it!
- “Red Cadillac and a Black Mustache”: This awesome Warren Smith track has more country than “Red Hot” and shows a different side of rockabilly. He has classic Sun Records heavily reverbed vocals and some really awesome understated country guitar work. It also evokes the great early rock ballads of the 1950s, although it cannot really be called a ballad. It’s simple and fluid as she asks the question, somewhat nonchalantly, “Who have you been loving since I’ve been gone?”
- “Honey, don’t”: The incomparable Carl Perkins may have been on his way to bigger than Elvis when a near-fatal car accident destroyed the amazing momentum he had gained from his first smash hit Blue Suede Shoes (Sun Records’ first million-selling record). . Perkins recorded fantastic rockabilly for Sun Records. “Honey Don’t”, the b-side of “Blue Suede Shoes”, is a perfect example of this. Perkins influenced countless future rockers, including The Beatles, who covered this song and many other Carl Perkins songs. In fact, The Beatles recorded more songs written by Carl Perkins than any other artist besides them. This is a tribute to the greatest rockabilly cat!
- “We Wanna Boogie”: Sonny Burgess was perhaps the most unusual sounding cat at Sun Records. We Wanna Boogie is a great example of the crazy songs he cuts. The only rockabilly band I’ve ever heard to incorporate trumpet into the combo, these guys played with total abandon. Whistles, hollers, hollers, and yes, that crazy trumpet. All of this coupled with Burgess’ gravelly vocals make his recordings some of the funniest sweetest stuff any record label has ever cut!
- “One Hand Loose”: With a knuckle style that would have made Buddy Holly blush, Charlie Features proved to be a wonderful example of early rockabilly. Feathers was another artist who inexplicably never made it big. “One Hand Loose” is a prime example of rockabilly at its best. It has some great rockabilly guitar work, the characteristic pounding slap bass, and Feathers’ amazing vocal handling. And a perfect rockabilly theme and hook: “Let go of one of your hands and I’ll be satisfied!” Gotta love this!
These are just a few of the wonderful songs that appeared in the Sun Records catalog during the heyday of rockabilly in the mid to late 1950s. Sam Phillips had an uncanny knack for identifying great rockabilly artists, and of course the more successful his artist became, the more similar artists came to his door hoping for a shot at the big time. We’ve covered some pretty obscure songs and artists here, but there’s so much more that I can’t urge you enough to dig into the Sun Records catalog and see what you can discover. You will not be disappointed!
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