I had this years ago and I missed some its greatness. I thought, at the time, that Gordon sounded too much like Elvis Presley to warrant me investing in him when I already had the Elvis music.
Though the philosophy behind such an action is something I still employ I clearly missed the point with Robert Gordon. I eventually got some of his other albums and saw the light before coming back to this album.
My mistake is an honest one that Gordon may be proud of. Look at his Bio from allmusic: For a time back in the late ’70s, Robert Gordon was in an extraordinary position for a solo rock artist. The singer, then just over 30 years old, suddenly found himself leading what amounted to a rediscovery (he hates the word "revival") of authentic 1950s-style rockabilly music, two decades out of its own time. The rediscovery didn’t quite lead to a revival, which probably suited Gordon just fine — he never defined himself as a revivalist — and his records didn’t sell the way his label hoped, but Gordon ended up a celebrated figure among open-minded oldies buffs, rock & roll enthusiasts, and, generally, anyone with ears, whether they liked rockabilly music or not….Gordon was born in 1947 and grew up in Bethesda, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C. At the age of nine, he heard Elvis Presley’s debut RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel" — a life-changing moment that persuaded him that a career in music was what he wanted for himself…In 1970 he moved to
On this (second) album, as on others, Robert Gordon is clearly inspired and uses his own voice and personality, which is quirky and off kilter, to infuse the music with an irresistible vibe.
That is no mean feat when singing in this idiom as it is impossible to escape the influence and comparisons to Elvis who virtually invented the musical language for this type of rock n roll specifically (and for rock music generally).
It’s to Gordon’s credit that he nails these songs but doesn’t slavishly imitate the originals. Gordon is a music aficionado and historian (he has published books) and clearly understands the history of music as well as its cultural and popular impact. But that does not make him overly reverent or bookish as there is real sweat amongst the thought in these versions as Gordon plays with the tempos and emotional core of each song. Not surprisingly, given his smarts, Gordon chooses songs that are a little unknown (even if they were hits at the time) or even obscure.
A lesser talent would have done the usual 50s hits (not that there is anything wrong with that as I think Gordon could have nailed the familiar golden oldies also because he likes his rock pap, err, pop) not offended anyone and left.
Gordon, though, seems to have tapped into the same punk stream as Lux Interior of the Cramps – the difference is that Gordon is straighter and more faithful to the originals, though not as much as say, Dave Edmunds or Chris Isaak would be (or are).
The other plus (and a big one) which I should have paid more heed to is Link Wray’s guitar. Link Wray is on fire on this album – so much so he gets to share the album title ownership, “Robert Gordon with Link Wray” It’s not a Link Wray album by any stretch but his guitar is distinctive and he pushes the music on in a muscular fashion, albeit with a 50s production sound. Interestingly the album has a 1958 production sound not a 1978 production sound. Gordon even uses Elvis’ Jordanaires on backing vocals.
As music historian Colin Escott has written: “Gordon never was a rockabilly revivalist, although he certainly adopted some of the production values of early rock’n’roll: spontaneity, sparseness, visceral energy and absolute lack of pretension”.
Great songs that are well done. With all this going for the album the problem becomes one of, you can’t tell if a song is great because the song is great or because Gordon (and Wray) put in such a compelling performance. One thing is for certain they don’t do any of the songs a disservice.
The only downside is the album feels a little short …again, just like an Elvis album.
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Way I Walk – (Jack Scott ) – The magnificent song by 50s rocker Jack Scott. Link Wray’s guitar is menacing, and distinctively Link Wary. This is music for a Saturday night, before going out.
- Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache – (Lilly May) – a smooth gentle pop song which has some great old school guitar work
- If This Is Wrong – (Link Wray) – a Elvis film song rip off if there ever was one. That’s OK – Link was around at the time. The song seems to be a pastiche of Jailhouse Rock’s “Don’t Leave Me Now” and King Creole’s “Don’t Ask Me Why”:
- Five Days, Five Days – (Jack Rhodes / Billy Willey) – the clean straight edge of the 50s.
- Fire – (Bruce Springsteen) – magnificence. Gordon even records an unknown (at the time) Bruce Springsteen song. The song was written by Bruce Springsteen for his idol, Elvis, and he apparently even sent Elvis a demo of it but Elvis died soon after. The song would have been a perfect fit for Elvis. Gordon with his Elvis fascination was also a perfect choice. Lucky for him he was a friend of Springsteen’s and he got hold of the song and had some radio airplay. Later the same year, 1978, the Pointer Sisters heard the song and did a disco version of it that went to #2 in the
. Springsteen released a live version in 1986. US
- I Want to Be Free – (Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller) – a good cover of the not very often covered Elvis song from Jailhouse Rock. Not as freaky as the original but almost
- Twenty Flight Rock – (Ned Fairchild) – the Eddie Cochran song with a steal from ”All Shook Up” as the original was in part …
- Sea Cruise – (*Huey "Piano" Smith) – an excellent version of the Frankie Ford hit …the guitar, again, is magnificent. This rocks more than the original.
- Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track) – (Glen Moore / Milton Subotsky) – the Johnny Burnette classic …and a great version here.
- Blue Eyes (Don’t Run Away) – (Desmond Wray) – a good ending.
This album smokes….tough rockabilly with a retro pre-punk edge. Don’t drink to it and go out …you’ll probably end up in a fight.
I’m keeping it.
1978 Fresh Fish Special The Billboard 200 #124
The Way I Walk
Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache
If This Is Wrong
I Want to Be Free
Twenty Flight Rock
Lonesome Train (On a Lonesome Track)
Blue Eyes (Don’t Run Away)
- “Fresh Fish Special” was named for the ugly haircut inflicted upon Elvis in the movie Jailhouse Rock (1957).
- Producer Richard Gottehrer of the Strangeloves. Allmusic: While the Strangeloves managed to produce one garage band classic, their story is probably more interesting than their actual music. Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer were a trio of
Brooklynsongwriter/producers who landed a number one girl group hit with the Angels’ "My Boyfriend’s Back." When the British Invasion crested in the mid-’60s, they decided to get in on the act by recording as a group, billing themselves as an Australian outfit to cash in on the mystique being attached to foreign groups…. "I Want Candy," with its crunching Bo Diddley beat, joyous chorus, and rambling lead guitar, was their great moment, reaching number 11 in 1965. He formed Sire Records in 1966 with Seymour Stein. He went on to produce Blondie, The Go-Go’s, Marshall Crenshaw, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Joan Armatrading, The Fleshtones, The Bongos, Richard Barone, Mental As Anything, Link Wray, the Dum Dum Girls, Dr. Feelgood and others.