Purists will cringe when they learn that the word "punk" has found its way into the subtitle of Rockin' Bones, a four-disc collection of rockabilly drawn mostly from the 1950s. Can't the blistering sounds of '50s teenage rebellion stand on their own without getting subsumed into a later style? Who needs spiky hair, metal studs, and leather jackets when you could have greasy locks, switchblades, and, uh, leather jackets? But the parallels are there. As the always-sharp Colin Escott points out in his liner notes, this is DIY music, usually cut on tiny labels, only rarely a hit with the general public, but played for adoring, rowdy crowds who've carried the sound and spirit on for generations.
The sound ran with Elvis' notion of mixing country twang and R&B, and the spirit can be summed up pretty easily: A big "no" to settling down, staying put, playing nice, and keeping quiet. A big "yes" to sex, cars, cigarettes, hooch, and never keeping still. It's hardcore rock 'n' roll, in other words, mostly delivered in sharp bursts that clock in under 150 seconds. There's no time for regrets. The early '60s would bring death-discs like "Last Kiss" and "Leader Of The Pack." That was for later. Rockabilly is a Saturday night with no prospect of Sunday morning.
Rockin' Bones has the good stuff in abundance. Elvis is here alongside Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, and the usual suspects. They can't be underrated, but Rockin' Bones' real stars are the many one-hit, no-hit, largely forgotten, mostly Southern-born dynamite sticks who cut every record as if it were their last. (It often was: About a third of the set's 101 tracks have never been on CD before.) Fat Daddy Holmes cut barnyard sound effects into "Chicken Rock." Steve Carl was shut out of Sun after crossing town to record a Johnny Cash session for fast-crashing Meteor Records. Still tearing the roof off places live, Wanda Jackson cut the transcendentally offensive "Fujiyama Mama" and made it a hit in Japan. ("I've been to Nagasaki, Hiroshima too / The same I did to them, babe, I can do to you.") Jackie Morningstar released a song called "Rockin' In The Graveyard" that, like the track that gives the set its title, suggested rock 'n' roll could transcend death itself. Maybe not, but some folks gave it their best shot.