Five Essential Rockabilly Albums



Some of us are not punks but do like rockabilly and psychobilly. Give me that crooked sneer and the pomade, you don’t have to be a punk to tell me where you got that brand new Cadillac. There are a lot of ways to develop a love for rockabilly music. The upright bass slap sound is primarily influenced by big band swing & jazz. If you listen to Count Basie records from the 1930’s you can hear upright bass slap lines walking all over the fretboard. There is also a profound country influence. Authenticity is a funny thing.


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One of the best rockabilly singles from this decade is from Kesha’s last album, Rainbow. She achieves the perfect, authentic rockabilly sound in the opening verse of ‘Hunt You Down’ because the swing is all on the cymbals and the snare drum is largely absent, giving her upright bass player room to slap. The rockabilly musicians of the 1950’s were just as influenced by Hank Williams and Bill Monroe as they were rhythm and blues and jazz artists. And after the rockabilly revival in the 1980’s, punk, metal, horror, car shows and tattoos are just as important as how you comb your hair. What an aesthetic. Here are five albums you gotta check out.


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This album was originally two separate records. One from 1977 that retains the name, Robert Gordon With Link Wray and one from 1978 called Fresh Fish Special.  Robert Gordon is the best rockabilly singer you will hear. Before the Cramps covered The Way I Walk, Robert Gordon crooned it out with Link Wray rocking his tremolo and bending the fuck out of his guitar neck. Robert Gordon covers everyone from Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran and Bruce Springsteen on this double album. Some people think its pretentious or a waste of time to cover songs. Robert Gordon disagrees. And Robert Gordon is especially interesting. Rockabilly is thought of as completely dormant during the 1970’s. But Robert’s recordings with Link Wray are among the genre’s best, a punk as fuck vision of doo-wop infused country crooning.


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“If we’re lucky they’re gonna see this all over the world,” are the first words we hear Carl Perkins speak in his 1985 performance, recorded and broadcast by Cinemax. Throughout the recorded set, Carl’s band is made up of: Lee Rocker, Slim Jim Phantom, Dave Edmunds, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Rosanne Cash & Carl’s son Greg. They play all of Carl’s best songs and several Sun Records classics. George Harrison sings some songs, Carl Perkins sings some songs. Lee Rocker slaps his bass and Slim Jim Phantom swings all over and everywhere and people dance and feel glad all over. This record is the closest you can come to feeling like you just snorted some coke while staying sober. Also please make an effort to memorize each of Carl Perkins monologues throughout the set. “Let me hear that beat, boy.”


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I don’t like greatest hits records but sometimes you need them. The Polecats are a somewhat unknown rockabilly revival band from England, active mainly in the 1980’s and sometimes they still gig. They’re a great example of a rockabilly sound that also has a lot in common with the Cramps and other punk and new wave and glam bands. Cat O’ Nine Tales has the most delicious tremolo riffs and everyone in the band is good at what they do. Tim Polecat, vocalist, is a kind of an Ian Dury evolutionary figure. Besides the audio, look up old Polecats shows on YouTube. If you gave Morrissey way too much coffee and put him in a red Polo shirt and Bright blue jeans and repeatedly stuck his testicles with a cattle prod, he might begin to approach the beauty that is Tim Polecat on stage.


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 Okay, I lied. If you want to stay sober and still get that fresh lines blown feeling, put on Let’s Hear It Once Again For Go Cat Go. Once I was a young child who played upright bass for a living while I was in school and hung out on message boards to get help with technique and get mic tips and etc etc. The old California boys always swore this record is the best shit since Elvis. Singer, Darren Spears, died in 1993 before the band could record and release a full length album. After Darren Spears’ death this album of mostly live recordings was eventually released in 1999. Turn on their version of Milk Cow Blues Boogie and brace your fucking self.


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Gal Holiday is one of my favorite contemporary musicians and also has an incredible understanding of space and swing in her music. She is based in New Orleans and frequently tours. This is the most country record on this list but Gal’s sound is just as Billie Holiday influenced as it is by 1940’s country swing and cat calling rockabilly. Gal Holiday’s music is as good for studying as it is listening. She covers Bob Dylan and Webb Pierce on Set Two and also plays a few excellent songs she’s written, like the Louisiana Waltz. And since I mentioned Milk Cow Boogie Blues earlier, make sure to listen to Brain Cloudy Blues on Set Two. It’s sort of a sister song to Milk Cow Boogie Blues, which further highlights how much Gal Holiday & her band understand the music they’re playing. Gal’s voice is beautiful and her vocals have weight, depth and power. Her band is great and her aesthetic is second to none. Listen to her music while you drink and smoke and cry.


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Thursday Simpson is from rural Illinois. She has a BA from the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dreginald, Mistress, The Breakroom Stories, Diabolique Magazine, Rhino Poetry, Fishfood Magazine and Far Off Places. She believes in Feline Satan & garlic & onions. Ask her to do an impression of King Diamond and she will probably smile. Her Twitter is @JeanBava

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