CD Review: Wanda Jackson – The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles (Omnivore, 2013)
Recent collections of singles from Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Ray Charles and others have shed new light on much-loved performers. In addition to well-known hits, these anthologies highlight the valiant misses and B-sides that faded from an artist’s repertoire as their catalog was reduced to greatest hits collections. Wanda Jackson’s rockabilly and country recordings have been well-served in reissue, with both original albums and anthologies in print, but Omnivore’s 29-track collection provides an expanded view of her career as a singles artist. In addition to her well-loved A-sides “Hot Dog! That Made Him Made,” “Cool Love,” “Fujiyama Mama,” “Honey Bop,” “Mean Mean Man,” “Rock Your Baby,” “Let’s Have a Party,” “Riot in Cell Block Number Nine,” “Right or Wrong,” and “In the Middle of a Heartache,” the set is stocked with ace chart-misses and B-sides.
As early as 1956 Jackson was backing up her incendiary rockabilly singles with country flips that included “Half a Good a Girl” and the maiden recording of Jack Rhodes and Dick Reynolds’ “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” She added a rockabilly croon to the Cadillacs’ bluesy doo-wop B-side “Let Me Explain” and shined brightly on Boudleaux Bryant’s calypso novelty “Don’a Wan’a.” Her ballads were often backed by Jordanaires-styled male harmonies and hard-twanging guitars (courtesy of A-list players Joe Maphis and Buck Owens) that keep her rock ‘n’ roll roots simmering. Even more straightforward country weepers like “No Wedding Bells for Joe” and “Sinful Heart” have downbeats that are more insistent than their Nashville contemporaries.
Jackson’s original “Little Charm Bracelet” didn’t make the charts, but it’s a cleverly written story of a relationship’s hopeful start and interrupted ending. Fans may be surprised to find that the favorite “Funnel of Love” was actually a B-side (to the country hit “Right or Wrong”), as the release signaled the beginnings of Jackson’s transition to the country charts. Still, even as the A-sides turned country, the B-sides held onto their sass with originals “I’d Be Ashamed” and “You Bug Me Bad,” and a bouncy version of Bobby Bare’s “Sympathy.” The productions are split between Los Angeles (tracks 1-17) and Nashville (tracks 18-29), and while the latter show countrypolitan touches, several of Jackson’s hottest rock ‘n’ roll records were recorded with Roy Clark and other Music City luminaries.
Jackson’s still recording vital new works today, including a 2012 release produced by Justin Townes Earle. There have also been anthologies of her rockabilly sides, best-ofs [1 2], album reissues [1 2 3 4], and box sets that tell the complete story from 1954 through 1973 [1 2]. Every one of these sets has something to offer, as does Omnivore’s look at Jackson’s singles from her rockabilly and initial country years. This isn’t a complete retelling, as its missing non-LP singles and leaves the last decade of her run on Capitol unexplored, but what’s here, all in superbly crafted mono, is terrific. The A-sides are well-known but not worn-out, the B-sides rare treasures, and the 16-page booklet includes fresh liner notes from Daniel Cooper, session and release data, photos and ephemera.