Various Artists

Complete Sun Singles, Vol. 3

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The third entry into this six-volume series chronicling the entire Sun singles catalog begins in the fall of 1957. The tiny label -- which had been essentially a two-person operation in the beginning and through its early gestation -- was now a major independent with national hits in (pop, country, and rhythm & blues. Sun was not only the little label that could, but also a major force in shaping rock'n'roll and the boundaries of pop music overall. Sun was no longer a regional label making strange, quirky music for a small chunk of the Southern demographic, but a part of the national marketplace. As this installment in the series clearly illustrates by its chronological end in the summer of 1959, Sun wanted to be a part of that marketplace and would change their trademark sound accordingly. Backup singers, tenor sax solos, overdubs, a taming of the raw excitement -- these were all stylistic notions unthinkable of a Sun record only a couple of years back. But for every pop teen idol experiment gone awry, for every slick(er) concession to the marketplace, Sun Records still rocked harder than any label on the planet and made much original music in the bargain. In the A- and B-sides of these 50 singles, we hear the changes in Sun and, indeed, rock'n'roll itself.

Disc one features one of the most cathartic moments in Sun history: Jerry Lee Lewis' two-sided classic, "Great Balls of Fire" and "You Win Again." Both sides of the Johnny Cash coin (the cool and the cloying) are well represented; Roy Orbison was being moved into similarly commercial fish-out-of-water territory, and Carl Perkins' last single for the label also appears. Disc Two features sides from the man responsible for much of the new bent toward mainstream commercialism -- producer/songwriter/musician Jack Clement, who wrote pop fluff like "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," played the acoustic guitar riff on "Big River," and produced sessions for Phillips. The third disc has numerous highlights from the first track to the last; the final disc takes us up to the summer of 1959, a fallow time for rock'n'roll, although there's still much great music to be heard. However, even the gradual taming of rockabilly and the sweetening of the hillbilly sounds the label was noted for couldn't possibly prepare the listener for eleven-year-old chalk-on-a-blackboard moppet Sherry Crane; "Winnie the Parakeet" and its flip side "Willie Willie" is simply the worst Sun record of all time, no contest.

Along with these 101 sides (including a Jerry Lee interview track) is a sumptuous, bound 68-page booklet, chock full of label photos, excellent track-by-track text from Hank Davis, and rare photos of everybody from Johnny Cash to the sickly sweet Sherry Crane.

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