Marty Robbins is primarily known as a major country star, a position he maintained from the 1950s through his death in 1982. However, like a good number of country musicians, he dabbled in rock & roll, or at least country music influenced by rock, when rockabilly performers with country roots crossed over to pop success in the mid- to late '50s. As the name of this 30-song compilation implies, Rocks focuses on Robbins' most rock-oriented output, mostly dating from 1954-1959, but also including a few sides stretching as far into the next decade as 1966. Robbins was one of the first established country singers to cover early rock & roll classics, taking both "That's All Right" (sparked by Elvis Presley's version) and Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" into the country Top Ten in 1955. That testifies to his talent for finding a good rock song to interpret when rock & roll itself was barely off the ground, but his more country-oriented renditions are hardly matches for the originals. The larger issue with compiling Marty Robbins' rockers is that although he was a great country singer, he simply wasn't such a good rock & roller, lacking nearly as much as an instinctive feel for the music as the early rockabilly greats. Compared to the likes of Presley or Carl Perkins, he's rather stiff, and often can't shake the impression that he's doing rock songs from a country angle, rather than moving from country origins into full-tilt rock & roll. The excellent liner notes make a game argument for Marty's skill in the rock idiom, but it's kind of average and forgettable both in performance and the quality of the material, whether written by Robbins or others. And, perhaps because of its easy availability in uncounted formats, this doesn't include his most commercially and artistically successful rock-influenced single, the 1957 number two hit "A White Sport Coat." Overall it's something of a historical curiosity instead of revealing hidden rock & roll stature, most successful on the original version of "Knee Deep in the Blues" (covered with more success by Guy Mitchell), less so on the uncomfortable charge through Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally."
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
feat: Lee Emerson