Various Artists

Rolling Back the Years: 1954-1955

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This is the third volume in British budget label Prism Leisure's 15-album series, each volume covering two years in a 30-year span from 1950 to 1979 and containing popular music associated with those years. This one differs enormously from its two predecessors for legal reasons. Since the series was assembled and issued in 2004, the first two volumes were able to take advantage of the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in Europe that gave Prism public-domain access to anything from before 1954. All the label had to do was copy old discs of the original recordings by the original artists. As of this volume, however, Prism has been forced to license recordings, and the result requires a disclaimer on the back cover: "Some of the tracks featured are live concert performances, or re-recordings made by the soloist or by one or more members of the original group." In fact, nearly all of the tracks are live versions or re-recordings; the only one that appears to be the original recording is Johnny Cash's "Cry! Cry! Cry!" Another difference between this volume and its predecessors is that it takes in not only traditional pop music by the likes of Rosemary Clooney, but also rock & roll, doo wop, R&B, and blues. That's a welcome diversity, but the recordings are so inconsistent in terms of sound quality and musical approach that the collection is really a mess. Some of these recordings were made decades after 1954-1955, and some of these songs didn't come from that period to begin with. For example, Little Richard's original "Rip It Up" was from 1956 (not that the one here is the original), and Link Wray's "Rumble" was from 1958. And even in mastering this material, the compilers have been sloppy; no one seems to have noticed that the record of Guy Mitchell's "Sippin' Soda" (a hit in the U.K. but not the U.S.) had a skip in it! There are some great artists on this album and some interesting performances, but the album as a whole is a disaster.