Eddie Cochran didn't record all that long, but his legacy is formidable. A mere 21 years old when he died in a car accident in 1960, Cochran recorded one of the iconic songs of the 20th century with "Summertime Blues," a song that captured the rock & roll attitude better than almost any one single, but he wasn't just image: he had a set of songs that were funny, vibrant, and alive, at their best holding their own with Chuck Berry's teenage vignettes, brought to life by his inventive recordings where he pioneered the overdubbing of guitars and use of studio space, opening up the sound of records, suggesting sounds and possibilities in a way rivaled only by Buddy Holly. Like his friend Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran wound up defining the very essence of rockabilly for countless listeners, his sound and stance echoing throughout the decades, from the Beatles to the Stray Cats and beyond. And he did this all with a body of songs that number no greater than 50.
With such a small canon of work, the question of whether he can sustain such a mammoth complete recordings box set as Bear Family's 2009 set Somethin' Else: The Ultimate Collection does arise. The answer winds up being a surprising, resounding yes, for like all the best Bear Family boxes, Somethin' Else thrives by presenting a context for Eddie's work. Certainly, context is what Bear Family offers here -- along with excellent remastered sound and superb liner notes -- to the legions of Cochran diehards, because all of his recorded work, including live sets, has been previously excavated. Any diehard will be familiar with every note here, which may be a detriment for those willing to spend over 200 dollars on a box set, but again, it's the context that makes Somethin' Else feel like something special. It traces Eddie's career through his early country beginning as part of the Cochran Brothers, through his earliest Elvis impressions, then through the explosion of hits in the late '50s. As the studio recordings run out, the set charges through the live radio and TV recordings (some punctuated by on-air interviews), and all of a sudden the familiar songs are given a freshness through these live performances, as Cochran's steady-growing confidence and charisma soon turn overpowering. Then, the set adds an appendix of sideman sessions from Eddie, split equally between rockabilly and country, all proof of his range and possibility. Ultimately, that's the power of this exceptional set: it suggests how much Eddie Cochran could have done without ever diminishing what he did achieve.