The 11th volume of this venerated series is split about half between out-and-out classics from rock & roll's first decade and considerably lesser-known (and usually much lower-charting) items from the same period. The benefit of this approach is that it makes available quite a few tracks that rarely get reissued, or at least rarely anthologized on all-purpose rock & roll oldies collections, while putting in enough familiar staples to avoid being tagged as a rarities collection. The drawback, of course, is that those relatively little-known singles -- all Top 100 Billboard hits to some degree or another, though seldom played on oldies stations today -- simply aren't nearly as good or memorable as the big hits with which they share space on this CD. Collectors might get frustrated by all the big hits that they already have in their collection several times over; more general fans will find the quality of the disc erratic, owing to the presence of all those obscurities. Still, there's no arguing with the first-rate status of many of the big hits here, including great smashes by LaVern Baker ("Jim Dandy"), Dion ("Ruby Baby"), Mickey & Sylvia ("Love Is Strange"), Shirley & Lee ("Let the Good Times Roll"), Jimmy Bowen ("I'm Stickin' with You"), Hank Ballard ("Finger Poppin' Time"), and Nervous Norvus ("Transfusion," a novelty so gruesome it still remains astonishing it made the Top Ten in 1956). Among the less celebrated selections, a few standouts are in or almost in the same league, like the Robins' wonderful "Smokey Joe's Cafe," Ruth Brown's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'," Carl Mann's late-'50s Sun Records rockabilly cut "Pretend," and Cookie & His Cupcakes' swamp pop standard "Mathilda." Much of the rest of the anthology is of a decidedly lower level, although early efforts are included by some artists who went on to much bigger fame in different contexts, like the 1956 doo wop single "(You're The) Apple of My Eye" by the Four Lovers (later to become the Four Seasons) and "White Bucks and Saddle Shoes" by Bobby Pedrick, Jr. (later to have hits as Robert John). Rob Finnis' liner notes give excellent background information about each track, and cite one of the more obscure cuts, Jimmy Dee's 1957 Top 50 hit "Henrietta," as the first record Bob Dylan ever bought.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger