Various Artists

The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 12

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The best series of compilation albums devoted to the first decade of rock & roll didn't run out of steam at all upon reaching a dozen volumes, even though this installment has nothing by early rock's top superstars. The 30 tracks cover all facets of rock & roll between 1956 and 1963, from rockabilly and Bo Diddley to electric blues that crossed over into the pop charts (Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker), novelties (John Zacherle's "Dinner with Drac, Pt. 1"), surf (Dick Dale), early Motown, early girl group, an early Phil Spector production, instrumentals, doo wop, and more. Yet this wide swath doesn't come at the expense of quality, and in fact, quite a few of these tracks were big classic hits, like the Rays' "Silhouettes," Bill Justis' "Raunchy," Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man," Larry Williams' "Short Fat Fannie," the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman," the Dovells' "Bristol Stomp," Conway Twitty's "Lonely Blue Boy," and Jerry Butler's "He Will Break Your Heart." Some of the not-so-big hits were classics, too, like Diddley's "Roadrunner," Arthur Alexander's early soul heartbreaker "You Better Move On," LaVern Baker's "Saved," the "5" Royales' "Think," the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu," and James Ray's "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody." For the fans who have everything, or think they have everything, there are some singles that didn't make much of a mark but carry some historical interest, like Etta & Harvey's "If I Can't Have You" (a duet between Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows and Etta James); the Velaires' adequately energetic 1961 version of "Roll Over Beethoven," the first Chuck Berry cover to make the Top 100; Marvin Rainwater's "Whole Lotta Woman," a huge hit in the U.K. even though it peaked at a mere number 60 in the singer's native U.S., and Bobby Gregg & His Friends' "The Jam, Pt. 1," featuring stinging guitar by a young Roy Buchanan. It's true the most obscure cuts don't tend to be close to the same level of quality as the big hits and classics, but they don't seriously impair the listenability of another fine volume of this excellent series, which is supplemented by superbly detailed liner notes.

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