Whole Lotta Shakin'/On Top

Carl Perkins

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Whole Lotta Shakin'/On Top Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

At first, the pairing of 1958’s Whole Lotta Shakin' and 1969’s On Top on a single-disc two-fer seems a little odd since there’s over a decade-long gap between the LPs, but during those 11 years Carl Perkins didn’t record a session with the intent of making a new LP. So, this winds up as a two-fer of Perkins' second and third albums, but that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily an easy pairing, particularly because Whole Lotta Shakin’ is a bit of an odd LP, a collection of rock & roll covers that contains no Perkins originals or hits. Because Perkins was a first-class rock & roller, this is hardly a bad album -- he sings Jerry Lee, Little Richard, and Elvis songs with gusto -- but many of these sessions are augmented with a wailing saxophone that winds up cluttering the arrangements, elbowing out Carl’s lean lead lines and making this a less raucous party than it should have been. On Top, however, is an outright blast, exhibiting some paisley signatures of its era -- there are fuzz and wah-wah guitars scattered throughout along with some groovy electric pianos -- but never once feeling desperate or cluttered. Also, the song selection is less obvious and plays toward Perkins’ strengths, emphasizing his versatility: he charges through an update of Buddy Holly’s “I’m Gonna Set My Foot Down,” eases into Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me to Do?,” and has the wonderful “Champagne, Illinois,” a bluesy collaboration with Bob Dylan. The result is pretty glorious and, when paired with Whole Lotta Shakin’, On Top winds up proving the conventional wisdom that Perkins was better in the ‘50s than he was in the ‘60s wrong.

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