Fans of country and early rock & roll know that Germany's Bear Family label is home to some of the most lavish and unbearably completist box sets available. (Only the insanely hardcore are advised to check out the complete recordings of Connie Francis from 1955-1959, especially since it doesn't include her lovely album of Jewish songs.)
Even the label admits as much: "Bear Family is not a 'greatest hits' label, and we're proud of itâ€¦even if our accountants aren't." But if you're aching to hear everything recorded by subjects ranging from Johnny Cash to Rod McKuen (and don't mind shelling out upwards of $200 for sets with more than a dozen CD's), there's only one place to visit.
But now a series of single-disc compilations, titled Rocks, is not only making Bear Family an unlikely paragon of brevity but also providing some of the best rock & roll compilations ever heard. Granted, each edition only features the work of a single artist, but then again, has the world ever seen a Jerry Lee Lewis collection that rocks as hard and as long as the very-appropriately-titled Jerry Rocks? What's so special about this Jerry Lee collection? (Hint: it's not the fact that they included "Great Balls of Fire" or even "High School Confidential.") Jerry Rocks so much because it includes not just his early rock & roll but all of his best '60s and '70s killers as well, skipping entirely his admittedly great honky tonk material for only the upbeat and torrid sides.
The series is now close to ten titles strong -- with volumes on Fats Domino, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley, and more -- plus new editions have been released on Ronnie Hawkins and Bobby Darin. Also, a side series, titled Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight, presents country artists from Patsy Cline to Webb Pierce in all their rocking glory. And believe it or not, even Connie Francis gets into the act.
For more information, check out Bear Family's website or finer record outlets, and check out the samples below for the unlikeliest of series partners...
"Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee"
"Real Wild Child (Wild One)"
"Pink Pedal Pushers"
"I Hear You Knockin'"