Drawn from the one LP and the dozen or so singles Link Wray recorded for Swan Records between 1963 and 1966, Early Recordings, first released in a coherent configuration by Chiswick Records in 1978, remains the best single disc introduction to this powerful guitar player, even though, at 32 minutes in length, it falls on the brief side. No matter. It burns like a runaway gas fire, from the ragged, surging "Batman Theme" that opens things clear through to the remake of his signature "Rumble" that closes up the sequence.
This is powerful, spooky and haunting stuff. Wray is said to have invented the power chord and to have created the template for grunge guitar way back in the mid-1950s, but what he really is, more than anything, is the precedent for players like Jimi Hendrix, a guitarist who wanted to wring every last blast and rattle out of his amp by any means possible. Through his recording career, producers continually operated on the principle that if you could only dress him up and tone him down, Wray would break through to the masses, but like that junkyard dog continually barking at the end of his chain, Wray kept things in the bone-rattling red zone, turning out track after track of raw, primitive energy. The cuts on Early Recordings were recorded after Wray's stint with Epic Records, who kept trying to sweeten his sound with horns and strings, and you can feel the sense of desperation, freedom and joyous release in every second here. The lone vocal track, a cover of Willie Dixon's "Hidden Charms" (by way of Howlin' Wolf), is a slice of sneering garage rock that sounds like metal fingernails on an electric chalk board for two minutes and forty five seconds. Powerful stuff, and absolutely essential.
"Run Chicken Run"
"Jack the Ripper"