Wanda Jackson was the original rockabilly filly... In the 1950s, when she started out, there may have been some teeny-tiny competition from Janis Martin or Lorrie Collins, but really Jackson was the undisputed queen of the early rock scene. She tore it up with her snarly, explosive vocals, recording some of the best, most dynamic music of the era. She made the transition into a mainstream country career, and stayed on the charts well into the 1970s, recording country stuff that was, in its own way, almost as good as her sizzling rockabilly classics. Here's a quick look at her career...
Wanda Jackson "Wanda Jackson" (Capitol, 1958)
Probably the greatest female rockabilly star of the 1950s, Wanda Jackson moved into rock from country music after touring as a supporting act for Elvis Presley, at the height of his wilder years. This was her first album for Capitol records, a nice mix of straight-up country, rock-tinged rompers, and sappy teen ballads, all punctuated by her irrepressible Oklahoma drawl. Her first big rock hit, "Let's Have A Party" made it on here, as well a raveup take on "Long Tall Sally" and bluesy covers of "Money Honey" and "Let Me Go Lover." This CD reissue adds bonus tracks from several singles that cameout around the same time, including her fab version of "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," and the honkytonk weeper, "No Wedding Bells For Joe." Her rural roots are unmistakable, as is her wham-bam vocal power. Recommended -- especially since most of the tracks on here have not been included in the standard Wanda Jackson best-ofs.
Wanda Jackson "Let's Have A Party!" (Capitol, 1960)
Having struck gold as a rockabilly filly, Jackson pumped up the volume for this second album, and many of these tracks will be familiar to oldies fans -- "Mean Mean Man," Honey Bop," "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad," and "Fujiyama Mama," which made her a celebrity in Japan (despite its iffy cultural politics). Again, the CD reissue includes a half dozen songs taken off old singles, and these are all hard country (or teenpop) ballads, tasty treats for the discerning fan. Recommended!
Wanda Jackson "There's A Party Going On" (Capitol, 1961)
Wanda Jackson "Right Or Wrong" (Capitol, 1961)
Wanda Jackson "Wonderful Wanda" (Capitol, 1962)
Wanda Jackson "Love Me Forever" (Capitol, 1963)
Fresh from her triumphs as a teenage rock'n'roll dynamo, Wanda shifts gears and gets all Patsy Cline, particularly on the title track with its lush, pop-tinged string arrangements and loping rhythm framing her gorgeous vocals. She still has that young, crystalline tone, but she's singing in an elegant Patsy/Connie/Brenda Lee kinda way. Sounds great!
Wanda Jackson "Two Sides Of Wanda" (Capitol, 1964)
Wanda Jackson "Blues In My Heart" (Capitol, 1965)
On the opening tracks, you get the feeling that Wanda having "the blues" might just turn out to be an excuse for the Nashville cats to produce another syrupy pop-vocals album packed with woo-wahhh backup singers and flatlining string arragements... But things pick up quickly, starting with her slinky rendition of the Delmore Brothers oldie, "Midnight," which is echoed by a similar-sounding cover of their "Blues Stay Away From Me," along with a few other blue ballads that redeem themselves from the potentially bland, string-laden studio production. The guitar players have fun on several songs, vamping it up and reverb-ing their way through some swank, bluesy licks, and Wanda herself sings well on most songs, with a few notable duds, such as her excessively languid run-through of "Worried Mind" and a just-okay version of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me." Nonetheless, there are a few soulful gems on here -- it's an album worth taking the time to harvest a tune or two.
Wanda Jackson "Sings Country Songs" (Capitol, 1965)
Wanda Jackson "Salutes The Country Music Hall Of Fame" (Capitol, 1966)
Wanda Jackson "Reckless Love Affair" (Capitol, 1967)
A surprisingly rootsy album, considering the times, with plenty of pedal steel and loping rhythms galore. There's an inescapable studio slickness, but considering how gooey most Nashville stuff was back then, this is a positively back-to-the-well neotrad outing. Mostly its a set of generic country ballads, with a few notable novelty tunes, like "The Box It Came In," where a jilted bride stomps on her wedding dress box and dreams of her fiancee coming back in a coffin, and the sassy "This Gun Don't Care" a shameless mashup of "Fist City" and "These Boots Are Made For Walking" and for twangfans there's the truckerdelic "Long As I Have You." There's really only one real missed opportunity on here, a slushy, over-orchestrated version of the Louvin Brothers' "My Baby's Gone"; I would've loved to hear Wanda do this one right, but considering the strength of the rest of the record, I can't really complain about one small dud. Well worth checking out!
Wanda Jackson "You'll Always Have My Love" (Capitol, 1967)
Awesome! If you're looking for Wanda at her most country, this just might be the best, most rural album of her career. It's packed with solid songs and plenty of sleek studio twang, steel guitars and pedal steel, but most importantly it doesn't lapse into tedium or overly poppy production, but keeps a pretty even keel with a rich, rootsy feel. She's obviously trying to cover her flank as a new wave of gutsy gal singers hit the scene: Wanda nails the Loretta Lynn sound on the humor-filled, uptempo twangtune, "I'd Like To Help You Out"; other country gems include "Who Do You Go To," "Famous Last Words" and "The Half That Was Mine." Indeed, this record never lets up, and will please even the snobbiest hard country fans. A winner.
Wanda Jackson "Cream Of The Crop" (Capitol, 1968)
Although this is billed as a roundup of current hit songs (hits for other artists) there are a few surprises, such as the opening track, "Little Boy Soldier," a grim Vietnam War-era ditty in which a young boy's father returns from the war -- in a pine box; it's followed by a cover of Buck Owens' "Together Again," which sounds positively spooky given the context. There are some predictably bland songs, including her uninspired moralizing on "A Girl Don't Have To Drink To Have Fun" (made all the more unconvincing since it's followed by superior readings of boozy tunes such as "Swinging Doors" and "There Stands The Glass") There are also a lot of winners, including the loping "The Hurtin's All Over," which is an album highlight. Another one that's worth checking out.
Wanda Jackson "The Many Moods Of Wanda Jackson" (Capitol, 1968)
There is a definite art to reading '60s country liner notes... Take for example the phrase, "many moods": any album with "moods" on it means there's going to be some totally sappy crap, but "many" implies that there will be variety, and that a few of the songs might not suck. Such is the case here, another Wanda Jackson set that's heavy on cover versions of other artists' hits. There are a few duds and misfires, like her renditions of "If I Had A Hammer," "Walk Right In" and a nerdy version of the old Chuck Berry/Johnny Rivers hit, "Memphis, Tennessee," all three prime examples of leaving well enough alone. (Although her cover of the Monkees' "I'm A Believer" has a surprising, Nancy Sinatra-esque charm...) There are also several decent country songs, pleasantly packed with pedal steel and misery, reasonably robust arrangements and a fair amount of twang. It's worth checking this album out, and perhaps cherrypicking a tune or two... But the kitsch factor is very high, which may be a plus or a minus, depending on your point of view.
Wanda Jackson "The Happy Side Of Wanda" (Capitol, 1969)
A curious album, which opens with a perky sunshine-pop country tune ("We'll Live In The Sunshine") that seems in keeping with the album title... But then she abruptly shifts into a doleful ballad, and then a couple of pseudo-gospel songs. The rest of the record seems fairly glum -- several songs about doomed romances and broken families, a weeper called "Please Don't Sell My Daddy Any More Wine"... Was the album title an ironic joke? Highlights include "Less Of Me," the Good Samaritan anthem, "Less Of Me" and the steel drenched "You'll Always Have My Love."
Wanda Jackson "In Person: Recorded At Mr. Lucky's In Phoenix, Arizona" (Capitol, 1969)
Although she'd pursued her country career for nearly a decade, Jackson was already an oldies-act artist, opening her Vegas show with a lively, roaring "Let's Have A Party" as well as several of her older songs, "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," etc. along with covers of recent country hits. It's a peppy little concert, although some of the repertoire is kind of iffy -- "If I Had A Hammer" might have been a recent near-hit, but it wasn't her best song. Mike Post was her bandleader and played some tasty lead guitar and also duetted with Jackson on her cover of, um, "Jackson." The live ambiance is a mixed blessing -- some of the "spontaneous" crowd noise sounds distinctly canned, and Jackson can't resist commenting on it herself: a voice calls out for her to sing Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and she dully remarks, "Well, bless your heart... Someone's reading my mind... I was just getting ready to sing this song and we got a 'request' for it..." But even if she resents going through the motions, she's still game, and this album has its moments. Worth checking out.
Wanda Jackson "Country" (Capitol, 1970)
This back-to-roots(ish) outing opens with one of her last real hits, "My Big Iron Skillet," a "Fist City"-styled battle of the sexes novelty song that hit #20 on the charts. From there, she pivots into a ridiculously-overwritten, preposterously poetic countrypolitan song, "Everything's Leaving," which uses words like "visualize" and "expanding pressures." The Billie Gentry-ish rock-pop arrangement is nice, but the song is really goofy. The countrypolitan forays aside, this album has some nice stuff on it: another highlight is the cheatin' weeper, "Two Separate Bar Stools," which also hit the Top 40, as well as the majestic, Billy Sherrill-styled "Just Between You And Me." Not bad!
Wanda Jackson "A Woman Lives For Love" (Capitol, 1970)
You would be forgiven, with this album title, for assuming this is some horrible set of cheesy pop-country ballads... And, sure, there are plenty of those on here, but there's some balance with twangier material as well. The title tune is a dreadful, backlash-y emotional doormat song, almost on a par with "Stand By Your Man," in which Wanda tells her sweetie that she'll stick with him no matter how bad he treats her, because all chicks care about is weepy-eyed l-u-v, love. (By the way, a cover of "Stand By Your Man," starts off Side Two of the album, and other wimpy, doormatty songs follow...) The countrypolitan sound pioneered by Billy Sherrill influences several tracks, but sometimes, as on her cover of Wynn Stewart's "It's Such A Pretty World Today," which is flowery, but fun. A few songs have grit, like "One Minute Past Eternity" and "Dirt Behind My Years," although on balance this isn't her most substantive record ever... Worth a spin!
Wanda Jackson "I Gotta Sing" (Capitol, 1971)
A pure countrypolitan offering, starting out with the perky, cheerful dose of sunshine country of the title track, along with a decent version of "Everything Is Beautiful" along with several folk-country covers like "Love Of The Common People," etc. It's all soft stuff here: a goofy cover of "Break My Mind" is just about Wanda's only nod towards her rough side, so if you really like the soft-pop sounds of early '70s Nashville, then this is the record to shoot for. Pretty good actually. The highlights on here are a bouncy honkytonk tune called "I'm Gonna Walk Out Of Your Life" and the fascinating "Wonder Could I Live There Anymore," in which Wanda looks back at her rural, down-home past, with the cornbread, farm animals and wood-burning stoves and thinks out loud whether she could really live that way again. Recorded in 1971 when many real, live rural Americans were still just barely emerging from poverty, it's a much more substantive song than all the phony-baloney prefab small-town nostalgia tunes that became a staple of country radio in the 1990s. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Those Were The Days" you can skip, though.
Wanda Jackson & The Oak Ridge Boys "Praise The Lord" (Capitol, 1972)
A seriously devotional country gospel album, opening with a half-recited, glowing, eyes-towards-Heaven evocation of the Rapture ("The King Is Coming") that sets the tone for the rest of this record, and indeed, for the rest of Jackson's 1970s career. Not long after this, she mostly stopped recording secular material for about a decade... And if that self-imposed exile from 16th Avenue doesn't convince you of her sincerity, the fervor of these recordings will. A lot of it's over-the-top, but you feel the intensity of her emotions, loud and clear. Includes backing vocals from the Oak Ridge Boys, who, ironically, were headed in the opposite direction, making a move from Southern gospel religious recordings into the upper stratosphere of the Country Top 40. Hallelujah!
Wanda Jackson "I Wouldn't Want You Any Other Way" (Capitol, 1972)
Wanda Jackson "Country Keepsakes" (Capitol, 1973)
A fine example of the countrypolitan-era Nashville studio system at work, for good and for bad. Wanda and the studio crew turn in performances that are solid but sedate, with sweet pedal steel and solid vocals, although the songs feel flat and the repertoire is less than stellar. It's fine, but not a ton of fun. Side Two (of the original album) picks up a little, with novelty gems such as "Tennessee Women's Prison" (sort of like "Mama Tried," but from a woman's angle) and the divorced-parents weeper, "I Don't Know How To Tell Him," which echoes Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." One thing to note is how, for the times, this was a relatively traditional-sounding record. Not very lively, but reasonably rural.
Wanda Jackson "Country Gospel" (Word, 1973)
Wanda Jackson "When It's Time To Fall In Love Again" (Myrrh, 1974)
Wanda Jackson "Now I Have Everything" (1975)
Wanda Jackson "Make Me Feel Like A Child Again" (1976)
Wanda Jackson "Closer To Jesus" (Word, 1978)
Wanda Jackson "My Testimony" (1979)
Wanda Jackson "My Kind Of Gospel" (Tab, 1984)
Wanda Jackson "Rockabilly Fever" (1984)
Wanda Jackson "Rock 'N' Roll Your Blues Away" (Varrick, 1984)
Wanda Jackson & Karel Zich "Let's Have A Party In Prague" (Supraphon, 1989)
Wanda Jackson "Heart Trouble" (CMH, 2003)
Still kickin' out the jams in the fifth decade of her musical career, Jackson gathers an impressive roster of guest performers, including Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello, Rosie Flores and (naturally) The Cramps... The results are mixed, but hey, can you rock like this? Nah, didn't think so. So give the old gal her due: she rocks. Still. A lot.
Wanda Jackson "Heartache" (Varese Sarabande, 2004)
A previously unreleased "comeback" album, with Jackson returning to secular material after a decade or so of recording born-again gospel albums... I haven't heard it yet, but I hear it ain't bad... Worth checking out!
Wanda Jackson & The Continentals "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Vampirette, 2010)
Wanda Jackson "The Party Ain't Over" (Nonesuch, 2011)
Wanda Jackson "Unfinished Business" (Sugar Hill, 2012)
Wanda Jackson "Vintage Collections" (Capitol, 1996)
Whew!! If I had to recommend only one Wanda Jackson CD, this would be it. Jackson was, of course, the original ripsnortin' rockabilly filly, but what makes this disc such a treasure are the ultra-tasty country tracks which are packed in next to the usual pick of awesome rockabilly blowouts. Anyone who has tried to follow Wanda Jackson's career past her late-'50s heyday into her Nashville years has probably run into the same disappointment as I have: one mooshy, almost-but-not-quite album after another, with the occasional good weeper or two. However, this CD assembles several outstanding tracks, such as her bluesy version of "This Should Go On Forever", or Paul Anka's "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," which make a powerful case for Jackson as a first-rate country vocalist whose talents were criminally squandered by 1960s Nashville. Be nice to see if somene could compile an equally compelling retrospective from the rest of her '60s and early '70s Capitol catalog.
Wanda Jackson "Right Or Wrong" (Bear Family, 1994)
If you really want to go all-out on a Wanda Jackson binge, then this fab Bear Family box set would be the place to start. This 4-CD set starts off with some of Jackson's earliest (and least well-known) country recordings, made as early as 1954, well before her rockabilly heyday, then moves on to collect all her best rock'n'roll numbers (mentioned above), before dipping into the Nashville-styled country groove that she settled into after the rockabilly craze died down. The early tracks are a real revelation, since Wanda's '60s Nashville work was much more sedate and ballad-oriented; it's pretty cool to hear just how rural and hard country she really was.
Wanda Jackson "Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine" (Bear Family, 1994)
This second BF box examines Jackson's country career more closely, with weepy material from 1963-73 that's more obscure (to most folks) than her more fiery, cherished 'Fifties recordings. Weighing in at a full eight CDs (!) this monolithic collection is the definitive look at her Nashville years, with some super-sappy stuff, and a fair number of sizzlers as well.
Wanda Jackson "Queen Of Rockabilly" (Ace, 2000)
Wanda Jackson "Wanda Rocks" (Bear Family, 2002)
Sizzling, red-hot material from her early years.. This is all the fastest, snarliest stuff in her catalog, served up without the usual balancing dose of country ballads. For fans who dig rockabilly and nothing else, this disc'd be pretty hard to beat!
Wanda Jackson "I Remember Elvis" (Cleopatra, 2006)
Wanda Jackson "Greatest Hits" (Curb, 1990)
Although many Curb releases have the taint of being not-quite-as-advertised (re-recordings and the like), this is actually a damn fine overview of Jackson's career, particularly worth picking up if you can't quite bring yourself to pick up a bazillion-disc European import in order to hear some of her post-rockabilly country hits. This disc is a well-selected, well-programmed, solid sampling of her '60s and '70s chart hits, as well as a couple of nice early 'billy hits ("Let's Have A Party," etc...) Totally worth picking up!
Wanda Jackson "Rockin' In The Country" (Rhino, 1990)
An adequate best-of, similar to the Capitol Vintage set, but for some reason this disc left me unmoved. Something about the sound mastering, perhaps? Anyway, it's okay, but it's been long since superseded...
Rosie Flores "Rockabilly Filly" (HighTone, 1995)
Includes a couple of duets with Wanda, as well as Janis Martin, another rockabilly legend of the 1950s.
Various Artists "HARD-HEADED WOMAN: A CELEBRATION OF WANDA JACKSON" (Bloodshot, 2004)
Hick Music Index