Rock and Roll Neanderthal
Rock Billy Boogie Robert Gordon RCA Records
GOOD TIME music. As Bobby Keyes, former Stones sideman and winner of the Al Hirt Fat Horn Player Award, once said, "Rock and roll is on the road again." And where else?
Robert Gordon looks like a refugee from a George Raft movie with an acrylic pile toupee. His last record, Fresh Fish Special, was a great open-a- few-beers album which included, among other things, the best version to date of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire." With his Elvis-like baritone and falsetto yelps, Gordon made you dance along and sing along, play an invisible guitar and even try Brylcreem:
Fresh Fish had style and guts, and guitarist Link Wray's fast riffs and shouts of "yeah!" complemented Gordon's howl too. It faltered only where Gordon gave up the fast boogie beat for schmaltzy, over-dubbed slow tracks.
Gordon preserves the best of Fresh Fish on Rock Billy Boogie, part of the rockabilly revival being led by the man who started it all--Jerry Lee Lewis, who, at age 44, still makes most rockers look like bar mitzvah combos. Gordon has speeded up the beat from his last album, jazzed up the arrangements a bit, and switched personnel, replacing the idiosyncratic Wray with ace London session-man Chris Spedding.
The result is a knock-down, drag-out success, at least as long as the non-stop beat blasts away on the first side of the disc. In the title track, Gordon's band, the Wildcats, lays down a tight boogie rhythm and Gordon wails the praises of a lively nightclub on the edge of town. No one has heard the likes of his squeal in the choruses since Buddy Holly crooned "Peggy Sue" at the top of his throat.
On "Love My Baby," Gordon weds his singing to Spedding's hot derivative guitar licks. Derivative, hell--they were stolen. But who cares? Just listen to these lyrics:
One and one is two, two and two is four
One and one is two, two and two is four
Well, you know I love my baby, I'll never let her go
After a hapless ballad, "I Just Found Out," Gordon presents the two best tunes on the album. In "All By Myself," a stomper in the best rockabilly tradition, Gordon throttles his voice in syncopation to the insistent beat while "The Three R's" echo the refrain. "Black Slacks," a two- minute tribute to sartorial splendor, careens like Ben Hur's chariot. It's sort of like "Tutti Frutti." Gordon sings--
Well, the girls all look when I go by
It's what I wear that makes 'em high
I wear a red bow tie
They say "me oh my"
Black slacks with a cat chain down to my knees
I ain't nothing but a real cool breeze
That's Robert Gordon--a real cool breeze.
Unfortunately the rockabilly energy level dies down for side two, and Gordon resorts to a series of flaccid slow ballads--"It's Only Make Believe," "Wheel of Fortune," "I Just Met a Memory," and "Blue Christmas." It's well-known that slow numbers are totally worthless, except for high school kids who need a cheap feel at the dance Saturday night to get them through the week. Today's high schools are too busy playing the Bee Gees and Donna Summer to waste time on Robert Gordon.
THE QUESTION Gordon poses today's listeners is--how much are your memories worth to you? For people who experienced rockabilly first- hand Gordon must seem at best a throwback, a rock-and-roll neanderthal. Such people would do better to dredge out their old bop records and bop to them than to Gordon's albums, modern engineering notwithstanding.
For the callow youth of today, however, who has never thrilled to a boogie base line or bounced to the irresistible beat, Gordon's musical archaeology is welcome. A living fossil, he single-handedly embodies a way of life and--more important by far--an attitude to living which has all but died out today.
Do you like your life? Pink Thunderbirds, black slacks, nightclubs and six-foot women--that's what makes life worth living. Someone once said rock and roll is the closest art gets to life, and the guy had a point. Buy this album at least for its side one, and join the fun you missed, or miss the fun you never joined.