A Limited Legacy

Jerry Lee Lewis still one of Rock’s original lineup. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite live up to the hype.


Andrew Burnes, Editor


It’s no secret that Jerry Lee Lewis is the weakest of the original Rock and Roll Hall of Famers and of the original lineup of legends created by the Rockin’ ’50s. This cover-heavy 10-song collection of hits suggests that although Lewis was still an accomplished artist with a mastery of his chosen instrument (the piano) and a harbinger of great artists after him like Guns N’ Roses and Elton John, his reputation as the worst legend of the ’50s is well-earned.

Track for track, Great Balls of Fire is largely recommendable. The title track is an obvious classic, as is Lewis’ second-biggest hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ on.” Ballad “I’ll Make it Up to You” is right there with them, further proof that it was when the straight ahead rockers quieted down that they were at their best. And Ray Charles classics “What’d I Say” and “You Win Again” are great no matter who’s covering them, even if they lack the emotional soul punch of their forebears. Even a Chuck Berry cover (“Sweet Little Sixteen”) and Rockabilly tunes “Break Up” and “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee O’Dee” pack a solid punch, though they lack guitar fireworks and significant lyrical content when compared to the late ’50s competition.

Unlike other ’50s innovators, though, Lewis has a couple of potential misfires. “High School Confidential” still has the base rhythm section honed, but its chorus is a bit too repetitive to be recommended, which is truly saying something in an era where repetition was used as commonly as drinking water. “Breathless” suffers the same fate while earning its namesake with some irritatingly weak vocals from Lewis, whose delivery is wimpier than a house made of foam as he slurs his way through lines like “If I can love you let me squeeze.” Clever.

As a forebear of Rock and Roll, Jerry Lee Lewis deserves some measure of respect from all music lovers today. He probably deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame. He definitely deserves his merit as one of the integral building blocks for modern music. But does he really deserve to be considered one of the greatest artists of all time simply because he happened to live in an era that predates us? Probably not. Lewis may have been one of the great Rock pianists, but his songwriting needed the same thing his vocals did: a little more effort behind it.