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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

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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.

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21 Comments

21 Responses to “A Limited Legacy”

  1. greg charlton on September 18th, 2015 4:48 am

    this article is ignorant rubbish

    get a new editor

    [Reply]

  2. Graham Knight on September 18th, 2015 9:34 am

    To my mind Jerry Lee Lewis is the greatest entertainer ever and he has just done a sold out show at the London Palladium – the most famous theatre in the World.

    Tickets were 200 dollars and the 3,000 attended Jerry’s show which was sold out more than a month in advance.

    It is also the biggest box office receipt ever taken at the Palladium.

    Jerry is 80 on September 29th. I think Jerry’s popularity has stood the test of time.

    Even other singers like Ringo Starr and Jimmy Plant of Led Zeppelin sat in their seats for the show and they were largely ignored by the audience who, like these two artists, went to see a real star – Jerry lee Lewis.

    [Reply]

  3. John Stevenson on September 18th, 2015 10:01 am

    I have to disagree! Jerry Lee Lewis may not have been in Elvis’ league but he could outshine almost anyone else on his day. The man deserves his legend status as some of his songs are among the very best rock n roll has to offer. Even today as he approaches his 80th birthday he can put some young guns to shame

    [Reply]

  4. Ian Holton on September 18th, 2015 10:04 am

    What can I say. This is a crazy assessment in my opinion. If Jerry was the weakest of the rockers why has he managed to sustain a career up to this day? None of the other rockers can claim that. None of the other rockers appeared in London and Glasgow uk and sang there hearts out to sold out appreciative crowds. I would not want to say that you don’t know what you are talking about but visit my forum and study Jerry’s legacy. Check out his discography and see how long he has been able to sustain such a weak talent. You may not like ‘High School Confidential’ or ‘Breathless’ but there is no way you can say it’s weak vocals. Ridiculous review.

    [Reply]

  5. Robin Koljak on September 18th, 2015 10:12 am

    You sir can take this story, burn it and just jump into the flames yourself so you can feel what our eyes felt while reading it. Sorry if that sentence might be too complicated for a person like you. Lesson of the day: learning how to spell the word WIN.

    [Reply]

  6. Richard on September 18th, 2015 10:21 am

    Are you serious?
    Can you not come up with other songs the man had?
    Jerry lee Lewis is a true legend and what he did for rock and roll.
    Ok the writer here does not like him ok!! But do you your homework better and millions of people love him.
    Do you call yourself a writer?

    [Reply]

  7. Judith Lewis on September 18th, 2015 10:37 am

    You do not know a genius when you see one or hear one…Jerry lee lewis does rock,country,classical. Anything he hears he can sing and play. Learn more about this talented man before you criticize.

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  8. Faye coffey on September 18th, 2015 10:42 am

    This guy don’t know what he is talking about Jerry Lee is a living legend. Have you ever spent any time to listen to more then a few records. I think your just a air head looking to get noticed

    [Reply]

  9. Danny O'Donnell on September 18th, 2015 10:52 am

    I can’t remember when I’ve seen so many dumbass remarks ostensibly disguised as journalism from a young dipshit know nothing. Jerry Lee Lewis has stood the test of time, you sir are in the minority of opinion. He is loved worldwide, and he is 80 years old. But if its voice you want listen to To Make Love Sweeter For You, or The One Rose That’s Left In My Heart… He never had to write his own material because he had the best in the business pitching their songs to him. Why don’t you interview someone who actually knows about the subject matter that you clearly do not. Eddie Kilroy. Bill Mack..Kris Kristofferson… Lightweights in your minds eye of limited vision and knowledge I’m sure, but absolutely heavyweights to the music industry. Whether you like it, don’t like it, learn to love it because Jerry Lee Lewis is The Last Man Standing!! The Killer Rocks On!

    [Reply]

  10. TEX, The Travelin' Man on September 18th, 2015 11:01 am

    Too use the first line of your “review”. It’s no secret your “review” is the weakest I’ve read in the past 60 years or so and I’m not even close to 60 (now, that should tell you something..).

    I appreciate you informing us the correct title of “You Win Again” is “You When Again” and it’s not a Hank Williams song but a Ray Charles classic. Many have always thought Jerry’s recordings of “Break Up,” and “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” are rock and roll songs but thanks to you we now know these are rockabilly tracks (I haven’t discovered the slap bass on these recordings yet but I might need new headphones, who knows…).

    It was interesting to read you consider songwriter Jerry Lee’s hits “High School Confidential” and “Breathless”(written by, Otis Blackwell, one of the best and most successful rock and roll songwriters of all time) weak tracks. Thanks to you we finally know now why they sold only over a million copies each and have only been popular for almost 60 years now.

    Countless hits on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts, a live album many regard as the best rock and roll album of all time, many, many successful albums (of which his more recent ones are among his most successful), almost 60 years after his first hits still performing in front of sold out crowds (while most of his contemporaries are no longer with us/no longer performing), The Killer has received just about every imaginable award you can think of for this legacy you call limited.

    It’s just an idea but I suggest you change the title of your “review” from “A Limited Legacy” into “A (Very) Limited Knowledge”

    Have a nice day and keep studying (very) hard…

    [Reply]

  11. Bill on September 18th, 2015 11:04 am

    Mr. Burns, What planet do you live on? Have you listened to Jerry Lee Lewis’s body of work over the past 60 years? I know by the crap you have written that you have not!!! How old are you ?? This crap you wrote isn’t worth the time it takes to read it. It is full of lies & you should be sued for slander & as far as writing any kind of review? You are not worth the cost of a sheet of paper! You should be fired for writing such bullshit !! More effort behind vocals? are you kidding me?? I don’t know what you listened to but it was not Jerry Lee Lewis & you clearly have no ear for music what so ever & you have no biz even working in the field your in. I don’t say this all just because I am a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis’s! Even if I wasn’t Id have to call bullshit on you because your article is just so far off & factually incorrect that it isn’t even funny. Go back to school or go flip burgers . Your not qualified to write about anyone !!

    [Reply]

  12. Tony Papard on September 18th, 2015 11:22 am

    What a biased, and ignorant, write-up/review. First of all, Jerry Lee Lewis is not known as a songwriter. He interprets other people’s songs, though he has adapted all the songs he sings and records in his own unique style, and he has been credited with writing a few.

    High School Confidential and Breathless, though Andrew Burnes may not care for them, were big hits. Many of his early hits were double-sided ones, including ‘Great Balls of Fire’/’You Win Again’ (note correct title of the latter!) He got a gold record for both sides. ‘Breathless’ was coupled with ‘Down The Line’ another classic Lewis made his own (originally Roy Orbison’s ‘Go Go Go’. In Britain, despite the 1958 disaster, Jerry Lee had 5 Top Twenty hits between 1957 and 1961, 4 of which reached the Top Ten. In later years he had a string of Country hits in the USA from 1968-1981, and in UK hit the Top Forty three times with rock’n’roll between 1962 and 1972. In 2006 he had another gold record with his biggest selling album ever, ‘Last Man Standing’.

    So how dare Andrew write Jerry Lee off as the ‘weakest of the original Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famers. He may have written few songs, but his style is unique. For his ‘Live at the Star-Club, Hamburg’ album alone, reportedly the wildest ‘live’ rock’n’roll album ever recorded, Jerry deserves his place as one of the first inductees into the Hall of Fame. Nobody, not even Little Richard or Elvis, ever matched the fury of this album.,

    [Reply]

  13. luke smith on September 18th, 2015 11:57 am

    I saw jerry lee in London last week and he played to a sold out crowd and he was fantastic and people where dancing in front of the stage, he is 80 year’s old next week and rocked like a 20 year old.please go on YouTube and watch videos of him in London and Glasgow rocking and you will see why your so wrong.

    [Reply]

  14. Kay Martin on September 18th, 2015 1:03 pm

    Many of my JLL fan friends have already commented, so I came to see what you had written that got them so upset. You certainly are NOT a JLL fan, but you also are too young to understand the impact JLL had in the 50s. He truly rivaled Elvis. To this day, Jerry has chops many could only dream of. “Lewis may have been one of the great Rock pianists,” you say. No “may have been” about it. He WAS and IS. Songwriting… he rarely wrote songs; he mostly interpreted them. Songwriter Kris Kristofferson ranks Jerry as one of the best artists he ever heard…. HE wrote songs for Jerry, which JLL interpreted perfectly. JLL is not a “forebear” of Rock and Roll… He IS Rock and Roll personified. Are you judging him on one album??? What is “You When Again”??? Could you mean Hank Williams’ classic “You Win Again” perhaps??? Ray Charles had nothing to do with that song, unless he also covered it long after Jerry did. Hank’s singer/songwriter son says Jerry’s is the best version he ever heard. By the way, JLL most certainly deserves his spot in the R&R Hall of Fame. He was inducted on the very first ballot the very first year and the person who spoke up at his induction was that very same Hank Williams, Jr. As Jerry might say to you, “Son, you need an education!” Your opinion is your opinion, but don’t state it as fact.

    [Reply]

  15. Laura Flynn on September 18th, 2015 1:23 pm

    Mr. Burnes, you are part of what’s wrong with the music industry today. But I hope that will change soon.

    Your complete lack of knowledge about Jerry Lee Lewis and early rock ‘n’ roll is shameful. If you don’t like Jerry Lee’s music then just say you don’t like it. Don’t make up lies about the history of early rock to make it sound like you know what’s going on.

    You’re young. You’re obviously computer savvy. Educate yourself.

    You’re about to be bombarded by some friends of mine from all over the world who’ve been following Jerry Lee’s career most of their lives. They’re going to school you on the truth about the Killer’s career. Read what they write to you. Then fact-check what they tell you.

    You’ll know the truth then.

    I’m going to school you on the fact that Mr. Lewis is a stylist. He is actually one of the world’s most brilliant stylists. Many musicians choose to bring to life music written by other people. What would the history of music be like if Jerry Lee hadn’t recorded Great Balls of Fire (written by Otis Blackwell—who did a lot of music recorded by Elvis) or Whole Lotta Shakin’ (written by Dave “Curlee” Williams)? Another famous cover of a song that comes to my mind is when Johnny Cash covered Trent Reznor’s Hurt. I can’t even imagine Cash’s version not existing.

    You’re going to have to learn respect for older musicians and for artists who bring other people’s music to us.

    I hope that comes with age.

    Now pay attention to what all of these other people are going to write to you because they know what they’re talking about.

    [Reply]

  16. Andrew Burnes on September 28th, 2015 12:13 pm

    Fascinating responses here.

    To be fair, I was not reviewing Lewis’ catalog as a whole (though my opinion would likely worsen the deeper I got), but just the 10-song collection titled Great Balls of Fire. You’ll notice I gave the man four stars which is a good review by any stretch of the imagination.

    But as far as being one of the greatest of all time, I’m not sure I’d even put him in the Top 100. I’ll let you know when I craft that list toward the end of next semester.

    Cheers!

    (Also, you’ll notice I changed “You Win Again.” Some sharp eyes on you guys.)

    [Reply]

    Kay Martin Reply:

    I have a question about that GBOF album you accessed. Were those original issue versions or was it, perhaps, the sound track from the GBOF movie?? I ask because the original Sun records were world-shattering and also because that photo on the front of the album you posted looks more like Dennis Quaid than Jerry. The musician behind Jerry in the photo does not seem to be one that usually played for him.
    You see my email address; please let me know.
    Thanks, kid!

    [Reply]

  17. Josh on November 6th, 2015 3:13 pm

    I found the review and the responses entertaining. I have no idea why a college paper would want a review of a compilation album of Jerry Lewis from 2001 or whenever the album came out, and I am hopeful this is not the author’s best writing, but it was super worth my time. Also, I got here from the wikipedia page for the song, so nice touch getting that in wikipedia for so long. Obviously I disagree with most of the opinions written in the review, but I believe that may have been the point. Fun times.

    [Reply]

    Andrew Burnes Reply:

    Thanks for the response. It’s all in good fun after all. I post reviews of old albums pretty regularly on the website, because it’s something I enjoy doing, and I like to have some original content on here that isn’t in the print version of the paper. But I never expected to get the kind of responses that I did. This is without a doubt the most infamous thing we’ve done online and I do take some measure of pride in that.

    As for the decision to review this album, it was just something that I had from Jerry Lee Lewis that my roommate and I listened to in the car. I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last summer, and have been slowly working my way through listening to the artists that were inducted. Never did quite understand why Jerry Lee was held in such high regard, but after the responses here there is no doubt that he definitely is. Anyway, we had a good laugh about it in the office.

    [Reply]

  18. Seb Nmd on February 20th, 2016 4:50 am

    This is quite possibly the worst thing i have ever read on the Internet. The Killer was first amongst equals in rocks original class. A true warrior poet. Long may he run!

    [Reply]

  19. Nick on July 1st, 2016 5:48 pm

    I feel bad for everyone that had to take time out of their lives to read this uneducated garbage. “A limited legacy”. What a joke. Whoever wrote this should get themselves checked. I’m just a teenaged fan defending one of the proven legends of music. Jerry Lee and his music are timeless.

    [Reply]

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A Limited Legacy