Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
Album: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
Genre: Rock n Roll / Live
“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
Too much love drives a man insane
You broke my will, but what a thrill
Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire”
I had no idea what I was in for. No clue at all. I mean, I was given some slight warnings about this album way in advance. Graham had told me he wanted to guest write on this album’s post (He unfortunately wasn’t able to) long, long time ago. This should have given me a hint to what was to possibly come. As it grew closer and closer, it started to get hyped. I kept mentioning to Graham that it was coming near, around the corner, my next stop. He was telling me to be prepared, get myself ready, brace myself for what was to come.
Really? What was this album that I needed to hold myself down for? I did a little research before listening to it to get a good sense of what I was going into.
Here’s some select reviews:
“Live At The Star Club, Hamburg is not an album, it’s a crime scene: Jerry Lee Lewis slaughters his rivals in a thirteen-song set that feels like one long convulsion. Recorded April 5th, 1964, this is the earliest and most feral of Lewis’ concert releases from his wilderness years …”
-Milo Milos, Rolling Stones
“Words cannot describe – cannot contain – the performance captured on Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, an album that contains the very essence of rock & roll…Live at the Star Club is extraordinary– the purest, hardest rock & roll ever committed to record…He sounds possessed, hitting the keys so hard it sounds like they’ll break, and rocking harder than anybody had before or since. Compared to this, thrash metal sounds tame, the Stooges sound constrained, hardcore punk seems neutered, and the Sex Pistols sound like wimps. Rock & roll is about the fire in the performance, and nothing sounds as fiery as this; nothing hits as hard or sounds as loud, either. It is no stretch to call this the greatest live album ever, nor is it a stretch to call it the greatest rock & roll album ever recorded. Even so, words can’t describe the music here — it truly has to be heard to be believed.”
“[The piano] sounds like its breaking at times, like he is playing more with a tack hammer than flesh and blood” … “one of the grittiest, most spectacular pieces of recorded music ever made.”
-Rick Bragg, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story
… what is this album…
These are quite the glowing reviews of Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live album and they don’t end there, with the average viewer basically saying the same thing in Youtube comments, All music user reviews, discogs reviews and anywhere I look. There isn’t one negative thing said about the power and energy of this album. I was about to have the musical experience of my life and I heard the warnings and braced myself for what was to come.
This album kicked my ass. It beat me to the ground and kept wailign away at me until I was mush. And once that happened, it kept going, mashing away at me. These reviews and warnings weren’t enough to prepare me for the powerhouse of a performance that was on this album. Jerry Lee Lewis is everything rock should be, it’s everything a punk perofromace should be, it’s everything anything even worth breathing the air of these genres should ever aspire or hope to be. Bands like Green Day wish they could rock hard like Jerry Lee lewis does. There’s no words or feelings that can properly describe what was going on, but I’ll do my damned best to express it.
He’s angry. He’s Raw. He’s vicious. He’s got a rage fuelling inside him and his only cure is pounding away at his piano. He beats the crap out of that piano. He thrashes and smashes those keys like no man’s business. He abuses the strings and produces deliciously loud and beautiful notes that scream forth from the piano’s voice box. There’s nothing quite like his piano-playing and I dare to find someone who manages to put pure force and energy into their piano-playing like Jerry Lee Lewis does. But it doesn’t end there, his performance exudes rock n roll. People weren’t lying when they said he’s portraying the essence of rock n’ roll in this album because he really is. His performance is unapolegetic by nature that is only supported by the terrible sound recording he was given. Honestly, it’s pretty bad, but the piano comes out right on top as the sonically best sounding instrument on the album and that’s really where he shines the most. Any other time I would have seen this as a negative but here it’s a big plus, it just adds to the nitty-gritty, dirty, raw power of what is Rock n’ Roll.
This doesn’t end there. This is one of the most fascinating albums I’ve ever discovered historically. There was so much shit going on n Jerry’s life around this time that the anger in his performance sounds perfectly justified. The context of it all is one hell of a story.
Jerry was at the lowest point of his career. He wasn’t producing any hits anymore, no one was interested in hearing a fading rock n roll artist anymore. Rock was also changing. With the British Invasion making it’s way all over, rock music just wasn’t the same as it used to be and Jerry wasn’t happy he wasn’t getting the full recognition he deserved as one of the greats of Rock N’Roll. Add to this that he just married his 13 year old cousin and was under a lot of controversy because of it, he wasn’t the most liked person at the time. He was also notorious for being a drunk and usually was found to be quite inebriated during his performances (which if you listen closely you might be able to hear it here too).
Whatever it was, something drove him to give the performance of a lifetime and I think it’s a mix of all these factors boiling inside him all at once and exploding in a frenzy of piano-playing, pure rock n’ roll madness. Added to this I’d like to think this particular performance was a big fuck you to the British Invasion from him. The Star Club had become a famous venue for bands to perform at, especially bands within the British Invasion (like The Beatles) that got it on the map and got asses in the seats. The British Invasion had strolled in and was taking the claim as being what Rock music was all about. Jerry was having none of that. Performing at The Star Club must have been the extra driving force he needed to really pump it all out as if saying “You want rock n’ roll? This is what Rock n’ Roll actually sounds like. Buckle up Mother Fuckers”.
Why he decided to record this particular performance of his tour may never be known, but thankfully it was because it has placed itself in history as the single, greatest rock n’ roll performance of all time. To have seen it must have been an incredibly surreal moment, but at least we can all get the chance to revisit whenever we want.
I would have never expected this, knowing the little I did about him, but I am more than happy I did. If you want the full experience, you can easily find the album on Youtube, Spotify has a condensed 8 song version of it for some reason instead (apparently Europeans are still the only ones who have the rights to the album… who knows).
Check it out, It’ll knock your socks off. It’s the auditory equivalent of a mosh pit. It’ll bruise you up then kick you in the teeth and it’s completely unapologetic and unforgiving.
Song of Choice: Great Balls of Fire