PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Jerry Lee Lewis: Greatest Live Performances of the 50s, 60s and 70s [DVD]

This is absolutely essential for Jerry Lee Lewis fans, if only for an incendiary 1964 set, which features Lewis working the audience into an absolute frenzy. For everyone else, it's a worthwhile history lesson with a Killer soundtrack.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Greatest Live Performances of the 50s, 60s and 70s

Label: Time Life
US Release Date: 2007-05-22

In this media-saturated age, it's difficult to conceive of a time when a single television performance could make a superstar out of a nobody. But 50 years ago, when Jerry Lee Lewis first appeared on The Steve Allen Show, that's how the world worked: one storming romp through "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" - which Sam Phillips thought was too "risque" to be a hit or to get the Killer on the tube - set Lewis' career in motion. Anyone who thought Elvis screamed "SEX!" must've thought Jerry Lee was hollerin' something much, much worse. The kids certainly responded, and "Whole Lotta Shakin'" became one of the mightiest records of the day.


The Allen performance is one of several that appear on Time Life's new (and unimaginatively titled) Greatest Live Performances DVD, a modest but mostly fulfilling collection of clips from a variety of antique sources. Despite the usual printed caveat regarding "occasional flaws" in source quality, the earliest performances here suffer from rather wobbly audio, especially the clips from Dewey Phillips' Pop Shop. "You Win Again", which required a bit more careful fingerwork than "Great Balls of Fire", is particularly painful to listen to, but if you can get past the fact that the piano sounds out of tune, you're in for a treat. Lewis was, along with Elvis Presley, one of the most facile of the early rockers when it came to performing country music, and "You Win Again" points the way to his late-'60s career renaissance (as well as to the clips that conclude this DVD).

The real find here is a 1964 British TV special, A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, which features Lewis - looking a lot older at times, certainly chubbier, and sporting a short tie - performing six songs and working the audience into an absolute frenzy. There's some poetic justice at work here: Lewis was practically run out of England years earlier when the news of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin surfaced, and the so-called British Invasion had effectively knocked American rock 'n' roll (if not pure pop) from its pedestal. It's a wonder that Jerry Lee Lewis, who hadn't had a US hit in years and whose only recent UK successes were covers of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, could summon up whatever it took to drive a bunch of British teens wild.

Somehow he did, and he's surrounded onstage by dozens of them mid-set. It's a shining example both of Lewis' undiminished power and the golden ideal of punk: the audience and the performer are in this thing together, pushing each other to ever-increasing levels of ecstasy. It's just as much fun to watch the rhythms of the kids, many of whom are singing and dancing, as it is to watch Lewis, who pulls out all the stops, playing the piano with his foot, shaking his hair, and standing atop the piano as though he's just conquered the world. Although he plays his classics, this is no mere oldies show.

After this, the '70s clips from Pop Goes the Country are a bit of a letdown, even if "Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano?" is kinda touching. And the duets with Mickey Gilley are fun, but not the sort of thing you'll go back to.

Although it's a bit short at 71 minutes, and even if there's surely some other footage out there - only four clips from the '50s? - this is an absolutely essential DVD for Jerry Lee Lewis fans, if only for the incendiary 1964 set. For everyone else, it's a worthwhile history lesson with a Killer soundtrack.

(The extras include the trailer for High School Confidential, teen-sploitation at its most shameless, and a 1993 interview with Lewis. The interview isn't especially revealing, unless you were unaware that Jerry Lee Lewis is the possessor of one of rock 'n' roll's largest egos. He often refers to himself in the third person - even in his songs - and even in these short clips, his audacity is on full display. He claims to be one of the four "stylists" in popular music (the others: Hank Williams, Al Jolson, and Jimmie Rodgers), relates the story of asking Elvis whether he would go to heaven or hell, and recalls his first meeting with Jack Clement. Cowboy Jack was apparently not impressed by Jerry Lee, although he evidently came around in time to supply the b-side for "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", the great "It'll Be Me". (Best lyric: "If you find a lump in your sugar bowl / Baby, it'll be me / And I'll be lookin' for you.") But even if Lewis' extreme confidence can be a bit off-putting, his charm might win you over.)


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.