Rock & Roll 1979, Pt. 2: the Import Bin and ‘As Seen on TV’
In a recent post, I explored major label releases in 1979 from four rock & roll pioneers. Here, I continue my deep dive into the era by looking at a handful of less high-profile releases from the same year.
Taken together, we see albums from nine major rock & roll stars from the fifties. And this doesn’t include 1979 releases from artists who were recording in other genres: Johnny Cash in country (e.g., Silver), Carl Perkins in country (Country Soul) and Little Richard in gospel (God’s Beautiful City). We even saw “new” releases from Elvis Presley, who had died two years before. The two LPs in the Our Memories of Elvis series featured 1970s recordings by the King with many of the original overdubs removed.
but even with the wave of fifties nostalgia in the US, and a corresponding rock & roll / rockabilly revival in the UK, none of these artists witnessed a significant change in his fortunes. It would be another several years before they found themselves in the bright glare of the spotlight again — and then, in many cases, they would only get there with boosts from a younger generation of rock stars.
Okay, here we go.
The Fat Man wasn’t a fan of disco — or so he claimed. “I’d never play it,” he told a writer for Gannett News Service in 1979. “The stuff’s too loud. Way too loud. I don’t even like to hear it. It gets on my nerves.” And yet, the same year, he released an album in Europe — Sleeping on the Job — with strong disco overtones, especially on the title track and the song “Any Old Time.” Sometimes you have to give the people what they want. Indeed, the album saw a US release the following year with a couple of additional songs, a new title (the slightly misleading 1980; the album was recorded in early 1978) and very disco-y artwork.
Bill Haley and The Comets
What’s this? you ask. A Bill Haley album in 1979? Didn’t he disappear in a puff of smoke when Elvis hit the scene? Nope. Not only did he not disappear, he remained a draw in Europe until his untimely death in February 1981 — especially in the UK, which was experiencing a rock & roll / rockabilly revival of its own. He even released a string of albums on the Swedish label Sonet Records. Recorded at the iconic FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., with a new, younger iteration of the Comets, Everyone Can Rock and Roll was the last of these. It’s not a bad swan song for one of the fathers of the genre.
At one time or another, most early rock & roll stars released albums with new recordings of their biggest hits — whether because they didn’t own the rights to the original recordings or for some other reason. The King of Twang’s entry came in 1979 with the overseas release The Greatest Hits of Duane Eddy on the infomercial-based label Ronco (on Sonet in Sweden). Eddy, a consummate professional and apparently one of the sweetest guys around, deserved better at that point in his career. Still, I won’t complain about having these crisp updates of his biggest hits dating back to the fifties.
Nelson recorded three albums for Epic Records in the latter half of the seventies, but only one of these — 1977’s Intakes — was released in his lifetime. Epic shelved both Back to Vienna (1978) and Rockabilly Renaissance (1979). One can only speculate as to why. Rockabilly Renaissance, especially, is a gem. Recorded in Memphis, the album sees Nelson revisiting songs from the early days of rock & roll — including songs written or made famous by Elvis Presley (“That’s Alright Mama”), Bobby Darin (“Dream Lover”), and Buddy Holly (“True Love Ways,” “Rave On”) — and reimagining others as rockabilly romps. Fortunately for all of us, the Rockabilly Renaissance sessions have since seen release, most notably on the 2012 set Rick Nelson: The Complete Epic Recordings.
Of all the albums I’ve described in this and my previous posts, Link Wray’s Bullshot probably sounded the least like a throwback upon its release. Shoot, it still sounds fresh and modern today in 2021, even with the covers of fifties chestnuts “Fever” and “Don’t.” And the cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” released as a single in Europe, sounds downright dangerous. Fun fact: the drummer on this track is Anton Fig, who would go on to join the World’s Most Dangerous Band, the house band for The Late Show with David Letterman.