SONG: Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
ARTIST: Jerry Lee Lewis
Listen to it here:
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On has unconfirmed origins, but it usually attributed to songwriter Dave “Curlee” Williams. Big Maybelle was the first to record it on March 21, 1955, with the session being arranged and conducted by none other than Quincy Jones. Jerry Lee Lewis incorporated the song into his live shows and recorded it at one of his Sun sessions In February 1957. Lewis massively overhauled the song, adding his boogie woogie piano style and some suggestive spoken moments. Sun Records released it as a single, and it reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, making Lewis an overnight star.
Jerry Lee Lewis was born September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana. He grew up very poor, playing piano with his cousins Mickey Gilley and future televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Lewis’ mother enrolled him at the Southwest Bible Institute so he could learn evangelical songs, but when he played a boogie-woogie rendition of a Christian song, he was kicked out the same night. He started playing clubs in Mississippi, Nashville and back in Louisiana but as ultimately turned down by the Grand Ol Opry. In November 1956 he ended up in Memphis, Tennessee auditioning for Sun Records and recorded prolifically while there. He recorded solo songs as well as a session musician on Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash recordings. Jerry blasted into mainstream fame with his 1957 recordings of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Great Balls of Fire, but the sexual nature of the latter caused some radio stations to boycott his songs. He also developed a flamboyant on stage persona, kicking the piano bench out of the way to play standing up, pounding keys with his heel, sitting on the keyboard. Unfortunately for Lewis his career crashed almost as quickly as it had taken off thanks to a dubious personal relationship – his 3rd wife was his 13 year old cousin. Lewis had kept the relationship quiet and had told people that she was 15, but the truth was revealed by the British Press in 1958. The tour that he was on at the time was cancelled after 3 shows.
After his marriage controversy Lewis had 1 hit song but changing labels from Sun to Smash did nothing to help relaunch his career. With a ‘nothing left to lose’ attitude, he released a country album in 1968 and to everyone’s surprise, shot up the country charts. Lee stayed comfortably and moderately successful in the country genre until he got a few pop hits in 1971 and 1972. Lewis continued to record country-tinged music, had a biopic released about him in 1989, and is still actively performing at age 85.
A devout Christian, Lewis was troubled by the sinful nature of his own material, which he believed was leading him and his audience to Hell.
His fifth marriage lasted 77 days from June to August 1983, ending with her death. Journalist Richard Ben Cramer alleged that Lewis abused her and may have been responsible for her death, but the allegations have never been verified.2
Oh good, the vocal reverb is back. Despite really liking rockabilly, I could just never really get into Jerry Lee Lewis and I’m trying to put my finger on why. I think it might be the voice? Especially with this song. When it comes down to the two songs of his that I know, I like Great Balls of Fire much more. I can imagine when he first burst on the scene, kicking that piano bench out from behind him people must have gone wild. But his voice sounds neutered and caricatured to my more modern ears. His boogie woogie-ing on the piano is pretty solid, and the band is whatever. And as we delve into more artists doing dubious things through the years I find there’s varying levels of forgiveness, and marrying a minor that you’re related to is pretty gross.
This song to me is such a big contradiction. The drums, guitar, piano, and bass are all on board for a more forward moving, energetic, and jangly performance, but to me Jerry Lee Lewis’ voice is just kind of meh. It’s good, but it just doesn’t have the grind and growl that I’d want to go with the rest of this song. I like how splashy the drums are in this recording, and the snare on 2 and 4 is pretty prominent. The guitar interjects with little answers to Lewis’ vocals, and the piano is just striding away like crazy. Unfortunately, my least favourite thing about this is Jerry Lee Lewis. Sorry, Jerry.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
At the hands of a *spicier* musician, Little Richard
Live cover with Prince and the Bangles ?!!??!!
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One thought on “Song 84 – Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”
Check out Mountain’s version from the “Avalanche” LP! Radically different take.