Like his musical soulmate, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins refused to be confined to one particular style of music. He began his career singing country weepers, but he was just at home doing rock ‘n’ roll, cornball pop, gospel, Hawaiian, and cowboy numbers. His remarkably smooth voice — without a trace of hillbilly twang — was the perfect instrument for such versatility, and Robbins used it to great effect. Even the most insipid material — like his self-penned “A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)”, produced by pop schlockmeister Mitch Miller — could sound like a work of art coming from his lips.
Live Classics offers 21 of Robbins’ Grand Ole Opry performances, starting with his debut on June 30, 1951 — he was introduced by another country crooner, Red Foley, and sang “Ain’t You Ashamed” — and ending with a February 6, 1960, recording of “El Paso”, his biggest hit. In between are some of Robbins’ best-known songs, including “I’ll Go Alone”, “Knee Deep In The Blues”, “The Story Of My Life”, “Stairway Of Love”, and “Running Gun”.
He skillfully covers Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”, and proves to be a fine rockabilly when he tackles Presley’s version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right”. (Listen to the girls screaming in the background.) Robbins brought some much-needed sex appeal to the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in the 1950s, when old-timers such as Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff ruled the roost and younger fans were being seduced by the devil’s music, rock ‘n’ roll.
Completists will be happy to discover on Live Classics several songs never commercially recorded by Robbins, including the aforementioned “Ain’t You Ashamed” and an uptempo country number called “Good Night Cincinnati, Good Mornin’ Tennessee”. For most of us, however, the album is a musical postcard from the 1950s, country’s last great decade. Live Classics provides a tantalizing glimpse at what it must have been like to witness one of the most gifted and charismatic singers of the day live onstage at the Grand Ole Opry.