If Wanda Jackson’s place as the queen of rockabilly is now assured, and her key songs well-known via hits packages, it was not clear when she recorded those sides that many people cared at all.
Teen male and female audiences seemed to prefer listening to cats from the country who were duck-tailed guys, rather than even this immensely talented, scary “chick” who growled and shouted of breaking loose, who kept threatening to explode. Her first two Capitol LPs are striking for the rock and country power they show, and for the limiting context they epitomize. Even the smart producers behind these albums were utterly stymied by what to do with the “Party Girl”.
The first, 1958′s self-titled LP, holds only one Wanda hit (“Let’s Have A Party”) and is designed to appeal to older audiences who were presumed to be LP rather than singles buyers. Jackson’s solid, traditional honky-tonk stylings, often fiddle-driven hillbilly, are front and center, but wild takes on “Money, Honey” and “Long Tall Sally” rival Elvis’ versions. One of the bonus B-sides added here, “Silver Threads And Golden Needles”, anticipates later country rock versions by Dusty Springfield and Linda Ronstadt.
Rockin’ With Wanda (1960) pulls in a handful of now-famed singles — the self-penned “Mean, Mean Man”, “Fujiyama Mama” — and some equally good but less familiar tear-it-up outings (“Cool Love”, “Baby Loves Him”). A guitarist named Buck Owens adds hot licks — and on some cuts, her own band, the Poe Kats, are captured, with black rockabilly keyboardist Big Al Downing.
Both discs, however, show Wanda saddled with material from the Department of Confusion — a mambo, several attempts to pass her off as a Connie Francis-style insipid girl singer, and some disposable teenage crap built on rock ballad or twang tones. One result of the confusion, the utterly wonderful “I Gotta Know” on Rockin’, manages the unique trick of slipping back and forth from pointed rockabilly on the verses to pleading, vulnerable country on the choruses, and who but Wanda could pull that off so well — then or now.