As with Chuck Berry, I only had two Jerry Lee Lewis records to listen to when I was a kid: “Great Balls of Fire” (with “You Win Again” on the flip side) and “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” (with “It’ll Be Me” as the B-side). And just like my love for Chuck, my love for Jerry Lee was not hindered by only knowing a few of his songs. I knew nothing of his—or Chuck’s—scandals, had no idea what he looked like, but I knew how I felt when I heard his music, and I knew that I couldn’t live without it.
I’m sure some of the other kids in my elementary school probably thought I was weird for listening to old music, but I didn’t give a shit. I thought it was weird that they wouldn’t want to listen to this stuff! In my eyes, they were musically deprived. Growing up in the 70s and 80s we were exposed to a lot of cheesiness, and MTV really inspired the music industry to focus less on music than image. Don’t get me wrong—I loved Top 40 radio when I was a kid, and my walls were covered with posters of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and Billy Idol, and I wanted my MTV just like every other kid. But without my intense interest in the foundation of rock and roll, I’m not sure how interested in music I would have been once I discovered contemporary artists.
Hearing a piano introduce a rock and roll song was unusual, but I didn’t know how unusual until many years later. All I cared about was that this fucking song kicked a lot of ass! As my rock and roll knowledge grew throughout my youth, I understood more about how important Jerry Lee Lewis was to the birth of the music, and how innovative he was as a performer. I don’t remember when I first saw a video of him, but whenever it was I’m sure it knocked me out. His music has so much energy and rhythm and attitude, and watching him tear it up on piano is an amazing experience. I can only imagine what that must have been like to see him in the 50s. He sure scared the shit out of a lot of people!
Easy now, shake it,
Ah, shake it, baby
Yeah, you can shake it
One time for me
Hey, well I said come on over, baby,
Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
Now let’s get real low one time now
Shake, baby, shake
All you gotta do, honey,
Is kinda stand in one spot,
Wiggle around just a little bit
That’s when you got it, yeah
Baby, whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on
This is one of the first songs I played repeatedly and memorized. It’s impossible to sit still when you hear it, and when I played it as a child I became very excited. The power of this record is impressive, not only in the history of rock and roll, but in my life. It is definitely one of the most significant songs of my life.