Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15: Jerry Lee Lewis, "High School Confidential"

Artist: Jerry Lee Lewis
Song: "High School Confidential"
Album: Live At The Star Club - Hamburg
Year: 1965

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Throughout history, one of the more interesting aspects of music is the fact that for the most part, the nicknames given by the mass media end up having a rather accurate description of the artist in question.  From "The King" to "The Genius," on many levels these names spoke volumes about the artist, and to this day, such names of stature have never been used again.  Taking this one step further, even with the rise of the overly-macho performer, the "gangsta rappers," and the dark metal superstars, there is still only one man worthy of the title of "The Killer."  Unquestionably one of the most important figures in the entire history of recorded music, few performers can boast as wild and polarizing a reputation alongside as brilliant a musical catalog as the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis.  Having already solidified his name as one of the top acts of his day with the trio of hits, "Great Balls Of Fire," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On," and "Breathless," it would be his next single that would lead to what may very well be the greatest live moment ever captured on tape.  While there are a pair of studio recordings of the song (one of which was recorded for the film of the same name), there is simply nothing that can compare to the stunning rendition when one experiences Jerry Lee Lewis' performance of "High School Confidential" taken from his 1965 performance at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany.

One of the most consistent themes that ran throughout the entire career of Jerry Lee Lewis was the fact that he was one of the most high-energy and aggressive players in history.  The recording that became the album Live At The Star Club - Hamburg, perfectly captures this idea, as Lewis is on fire from the onset, and his performance makes even the most notoriously wild and intense singers in history (read as: Iggy Pop) seem quite tame in comparison.  In reality, this performance, taken from April 5, 1964 is what many would consider the lowest point of Jerry Lee Lewis' career, as it had been more than six years since he had a hit, his recent marriage had been seen as quite scandalous, and the entire would had just fallen in love with four boys from Liverpool, England.  However, none of this seemed to matter to Lewis, as forty-five years after it was recorded, there are few live performances that even come close to Lewis on that evening.  Backed by The Nashville Teens (for that night only), Lewis seems as if he is trying to break the piano into pieces on "High School Confidential," and the energy one can feel in the room is truly unparalleled.  Throughout the entire performance of the song, it seems as if the band is doing everything they can just to keep up with Lewis' speed, and in many ways, it is this unrestrained energy and passion that "is" what rock and roll is all about.  It is this aspect that seems to be largely missing from bands since "The Killer," and after experiencing his performance on "High School Confidential," quite literally every album or performance that followed seems somehow docile in comparison.

Yet if there was one thing that one could count on from Jerry Lee Lewis, it was a consistently extraordinary performance across the board.  Yes, his piano work is other-worldly on "High School Confidential," but one cannot overlook the similar no-holds-bared approach he takes to the vocals as well.  Throughout Live At The Star Club - Hamburg, Lewis seems set on singing himself horse, and from his strong singing voice to his deep growls to his loud yells, Jerry Lee Lewis is completely unrestrained on "High School Confidential," and this live performance makes the studio versions almost humorous in comparison.  Keeping the audience in a complete frenzy throughout, Lewis proves on this song that though he may have been considered "old school" at the time, there was plenty that could still be learned from him about stage presence and pure energy.  The song itself fits perfectly with this overall sense of unrestrained emotion, as there is an amazing electricity when the song explodes off the line, "... honey get your boppin' shoes before the jukebox blows a fuse.."  Lewis pushes things further and into a far more suggestive place when he sings, "... oh I've got to get with you sugar, let's shake things up tonight..."  It is lines like these that perfectly capture the excitement and sexual tension that define the teenage years, and there is nothing one can do other than be in awe at the completely dominating performance in every aspect that Jerry Lee Lewis delivers on "High School Confidential."

Take any band from any genre from any era on their best live night, and the fact of the matter is, they still will not come even remotely close to the energy and power that one finds throughout Jerry Lee Lewis' entire performance found on Live At The Star Club - Hamburg.  For the entire show, the crowd is clearly completely enthralled by Lewis, as they yell and sing with such vigor that one cannot do more than sit back in awe of his masterful performance in every aspect.  From the way he scolds and jibes his backing band to his interaction with the crowd to his fantastic singing, Jerry Lee Lewis personifies everything that "is" rock and roll on this record.  Though there is not one second anywhere on the album that is sub-par, Lewis' rendition of his hit, "High School Confidential" is unquestionably the high-point, and it remains one of the most stunning musical moments ever captured on tape.  Even after countless listenings, one can still quickly picture Lewis hunched over the piano, banging the keys for all their worth, with his hair flying all over the place and sweat covering his face.  This complete commitment to the soul of the song is what sets Lewis far above his peers, as by that point in history, nearly all the artists he came up with had already been relegated to little more than "nostalgia acts."  Laying down a performance with an energy that blows away even the most fierce punk or thrash ever recorded, Live At The Star Club - Hamburg is a performance that simply must be experienced firsthand to be believed and properly understood.  Though he may not have had the title of "The King," after experiencing Jerry Lee Lewis' phenomenal performance of "High School Confidential" from 1965's Live At The Star Club -  Hamburg, it is truly difficult to argue that there was anyone more fitting or deserving of such a title.

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