Still rolling along in my recent country-listening mood I used my “you bought enough in the last fifteen years for us to reward you with this ten dollar gift certificate!” which arrived via e-mail from a retailer who shall remain safely anonymous to fund most of the price of The Essential Alan Jackson.
Nice set. Jackson is one of those singers who–when he doesn’t have exactly the right song–is so laid back he barely exists. So about a third of his hit singles could probably have been recorded by a breathing machine without anybody noticing the difference. But he knows his strengths so the rest is excellent and occasionally revelatory.
If any one song in this career-spanning collection comes closest to splitting the difference between good Alan and barely there Alan, though, it’s his cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.”
I suspect if Cochran’s version wasn’t so ever-present in the Cosmos of My Ear, I would like Jackson’s version just that little bit much better to make it a real favorite–or at least shift it definitively to the “good Alan” category.
As it lays, though, what really fascinates me is that anyone as retro honky tonk as Alan Jackson would cover the song at all, let alone release it as a single.
Because it’s exactly the sort of song–not to mention record–that scared the bejesus out of Nashville when the revolution was in its infancy. It’s unlikely anyone but Chuck “School Days” Berry or Leiber and Stoller came up with a more perfect “teen” anthem.
But one of the arguments I continually make here is that Rock ’n’ Roll was every bit as “adult” as the genres (blues and country) which are most routinely cited as its source inspirations. That Alan Jackson could rely on a typically laconic reworking of the song as a classic working man’s blues to keep his string of top five country hits (it went #1 in 1994) rolling along in the middle of what–on the books at least–was one of the biggest economic booms in human history (ultimately even bigger, according to some of those books, than the real boom America was riding when Cochran recorded his original), strikes me as even more than usually sound proof that most of rock and roll’s “teen” themes were always translatable to every phase of life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
At least they were for those who didn’t get caught up believing in the old stretcher that “School Days” was really about being stuck in junior high.
Or that “I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote”–a line the then thirty-five-year-old Jackson’s version repeats without irony–was really about being too young to vote.