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Rock Billy Boogie
Robert Gordon

RCA 3294
Released: March 1979
Chart Peak: #106
Weeks Charted: 12

Robert GordonJust dig the cover photo on this album, where Robert Gordon makes with the spazz-splits, Elvis lip curl and mike-stand english afront a purple curtain with keyboards and drums and guitars and musical notes and dice even, all over it. No, this isn't a picture of the inside of the glass case in the New York Museum of Natural History labeled Bopcat Americana. This is Gordon being way out and frantic in frieze, Frieze, Bob, frieze.

There are twelve songs on Rock Billy Boogie. Ten of them are old, and two of them involve Gordon and some friends borrowing clichés from other old times so as to pay tribute. Gordon's quite a tributeer, in fact. What he isn't is a real rock & roll singer. Because if he were, he'd take a chance once in a while. It's really a marriage made in heaven, he and ace transatlantic guitarist Chris Spedding, another prize hot dog who can play just about anything demanded in any style and has a soul that's all varnish.

Robert Gordon - Rock Billy Boogie
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
That's the problem with all this stuff, see: less-than-zero emotion. I really don't know which is worse, Gordon's handling of the frantic rockers or the heartthrobbing ballads. All I know is he can regurgitate Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe" note for note, phrase for phrase, and take Twitty's majesty so deep into the realm of stylization that it comes out downright pompous. But whether Gordon is braying "I-hi-hi just found out," tossing a risqué "lordy" into "Am I Blue" or informing us in an original that "I just lost my memory," it's certain his singing has no force, no urgency, no desperation. He just sounds smug, like the best student in class.

All you have to do to really hate Robert Gordon is compare his and Johnny Burnette's versions of "Rock Billy Boogie" and "All by Myself." On the originals, the guitar rumbles and seethes frenetically, and Burnette sings like some animal busting out of its cage, right down to the screams after the choruses. He just rips the songs apart, because merely singing them can't contain his joy and the rage inside it. Gordon leaves the screams out and sings like he was doing multiplication tables, but then that's his shtick: to take what was once wild and raw and preserve it in glycerin.

One burning question does remain, however. Will they show him only from the waist up on The Merv Griffin Show?

- Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, 6/28/79.

Bonus Reviews!

Musically this is as fine a collection of rockabilly as could be put together. Gordon's vocals occasionally lack passion but then he's not a teenager any more. His voice is otherwise perfect for the genre conjuring up Elvis and Gene Vincent as well. Chris Spedding, Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth and Scotty Turner supply impeccable instrumentals. Best cuts: "Wheel Of Fortune," "Rock Billy Boogie," "Black Slacks."

- Billboard, 1979.

Gordon's nouveau rockabilly has always been a mite slick and a mite fast, and this is his best album because he's no longer hiding it -- his blown notes are just blown notes, not stigmata of authenticity. Credit Chris Spedding's unnaturally adaptable guitar, which drives the music more aptly than Link Wray's raw protohippie licks, authentic though they may have been. I mean, half the time Gordon actually sounds as though he belongs there. Blows some notes, though. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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