Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found on the turntable. We are looking at some vintage Wanda Jackson on this Classic Album Review, remembering her iconic Right or Wrong album.
Wanda, now retired, became known as “The Queen of Rockabilly” during the late 1950’s, with a sound not unlike early Elvis recordings. Though her chart success in the U. S. was limited during that time. In other parts of the world, she enjoyed tremendous popularity, especially in Japan. Her recording of “Fujiyama Mama” is still among that nation’s biggest hits of all-time.
Her stateside fortunes began turning for the better in 1960, when she finally broke through Billboard’s pop top forty with “Let’s Have A Party”. While she never would have any major pop hits, she would become a regular on the country charts, through the early 1970’s, beginning with 1961’s “Right or Wrong”.
The album Right or Wrong was released in October 1961. The title track became her biggest hit, reaching nine on Billboard’s country chart, that summer. In Cashbox, it only reached fourteen. The title track also made the Billboard pop top forty. Wanda recorded the album during three sessions in April, with legendary producer Ken Nelson in charge.
SIDE 1, THE SENTIMENTAL SIDE
“Right or Wrong” is one of my favorite songs of 1960’s country. She has a unique tone that’s twangy, but it’s a different style of twang, than say Kitty Wells or Skeeter Davis. It’s hard to describe, but it’s easy to hear. “Right or Wrong” is a recording that commands your attention, immediately. As soon as it starts, you are drawn in, and not let go until the last note. It’s also arguably her best single.
The rest of the album is good, as well. She does a superb cover of Stonewall Jackson’s “Why I’m Walking”. It’s as good as Stonewall’s hit.
Her rendition of “So Soon” is even better than the Jimmy Newman hit version from 1959. Wanda often gets remembered for her rockabilly and gospel work, and deservedly so. But tracks like this one are a strong reminder that she handles a ballad as well as anyone. I love how she sings this one.
One should also take note of her version of “The Last Letter”, a song that was classic country, even in 1961. This is one of the best versions I’ve heard of this old Rex Griffin standard.
Eighteen years before “I May Never Get to Heaven” hit number one for Conway Twitty, it was a part of this album. Once again, this track reminds us of Wanda Jackson’s immense ballad skills. It’s got a definite top forty feel to it, it would have been right at home on those classic top forty AM flame-throwers of the time. Whereas, Conway Twitty’s hit version (1979) is dramatic, Wanda’s version has more intimacy.
Side 1 ends with one more capable cover, this time George Jones’ classic “Window Up Above”.
Wanda’s vocals are nearly flawless, here. It’s a great end to a side of great ballads.
SIDE 2, THE ROCKIN’ SIDE
While side 1 is the sentimental side, side 2, is the rockin’ side. The side to play loud.
Wanda kicks off the side with a nice cover of Ray Charles’ “Sticks and Stones”. It’s rockabilly, but that classic Charles style of Rhythm and Blues is still evident, thanks in large part to some stellar keyboard work.
Wanda turns Connie Francis’ “Stupid Cupid” into pure rockabilly bliss. Here, she delivers one of her best performances on the album.
Not surprisingly, Wanda Jackson handles the rock ‘n’ roll classic “Slippin’ and Slidin’ with ease. Like “Stupid Cupid”, she turns it into pure rockabilly bliss.
Then there’s her version of Chuck Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”. Wanda also makes this one really rock in her best rockabilly-style. And the twang in her vocals makes the cut stand out.
It’s more of the same as she takes on another George Jones hit, this time “Who Shot Sam”. This one doesn’t quite rock as much as the previous tracks (or George’s version, for that matter), but still a good cover.
I often comment about how the last song on the album can affect the overall impression of the release. In this case, it ends in a most excellent fashion. “My Baby Left Me” is yet another top-notch piece of rockabilly. Here is where you can hear Elvis’ influence. It’s a great ending track for a great album.
AVAILABILITY & WRAP-UP
This album was out of print for many years. However, it is available, now, in MP3 format. It has also been reissued on vinyl, in recent years. Used copies are available on both eBay and Amazon for less than $10. There are also many are over $20 as high as $50. Goldmine values near-mint copies in both stereo and mono formats at $60 and $50, respectively, if they have the Capitol label with the logo on the left side.
Overall, a unique album with having two entirely different sides. Does it work? It does. Side 2 gives us the Wanda Jackson we expected at this point in her career. Side 1 introduces us to a different Wanda Jackson. She proved that she could tackle ballads and revealed a soft beauty in her voice perfect for interpreting the saddest country song or most tender love song with equal ease. And of course, over the ensuing years, this would be the style that would bring her significant success as she shifted away from pop and deeper into country. Wanda Jackson has one of the most unique and recognizable voices in music history; also, one of the best.
As always, your thoughts, comments, memories, and opinions are welcome in the comment section below.
Saving vinyl one record at a time.
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ABOUT THE ARTIST
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, model railroader, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.