Liner Note Authors: Hank Davis; Scott Parker ; Roy Forbes.
Illustrators: Hank Davis; Este ; Freddy Elzinga; Betty Johnson.
Photographers: Hank Davis; Este ; Freddy Elzinga; Betty Johnson.
Where its cousin, They Tried to Rock, Vol. 3: The Popsters, had a few big hits -- Louis Prima's "Jump Jive and Wail," the McGuire Sisters' "Sincerely," the Crew Cuts' "Sh Boom" -- there's nothing on the same level on They Tried to Rock, Vol. 4, but overall, it's a better example of how lost mainstream pop singers were in the wake of rock & roll. This disc, which runs 33 tracks just like its companion, has records that are embarrassingly square, along with some corkers that swing almost as hard as real rock & roll. Surprisingly, one of those sides comes from the Crew Cuts, whose version of "Suzie Q" is propelled by a little bit of fuzz guitar, but Rosemary Clooney's "Shot Gun Boogie" also swings like genuine country boogie, Nat King Cole's "Send for Me" is an insouciant shuffle, and Ella Mae Morse lays into "Lovey Dovey" with bluesy fervor. Most of these cuts, though, "can't rock and roll to save my soul," to borrow a phrase from Pearl Bailey. Her single treats rock & roll like so many different dance crazes, an understandable but misbegotten notion that fuels several other decided square singles here, including the absurd "Rockabilly Party" by Hugo & Luigi, Jean Dinning's stiff mambo through "Bo Diddley," Jo Stafford's reworking of "I Got a Woman" as "I Got a Sweetie," and Donny Baker's wild inversion of "Drinkin' Wine-Spo-Dee-O-Dee," "Drinkin' Pop-Sodee Odee (Pop Pop)." These records are cheerful embarrassments, but They Tried to Rock isn't about laughing at the past, it's a history lesson in just how odd and messy things were at the start of the rock & roll explosion, and most of the rest of the disc -- Tony Bennett's cheerful "Close Your Eyes," Pat Boone's oblivious "The Fat Man," Teresa Brewer's "Bo Weevil," a fairly raucous rendition of "Rock & Roll Ruby" from Lawrence Welk, and Johnnie Ray's overheated "Flip Flop and Fly" -- showcases singers ready to rock, if they only had some idea how. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine