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Let’s Go! Go! Go!

Back in 1978, Bob Dylan sat for a Rolling Stone interview with a writer named Jonathan Cott. Cott was perhaps the most erudite rock writer of the time and his scholarly tone seemed to prompt the Bard of Hibbing to make big, bold pronouncements.

At one point the two men drifted away from weightier issues to discuss the state of rock ‘n’ roll, which Dylan insisted didn’t really exist anymore. He’d never played rock ‘n’ roll, the singer asserted. Nor did the Beatles or the Stones. What he referred to as “pure rock ‘n’ roll” faded away with late ‘50s/early ‘60s figures Little Anthony and the Imperials and Phil Spector. In other words, it was all over before many even knew it had begun.

Now you don’t have to buy Dylan’s argument entirely – or really much at all – to see what’s he’s broadly asserting. There’s a freshness to the various genres of music in their formative years, when artists are operating without a whole lot of rules or order. Think of jazz in the ‘20s or hip-hop in the late ‘70s.

Or rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘50s, which is the focus of our new compilation Let’s Go! A survey of rockabilly from its roots as the unruly, unpredictable offspring of rhythm & blues and country, it features 17 raucous selections, most from the genre’s greasy heyday, with a few revivalist gems tossed in for good measure.

There’s a weirdness and wildness to genuine rockabilly that illustrates that purity Dylan was talking about – when just goofin’ was more likely to pay off than playing it straight. Listen to Gene Vincent hiccupping and gasping his way through “Be-Bop-A-Lulu” or Eddie Cochran’s quaking “Nervous Breakdown” and try to imagine how unprecedentedly strange they sounded to the uninitiated. It’s no wonder parents and professional musicians alike were outraged by the sound.

It was a time when a record producer might turn the dials all the way up – just to see what happens when, say, there’s so much echo in the mix that words bounce off one another like muscle cars in a demo derby.

That creative recklessness explains how it is that most of the stuff on Let’s Go! is more than 50 years old, but it’s still sounds as frisky as a teen.

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