Ronnies vs. Johnnies


White-people music has never been iller than rockabilly. Unless you count Charlie Feathers’s claim that if it had drums, it wasn’t “real” rockabilly, there were no rules at all, just the sound of amphetamine-crazed hicks howling into the Southern night. Every song on Rhino’s four-CD box set is another bullet through the idea that the ’50s were boring. Even today, radio DJs wouldn’t go near the orgasmic female howls of John & Jackie’s “Little Girl.” And the song that gives the box its title and bookends it—with competing versions by Ronnie Dawson and Elroy Dietzel—is utterly berserk, talking about nailing the singer’s bones to the wall so he’ll be some kind of martyr to rockin’. There’s just too much madness in this box to contain in mere sentences, so going at the thing Tale of the Tape–style will have to do:

  • Shortest song: The Phantom, “Love Me” (1:31)
  • Longest song: Commonwealth Jones, “Who’s Been Here” (3:38)
  • Songs about Cadillacs: Four (Larry Dowd, “Pink Cadillac”; Joyce Green, “Black Cadillac”; Vince Taylor, “Brand New Cadillac”; Hal Willis, “My Pink Cadillac”)
  • Mysterious omission: Warren Smith, “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache”
  • Artists named Johnny: Six (Burnette, Carroll, Cash, Dollar, Kidd, Powers)
  • Artists named Ronnie: Five (Allen, Dawson, Dee, Hawkins, Pearson)
  • Artist to whom Patti Smith owes pretty much everything: Barbara Pittman (“I Need a Man”)
  • Best love song title ever: Kip Tyler, “She’s My Witch”
  • Songs by black artists: One (Al Dowling, “Down on the Farm”)
  • Song that most reinforces the idea of rockabilly’s Southern-ness, whiteness, and 1950s origins: Warren Smith, “Ubangi Stomp”
  • Song that’s just flat-out weird: Peanuts Wilson, “Cast Iron Arm”
  • Songs with “Baby” in the title: Nine
  • Songs with “Daddy” in the title: Five
  • Songs with “Baby Daddy” in the title: Zero
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