Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jackie Wilson

  • Jackie Wilson's Greatest Hits [Brunswick, 1972]  
  • The Jackie Wilson Story: Volume Two [Epic, 1983] B+
  • The Jackie Wilson Story [Epic, 1983]  
  • The Soul Years [Kent, 1984] B+
  • Reet Petite [Ace, 1985] A
  • The Very Best of Jackie Wilson [Rhino, 1995] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jackie Wilson's Greatest Hits [Brunswick, 1972]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]  

The Jackie Wilson Story: Volume Two [Epic, 1983]
Can it be that Joe McEwen, the candidate for sainthood who almost single-handedly resurrected Wilson from the vaults, actually likes his big-ballad mode? Why else unearth his album-only "Georgia On My Mind"? Why not pretend that "Alone at Last"--which reached 8 pop and only 20 r&b--never existed? And what about the obsequious if pyrotechnic Copa medley? Not that any of this stuff is without interest, or that the album-only ballad "I've Got To Get Back" isn't a jewel. Still, I wonder. B+

The Jackie Wilson Story [Epic, 1983]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]  

The Soul Years [Kent, 1984]
What strikes you first about this post-1967 material is that new black producer Carl Davis has graced it with a groove, often a fairly mellow one. And for half the album Wilson sails along on top, relaxed and confident and supremely attractive. But as the hits get scarcer the arrangements get busier and Wilson starts emoting harder. Which does him no good. B+

Reet Petite [Ace, 1985]
I know Wilson loved Al Jolson and Mario Lanza. I accept it. In a way I even applaud it--why shouldn't he have aspired to the universality of schlock? But on these 16 cuts, including only three from Epic's Jackie Wilson Story plus an earlier, altogether more subdued and thrilling "Danny Boy," you'd almost think he'd stuck with Berry Gordy, and is it a relief. The stiff choruses and big-band climaxes are still in evidence, but on these mostly uptempo album tracks they rarely intrude; occasionally you even notice some guitar. And since Wilson isn't really an interpreter---I said Jolson and Lanza, not Sinatra and Melchior--it's just as well that the songs are raveups and filler, leaving plenty of room for acrobatic workout. "Shake, Shake, Shake," "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!," "It's So Fine," "Do Lord." A

The Very Best of Jackie Wilson [Rhino, 1995]
I don't begrudge Wilson his three-CD box. Excess is the essence of the man; no point liking him if you can't abide a bit of schlock. What's that you say? Can't hear you with the band blaring. All right, a lot of schlock. Musically, the most transitional of the early masters was the creature of Dick Jacobs, whose orchestral overkill make the guys who buried Bobby Bland and Joe Turner in brass sound like acolytes of Louis Jordan. From "Lonely Teardrops" to "Baby Workout," Jacobs's rockers are suitably--i.e., supernaturally--sharp. But he felt more at home beefing up Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, and Pagliacci, and Mr. Excitement felt honored by the company. Raw and wild though Wilson could be, his spectacular chops sold him on a nightclub circuit that catered to big-band fans. So if you actually can't abide a lot of schlock, stick to this rocking condensation and learn why "Danny Boy" is a folk song. A

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