Jerry Lee Lewis: His Greatest Albums Ranked

MOJO salutes The Killer with a selection of Jerry Lee Lewis' greatest ever records

jerry lee lewis

by Max Decharne |
Updated on

For lovers of downhome gutbucket rock’n’roll piano pounding, the question has always been not “How to buy Jerry Lee Lewis” but rather where to stop. One of the original Sun records rockabilly wildmen, he released albums of new studio material for over 50 years, and there’s greatness to be found in every decade. Many stars are content with a few years of groundbreaking activity followed by a lifetime of trotting out the same handful of songs, but this was never The Killer’s way.

If all you know of him is his twin worldwide smashes Great Balls Of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, there’s a whole undiscovered world out there – a richness and complexity not even hinted at in Dennis Quaid’s one-note cartoon of a performance in the 1989 Hollywood popcorn version of Jerry’s story. As The Killer famously sang, “My life would make a damn good country song,” and it’s a wonder he’s managed to keep up the quality of releases amid all the madness: Playboy once commissioned a writer to follow him around for a major feature, then spiked it because they thought the writer had been making it up. Legendary TV producer Jack Good was onto something when he cast Jerry as Iago in Catch My Soul, a rocked-up 1968 version of Othello, belting out The Bard like a man born to it – check out the superb Lust Of The Blood on Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, Season 3...

Lewis’s body of work is vast, but instantly recognisable, and like other great interpreters of songs such as Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday, he stamps his identity on anything he records. Lewis passed away in 2022 aged 87 and was truly one of a kind. In celebration of The Killer, MOJO picks his ten finest albums…

10. Mean Old Man

DECCA 2010

Following on from his 2006 duets album, Last Man Standing, Jerry’s most recent offering is another celebrity-heavy record in which figures from the last 60 years of music queue up to share the mike with Louisiana’s finest. There’s Beatles, Stones, Willie Nelson, Solomon Burke, Eric Clapton and many others, and it sounds like everyone’s having a ball, but the truth is, he doesn’t really need any of them. His final, heartbreakingly beautiful solo version of Miss The Mississippi And You is worth the cover price on its own; with luck, he’ll cut a whole album in this vein soon.

9. Young Blood


Just when it seemed like his album career might consist of live recordings and compilations of old material, the 60-year-old Killer unleashed a new studio LP in 1995, and it rocked harder than anyone had a right to expect. Jerry’s lifelong fondness for a classic Hank Williams cover surfaced with a pounding version of I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, while Goosebumps moved along at a ferocious pace with some old-school Grady Martin-style lowdown guitar, and Crown Victoria Custom ’51 was a righteous car song with the honkytonk piano jacked up loud. An unexpected treat.

8. Old Time Religion


Back in the Sun days, The Killer had a well-documented religious argument with Sam Phillips in the studio, worried that he was singing the Devil’s music. In 1970, he briefly abandoned rock’n’roll, and was captured on tape in December that year in a church near Memphis rocking his way through a string of gospel songs such as There’ll Be Peace In The Valley, The Old Rugged Cross and On The Jericho Road – some of which he’d tackled with the Million Dollar Quartet back in ’56. A fascinating glimpse of the other side of Jerry Lee, delivered with all the fire of his rock performances.

7. Another Place, Another Time


The Killer had been cutting country songs ever since ’56’s Crazy Arms, but this landmark album helped reposition him as a genuine star of the genre. Drawn from just two days of recording, it’s a class act all the way. The title track and What’s Made Milwaukee Famous made the Billboard country Top 5, and lifted Jerry back into the US public consciousness after a decade in which it seemed only the Teds and the hardcore rockers in Europe had kept the faith. Available as a double with She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left Of Me).

6. Jerry Lee Lewis


This is where it all started for The Killer back in 1958, and at the time he may well have felt that the story would end right there. Released on Sun just as his marriage scandal erupted around his disastrous English tour, it followed the pattern of LPs in those days – the new single (High School Confidential), one of his own recent smash hits (Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On) and some well-known covers (Don’t Be Cruel, Jambalaya (On The Bayou)). Drawn from various spring 1958 sessions, it’s a powerhouse time capsule of what Jerry’s world looked like just before the roof fell in.

5. Memphis Beat


After seven productive years at Sun, Lewis moved in 1963 to Mercury’s Smash. Although Sun continued, many felt Sam Phillips lost interest in his label once The Killer had gone. Memphis Beat was one of a string of fine mid-’60s Smash albums: two-fisted rockers that had long been part of his repertoire (Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee) sit alongside his self-penned comment on JFK’s assassination (Lincoln Limousine), but best of all is The Urge (“Jerk your hips to the rhythm… Then you’re on the verge, of gettin’ the urge.”) Available as a double with Country Songs For City Folks.

4. Rockin’ My Life Away – The Jerry Lee Lewis Collection


The Ferriday, Louisiana wildman was 45 when the ’70s ended, and nailed his colours to the mast with Rockin’ My Life Away, taken from the LP simply called Jerry Lee Lewis. Produced by Bones Howe in 1979, it mixed driving rockers (Don’t Let Go) with ’60s soul (Everyday I Have To Cry) and honkytonk laments (Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues). This contains that LP, plus highlights from his following two records, including his Top 5 country hit Thirty-Nine And Holding, and a magnificent cover of Over The Rainbow.

3. Killer – The Mercury Years Volume Three 1973 – 1977


Jerry Lee’s work rate during his time with Mercury was formidable – five albums of new material in 1969 alone – and the pace barely slowed in the ’70s. This fine compilation runs the gamut from a full-on assault on Honey Hush to a joyously knowing version of Billy Swan’s recent hit, I Can Help. Then there’s the single-entendre magnificence of Meat Man, a tune seemingly designed to make a room full of vicars blush, at the end of which Jerry yells, “Meat man, you mother!” In the outside world, glam, prog and punk made the headlines, but the Killer kept blazing his trail.

2. Up Through The Years 1956-1963


During Lewis’s days at Sun, he not only defined rock’n’roll piano playing for all time, but tackled country, hillbilly, R&B, blues, gospel, vaudeville standards and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. One of the major bodies of work of the rock’n’roll era, it’s best appreciated via Bear Family’s definitive 8-CD box set (or Charly’s budget-priced 4-CD Sun Essentials), but if you’re looking for a single-disc, this rounds up some of Jerry’s best Sun singles in pristine sound quality, together with magnificent flipsides such as I’ll Make It All Up To You.

1. Live At The Star-Club, Hamburg


A howling beast of an album, with Jerry Lee (backed by The Nashville Teens) on world-conquering form playing to a feral crowd of liquored-up Hamburg rockers on April 5, 1964. Live LPs rarely capture a tenth of the excitement in the room, but this superbly recorded slice of mayhem preserves all the guts and glory of a vintage night on the Reeperbahn when The Killer ruled the street. Mersey Beat might have been the new sound in the charts, but as the original rock’n’roll bad boy said elsewhere after torching his piano, “I’d like to see any goddam son of a bitch follow that.”

The new 30th anniversary issue of MOJO is on sale now! Featuring Bob DylanDolly PartonBlur, OasisPaul Weller, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Brian Wilson, Robert Plant and more! More info and to order a copy HERE.

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