Weekend Listening: Link Wray and the Raymen
Released: 1960 by Epic Records
Recommended if you like: greaser hair combed with a slingblade while you and your ride or die bitches walk the beach and enjoy the surf
Notable Tracks: “Dixie Doodle,” “Slinky,” “Commanche,” “Caroline”
The first time I broke up with my last boyfriend I could not be convinced that blaring Judy Collins’s Wildflowers on the record player while simultaneously watching every single fucking episode of Friends on my computer was not the best idea anyone’s ever had.
The last time I broke up with my last boyfriend I drove really really fast and shoulder-danced to Link Wray and the Raymen.
Link Wray is an artist that we all know, we’ve all heard, and we probably all associate with either West Side Story or the roller rink. Badass as his stuff is, the best originated in the late 1950s through the 1970s, which lends itself to mainstream forgetfulness unless you’re interested in music history (Wray has to be one of the most influential guitarists ever). Some tracks have become synonymous with gimmicky diners; walk into the kind of shitty faux-stalgia place that inspired Guy Fieri’s intro for Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and you’ll probably hear “Raw-Hide” playing over top of whatever football game that totally 50s TV is showing in the corner. Somehow, too, Wray gets shoved wrongly into the pseudo-greaser crowd, the kind of dudes who slick their hair down and then wipe their hands on their skinny Old Navy hipster jeans.
Wray’s mix of the unadulterated swagger and playful abandon that characterize his discography deserves more than poodle skirts. “Caroline,” the opening track of Link Wray’s first full length album, reminds one of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with a jauntier step that breaks away into the background hoots and growls of a couple of the only voices present on this album. In “Slinky” we hear a little bass piano, in a typical 50’s way, but it works against the du-wop theme of that era just because of that fucking guitar. The best of this album comes when Wray lets loose in songs like “Dixie-Doodle,” a cover of “Dixieland” that takes the knee-slapping, careening twirling of the South and lays a veneer of that distorted guitar on top of it in a way that only leaves you dancing in the most unashamed, clearly drunk, way possible. I’ll straight up disown you if by the time “Commanche” plays near the end you aren’t hollering one of the few words spoken on this album along with me. If nothing else, this album seems exploratory with a range of moods conveyed through Wray’s signature style; no matter if we’re dealing with an almost beachy, surfy feel in “Raw-Hide” or the PG-13 version of “Rumble” we get in “Ramble,” on every track Wray convinces us that playing the guitar is just damn fun.
In addition to this and Wray’s other full-length LPs, there are a few tight compilations of Wray’s stuff out there, notably Link Wray – Slinky! The Epic Sessions, 1958-1961 and Rumble! The Best of Link Wray, both of which cover a wide range of Wray’s career. Before coming out with Link Wray and the Raymen, Wray released a couple of singles that made their way onto these compilations, and I highly recommend checking them out, as the only other way to hear them is on individual 45s (or the fucking internet, I know that’s a thing now).
Listen…I tried to stop myself, I just got this column and I don’t want Susie to toss me and my hi-fi out in the snow, but I absolutely cannot write about this artist without talking about one of those singles, potentially the most well-known track of Wray’s entire career, and the track he dropped first in the world: “Rumble.” [GIRL. “Rumble” overlays an iconic scene in one of my favorite movies, I so would not toss you out in the snow. — Susie]
Released in 1958, this song was banned from a couple of radio stations because the DJs or Big Brother or someone was concerned it would incite juvenile delinquency, and I don’t blame them. Minimal drums, really, that never get too excited even in the little flurry of a bridge, back that shocking guitar. Wray utilizes the relatively unused power chord, bringing for the first time what Willie Johnson and Pat Hare were using in the blues to rock’n’roll. Lazy, unaffected, the distorted guitar hits once, twice, three times, then just loiters in your ear.
This was his first single EVER. Think about the first paper you ever wrote or first sandwich you ever made and tell me it’s like even one smidge as good as “Rumble.” Listen to this song and tell me you aren’t thinking about summer heat and windows rolled down and fucking Link Wray on top of his amplifier (oh wait, just me?). Listen to this song, follow it up with Link Wray and the Raymen, and throw a little swagger in your step this weekend.
Listen to Link Wray and the Raymen: