1. Johnny Ace, “Pledging My Love.” Romantic, haunting, creepy. This ballad from the tragic R&B star (he died in a Russian Roulette accident in 1954) has been used in many a movie, including Abel Ferrarra’s “Bad Lieutenant.”
2. Rufus Thomas, “Memphis Train.” The clown prince of Memphis soul recorded for Sun Records and more famously, Stax Records. This raging R&B ode to love and trains is hard to beat.
3. Charlie Feathers, “That Certain Female.” Why Mr. Feathers is only appreciated by a cadre of die-hard roots music enthusiasts and rockabilly nuts is beyond me. Check out the LPs available from Norton Records.
4. Billy Lee Riley, “My Gal is Red Hot.” With a raw, gravely voice and a manic stage presence, Riley cut his best material for Sun Records, both as a front man and as a session musician. This song, covered by many a retro rockabilly, is one of his finest offerings.
5. Booker T. and the M.G.s, “Green Onions.” Recorded at Stax Records, otherwise known as Soulsville, U.S.A., this is one of the best brooding, strutting instrumentals of the ’60s from one of the South’s first interracial music acts.
6. The Prisonaires, “Just Walkin’ in the Rain.” Just one of the many great groups obscured by Elvis Presley’s tenure at Sun Records, the Prisonaires were actual Tennessee state prisoners that the warden allowed out — accompainied by armed gurads — to record at Sam Philips’ burgeoning R&B studio. The 45 went on to sell over 250,000 copies.
7. Bill Justis, “Raunchy.” Another killer instrumental from Sun Studios, this catchy and kooky number features the warbly-yet-wonderful sax work of Justis himself, who took over blowin’ duties when the session player assigned the instrument failed to show up to the recording date.
8. Jerry Lee Lewis, “Whole Lotta Shakin.'” His personal foibles have been the subject of movies, documentaries and books, but the important thing to remember is that the Killer recorded some of the most energetic, foot-stomping songs of the ’50s. This is just one of them.
9. Sam and Dave, “When Something is Wrong With My Baby.” They may be best remembered for “Soul Man,” but this hot buttered ballad, penned by Isaac Hayes and his Stax writing partner, David Porter, is a beautiful, juicy slice of classic ’60s soul.
10. Carl Mann, “Mona Lisa.” A love song penned around the famous portrait, this is yet another sadly underappreciated Sun Record, featuring smart lyrics, precise playing and a bouncy energy that can’t be denied.