VA – Great Balls Of Fire (OST) (1989)

FrontCover1Great Balls of Fire! is a 1989 American biographical film directed by Jim McBride and starring Dennis Quaid as rockabilly pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis. Based on a biography by Myra Lewis and Murray M. Silver, Jr., the screenplay is written by McBride and Jack Baran. The film is produced by Adam Fields, with executive producers credited as Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Art Levinson.

The early career of Jerry Lee Lewis, from his rise to rock and roll stardom to his controversial marriage to his 13-year-old cousin that led to his downfall, is depicted in the film. Until the scandal of the marriage depreciated his image, many had thought Lewis would supplant Elvis Presley as the “King of Rock and Roll” in the 1950s.

Jerry Lee Lewis (Quaid) plays piano (as opposed to a guitar like most other rock artists) during rock and roll’s early years from 1956 to 1958. Jerry Lee is a man with many different sides: a skilled performer with little discipline, and an alcoholic. As Jerry Lee rises to the top of the charts with such hits as “Crazy Arms”, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On”, and “Great Balls of Fire”, he falls in love with Myra Gale Brown (Winona Ryder), the 13-year-old daughter of his first cousin (and bass player) J. W. Brown (John Doe), and eventually marries her (eloping to Mississippi), much to the anger and chagrin of her parents.

MoviePosterA subplot deals with Jerry Lee’s relationship with another cousin, (now-televangelist) Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), who, during this period, was a struggling Pentecostal preacher. Jimmy’s career kept him in constant conflict with his cousin’s wild rock and roll career and brings out some uncomfortable exchanges between the two. The now-financially successful Jerry Lee buys a new car and gives it to his cousin, and when Jimmy praises the Lord for the gift, Jerry Lee replies, “Don’t thank Jesus, thank Jerry Lee Lewis!”

While Jerry Lee is touring in England 1958, a British reporter discovers he is married to his teenage cousin. Jerry Lee is then condemned as a child molester and a pervert by the public. As a result, his British tour is cancelled and he is deported from England. But it doesn’t diminish Jerry Lee’s confidence that his career will continue. However, the scandal follows him back to the States.

Jerry Lee starts drinking a lot when record sales and concert attendances are significantly down. He is furious when requested to print a public apology in Billboard and becomes increasingly abusive toward Myra. It was during one of these abusive episodes that Myra informs Jerry Lee that she is pregnant, and he collapses into Myra’s arms, crying hysterically.

Jerry Lee and Myra attend a church service conducted by Swaggart. When Jimmy offers one more chance to become saved and get right with God, Jerry Lee again refuses, declaring, “If I’m going to hell, I’m going there playing the piano!” The caption preceding the closing credits reads, “Jerry Lee Lewis is playing his heart out somewhere in America tonight.”

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The story was co-written by Myra Gail Lewis (her autobiography Great Balls of Fire!), the former wife of Jerry Lee Lewis, with Murray Silver. Despite this, co-writer Silver was upset by the lack of accuracy in the film, claiming it was “phoney”. Director Jim McBride admitted that it was never his intention to tie his film to the facts, and stated “This movie does not represent itself in any way to be a historical documentary. We use the book as a jumping-off point.”

Lewis has openly stated that he hates the film and the book it was based on.[2] Lewis did, however, praise Quaid’s portrayal of him in the film, saying “he really pulled it off”.[3] Quaid even learned to play “Lewis-style” piano for the role.
Filming locations

The film was shot on location in Marion, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas.

Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, did not like the film because of its screenplay, and wrote, “This is a simpleminded rock ‘n’ roll history in which the pleasures are many and the troubles are few. Lewis, played by Dennis Quaid as a grinning simpleton with a crazy streak and a manic piano style, climbs the same career ladder as many of the stars of musical biographies, but he does it with lightning speed.” Ebert also said that Quaid did a nice job of reproducing Lewis’ stage persona.

Critic Caryn James wrote that the film portrays the fun side of rock and roll, and wrote, “Jim McBride’s film is a compressed, cleaned-up version of the Jerry Lee Lewis story, but it re-creates the soul-shaking, brain-rattling fun of rock-and-roll. It also captures, perhaps for the first time on film, something of the sexual aura of rock-and-roll at its birth.” Yet, she added that anyone looking for a true sense of music history will be let down by the film.

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 63% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 24 reviews.

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Nobody can deny that The Killer is one of the greatest rock & rollers of all time. Despite the controversy, his blacklisting, the drugs and booze, the death and violence that has surrounded him, he has always seemed to be able to put out great music on his piano. In recent years however, his energy has waned and his voice has shown some wear. This does not stop him from touring though, and he recorded this album of remakes of his most significant rock & roll hits for the movie about the start of his career based on Myra Gayle’s book by the same name.
The new recordings are very close to the originals, keeping the same basic arrangements and famous solo sections (mostly). The new band has a bass guitar, which the original did not, which adds a bit of fullness to the sound. The roughness and relative weakness of the Killer’s voice is noticeable in some songs more than others, but in songs like “Crazy Arms” and “Lucky Old Sun” it works, probably because he’s had so much experience singing BookletBackCover1them. The song “I’m on Fire” (not the Springseen tune) is very different from the original (which was produced in 1962 and included horns and a backup girl chorus). The weakest cut is “High School Confidential.” His vocal shortcomings are most obvious here, and the desperate manic energy of the original is lost.
This album also includes remakes of earlier versions of two songs that inspired Jerry Lee, “Big Legged Woman” and “Whole Lotta Shakin…” These songs show just how rauchy old rhythm & blues could be. They are done with spirit and style, and if they don’t get you groovin’ you got a hole in your soul! If you look haed enough, you can find all sorts of Jerry Lee recordings that still have thet erotic humor in them.
Finally, there are two original cuts here from “back in the day”: “Great Balls of Fire” and “Rocket 88,” the latter an ode to big, cool cars and drinking and driving that many consider to be among the first rock & roll songs ever recorded. These cuts help put the remakes into perspective and show that a son can rip even if it’s not digitally mastered, stereophonic, etc., etc.
It’s too bad the album could not include all the music from the movie. There were some great ’50’s instrumentals and a couple of other Jerry Lee tunes that really added to the movie. Most especially, during the end credits, the Killer does a solo with his piano called “Lewis Boogie” that is just delicious.
If you are a Jerry Lee fan, or just love ’50’s rock & roll, this is a great album to have, but don’t miss the movie (I have reviewed it on Amazon as well) for a great time and more music! (Zorikh Lequidre)

But the best song was an real exciting version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” sung by Valerie Wellington.

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Personnel:

Jerry Lee Lewis Band:
David Kemper (drums)
Jerry Lee Lewis (vocals, piano)
Gerald McGee (guitar)
Jerry Scheff (bass)

Valerie Wellington Band:
Lee Allen (saxophone)
Bob Efford (saxophone)
Lawrence Gales (bass)
Cash McCall (guitar)
Joe Nettles (piano)
Earl Palmer Sr. (drums)
Herman Riley (saxophone)
Valerie Wellington (vocals)

Booker T. Laury Band:
Booker T. Laury (piano, vocals)
Errol Thomas (bass)
James Robertson (drums)

Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats:
Jackie Brenston (vocals)
Raymond Hill (saxophone)
Willie Kizart (guitar)
Willie Sims (drums)
Ike Turner (guitar)
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unknown bass player

Original Jerry Lee Lewis Band (from 1957):
Jimmy van Eaton (drums)
Roland Janes (guitar)
Jerry Lee Lewis (vocals, piano)

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Tracklist:

Jerry Lee Lewis:
01. Great Balls Of Fire (Blackwell/Hammer) 2.32
02. High School Confidential (Hargrave/Lewis) 2.18

Booker T. Laury:
03. Big Legged Woman (Coulson/Temple) 3.33

Jerry Lee Lewis:
04. I’m On Fire (Feldman/Goldstein/Gottehrer) 2.15

Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats:
05. Rocket 88 (recorded in 1951) (Brenston/Turner)     2.46

Jerry Lee Lewis:
06. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (David/Williams) 3.57

Valerie Wellington:
07. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On (David/Williams) 3.09

Jerry Lee Lewis:
08. Breathless (Blackwell) 2.50

Jerry Lee Lewis and Dennis Quaid:
09. Crazy Arms     2:54

Jerry Lee Lewis:
10. Wild One (Greenham/O´Keefe/Owens)     2.19
11. That Lucky Old Sun (Gillespie/Smith)  4.35
12. Great Balls Of Fire (original version from 1957) (Blackwell/Hammer)    1:50

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SunStudios

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