Link Wray, armed with fuzz and power chords, was one of rock n’ roll’s first wreckage makers. A sinister take on Duane Eddy’s more wholesome twang, Wray’s knife-through-the-speaker-cone aesthetic provided the soundtrack for JDs holding court on both the concrete jungle and the dirt yard dancefloor.
“Rumble” (1958), with its slow switchblade menace, caught the attention of teenagers and authority figures around the country. Even without lyrics, the song provoked alarm, so much that Dick Clark refused to mention it by name during Wray’s American Bandstand appearance, for fear of inciting the teen element. Fortunately, Wray’s rap sheet doesn’t end there, as this best-of collection attests.
“Rawhide”, with its swagger, is the apotheosis of the rock n’ roll instrumental, somehow sounding both effortless and premeditated. Other highlights for the greaser set include the pouncing R&B of “Black Widow”, the car chase anxiety of “Hang On”, the serpentine slink of “Switchblade”, the primitive skronk of “The Swag”, and the backwoods twitch of “Run, Chicken, Run”.
Wray died in 2005, leaving behind a genre-defying catalog, but Rumble! provides the necessary evidence of his in-the-red legacy. Socs, beware.
Fun fact: Link Wray is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Billy Joel is.