"Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die" is an adequate chronicle of Robert Gordon's effort to revitalize '50s rock'n'roll commercially and artistically. This kind of "greatest hits" package without any real hits underscores Gordon's commercial failure; that the two cuts from his first album -- "Red Hot" and "Flying Saucers Rock and Roll" -- are the only riveting performances here suggests his artistic decline. His frenzied reworkings of those two Billy Lee Riley rockabilly nuggets, led by Link Wray's grating, metallic guitar work, conveyed a jubilant atmosphere of musical and self-discovery that Gordon hasn't matched since.
For Gordon fans, three unreleased tracks have been provided as bait. One, a live version of "Black Slacks," is so clean and tidy, with the audience mixed down to virtual silence, that it might as well be a studio track. More interestingly, there are two unreleased studio versions of Marshall Crenshaw songs titled "Something's Gonna Happen" and "Wasting My Time." Unfortunately, like his rendition of Crenshaw's fabulous "Someday, Someway," which is also included here, Gordon lacks the wistful innocence to connect with Crenshaw's eternally adolescent world of pop romance. Much better is Gordon's dramatic performance of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire," which lost out in the pop sweepstakes to the Pointer Sisters' version. It's too bad, because that song, more than any, proved that Gordon's operatic balladeering could result in passionate rock'n'roll drama. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM ROBERT GORDON -- Too Fast To Live, Too Young to Die (RCA AFL1-4380). THE SHOW ROBERT GORDON, with David Johansen, Saturday at 8 and 10 at Clendenen Hall, American University.