ALL OF a sudden, American record companies are showing some pride in their own contributions to rock history. Capitol's new 12-album series, "Rock of Ages," compiles an incredible range of '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll and R&B singles originally released by Capitol, United Artists, Liberty, Imperial and other smaller labels. While many of the '60s compilations just seem like a grab bag of oldies, the '50s albums make both historical and listening sense.
ROCKABILLY -- "Let's Have a Party: The Rockabilly Influence (1950-1960)" (Capitol SQ-12455). This uptempo rockabilly collection stretches from "Chew Tobacco Rag," Billy Briggs' 1950 hillbilly novelty, to "Let's Have a Party," a frantic 1960 rocker from Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly. By also using lesser-known recordings by Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, this compilation underscores the vitality and diversity of a style that usually seems to start and end with Elvis.
COCHRAN & VINCENT -- "Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent: Their Finest Years (1958 and 1956)" (Capitol SQ-12454). Here are many of these two legends' biggest hits, including Vincent's breathlessly erotic "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and "Woman Love" and Cochran's riotous teen anthems, "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody." The overwrought emotions in Vincent's recordings reveal the limits of his art, while the brash confidence in Cochran's suggest that, had he lived, he would have been a major force in the '60s.
PLAYING THAT PIANO -- "Let the Good Times Roll: Early Rock Classics (1952-1958)" (Capitol SQ-12452). By presenting the New Orleans rock 'n' roll of Fats Domino, Shirley and Lee and Smiley Lewis alongside the rockabilly of Merrill Moore and Jerry Lee Lewis, this collection serves as a potent reminder of how much the piano once meant to rock and roll. Most of the cuts here are deservedly called classics, but the oddball inclusion of Esquerita's obscure "Rockin' the Joint" reminds that there are still cacophonous classics to be discovered.
DO-WOP -- "In the Still of the Night: The Do-Wop Groups (1951-1962)" (Capitol SQ-12458). It is probably a disservice to label as do-wop the sublime harmonizing of the Five Keys' "The Glory of Love," but most of the rest of these cuts, like the Olympics' "Western Movies" or the Rivingtons' "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow," are nonsensical enough to fit the bill. These are all hits, and some, including the Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night" and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay," have long since passed into the realm of the immortal.
INSTRUMENTALS -- "Teen Beat: Instrumental Rock (1957-1965)" (SQ-12463). There's no Duane Eddy here, but the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" and Lonnie Mack's "Memphis" are compensation for those who favor the fat and mean sounds of the electric guitar. There are also instrumental hits here featuring the saxophone (Bill Justis' "Raunchy"), the organ (the Phil Upchurch Combo's "You Can't Sit Down"), and even the drums (Sandy Nelson's "Teen Beat '65"). This combination is so much fun it makes you wonder how this simple style ever became extinct.