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Among the performers I've met—a stellar lot that includes Janice Martin, Larry Collins and Buck Owens—Wanda Jackson is the only one who actually had me shaking in my boots. Backstage at the Crazy Horse, I was sweating so bad and shaking so hard, I could barely speak. So when I started thinking about Wanda, I couldn't stop: most folks are in the dark about what a phenomenal songwriter she was. At a time when squeaky-clean cupcake Kitty Wells was the standard for female country singers, Wanda stood out with her amazing vocal skills and raw sexual presence. In fact, music writer Nick Tosches once famously described Wanda Jackson as "the greatest menstruating rock & roll singer whom the world has ever known." I don't know if I'd put it quite that way, but I couldn't agree more.
Here are 10 of my favorite Wanda Jackson songs:
1. "Wasted" (1955): Written by Wanda Jackson and her father, Tom Jackson. This is kind of a rare one; in fact, I didn't know this was a Wanda Jackson song until the Stumbleweeds covered it, and I thought it was the best song I'd ever heard. Now I know why. This song should be more famous than it is.
2. "Fujiyama Mama" (1957):An Earl Burrows song recorded in 1957, this song languished until becoming a huge hit for Wanda in Japan late in 1958. When Wanda toured Japan, she was received with a red carpet and thousands of bowing fans. It's still a scorcher live.
3. "Right or Wrong" (1960): This song has a Patsy Cline vibe to it, but it is pure Wanda. Recorded in 1960 and released with the B-side "Funnel of Love."
4. "Funnel of Love" (1960): Vaguely suggestive and still hot 46 years later, Wanda's sexy growling and Roy Clark's amazing experimental guitar (yes, Hee Haw's Roy Clark) make this track sound contemporary today. It's no surprise that the Cramps wanted to partner with Wanda on this for her 2003 album of duets, Heart Trouble.
5. "I Gotta Know" (1956):An early Wanda song penned by Thelma Blackmon, this features a slow-fast-slow-fast rhythm that alternates between rockin'/tearful and country/rockabilly and allows her to demonstrate her powerful pipes and emotional range as she implores her boyfriend, "If our love's the real thing/where is my wedding ring?" Guitar whiz Joe Maphis took the solos, while Buck Owens was the session guitarist.
6. "Riot in Cell Block #9" (1960): Wanda's cover of Lieber-Stoller's classic switches the setting to a women's prison and makes earlier versions sound tame. This is always a treat live.
7. "Let's Stop Kicking Our Hearts Around" (1961): Written by Wanda for Buck Owens, this was never a hit for Wanda but went to No. 8 for Owens in 1962. Owens, who was a session musician before he realized his own fame, played guitar on all Wanda's major recordings from 1956 through 1958.
8. "This Should Go On Forever" (1961):A more mature Wanda sings this tear-jerker. She never does this one live, but it's still one of my favorites.
9. "Mean, Mean Man" (1958):Written by Wanda after a suggestion from her father, this song chronicles the singer's frustration with a "mean, mean man" who is never around, calls late for dates, arrives late, doesn't kiss her, and is generally "low down." I know this guy. And like Wanda, I love him all I can.
10. "Hot Dog! That Made Him Mad" (1956):I'm not sure whether I like this song more for its tune or its message, an instruction manual on how to infuriate your boyfriend by laughing in his face, flirting with strangers, and dating his friends. The carefree nature of this song may prove that Wanda was into girl power long before the Spice Girls.
DJ Wanda hostsHowdylicious! on KUCI-FM 88.9 every Sunday, 8-10 p.m. Visit www.kuci.org for more info.
Catch Wanda Jackson at the Hootenanny with Rev. Horton Heat, Tiger Army, Flogging Molly, Supersuckers, Horrorpops, the Living End, Chris Spedding & Robert Gordon (Reunion), Lee Rocker, Manic Hispanic, Big Sandy, James Intveld, Ricky Warwick, 3 Bad Jacks, Hellbound Hayride and Calavera. At Oak Canyon Ranch, 5305 E. Santiago Canyon, Irvine; www.ticketmaster.com or www.thehootenanny.com. Sat., noon. $35-$100. All ages.