Mickey Gilley, the piano-plunking cousin of rock'n'roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, languished in the bottom rungs of the country scene for over a decade before the hits started coming in the mid-1970s. He had Jerry Lee's same lusty, boozy, down-home sound, but added a note of bluesy sincerity, and was a superior balladeer. Gilley burst onto the top of the charts in the mid-1970s, becoming one of the headline artists for the then-trendy country bar scene. His glitzy mega-honkytonk nightclub, "Gilley's," was featured in the film Urban Cowboy, making Gilley an star of the newly revitalized commercial country scene, as well as a pop crossover and cultural icon. Gilley's star faded quickly, though, and by the late 1980s, his Top Forty days were a thing of the past. Although many see him as a crossover artist, Mickey Gilley brought a considerable wealth of real roots and true twang to his music -- he was a cousin of rock'n'roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as evangelical minister Jimmy Swaggart, and mixed the sacred and profane in his own career. Here's a quick look at his work...
Mickey Gilley "Too Good To Stop -- Greatest Hits: 1974-1985" (Raven, 2007)
A strong sampling of Gilley's peak years, with classic tracks such as "Room Full Of Roses" and "Don't The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time." The Raven label is consistently high-quality, and this collection may be the best introduction to Gilley's work that you can find... Recommended!
Mickey Gilley "Absolutely The Best" (Fuel, 2003)
These early recordings, made in the late 1950s and early '60s, capture pianist/crooner Mickey Gilley laboring in obscurity, back in his most rock'n'pop phase, and basically aping the bouncy style pioneered by his infamous cousin, rockabilly wildman Jerry Lee Lewis. I didn't find this set particularly compelling, but it's still a nice historical footnote.
Mickey Gilley "Room Full Of Roses" (Playboy, 1974)
Mickey Gilley "Gilley's Smokin' " (Playboy, 1976)
This long-overdue twofer CD reissues two of his best albums made for the independent Playboy label (and later relicensed by Columbia) in the 1974 and '76. Room Full Of Roses is a delicious set of old country standards, such as "Faded Love," "Room Full Of Roses" and "I Overlooked An Orchid," delivered in a wry yet heartfelt style -- Gilley was a real good ole boy country singer who was also a sex-drenched '70s swinger, and this dual world view combined perfectly when singing these old-fashioned cheatin' songs. He also excelled at raunchy novelty material like "Plastic Saddle" or, on the Smokin' album, gems such as "Don't The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time" and "How's My Ex Treating You." If you want to check out Mickey Gilley at his absolute peak, snap this disc up as fast as you can. (Note: the original albums were both relicensed to Columbia and re-released in 1977 under the same titles.)
Mickey Gilley "Invitation Only" (Varese Sarabande, 1989/2003)
A sad coda to Gilley's glory years in the 1970s and '80s, this album gathered dust for over a dozen years, and -- apart from his label having gone under -- it's easy to see why. It's ain't Gilley's best: slow arrangements, and strained sentiment. Unless you're a real hardcore fan, just stick with the old stuff.
Mickey Gilley "16 Biggest Hits" (Sony Legacy, 1983/2003)
A faintly disappointing, but still quite worthy retrospective of Gilley's work done before, during and after the "Urban Cowboy" boom of the late '70s/early '80s. (The Urban Cowboy film itself was shot at Gilley's infamous Texas nightclub, "the world's largest honky-tonk!" and Gilley is prominently featured as one of the film's musical stars...) On the first few songs, Gilley's basically hamming it up on sentimental oldies such as "I Overlooked An Orchid" and "Window Up Above," but when he gets to dynamic new material like "Don't The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time," things really start to perk up. Once he got past his career slump, Gilley added a certain Jerry Lee-ish ooompf to the Country charts, though he could also pull off croony romantic material with a certain weary conviction that also has its merits. This collection has too many cover tunes, and a surplus of slower material, but when he hits the mark, it's still quite nice.
Mickey Gilley "The Crazy Cajun Recordings" (Edsel, 1999)
Mickey Gilley "Lonely Wine" (Astro, 1964)
Mickey Gilley "Down The Line" (Paula, 1967)
Mickey Gilley "Room Full Of Roses" (Playboy, 1974)
Mickey Gilley "City Lights" (Playboy, 1975)
Mickey Gilley "Movin' On" (Playboy, 1975)
Mickey Gilley "Overnight Sensation" (Playboy, 1975)
Mickey Gilley "Smokin' " (Playboy, 1976)
Mickey Gilley "First Class" (Playboy, 1977)
Mickey Gilley "Flyin' High" (Playboy, 1978)
Mickey Gilley "The Songs We Made Love To" (Epic, 1979)
Mickey Gilley "Mickey Gilley" (Epic, 1979)
Mickey Gilley "That's All That Matters To Me" (Epic, 1980)
Mickey Gilley "Encore" (Epic, 1980)
Mickey Gilley "You Don't Know Me" (Epic, 1981)
Mickey Gilley "Christmas At Gilley's" (Epic, 1981)
Mickey Gilley "Put Your Dreams Away" (Epic, 1982)
Mickey Gilley "Fool For Your Love" (Epic, 1983)
Mickey Gilley "You Really Got A Hold On Me" (Epic, 1983)
Mickey Gilley & Charly McClain "It Takes Believers" (Epic, 1984)
Mickey Gilley "Too Good To Stop Now" (Epic, 1984)
Mickey Gilley "Live At Gilley's" (Epic, 1985)
Mickey Gilley "I Feel Good About Loving You" (Epic, 1985)
Mickey Gilley "One And Only" (Epic, 1986)
Mickey Gilley "Back To The Basics" (Epic, 1987)
Mickey Gilley "Chasin' Rainbows" (Airborne, 1989)
Mickey Gilley "I Saw The Light" (Arrival, 1996)
Hick Music Index