That Sun Records Sound

Nina Jones, manager at Memphis’s refurbished Sun Studio, shares seven essential tracks recorded at 706 Union Avenue

photo: Tim Bower

“The Wolf Is at Your Door (Howlin’ for My Baby)”
Howlin’ Wolf

“Sam Phillips claimed that the Wolf was his all-time favorite artist to record. He had a raw, gruff sound that was exactly what Sam was looking for. When Sam heard him sing, he said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of a man never dies.’”

“Blue Suede Shoes”
Carl Perkins

“When most people hear this song, they think of Elvis. Perkins wrote it, performed it, and saw it top the charts before Elvis ever touched it. My favorite behind-the-scenes fact: Sam promised that whoever gave him the first gold record would get a brand-new Cadillac. Sure enough, he bought Perkins a Cadillac for this one—using Perkins’s own royalty money.”

“That’s All Right”
Elvis Presley

“This was the first release from a young kid named Elvis Presley. Fusing blues and country, the song was energy, speed, spirit. It was rock and roll.”

“Great Balls of Fire”
Jerry Lee Lewis

“Wild man Jerry Lee Lewis gave Sun the two biggest hits the label ever had: ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and this one. This song was everything your parents would’ve hated at the time.”

“When Love Comes to Town”
U2 and B. B. King

“After Sun Studio resurfaced in 1985, U2’s Rattle and Hum album showed other artists that we were back on the map.”

“Rocket 88”
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats

“This song features some of the earliest distorted electric guitar, and because of that, it is considered by many music historians to be the first rock-and-roll song in history.”

“Cry Cry Cry”
Johnny Cash

“Cash came here with gospel songs. ‘Go home and sin,’ Sam Phillips allegedly told him, ‘and then come back.’ Cash then wrote ‘Hey Porter’ matched with the B-side ‘Cry Cry Cry.’ He became Sun’s most consistent hit maker.”