To Young's credit, he goes for it all the way, even adopting an authentic wardrobe and hairstyle for the album's packaging and videos. He rechristens the band Neil and the Shocking Pinks and credits them on the cover, making them the first band other than Crazy Horse to receive that honour. And rather than padding the experiment with leftovers from other albums, his nine originals here all fit the album's narrow archetype to a T. The details are all there, from the lyrics to the guitar sounds to the backing vocals.
And therein lies the problem: Young brings nothing new to the table here, failing to putting his own spin on the style. That leaves Rockin' as little more than a dress-up party with nothing of lasting substance.
His cover of "Mystery Train", which sounds just like the original, highlights the lack of imagination here. Sure, Young pulls it off, but so what? Go back and listen to a Crazy Horse raver like "Sedan Delivery" or "Drive Back". Wouldn't you rather hear that band covering "Mystery Train"? At least they'd put their own spin on it. Or what about covering some other song in this chosen style? On his last album Young had turned "Mr. Soul" into an electro-dirge. Why not do "Barstool Blues" or "Homegrown" as a doo-wop number? It might be awful, but at least he'd be trying something different.
Rockin' isn't an outright terrible album; if you like old-time rock n' roll it's a reasonable facsimile, but it's ultimately pointless. And while I don't for a moment doubt Young's sincerity in the project and love for the the music to which it pays tribute, he can't help but sound kind of funny. And cheesy. It's a decent album if you don't listen too hard, but on closer inspection it's a disappointing failure. The fact that Young skips over it entirely on Lucky Thirteen shows that he knows it, too.
The opener is a promising enough start, but the album doesn't really get much better (or change much) from there. "Payola Blues", a rant about corrupt radio programmers dedicated to Alan Freed, manages the neat trick of being simultaneously topical and nostalgic. It's also notable for its amusing backing vocal line: "Casssh-a-wadda-wadda". But unlike Trans, there aren't really any overlooked treasures here, just a bunch of fair-to-middling tunes.
Buy it... on vinyl.
From my deck to you: Neil and the Shocking Pinks -
"Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes" and "Payola Blues"... hey, that rhymes.
NOTE: Looks like this one's fallen out of print as well. No great loss there. If you're interested, Amazon "stocks" it as an mp3 download, but I've never bought a music download from Amazon, so I can't vouch for their choice of bitrate, have no idea if they use DRM, etc.