Class of ’55 is a 1986 album by rock and roll pioneers Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.
While the album was in part a tribute to Elvis Presley, it was mainly a commemoration of those young performing hopefuls, the four album participants, as had Presley, all began their careers with Sun Records in the 1950s. Recorded at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios and completed at American Sound Studios, the album was documented by Dick Clark Productions, which filmed it from start to finish; by The Commercial Appeal, the Mid-South’s largest circulation newspaper; and by Nine-O-One Network Magazine, the first edition of which was sold with the album in a telemarketing package.
The final song of the session, “Big Train (from Memphis)”, written by John Fogerty, includes the blended voices of John Fogerty, The Judds, Dave Edmunds, Ricky Nelson, Sam Phillips, and June Carter Cash. Fogerty told a reporter that he was thinking about the old Sun Records sound when he wrote the song. The extended finale of the song features the singers singing lines from various Sun Records songs, including “That’s All Right Mama”, “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, “Folsom Prison Blues” and others.
Producer Chips Moman encountered a major issue following the recording sessions, as Cash was still under contract to Columbia Records at the time and proper permissions had not been obtained. Faced with the possibility of having to remove Cash’s voice from the recordings, Moman paid Columbia $100,000 for the rights to keep Cash on the record. At this time, the America/Smash label was affiliated with PolyGram, which in turn also owned Mercury Records to which Cash would sign shortly after recording Class of ’55.
The recorded “Interviews from the Class of ’55 Recording Sessions” earned the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for the four performers plus for producer Chips Moman, Sam Phillips and Ricky Nelson. For Nelson, it was his last recording session and only Grammy Award of his career.
Cash, Lewis and Perkins had previously collaborated in 1956 with the Million Dollar Quartet and in 1982 with The Survivors Live.
Dick Clark hosted a TV special with footage of the studio sessions aired on TBS in 1989.