September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Brian Setzer may be the latest hepcat to ride the crest of swing music’s new wave, but one thing’s for sure: This ex-frontman for ’80s rockabilly revivalist trio the Stray Cats is no bandwagon hopper. Setzer’s surprise chart hit album The Dirty Boogie is already his third recorded foray into big-band swing with a rockin’ twist, after 1994’s The Brian Setzer Orchestra and 1996’s Guitar Slinger.

”The success of The Dirty Boogie makes me feel like I haven’t been crazy all this time,” says Setzer. The 39-year-old guitarist’s impeccable timing hasn’t hurt. His remake of the old Louis Prima toe tapper ”Jump, Jive an’ Wail” was serviced to radio around the time that millions of Americans were ogling sexy twentysomethings jitterbugging to the very same tune in that ubiquitous Gap TV ad. The unexpected synergy gave Setzer a leg up on the competition. ”Every little thing helps,” he says, including an encyclopedic grasp of swing music from the ’60s and the ’50s, which Setzer calls ”just the greatest decade for music.”

Here’s his short list of essential swing discs from that era.

Bobby Darin, Darin at the Copa (1960): ”It swings like nobody’s business. Darin was mixing rock and swing back then too.”

Frank Sinatra, Sinatra at the Sands (1966): ”He’s got Count Basie’s band backing him, but Quincy Jones came in and rocked up the old Nelson Riddle arrangements. Everybody plays their ass off here.”

Louis Jordan, No Moe! Louis Jordan’s Greatest Hits (1992): ”Jordan played jump blues, but he threw a lot of curveballs in his music. There was jazz mixed in there, and hysterical lyrics. He’s really rocking it on this record.”

First Time! The Count Meets the Duke (1961): ”Kinda self-explanatory, don’t ya think? This is a clash of the big-band titans — Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Smokin’.”

Les Brown, At the Hollywood Palladium (1955): ”Les was an alto-sax player who arranged music for Bob Hope, but he also had his own band. This is another smoking session. Beautiful arrangements for the five saxes.

”Of course,” Setzer adds, ”if you want to hear swing with some rocking guitar, you’ve gotta buy my album!”

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