Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Best of the Pre-Rock Era

We've been receiving more and more of your responses to our brand quest to determine The Most Important and Influential Songs of the Pre-Rock Era ... although admittedly, this time the votes and nominations have been "trickling in" more so than swamping our mailboxes.
Part of the reason may be that we have intentionally NOT defined what we're looking for ... that's because we want the list to come from YOU!!!
We're getting the obvious ... "Sixty Minute Man" by Billy Ward and the Dominoes, "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brensten and his Delta Cats and early rock hits like "Shake, Rattle And Roll" (votes have come in for both the Big Joe Turner AND the Bill Haley and the Comets versions), "Good Rockin' Tonight" by Wynonie Harris and "Hound Dog" by Big Mama Thornton ...
"Timeless" tracks that folks just HAVE to be aware of like "Cry" by Johnnie Ray, "That's Amore'" by Dean Martin and "Rag Mop" by The Ames Brothers ...
Endorsements for the "entire catalog" of artists like Louis Jordan and Hank Williams ...
And many, many more in between.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll continue to tabulate your votes and take your nominations ... from time to time, we'll feature a track or two ... maybe even an artist profile here and there ... and update you with list of some of the current leaders ...
But, by May 1st, we'd like to wind things down and prepare the final list of "Can't Miss / Must Have" songs from 1940 - 1955.  (kk)
Here are just a few of the comments we've received so far ...
This just might turn out to be one of the most interesting series you've ever done.  While I, myself, don't feel qualified enough to even cast a vote, I can't wait to see the results.
I think there are going to be some strong opinions on this topic.  I hope this doesn't degenerate into "My-List-Rules-Your-List-Sucks", but we'll see.
Ed Erxleben
We're not going to let that happen, Ed ... all we're doing is the vote tabulating ... and we're not going to publish anybody's complete list to be compared to anyone else's.  (Although you WILL find some nominations and commentary below as to their feeling of justification for some of these tracks!)
Our point is more to establish a list of songs that oldies fans should be aware of ... and radio should not ignore ... if attempting to truly present both "The Greatest Hits of All-Time" and "The History of Rock And Roll.)  Quite honestly, I don't even know yet how long that list will be ... again, it's in YOUR hands ... the voters ... to determine the final outcome.  Whether we've 20, 50 or 100 clear and obvious "front-runners", THAT'S the list we're going to run ... and, along the way, hopefully feature a few of these tracks for some of the folks on the list "new" to this kind of music.  Does it sounded old and dated?  Yeah, some of it does ... and some of it REALLY does ... but this is still the precursor to the music we all grew up loving and falling in love with ... so in that respect, I think you're right ... this just might turn out to be one of the most interesting topics we've ever taken on!  (kk)
Hello Kent,
Pre-rock can be traced all the way back to “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” in 1928.  For me, that’s a good starting point.  Did you know that the Boswell Sisters had a #7 hit in 1934 with “Rock And Roll”?  Swing bands and boogie pianists such as Freddie Slack were big influences, as were some novelty acts such as Slim & Slam’s “Tutti Frutti” in 1938.  
However, I’m going to focus on the late 1940s which was a very important breeding ground for the 1955 rock and roll breakout into Top 40 radio.  Here are a few artists and songs that were highly influential:
Hank Williams … how do you pick one title – impossible.  From his 1947 debut “Move It On Over” through “Take These Chains From My Heart” in 1953, his songwriting and performances with His Drifting Cowboys band made him the most influential country artist in history!  
Louis Jordan … like Hank Williams, I find it impossible to pick one title.  His innovative vocal style created a long string of R&B hits.  From “Caldonia” to “Saturday Night Fish Fry” he deserved his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Infuence”!
Joel Whitburn
I consider rock and roll to be a combination of R&B and country.
To me Hank Williams definitely counts. 
I have a bunch of these pre-R&R songs in my MP3 player.
Mark the Shark
If my neighbor Trudy Stamper had had her way, we'd have never heard Hank Williams. 
Trudy Stamper is 94 and doesn't get out and about much these days, but she was a major force in the country music industry.  Trudy went to work for WSM in the late 1930s, and filled numerous roles there through the years.  She became, among other things, the talent coordinator / booking person at The Grand Ole Opry.  She was quite active with the Opry through the 40s, 50s, and early 60s.  Anyone who played the Opry worked through Trudy for scheduling and PR work.  (Google the name Trudy Stamper along with Patsy Cline or Hank Williams -- she and Patsy were best buds)  Trudy has told me the story of the day an unknown Hank Williams appeared in her office and sang a couple of songs for her.  She told him she didn't like his music and that he should go back home and find a job doing something else.  Fortunately, he had contacts who helped him overcome Trudy's "gatekeeping", so history took the turn we're all familiar with.  Trudy helped lots of stars get their start with the Opry, but she didn't want to promote Hank. 
And this reminds me I need to stop in and chat with her.  It's been a while, and she has such great stories ....
David Lewis
We would LOVE to have Trudy share some of her stories with our readers.  (In hindsight, does she feel differently about Hank Williams' music today???)  kk
You know this would be quite an interesting format. I only included two songs, tops, by any performer. Obviously some of these artists have a massive catalog that predates 1955, I'd be here all nite doing this then. The more questions you raise Kent, the more I wonder if any radio programmer has any idea of what they're doing.
Hi, Kent -
I'm not quite as familiar with 1940-1954 but I've heard quite a number of tunes from that era and when I was a kid my mom and her mom had lots of 78s and LPs.
Without question "Rocket 88" belongs on such a list.
"If I Didn't Care" by the Ink Spots - "Oh Baby Mine (I Get So Lonely) (can't remember artist) - "Doggie in the Window" and "Tennessee Waltz" by Patti Page-  Les Paul & Mary Ford, a strong early influence I think - "Mule Train"  and "Jezebel"  by Frankie Laine (he kind of sort of had "the beat"!!!)  - and, yes, even the wailing country sound of Hank Williams ("I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") -- Johnnie Ray's "Cry" - early R&B groups including Lena Horne, the early 50s doo-woppers (way too numerous to mention!), "Gypsy In My Soul" (can't remember group's name),  "Ling Ting Tong"  and even "Baubles, Bangles & Beads" as jazzed up by the Kirby Stone Four!
I'm sure that many of the others will surprise me and come up with hundreds more - many of which I've not heard in many years.  Oh--let's not forget to give Peggy Lee her due--"Golden Earrings", etc.  (She had just as many post-1956 hits, didn't she!!) 
During the late fifties - early sixties, a lot of the songs I heard on the radio were new songs, or so I thought. However, my parents told me otherwise.  They said sometimes that the song in particular that I was listening to at the time came out originally in the forties or maybe early fifties.
I remember one day in 1972 one of my nephews and I were in the car and Michael Jackson's song of ROCKIN' ROBIN came on the radio.  I started to sing along with it. My nephew looked at me and was surprised that I knew the words to that song. I told him that it came out originally in 1958 and done by a singer by the name of Bobby Day. What goes around comes around.
Just recently Frannie got an email from a friend saying how much they enjoyed the way the Glee kids did "that Santana song".  Having watched the episode, we knew that the song they were referring to was "She's Not There", a #1 Smash by The Zombies in 1964 ... 13 years before Santana recorded their remake.  (By the way, I was quite impressed, too, by the way the Glee kids handled this song.)
The WORST example I can think of was back in 1973 / 1974 when I was out somewhere at a party and "Cherish" by The Association came on the radio.  One of the girls at the party exclaimed, "Oh my God, listen ... somebody else is doing that David Cassidy song!!!"  That's when I realized (at a VERY early age) that we were DOOMED to only remember the music that fit OUR generation ... another reason why oldies radio is SO important when it comes to educating our youth.  SO many songs are "sampled" these days and for years now I've heard my kids walking around the house singing the catchy chorus of some brand new rap song they heard on the radio, only to find that it's REALLY a song from 20+ years ago where they built a whole new rap around this catchy melody.  Not surprising really ... let's face it, there aren't a whole lot of "melodies" coming out anymore.  I cannot help but wonder, 20 years from NOW, if these future adults will get some angry rap song stuck in their head at work where half they lyrics are bleeped out because they're simply not appropriate for radio airplay.  (kk)
"Ain't That Just Like A Woman" - Louis Jordan. 
The source of "Johnny B. Goode"'s opening guitar riff, taken note-for-note by Chuck Berry 12 years later.
"Freight Train Boogie" - The Delmore Brothers. 
The sound that Elvis popularized and is sadly credited with creating.  Elvis was eleven years old when this was recorded on February 12, 1946, for King Records.  Jethro Burns on electric guitar; Wayne Raney on harmonica.
"Hot Rod Race" - Arkie Shibley. 
The hillbilly equivalent to "Maybellene" -five years earlier.
"Good Rockin' Tonight" - Wynonie Harris. 
A #1 R&B hit in 1948.  An amazing record, this inspired countless songs with the word "rock" or "rocking" in their title.  Harris was the source for Elvis' hip shakes and lip curl.
"Gee" by the Crows. 
Not the first doo-wop record but one of the first during the so-called "rock era" to make an impression on the era's youth.
"Hound Dog" - Big Mama Thornton. 
The original - and hands down best - version of this classic.  Put songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in the rock 'n' roll spotlight.
"I Wonder" / Cecil Boogie - Cecil Gant. 
Rock's first picture disc, 1944. "I Wonder" was a highly influential blues ballad.  "Cecil Boogie) was the flipside of "I Wonder" ... and it really rocks.
"Work With Me Annie" - Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. 
Considered "smut" at the time, this was a #1 R&B record in 1954.  The 1950's vocal group sound at its raw and dirty best.
"Rocket 88" - Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats,
(But really Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm.  Brenston was Ike's under aged sax player.  The first rock 'n' roll record?  Not to me, but a great track just the same.)
"The Train Kept A-Rollin'" - Tiny Bradshaw. 
The original version from 1951, done jump blues style.  Remade in rockabilly form in 1956 by the Johnny Burnette / Rock 'n' Roll Trio, again by the Yardbirds in '65, and again by Aerosmith in '74.  Reportedly the first tune Zeppelin ever rehearsed when they got together in '68.  LZ opened their shows with "Train" in 1980.
"Moanin' At Midnight" - Howlin' Wolf. 
Raw and powerful.  Wolf, like Muddy Waters and other great electric bluesmen, was a strong inspiration to white rockers in the 1960's.  Jimmy Page cites Wolf as his greatest blues influence.
"T-Bone Boogie" - T-Bone Walker. 
Here we have Chuck Berry licks a full ten years before Chuck Berry emerged on the scene.
"I Can't Be Satisfied" - Muddy Waters. 
Amplified Delta blues at its finest. 
"I Miss You So" - The Cats & The Fiddle. 
One of the links between pop vocal groups the Mills Brothers & The Ink Spots and doo-wop.  This is their biggest hit, released in May 1940.
"Bye Bye Baby Blues" - The Ravens. 
The first of the "bird groups".
"The Boogie Rocks" - Albert Ammons. 
The title says it all.
"Guitar Boogie" - Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. 
Again, the title says it all.  A severely overlooked guitar great.
"Rock The Joint" - Jimmy Preston. 
The 1949 original cut for Gotham Records.
"Rock The Joint" - Bill Haley & The Saddlemen. 
While not the first to do so, Haley took an R&B tune and put the country boogie spin on it - a few years before Elvis.
"Strange Things Happen Every Day" - Sister Rosetta Tharpe. 
Gospel boogie  from 1944.
"Junker Blues" - Champion Jack Dupree. 
The inspiration for "The Fat Man" by Fats Domino
"Chicken Shack Boogie" - Amos Milburn. 
A major inspiration on Fats Domino.  This one rocks!
"Down The Road Apiece" - The Will Bradley Trio. 
 A very cool, laid-back record.  Covered by Amos Milburn, Chuck Berry, and the Stones.
"Lover" - Les Paul. 
'Nuff said!
"How High The Moon" - Les Paul & Mary Ford. 
Oh, that guitar!
Ed Parker (JacoFan)
Wait a minute.  Do you want to compile a list of the 100 most influential SONGS of the pre-1955 era, the 100 most influential RECORDINGS prior to 1955, OR the 100 tracks or songs which were precursors to rock 'n' roll?  Those are three very different lists.
A genuine list of the 100 most influential songs or recordings of the pre-1955 would probably include some rock or rock-like entries but from a cultural and musical standpoint in general THAT ASPECT of those listings was of truly marginal importance.  The pre-rock era had some terrific tunes and superb recordings which I invite anyone who thinks that music began with Bill Haley in 1955 to check out.  (Haley himself had already had several hits by that time, such as "Crazy Man Crazy.") 
Aside from rock era collections, I have put loads of CD sets together of music from before "Rock Around the Clock."  There's a WEALTH of wonderful stuff available one can sample on YouTube and elsewhere if you know what to look for.  The 100 most influential songs and recordings of the pre-rock years did indeed have significant impact on the music of their time and beyond --even into the rock era -- because they were a part of an ongoing cultural and musical evolution.  Hee's one tiny sample, another version of which has gotten over three million YouTube hits!  (Not sure why, as the famous opening notes of this 1939 #1 hit are cut off on that posting). 
Of note:  There have been chart versions of this tune in nearly every decade since the song was written.
Gary Theroux
Here's the approach we'd like to take with this whole project ... and certainly one that YOU can relate to. 
Let's just say that your assignment is to put together the ULTIMATE compilation CD Box Set ... the most important, influential songs of the pre-rock era, 1940 - 1955 ... except for THIS list there are NO restrictions ... no licensing agreements to consider ... nothing ... just the ULTIMATE List of songs that YOU would use to introduce a novice (or hard-core fan) to the music of this pivital era.  They can be ANYTHING ... from ANY genre of music ... but it HAS to be the music that mattered most.  (As such, even 
mutual favorites like Spike Jones and/or Stan Freberg probably deserve a spot or two on this list!)  And so do artists like Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole and the aforementioned crooners of the day ... so does somebody like Hank Williams and Hank Snow ... Louis Jordan and Louis Prima ... Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown and Ruth Brown ... like I said, I don't really care how LONG the list is ... as long as it accurately profiles those songs and artists DESERVING of a spot there.
We just want your votes and nominations ... and then, once we've established the clear cut leaders, we'll compile a list and ask you all to vote again, ultimately establishing the ULTIMATE list!
So keep 'em comin', folks ... let's continue to tabulate until May 1st ... and then we'll start to narrow the list down to The Best Of The Best.  (Watch for periodic updates and special features between now and then!)