There's always been a difference of opinion ...
What was the first Rock & Roll Recording?
Some say "ROCKET 88" ...
Others say "GEE."
Wild Wayne says its this Fats Domino song from December 10, 1949.
I go with "ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK."
What do you think?
It's been a debate for as long as rock and roll music has existed ... and all of those titles are good candidates (although I'd have to say that I've seen "The Fat Man" credited least out of these choices.)
As you can imagine, we've covered the opinions of our readers numerous times over the years here in Forgotten Hits, making cases for these and many other deserving tracks along the way.
The term Rock and Roll was euphemism for sex ... black slang, if you will. There was rockin' and rollin' goin' on LONG before people came up with the music to play along as the soundtrack! (And long before DJ Alan Freed supposedly coined the phrase.)
You've got to remember that Rock And Roll Music was actually a hybrid of Rhythm and Blues (Soul Music, or Race Music as it was called at the time, which itself sprang from Gospel) and Hillbilly / Country and Western. Early rock and roll artists added an extra kick, a growl and perhaps a hips swivel, and pretty soon it became the music of the younger generation.
"Rocket 88" came out in 1951 and topped Billboard's R&B Best Sellers List for nine weeks. "Gee" wasn't released until 1954. And how about The Dominoes' "Sixty-Minute Man," also from 1951 ... by 1951 standards, these lyrics were just as shocking and controversial as some of the rap music we're subjected to today ... it all boils down to sex. (And who doesn't like sex???) The key to a successful fad is finding something that most people can relate to ... and this one is universal.
But before ANY of those tunes, Wynonie Harris was already singing about "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1948, which even predates Wild Wayne's Fats Domino suggestion.
We've already explored how artists like Kay Starr (of all people!) had the first #1 Hit with the words "Rock And Roll" in the title when her "Rock And Roll Waltz" topped the charts at the start of 1956. And Etta James was making her point a full year earlier with "The Wallflower," featuring a chorus that begged "Roll with me, Henry" ... pretty bold for its time ... and damn near twenty years before Helen Reddy roared "I Am Woman!"
When Forgotten Hits first launched in 1999, we ran excerpts from a series written by Ed Parker (many of you old timers know him and remember him as JacoFan) tracing rock and roll back to its true roots. (Usually when you listen to a radio program, produced to reach and appeal to a mass audience with the most common denominator, you're pretty much confined to primarily only hearing the biggest hits or key tracks and artists of any particular era. Thus, programs like The History Of Rock And Roll, profiling the most popular songs and artists of the rock era in both a year-by-year and key artists fashion, and Bob Stroud's Rock And Roll Roots, covering primarily the music of the '60's and '70's, by which time we were already 10+ years into the evolution of rock, serve their purpose and present very entertaining and enlightening programming) ... but Parker's series dug deep ... REAL deep ... into the evolution and TRUE roots of rock and roll, finding popular tendencies, phrases and familiar traits dating all the way back to the 1920's and, in some cases, the late 1800's! Heck, he even exposed a few signature, trademark licks, long believed to have originated thru the genius of Chuck Berry, that other artists were already playing note-for-note some ten years earlier!) It was a VERY eye-opening series ... but its appeal was limited to only the most die-hard fans looking to take that long trip back and research the evolution of rock and roll ... and all the other musical genres it passed through along the way.)
That's why it's just easier to accept somebody as commercial and well-loved as Chuck Berry as The Godfather of Rock And Roll and Elvis Presley as, if not the inventor, then certainly the KING (and poster child) of Rock And Roll Music.
Most research books I've seen over the past fifty years cite the appearance of "Rock Around The Clock" in the motion picture "Blackboard Jungle" as the catalyst that launched rock and roll for all the world to see. (Ironically, Bill Haley and the Comets had actually recorded the song a year earlier and it did absolutely nothing ... nobody even noticed ... but once the film came out, music was never the same again ... and then rock and roll had to change its "juvenile delinquent" reputation!) This song ushered in The Rock Era and turned the world on its ear. Yes, there were rock and roll songs before it ... but nobody knew how to classify them as such at the time ... and they certainly never reached the audience that this one single song did ... around the world.
As such, it HAS to be considered the ANTHEM of Rock And Roll ... or, at the very least, its Theme Song. Technically, it may not be the very first rock and roll song ... but its the one that ignited the "fad" that was supposed to burn out some 65+ years ago now. (Then why are we all still here writing and reading about it today?!?!)
Haley didn't have the poster boy good looks of an Elvis Presley so he was quickly elevated to Teen Idol status as soon as his first RCA records began to hit the charts. (The earlier Sun material, good as it was, never reached the audience to do so ... yet today, tracks like "That's All Right, Mama" rank right up there with the very best in rock and roll history ... and it never even charted!!!) Before you could blink, Elvis was on the cover of every teenage magazine on the market. (Similarly, look at all those early Beatles singles released in 1963 that couldn't even turn a head before "I Want To Hold Your Hand" exploded in '64, changing the music scene forever.)
So many other heroes followed ... and SO many great songs that took rock and roll in so many other directions ... but if you're going to pin me down to naming the record that started it all, that would have to be, hands down, all in, final answer, "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. (kk)