Saturday, June 6, 2020

Rock And Roll, Part 2

No, not the Gary Glitter song …

Just some of your comments and suggestions about the earliest rock and roll songs!

Yes!  Oh, YES! 
'Rock Around the Clock' ~ Bill Haley & the Comets is THE one …
And we knew it then and we know it now. 
Glad we agree! 
And thanx for keepin' on keepin' on!

I go with Rock Around The Clock.
I like most of the other so called first Rock and Roll songs too, but Rock Around The Clock sounds like a Rock and Roll record.
The only other song I can think of that could have opened Blackboard Jungle would have been Tutti Frutti, but Rock Around the Clock works better … plus it has that great guitar solo in it.  It's just the prototype to what Rock & Roll sounds like.

That’s another thing I didn’t even bring up …

After its use in “Blackboard Jungle,” “Rock Around The Clock” paved the way for many of the other hottest rock stars of the era to perform THEIR songs on the silver screen.  All of a sudden you could see the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and Frankie Lymon and a host of others, all blasting out the latest trends in this hot new music fad.  Between films like “The Girl Can’t Help It” and a few Alan Freed flicks, (as well as at least a dozen others), kids now had a reason to go to the movie theater and dance in the aisles!  Just one more way “Rock Around The Clock” drove the music home to a brand new generation of music fans.  (kk)   

With regard to 'Rock Around The Clock' being used in 'Blackboard Jungle,' I can tell you that it was pure accident/coincidence that led to it's inclusion. 
Back in 2006, I, along with my friend Fred, was invited to the home of actor Glenn Ford by his son Peter.  Peter is also an actor.  Anyway, Peter told me personally that when he was a kid and his father was filming 'Blackboard Jungle,' the producer came to their house to discuss some aspect of the movie.  By pure coincidence, he was in his bedroom down the hallway playing his pop records on a record player when he just happened to put 'Rock Around The Clock' on the turntable.  Hearing the song through the open door, the producer enquired of Glenn, 'What is that I can hear?' 
'Oh, that's just my son Peter playing his records', Glenn replied. 
'Well that song, whatever it is, is just what we need for the movie'. 
And that is how 'Rock Around The Clock' came to be in the movie. 
Sadly, I never got to meet Glenn, as Peter said his father was very ill with Alzheimer's disease upstairs in his bedroom.  Seven weeks after my visit, Glenn died. 
George Van Win,
Chelmsford, England
Here is a photo of Peter Ford and myself taken in the driveway of Glenn Ford's house in Beverley Hills.

I’ve heard that same story several times over the years … (from Glenn himself, in fact!!!) ... talk about fate!  
And, as I mentioned before, the song was already a year old … Bill Haley and the Comets first released it in 1954 and, other than a two week appearance on the Cash Box chart, it went virtually unnoticed, never even “bubbling under” in Billboard.
A year later, it was the biggest thing on the radio, topping the Billboard Chart for eight weeks, the Cash Box Chart for seven and the Music Vendor Chart for four … all thanks to its inclusion in the film, which revitalized the track.
Haley remained very popular in England until his dying day … and, in the late ‘50’s, everyone from Paul McCartney to John Lennon to Graham Nash (and countless others) came out to see him. All, of course, would go on to become famous rockers in their own right.  (kk)

The first rock and roll record has long been debated.  
As a record collector, I have been to many garage and estate sales.  An early record
that shows up from time to time is 'Crazy Man, Crazy' by Bill Haley and the Comets.  It is listed as the first rock and roll record to make the National Charts, and it did that in 1953, two years prior to 'Rock Around The Clock.'  It was more of a novelty song at the time. 
I realize that there were many others that came before such as 'Rocket 88,' … however, if you go by the American record buying public, ‘Crazy Man, Crazy’ seems to have sold well.
Phil – WRCO
Bill Haley charted EIGHT times on the pop charts before “Rock Around The Clock” went to #1 in 1955.  “Crazy Man, Crazy” was his first … it peaked at #15 on Billboard’s Best Sellers Chart in 1953.  Then came his Cash Box appearance with “Rock Around The Clock” in July of 1954.  (It peaked at #36.)  This was followed by “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” a #7 hit a month later.  (This song is considered to be a rock and roll classic … yet if you really listen to Bill Haley’s version, it doesn’t really sound all that different from the country swing tunes he was turning out with The Saddlemen.  My guess is that he hadn’t even realized it for himself yet that he was actually on to something!)  [More on The Saddlemen below]
ALL of these would classify as rock and roll hits in my book.  “Dim, Dim The Lights” (#11, 1954), “Happy Baby,” its flipside (#39, 1954), followed by another two-sided hit, “Mambo Rock” (#14, 1955) and “Birth Of The Boogie” (#17) all made the pop charts before “Rock Around The Clock” exploded on the scene in May of 1955.  (“Rock Around The Clock” would chart two more times for Haley … #118 in 1968 and “#36 when it was used as the original theme song for the hit tv series “Happy Days.”
Other Top 40 Pop Hits included “Razzle-Dazzle” (#15, 1955), “Two Hound Dogs” (#31, 1955), “Rock The Joint” (not Top 40, but another rock and roll track that peaked at #53 in 1955), “Burn That Candle” (#9, 1955), “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie” (#23, 1955), “See You Later, Alligator” (#6, 1956), “R-O-C-K” (#16, 1956), “The Saints Rock ‘n’ Roll” (#18, 1956), “Hot Dog Buddy Buddy” (#36, 1956), “Rockin’ Through The Rye” (#39, 1956), “Rip It Up” (#15, 1956), “Teenager’s Mother” (#24, 1956), “Rudy’s Rock” (#34, 1956), “Skinny Minnie” (#22, 1958) and “Joey’s Song” (#35, 1959)  kk

Hi Kent,
I loved the discussion about pinning down the first rock and roll record. My answer is closer to yours, in terms of what record was the first to put rock and roll on the map. For a few decades, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” was the biggest selling single record of all time, except for Bing Crosby's “White Christmas.” As for the “first” rock and roll record, there is probably no perfect answer. It evolved over a long period of time.
For those who don't know this, Bill Haley did not start out as a rock and roller. He was “hillbilly.” His group was called Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, just before “Rock Around the Clock,” when the band was renamed The Comets.
Genre labels aside, Haley was rocking in 1952, even with the Saddlemen. Their hit from that year, “Rock the Joint,” sounds a lot like “Rock Around the Clock.”

But before The Saddlemen, it was Bill Haley and the Four Aces of Western Swing.
Here, there was no hint of either rocking or rolling. Check out their 1949 song, “Yodel Your Blues Away.”
Bill Oakey

I have always loved Haley’s version of “Rock The Joint” … it features a lead guitar solo that is virtually note-for-note the same as the one used on “Rock Around The Clock.”
This guy just wanted to entertain … trying a variety of genres, attempting to find a fit.  The success of “Rock Around The Clock” probably surprised him as much as anybody!  (kk)

I enjoyed your commentary in today's FH regarding which record was considered to be the very first rock and roll record. Tough question and one in which you could ask ten people and get ten different answers.
I read in one of my record books years ago that some people considered the Chords (Crewcuts) 1954 song SH-BOOM to be the first rock and roll record. I don't have an opinion one way or the other. I am just glad that rock and roll came about. I am reminded about the song that the Monotones came out with in 1959 called WHAT IF THERE WASN'T ANY ROCK AND ROLL. I shudder to think of how the music world would have been.
Larry Neal

The Wynone Harris 1948 track is on one of my music mix tapes that I made in 1984. Parallels with George Orwell, perhaps, especially considering what's going on out there in 2020??
Every time I've ever seen/heard somebody claiming Rocket 88 as the first rock and roll record (and there's NO doubt - it is most definitely rock and roll), I have always immediately asked "Okay guys ... so why is Rocket 88 rock and roll, but The Fat Man isn't?"
An argument could even be made, probably successfully, for Louis Jordan "Caldonia" from 1945.  (I don’t know if anybody mentioned this one.)  Somewhere, though, I have long since forgotten the artist and title, I remember seeing somebody attributing rock and roll to some record from 1938 or 1939??
I forgot how early the Wynone Harris single was.  The gospel overtones are blatant in that single.
Oh...and I've ALWAYS considered Chuck Berry, not Elvis, as the "King of rock and roll"
Frank Merrill / Chicago 
Louis Jordan’s name has come up a number of times in our previous discussions on this topic … and for a variety of songs, too.  He certainly was a contributor to (and inspiration for) the rock and roll revolution that was to come behind him. 
I’ve seen Chuck Berry referred to as both the Grandfather and the Godfather of Rock And Roll.  Little Richard said he was “The Architect” … but Jerry Lee Lewis will argue till you walk away that HE was the true King Of Rock And Roll, not Elvis!  (kk)

Gary Theroux, who wrote the syndicated radio series “The History Of Rock And Roll,” offers up these candidates …

(The 1951 filmed version of this song inspired Chuck Berry's first hit, "Maybelline")

OK, Kent, I'll be a smart-a$$ and offer my take on the first "rock and roll" record.
Mike Wolstein

Wow!  1934!  (Can somebody please explain to me again exactly how it was Alan Freed who came up with this term?!?!?)  kk

From FH Reader (and former Illinois Entertainer Publisher) Ken Voss …

The Chess Rock ‘n’ Roll Sessions – Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley
While Chess Records has been renowned as Chicago’s pre-eminent blues label, it was Chess that laid the foundation for rock and roll!
In the mid-50s, the Chuck Berry Combo and was having some success in his hometown St. Louis with a residency at the Cosmopolitan Club. But he knew Chicago was the musical hub of the universe. So, it was off to Chicago where he introduced himself to Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
As described in the book Rough Guide to the Blues, “At this stage, Berry’s music combined R&B, swing, jump blues, a guitar style influenced by both T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian, the sly wit of Louis Jordan, a vocal style modeled on Nat ‘King’ Cole, and even a touch of black hillbilly. From that palette, he fashioned his own unique brand of rock ‘n’ roll. The first song he took to Chess, ‘Ida Red’, had a country influence until Leonard Chess suggested he rewrite it. The song re-emerged with new lyrics. 
Berry headed into Chess Studios on May 21, 1955 to cut the record. His session sidemen included the legendary Willie Dixon on bass, Johnny Johnson on piano, Ebby Hardy on drums with Jerome Green adding maracas.
Chess released the single in July, 1955 with a new title – “Maybelline” (Chess 1604). The song went to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #5 on the Pop chart, selling over one-million copies and becoming a rock and roll classic. The record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its influence on rock and roll. 
Here’s an early video of Berry performing “Maybelline”:
And then there was Bo Diddley. Born in Mississppi (nee Otha Elias Bates), his family sent him to Chicago when he was just six to live with his cousin, Guisse McDaniel, who changed his name to Ellis McDaniel. As teenager, he was a boxer. That was when he acquired the name by which he became best known – Bo Diddley (allegedly a southern slang term meaning ‘nothing at all’ as in ‘he ain’t no bo diddley’). 
Enamored with the blues, he started busking on street corners while he was working a construction job. By 1954, he had switched to electric guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker play and started to get gigs with 19-year-old harmonica player Billy Boy Arnold. Using an amplifier he had fashioned out of an orange crate, they auditioned for Chess Records.
Bo Diddley’s distorted guitar and rhythmic style coupled with Arnold’s signature “stop-time” harp played a major part on the two-sided debut hit “Bo Diddley” b/w “I’m a Man” (Checker 814) that Chess issued in 1955 on their Checker label subsidiary. Rough Guide to the Blues noted, “Not exactly blues, or even straight R&B, although it owned allegiance to both, this was a new kind of earthy, funky, jive-talking, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll that was every bit as revolutionary as the sound being forged by his fellow Chess artist and rival Chuck Berry.” The record went to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #5 on the Pop chart, giving Chess another million selling record. 
In 2012, Bo Diddley’s single was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” American sound recordings. And, in 2017, the single was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Here’s an mid-‘50s video of Bo Diddley performing “Bo Diddley”:
So while many want to credit the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, it was Chess Records that unleashed the sound.
(Illinois Rock & Roll Music Archives
Ken Voss

I’m not disputing any of these credentials … but all of these songs were released at around the same time.  (Haley’s record actually dates back a year, but it bombed the first time around.)
And all of these songs helped to form the very foundation of rock and roll … and each artist was an essential player.
But it was “Rock Around The Clock” that made the whole world take notice.  It kicked off the trend and opened the door, allowing so many other great songs to be able to pass through.
Would “Maybelline” and “Bo Diddley” become the international, genre-defining songs they became without “Rock Around The Clock?”
But it was still “Rock Around The Clock” that paved the way … and inspired a whole new generation to listen to a brand new sound. Soon, rock and roll music was off and running.  It certainly wasn’t our parents’ music … this new “fad” spoke only to us … and we loved it!  (kk)

Hi there Kent,
The debate as to what the very first rock and roll record is has been going on for a very long time, probably ever since the mid sixties. 
There have been many contenders for that historic, landmark first rock and roll record over the years.  There is obviously no right and definitive answer. 
However, having said that, one song that is definitely NOT the first rock and roll record by any means, is Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets! 
I certainly still love the song, and have special pride knowing that I was born on the very day that that song was recorded at Decca's studios in New York.  But it is
certainly by no means the first rock and roll record.  First number 1 rock and roll record maybe, but there are many much earlier records with all the elements of rock and roll in them.
Casey Kasem was once asked that question on his American Top Forty program, and he pointed out back in 1971, that the Boswell Sisters, who were a 1930's forerunner of the even bigger group from the forties, the Andrews Sisters, actually recorded a song back in 1935 called Rock And Roll.  This song was obviously not even close to being rock and roll … it was from the very beginning of the big band era.  Nevertheless, it did have the title of rock and roll. Rock and Roll in this case referred to the rocking and rolling of the ocean. 
Going back even further, in 1922 gospel singer Trixie Smith recorded a song called My Man Rocks Me With A Steady Roll. Now, I am in no way suggesting that these songs should be considered contenders for the first rock and roll record.  I'm only
pointing out how early the phrase rock and roll was being used and recorded in songs.
So, let's explore a few of the real contenders for first rock and roll song. 
Some people have suggested Caldonia by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five from 1945 as a contender for the first rock and roll record.  Admittedly, the song has a catchy shuffle boogie beat, but as far as I'm concerned, the arrangement is much more big band than rhythm and blues and rock and roll, so I personally reject that song as a contender.
Kent, you mentioned Wynonie Harris's 1948 recording of Good Rocking Tonight, which has often been considered a contender for the first rock and roll song.  Elvis Presley would record that song as the A side of Sun #210, which was released in October of 1954.  But the man that wrote the song, Roy Brown, actually recorded the song a year earlier than Wynonie Harris back in 1947. 
Then there are a pair of songs recorded by the Wild Bill Moore Sextet.  One song is called Rock And Roll and the other is called We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll.  If you listen to these songs from around 1948, they definitely have the distinctive rock and roll beat, plus the sax solos that were so typical of early songs by early rock and roll groups like the Cadillacs, El Dorados, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Little Richard and Fats Domino.
I have heard Wild Wayne's suggestion of The Fatman by Fats Domino quite frequently as a strong contender for the first rock and roll record, especially since he broke out in the rock and roll genre starting in 1955 with Ain't That A Shame.  Fats was always amused when people started calling him a rock and roll star.  He used to say in interviews, "I am playing the same kind of music that I always have.  They used to call it rhythm and blues, but now they are calling it rock and roll."
Likewise, some of Bill Haley's earlier material gets strong votes for first rock and roll record, particularly Rock The Joint from 1952 by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, which copies the lead guitar solo of Rock Around The Clock note for note.  The big difference is that there is Hawaiian guitar in the Saddlemen's recording. But then, you have to go back to Jimmy Preston's original 1949 version of the song. 
Another Bill Haley contender is Crazy Man, Crazy released in 1953.  Rocket 88 by
Jackie Brenston with his Delta Cats, really Ike Turner and his Cats of Rhythm, is another very strong contender.  Many people don't even realize that Bill Haley recorded a version of that song as well. 
Then, of course, there's Gee by the Crows which, like Haley's recording of Rock Around The Clock, was first released on the Rama label in May of 1953.  But it was the ballad side of the record, I Love You So, which six years later would be resurrected by the Chantells, that was the strongest side of the record.  By the end of 1953, both sides of the record pretty much died.
But then something interesting happened. 
Los Angeles disc jockey Huggie Boy Hugg had an argument with his girlfriend, and she loved the song Gee, though Huggie Boy didn't much care for the tune. But he started playing it nonstop on the air, and his girlfriend called and told him to stop playing that song.  Interestingly, though it was clearly a rhythm and blues song on an RNB label, Gee jumped onto the L.A. pop charts first, which was highly unusual, followed later by the RNB charts, and the song was finally revived nationwide in April of 1954.  By that time, the song was almost a year old.  I know that this song has been considered a real contender as the first rock and roll song, but to me,
although it has a pleasant bouncy beat, the guitar solo in the middle of the song sounds more like a jazz solo than a rock solo.
Now, Sh-Boom by the Chords recorded that same year to me is a very strong contender as the first rock song of all time.  It got a lot of exposure, and the Chords even appeared on the Colgate Hour TV show in August of 1954.  Its impact on white America was certainly somewhat lessened by the Crew Cut's white cover version, but with the driving drum beat, blistering sax solo and tight group harmony and the group's bass singer's solo, this song certainly has all the elements of early rock and roll for sure.
Another song that really rocks, although it's an instrumental, is Red Prysock's 1951 song Hand Clapping.  If you're not rocking by the end of that song, man you're dead.
Well, those are just some of my thoughts on the subject of the first rock and roll record.  I just wish I had been able to read that Ed Parker series.  I know I would have been extremely interested in it and would have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sam Ward

Sam just named most of the most popular contenders for this title, many of which were also cited by other readers above.
We could easily add another dozen or two R&B classics from about 1948 – 1954 that also fit the bill of rock and roll … it’s just that nobody was identifying it as such yet at this time.  (Black artists would rightfully argue that the white artists stole their music … and, to a degree, much of this was true.  Some would refine it, some would add a little bit more to it … but I’ll still take Elvis Presley singing “That’s All Right, Mama” over Pat Boone singing ANY Little Richard tune!!!  Lol)
There is no correct answer to the question “What Was The Very First Rock And Roll Record?”  A solid case can be made for every title listed in today’s posting.
But again I go back to what I said originally …
The song that IGNITED the Rock And Roll Craze was “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets.
Yes, other songs existed before that that exhibited all of the characteristics and tendencies of rock and roll music …
Between all of us, I’m sure we could easily come up with a couple more hundred of titles that ABSOLUTELY fit the bill, exhibiting ALL of the right characteristics … many of which came BEFORE Haley’s big #1 Hit …
But again, NONE of those songs grabbed the whole world by its ear and made them take note and listen.
Once we were all listening, all these other great tunes found a new audience … and a massive one at that.  They were no longer anybody’s “best kept secret.”  Those of us truly bitten by the bug researched things even further to learn more about the genre … that is why so many of the titles listed thus far in this series are at least somewhat familiar to the majority of us reading (or writing) this today.
But the song that TRIGGERED it … the one that drove it home and turned the whole world upside down was “Rock Around The Clock.”  After that, Rock And Roll exploded … and, thankfully, the world has never been the same since.  (kk)