- First rock and roll record
There are many candidates for the title of the first rock and roll record, but it is arguable whether any such thing exists. Like all forms of music, the roots of "
rock and roll" are deep and wide. But it is clear that rock and roll developed during the period between 1916 – when the words "rockin' and rollin'" were first heard together on record – and 1956, by which time "rock and roll" had become an international musical and social phenomenon.
Origins of Rock and Roll
More precisely, in musical and social terms, rock and roll was born in the USA during the late 1940s and early 1950s. During that time, processes of active cross-fertilisation took place between
country and western music(predominantly played and heard by white people), western swing, and rhythm and blues, which itself comprised a variety of genres (including, for example, jump blues, Chicago blues, and doo-wop) and was predominantly played and heard by black people. These processes of exchange and mixing were fuelled by shared experiences in the Second World War, and by the spread of radio, and records. Several records of this period have been most frequently cited by different authorities as "the first rock’n’roll record". These include :
Wynonie Harris' " Good Rockin' Tonight" (1947)http://www.hyzercreek.com/hoyhoy/dawn_of_rock.htm]
*"Rock The Joint" – either the original 1949 version by
Jimmy Preston, or the 1952 version by Bill Haley
Rocket 88" - again, either Jackie Brenston's original, recorded with Ike Turnerand the Kings of Rhythm, or Bill Haley's cover, both in 1951
*Bill Haley's "
Rock Around The Clock" (1954)
Elvis Presley's " That's All Right (Mama)" (1954)
However, there are many other candidates, and many of the threads which together made up rock and roll music can be traced back to much earlier precursor records. The book "What was the first rock'n'roll record" by Jim Dawson and Steve PropesJim Dawson and Steve Propes, What Was The First Rock'n'Roll Record, 1992, ISBN 0-571-12939-0] discusses 50 contenders, from
Illinois Jacquet's "Blues, Part 2" (1944) to Elvis Presley's " Heartbreak Hotel" (1956), without reaching a definitive conclusion.
"Rolling Stone"'s Decree versus The King
In 2004, debate was sparked between fans of Elvis Presley as well as many in the music business who claimed "
That's All Right Mama" was the first rock and roll song, and those who feel the proper claimant should be Bill Haley's " Rock Around the Clock" — both songs celebrating their 50th anniversaries in that year. " Rolling Stone Magazine" took the controversial step of unilaterally declaring Presley's song the first rock and roll recording.
Presley himself would not have agreed. In his book "Race, Rock and Elvis", Michael T. Bertrand quotes him on the subject:
Timeline of contenders as "The First Rock and Roll Record"
The timeline below sets out some records relevant to discussion of the "first rock’n’roll record". Some songs are cited as having important lyrical content, others are seen as offering important melodic, harmonic or rhythmic influence. These songs include not only hits from the early 1950s when the music emerged on the national and international scene, but also various other precursors to what would become known as Rock and Roll.
*The first use of the phrase "rocking and rolling" on record seems to have come on Little Wonder # 339, "The Camp Meeting Jubilee" by an unnamed male vocal quartet. [ [http://www.littlewonderrecords.com/ Little Wonder Records, Bubble Books, Emerson, Victor, Harper, Columbia, Waterson, Berlin and Snyder ] ] This includes the lyrics "We've been rockin' an' rolling in your arms / Rockin' and rolling in your arms / In the arms of Moses." However, the context is clearly religious rather than secular.
*"My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" by
Trixie Smith. Although it was played with a backbeatand was one of the first "around the clock" lyrics, this slow minor-key blueswas by no means rock and roll in the modern sense. On the other hand, the title underscores the original secular sexual meaning attached to the words "rock" and "roll" [ [http://www.redhotjazz.com/trixiesmith.html Trixie Smith ] ] .
*"Kansas City Blues" by Jim Jackson. This was a best selling blues, suggested as one of the first million-seller records [ [http://www.nps.gov/history/delta/blues/people/jim_jackson.htm Trail of the Hellhound: Jim Jackson ] ] Peter J. Silvester, A Left Hand Like God : a history of boogie-woogie piano" (1989), ISBN 0-306-80359-3.] . Its melody line was re-used and developed by
Charlie Patton("Going To Move To Alabama") and Hank Williams(" Move It On Over") before emerging in " Rock Around The Clock", and its lyrical content presaged Leiber and Stoller's "Kansas City". It contains the line "It takes a rocking chair to rock, a rubber ball to roll," which Bill Haley would later incorporate into his 1952 recording, "Sundown Boogie."
*"It's Tight Like That" by
Tampa Redwith pianist Georgia Tom ( Thomas A. Dorsey) was a highly successful early hokumrecord, which combined bawdy rural humour with sophisticated musical technique. With his Chicago Five, Tampa Red later went on to pioneer the Chicago small group "Bluebird" sound, while Dorsey became "the father of gospel music".
*"Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" by Clarence "Pinetop" Smith was one of the first hit "boogie woogie" recordings, and the first to include classic rock and roll references to "the girl with the red dress on" being told to "not move a peg" until she could "shake that thing" and "mess around". Smith's tune itself derives from
Jimmy Blythe's 1925 recording, "Jimmy's Blues".
Tiger Rag" by The Washboard Rhythm Kingswas a virtually out of control performance with screeching vocals, a strange tiger roar, and rocking washboard[ [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:wvfexqrgldse~T1 allmusic ((( Washboard Rhythm Kings > Biography ))) ] ] . This recording is standing in for many performances by spasm bands, jug bands, and skiffle groups that have the same wild, informal feel that early rock and roll had.
*"Skippy Whippy" and "Hittin' The Bottle Stomp" by The Mississippi Jook Band were highly rhythmic instrumental recordings by a guitar-piano-tambourine trio, which had they been recorded two decades later with full amplification would have unquestionably been seen as rock and roll [ [http://www.lib.usm.edu/~archives/blind.htm Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother ] ] .
*"Oh! Red" by
The Harlem Hamfatswas a hit record made by a small group of jazz and blues musicians assembled by J. Mayo Williamsfor the specific purpose of making commercially successful dance records. Viewed at the time (and subsequently by jazz fans) as a novelty group, the format became very influential, and the group's recordings included many with sex and drugs references [Sleevenotes to CD "Let's Get Drunk And Truck", Fabulous FABCD 253, 2003] .
*"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom", "
Crossroad Blues", and other recordings by Robert Johnson, while not particularly successful at the time, directly influenced the development of Chicago bluesand, when reissued in the 1960s, also strongly influenced later rock musicians.
Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman(written by Louis Prima) featured repeated drum breaks by Gene Krupa, whose musical nature and high showmanship presaged rock and roll drumming.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe(see also under 1942), recorded her first hit song, "This Train."
Ida Red" by Bob Willsand the Texas Playboys, a Western swingband, featuring electric guitar by Eldon Shamblin. The tune was recycled again some years later by Chuck Berryin " Maybellene" [ [http://www.famoustexans.com/bobwills.htm Bob Wills ] ] .
Roll 'Em Pete" by Pete Johnsonand Joe Turner, an up-tempo boogie woogie with a hand-clapping back beatand a masterful collation of bluesversesNick Tosches, Unsung Heroes Of Rock'n'Roll, 1991, ISBN 0-436-53203-4]
*"Rockin' Rollin' Mama" by
Buddy Jones, a 12-bar bluesplayed in Western swingstyle by a white country singer and his band, including Moon Mullicanon piano, featuring the following lines:
::Waves on the ocean, waves in the sea, ::But that gal of mine rolls just right for me::Rockin' rollin' mama, I love the way you rock and roll::You ease my troubled mind and pacify my weary soul" [ [http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_027b.html The Straight Dope: Who invented the term "rock 'n' roll"? ] ] .
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by The Andrews Sisterscontains numerous proto-rock and roll elements. This is the group's best-known example; however, they also recorded other proto-rock recordings such as "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar." [ [http://www.bigbands.org/andrewsbio.htm The Andrews Sisters Bio ] ] Notable is that both of these songs were written by the same man, namely, Don Raye.
Down the Road a Piece" by the Will BradleyOrchestra, a smooth rocking boogie number, was recorded in August of this year with drummer "Eight Beat Mack" Ray McKinleysharing the vocals with the song's writer, Don Raye. The song would go on to become a rock and roll standard, recorded by hundreds of rock artists, among them being Amos Milburn, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Foghat, and Bruce Springsteen. But the 1940 original by Will Bradley holds up as the first truly rocking version of the song, despite being recorded 15 years before rock and roll became popular.
*"New Early In The Morning" and "Jivin' The Blues" by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, both examples of the very influential and popular rhythmic small group Chicago blues recordings on
Lester Melrose's Bluebird label, and among the first on which drums (by Fred Williams) were prominently recorded [ [http://afgen.com/williamson.html Biography: John Lee Williamson ] ] .
*"Rock Me" by the
Lucky MillinderOrchestra featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpeon ecstatic vocals and electric guitar, a gospel song performed in the style of a city blues [ [http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1781 "Sister Rosetta" Tharpe (1915â€“1973) - Encyclopedia of Arkansas ] ] .
Flying Home" by Lionel Hamptonand his Orchestra, tenor sax solo by Illinois Jacquet, recreated and refined live by Arnett Cobb, a model for rock and roll solos ever since: emotional, honking, long, not just an instrumental break but the keystone of the song. The Benny Goodman Sextet had a popular hit in 1939 with a subdued "jazz chamber music" version of the same song featuring guitarist Charlie Christian. In 1944, Jacquet recorded an even more "honking" solo on "Blues, Part 2", billed as by " Jazz at the Philharmonic".
*"The Joint is Really Jumpin' at Carnegie Hall" performed by
Judy Garlandand Jose Iturbiin the film " Thousands Cheer" is notable not only for its boogie-woogie arrangement but for the lyric "when they start to rock" which uses the word "rock" in a purely musical sense (as opposed to its more common use at this time as a double entendrefor sex). But Garland was far from being the first to use the term "rocking" in a musical sense in a movie. She was beaten to it by 5 years, because in 1938, Gertrude Niesen sang the song "Rockin' The Town" in the movie, "Start Cheering", and The Boswell Sistersfive years before in "Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round" with "Rock and Roll" (although it should be noted the Boswell song is strictly about the rocking and rolling of ocean waves and has no musical or sexual reference.
*"Straighten Up and Fly Right" by the Nat King Cole Trio, very light on the rocking, but a popular hit with lyrics from an African American folk tale, sounding similar to
Bo Diddleybut without the big beat [ [http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/cole_natpianist.html NPR's Jazz Profiles: Nat "King" Cole ] ] .
*"I Wonder" by
Cecil Gant, an early black balladperformance that became widely popular, the first of the black tenors.
The Honeydripper" by Joe Liggins, which synthesized boogie-woogie piano, jazz, and even the riff from the folk chestnut "Shortnin' Bread" into an exciting dance performance that topped the R&B "race" charts for 18 weeks.
Louis Jordan's " Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" and " Let the Good Times Roll" (as well as 1945's " Caldonia") were hugely influential in style and content, and popular across both black and white audiences. Their producer Milt Gablerwent on to produce Bill Haley's hits, and Jordan's guitarist Carl Hogan, on such songs as "Ain't That Just Like A Woman" (also 1946), was a direct influence on Chuck Berry's guitar style.
*"House of Blue Lights" by
Freddie Slackand Ella Mae Morse, the first white artists to perform what is now seen as R&B.
Move It On Over" by Hank Williams, which used the same melody as Jim Jackson's 1927 "Kansas City Blues" and which was itself used in " Rock Around The Clock".
Oakie Boogie" by Jack Guthrie, a Western swing country boogie.
Good Rocking Tonight", in separate versions by Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris, both black artists. Brown's original version is a jump bluesthat parodies gospel music, and for the first time fuses the spiritual sense of "rocking" with the secular meanings of dancing and sex. Harris' version is much more up-beat and rhythmic, closer to rock and roll, and led to a craze for blues with "rocking" in the title. Later spiritedly covered by Elvis Presleyand less spiritedly by Pat Boone.
*"We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll" by
Wild Bill Moore, the first commercially successful "honking" sax record, with the title as a background chant.
*"I Can't Be Satisfied" by
Muddy Waters, recorded in 1947 and first released in 1948, which contains all the elements of what would soon become rock n' roll: a bass/snare/electric guitar combo playing blues with a heavy backbeat. The single was a big hit in the Chicago area. Recorded by local record company Aristocrat, it was one of the last singles on the label before it changed its name to Chess Records, which became one of the most important players in the early development of rock n' roll and electric blues music.
*"Chicken Shack Boogie" by
Amos Milburn, a piano-led boogie with references to out-of-hours drinking and cavorting, which became a huge hit.
*"Guitar Boogie" by
Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, originally recorded in 1945. The first boogie woogie played on the electric guitar, and much imitated by later guitarists.
*"Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by
Stick McGheeand his Buddies, an early "party" song later recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis.
*"Rock And Roll" by Wild Bill Moore, actually recorded the previous year. A rocking boogie where Moore repeats throughout the song "Were going to rock and roll, we're going to roll and rock" and ends the song with the line, "Look out mamma going to do the rock and roll." [http://www.hyzercreek.com/hoyhoy]
*A variation on the Bill Moore song was "Rock and Roll Blues" by Erline 'Rock and Roll' Harris, a female singer, with the lyrics "I'll turn out the lights, we'll rock and roll all night" [ [http://www.hoyhoy.com/artists/erline.htm Erline Harris ] ]
*"We're Gonna Rock this Joint Tonight", also known as "
Rock the Joint", first recorded by Jimmy Preston, is often considered a prototype rock and roll song. It was covered in 1951 by Jimmy Cavalloand in 1952 by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen; Marshall Lytle, bass player for the Comets, claims this was one of the songs that inspired Alan Freedto coin the phrase "rock and roll" to refer to the music he played.
Saturday Night Fish Fry" by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Fivewas a large and influential hit. The song tells of a New Orleans fish fry that ends with a police raid and has the repeated refrain "It was rocking".
* "The Fat Man" by
Fats Domino, featuring Fats on wah-wahmouth trumpet, the first of his 35 Top 40hits. The insistent back beatof the rhythm section dominates. The song is based on "Junker's Blues", by Willie "Drive'em Down" Hall.
*"Rock Awhile" by
Goree Carterrecorded on the Freedom label in Houston, Texas. Carter had Chuck Berry licks in this song before Berry appeared on the scene. [http://www.hyzercreek.com/hoyhoy/goree.htm] [ [http://www.TexasMusiciansMuseum.com/ Texas Musicians Museum ] ] Actually, the guitar licks in question originated years earlier, by T-Bone Walker.
Rag Mop" by Johnnie Lee Wills and Deacon Anderson is a novelty tune; the lyrics are simply the title spelled out. The song is best known from its 1950 hit recording by the Ames Brothers.
*"Rock Me to Sleep," written by
Benny Carterand Paul Vandervoort II and recorded by Helen Humesbacked by the Marshall Royal Orchestra.
*"Birmingham Bounce" by
Hardrock Gunter, one of the first references to "rockin'" on the dance floor.
Hot Rod Race" performed by Arkie Shibleyand His Mountain Dew Boys, highlighting the role of fast cars in teen culture.
Sixty Minute Man" by the Dominoes (recorded on December 30, 1950). This was the first (and most explicit) big R&Bhit to cross over to the pop charts, and the group itself (featuring Clyde McPhatter) appeared at many of Alan Freed's early shows.
How High The Moon" by Les Pauland Mary Ford(recorded on January 4, 1951), the first big hit record to use electronic "gimmicks" like overdubbing, and one of the first with an electric guitarsolo.
Rocket 88" (recorded on March 5, 1951) by Jackie Brenstonand his Delta Cats (actually Ike Turnerand the Kings of Rhythm), and covered later in the year by Bill Haley and the Saddlemen. Both versions of this song have been declared the definitive first rock and roll record by differing authorities. Brenston's was highly influential for its sound and lyrical content, and was a big hit, setting Sun Recordson the road to success. Haley's version was one of the first white covers of an R&B hit, and set the course of his future career..
Boogie Woogie Blues" Recorded in New York in mid-May 1951 by Charlie Graci. Later he would add an "e" to his name and, in 1957, his original version of Butterfly would sell more than two million copies.
*"Hound Dog" by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (recorded on August 13, 1952), a raucous R&B song recorded with
Johnny Otis' band (uncredited for contractual reasons), written by white teenagers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which became a big hit for Elvis Presley in 1956..
Rockin' An' Rollin'". Recorded by Charlie Gracie in New York in 1952.
Crazy Man, Crazy" by Bill Haley and his Comets (recorded in April 1953) was the first of his recordings to make the Billboard pop chart. Not a cover, but an original. Haley said he heard the phrase at high-school dances his band was playing.
Shake, Rattle and Roll" by Big Joe Turner(recorded on February 15, 1954), covered later by Bill Haley and his Comets. Turner's version topped the Billboard R&B chart in June 1954. Haley's version, which was substantially different in lyric and arrangement, was the first international hit rock and roll record, actually predating the success of "Rock Around the Clock" by several months though it was recorded later. Elvis Presley's later 1956 version combined Haley's arrangement with Turner's lyrics, but was not a substantial hit..
Sh-Boom" by the Chords (recorded on March 15, 1954), and The Crew-cuts. In this case, the latter "was" a pale imitation. The song is considered a pioneer of the doo-wopvariant..
Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets (recorded on April 12, 1954) was the first number one rock and roll record. This song is often credited with propelling rock into the mainstream, at least the teen mainstream. At first it had lack-luster sales but, following the success of two other Haley recordings, the aforementioned "Shake Rattle and Roll" and "Dim, Dim The Lights", was later included in the movie Blackboard Jungleabout a raucous high-school, which exposed it to a wider audience..
That's All Right (Mama)" by Elvis Presley (recorded in July 1954); this cover of Arthur Crudup's tune was Elvis' first single. Its b-side was a rocking version of Bill Monroe's bluegrass song "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", itself recognized by various rock singers as an influence on the music..
*"Bo Diddley" by
Bo Diddley(recorded on March 2, 1955)..
Maybellene" by Chuck Berry(recorded on May 21, 1955)..
*"Tutti Frutti" by
Little Richard(recorded on September 14, 1955)..
Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins(recorded 19 December 1955), including elements of rockabillyand country music. Later made more famous by Elvis Presley, Perkins' original version was an early rock 'n' roll standard..
Origins of rock and roll
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/fridayreview/story/0,12102,1192358,00.html Article] by "
The Guardian" newspaper on the topic
* http://www.hoyhoy.com/index.htm the definitive pre-rock web site
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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