Skip to main content

Rock and Roll Part 4




Beginnings of Rock and Roll (Part four)

As you may gather from parts 1 to 3, one can seesaw on the debate of the beginning of R&R. What I am attempting to demonstrate is that R&R was perhaps a spontaneous eruption of interest but not of a type of music. There are other artists and songs I could identify as forming the roots of R&R, but as I’ve discovered, much was borrowed from the past. Chuck Berry responded when asked about his music and his ‘original’ sound and I am paraphrasing here; he mentions many influences, that he used guitar riffs, lyrical hooks and performing tricks from other people.
“If you can, call it my music, but there's nothing new under the sun.” Even his quote was borrowed from the Bible.

By 1954 Rhythm and Blues music was on fire, and that little station in Memphis had increased its wattage to cover the entire mid-southern U.S.  R&B listeners could tune in to nearly 600 hundred stations, almost nationwide in the USA. So you see R&B/R&R was already just about everywhere. Another ‘brand’ or really just a 'label' for music was starting to catch on as well, here is one of the early songs on which there is no debate, for the Pop charts this was "Rock and Roll".

Based on the original "Rock Around the Clock" written by Max Freedman and James Myers, first recorded by Sonny Dae and His Knights March 1954. This version does not quite grab it nor was it a 'hit' song. Then the cover version, 
"(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and His Comets, recorded April 1954, note the date of release, May 10, 1954. Big difference from the original, Ok now we’re talkin’ R&R!

This is the only memorable version of over 130 covers, the song was #1 in Germany, the UK and US Pop charts and #3 on the R&B charts-but not until 1955! It was originally the ‘B’ side to a song no one remembers, “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)” and neither song charted on Billboard nor on any other chart I could find from 1954 (despite a claim in Wikipedia that it charted on Cashbox). It was featured in the truly great 1955 movie “Blackboard Jungle” (with an interracial cast which for the time was exceptional), the films release was in March. After which radio DJ's then began to play the song and of note after Haley's cover of (Big Joe Turner) "Shake Rattle and Roll" had made a brief appearance in the top 10 Pop charts in January of 1955. “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” started hitting Pop charts in May, reaching #1 in July, making it the very first in R&R. Had this song not been used in the movie it most likely would have become a footnote left to be discovered by music historians, instead it was to become a R&R anthem and sell over 25 million copies and it's still selling on digital formats like iTunes and requested on Spotify.
Blackboard Jungle 1955

So now for the first time with a R&R song at #1 on the popular music charts, 1955 was a big year for the genre and by then the push for the ‘white’ audience was full steam ahead. This is a topic I want to tackle looking more so from the 'business' aspect of R&R and a reality of the history of the music. At the forefront of that were the record executives but as an artist it was Pat Boone. From what I’ve read, I don’t believe he himself planned to sing covers of popular R&B songs as he, like Elvis was originally a ballad singer. Fact of the matter was they all sounded like ballads anyway, sorry Pat you have a lovely voice but not so much R&R. It took the general public a bit of time to fully catch on.

But before this in April of 1955 there was the release of "Ain't it a Shame".Written by Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino. I don’t think Fats ever used the word "it" from the title, anytime he sang it was always “Ain't That a Shame”. Subsequent covers of which there are over 40 mostly use “That” rather than ‘it’ in the title. I also read it originally had been a misprint on the record label, also that Pat Boone was involved in changing it for his version. Having said that many a song is similarly 'labeled' and the title words are not actually in the song itself. Here is the cover of "Ain't That a Shameby Pat Boone with Orchestra and Chorus, released in May 1955 just as “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” was climbing the charts.

Fats had a very big hit with this song going # 1 on the R&B charts in June, but it wasn’t as big as Pat Boone who went #1 on the Billboard Pop charts where Fats reached #10.  Why does this make Boone's version 'bigger'? They both after all hit #1. It comes down to sales, as the #1 on the various Pop charts (Billboard/Cashbox etc.) vastly outsold the #1 on the various R&B charts (mostly posted by the same groups as the Pop charts). While it’s true in this instance Pat Boone’s version initially sold more copies and topped the Pop charts, Fats version benefited also. From what I gather his record sales continued to rise after the Boone version came out and both he (Fats) and his co-writer (Dave Bartholomew) made much more money from the song than Pat did due to owning the composition rights. I've read that Fat's once said after inviting Pat on stage, "Pat Boone bought me this ring." while flashing a piano shaped diamond ring. And of course when we say play “Ain't That a Shame” few remember the Pat Boone version, not to mention which version we buy and now as history has proven the original to also be the best seller in the end.

While most Billboard and Cashbox Pop charts represented the biggest selling and hence most 'popular' songs, by 1955 the R&B charts were already full of what we now view as true Rock and Roll classic songs. A good example is Little Richard's  "Tutti Frutti" which was released in October of 1955 just as the things were really heating up, consequently it does not appear in the top ten charts. His dynamic style would put him at the top of the R&B charts many times in 1956. 

So with this focus (for me) on the pivotal year of 1955 when R&B and Popular music was very much starting to merge into "Rock and Roll", I have examined the several R&B year end charts. While as I have pointed out in the prior posts there are plenty of R&B examples before 1955, this for many reasons is the critical year. As I have not found a credible 'amalgamated' year end list (since there were five different ones) referencing The Hits of All Decades' website, I based mine on a simple weighted scoring system and have come up with a representative Top 10 R&B songs for 1955.

1. "Ain't it a Shame", Fats Domino
2. "Pledging My Love", Johnny Ace
3. "Earth Angel", The Penguins
4. "Only You", The Platters
5. "I've Got a Woman", Ray Charles
6. "Maybellene", Chuck Berry
7. "The Wallflower", Etta James
8. "My Babe", Little Walter
9. "Sincerely" The Moonglows
10. "Unchained Melody", Roy Hamilton

As you read the above list, compare it to the popular music one below as it similarly had several charts with a few from Billboard, Cashbox and others totaling at least 7 different ones. I used this one (Billboard Retail Sales Chart) as I believe it the most common and recognizable reference. 

Here are the top 10

1.  "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" PĂ©rez Prado
2. "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" Bill Haley and His Comets
3. "The Yellow Rose of Texas" Mitch Miller
4. "Autumn Leaves" Roger Williams
5. "Unchained Melody" Les Baxter
6. "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" Bill Hayes
7. "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" The Four Aces
8. "Sincerely" The McGuire Sisters.
9.  "Ain't That a Shame" Pat Boone
10. "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" Georgia Gibbs

You will note the original recordings on the R&B charts and the (white singers) cover versions for songs #5, #8, 9 and 10. With that exception a very different looking list.

Three of the songs that hit the top 10 on the R&B charts ended near the top on the Billboard top singles in 1955;

"Only You (And You Alone)" by The Platters, written by Buck Ram, yep real name Samuel Buck Ram, also their Manager. This was the original tune as noted above at #4 on the R&B charts, it finished #29 on the Billboard Retail Sales chart.

"Earth Angel" by The Crew-Cuts in 1955 peaked at #3 and ended the year at #43 on the Retail Sales Chart. As you will note from the R&B list the original version is "Earth Angel" by The Penguins, written by Jesse Belvin, Gaynel Hodge and Curtis Williams. It reached #1 on several weekly R&B charts as noted landing at #3 for the year end, and it did peak at #10 on the weekly Pop charts ending the year at #47 four spots behind The Crew-Cuts cover version.

"Sincerely" The McGuire Sisters. Written by Harvey Fuqua and Alan Freed, originally recorded in 1954 by The Moonglows, it did hit #1 on the R&B charts that year. The McGuire version hit #1 on the Pop charts and was the better seller at  over one million copies.

So you are probably thinking what is the point here? What difference does all this chart business really mean? It means

...if you want to understand the roots of R&R and the truth of the beginnings of the genre then you need to look at the R&B charts, not the Pop charts because in 1955 with the exception of  “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” Rock and Roll music is not there.

Of some interest the above mentioned "Ain't That a Shame", "Unchained Melody" and "Only You" as well as many other songs that year were recorded by two and three or more different artists, some made the weekly charts and some did not. There are many songs that have been recorded by over a dozen different artists all in the same calendar year. Cover songs were virtually everywhere, particularly during the 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s. Although they typically don't 'chart' as much anymore, covers don't seem to be going anywhere soon.

In summing up this series on the beginnings of R&R, we know it is strongly rooted in R&B. I mentioned that racism did play a part. The thing about music and in my estimation R&R in particular is about as multiracial as you can get, people from many different backgrounds have all contributed and continue to do so. The unfortunate reality is, it was for a long time easier for some 'whites' than it was for most people of colour to make a decent living playing music and again not just R&R. With so much historical evidence both empirical and anecdotal available and studying today's industry it seems unfairness still appears to be a systemic issue in the music business. 

Let's just say that..."Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay" by Danny and The Juniors, released in January of 1958 covered 12 times.

Here ends my journey on the beginnings of R&R, as I risk referencing another couple dozen songs and artists and going up to a 'Part 10'.  I've mentioned many an influencer and key figure in previous blogs as you may have noticed.

A big thank-you to Barry Kowal, the man behind 'The Hits of All Decades' website.

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of anyone's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB or other social media. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

One Hit Wonders (not!)

One Hit Wonders (not!)

Yesterday (Sept. 26) was the 50th Anniversary of Abbey Road, the Beatles last recording session together and the second last album before Let it Be was issued May 8, 1970. And also Happy belated One Hit Wonder Day! (Sept. 25th) so I thought it would make a good blog topic.


The simplest definition I found is from music journalist Wayne Jancik "an act that has won a position on a national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once." This from the 'The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders' (1998). So we aren't talking one #1 hit. It's not a term I like as it implies (and some truth to that) these artists have had just a brief moment in the spotlight, perhaps undeservedly so and then fallen off the music map. I know other and deeper definitions are a bit more broad and go beyond the absolute single hit idea. They also consider many artists that have still maintained a quality career and just not reproduced another 'top 40 hit' song and or ma…

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country


What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I'm not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre.

It's murky waters that I'm swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music "establishment" has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases "shunned" for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same 'establishment'. So there is some hypocrisy at play in my op…

Sweet Soul Music

Sweet Soul Music

Arthur Conley co-wrote this song with Otis Redding and it's a tribute to some of the early greats of Soul Music. The song's melody (and words for that matter) borrowed heavily from the Sam Cooke song "Yeah Man" and a subsequent lawsuit brought by A.W. Alexander who managed Cooke's songs after his untimely death added his name to the song credits. The resulting song however was a huge hit for Conley and it reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B Chart in 1967 and #7 in the UK where Soul Music was gaining popularity particularly amongst a subset of British youth. The lyrics reference the co-writer Otis Redding, James Brown and songs by The Miracles, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, some of the key figures in early Soul Music. "Sweet Soul Music" covered 30 times, The Jam (1977).

Soul music is a fusion of R&B, Gospel and Jazz. Known generally for it's more upbeat tempo it's fun to listen to and great for …

Rock artists sing the Blues

Rock artists sing the Blues

I have talked about this frequently throughout my posts but more particularly in the series on the Delta Blues and the History of R&R parts 1-4. Truth be told, most of the greatests 'Rock' artists owe much of their inspiration to the Blues. Rock bands and solo artists have cut many sides early and throughout their careers of blues songs. Thanks to artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who were obviously very well known and successful, their covers of some of the great blues songs served as a conduit and exposed them to artists and listeners alike. Here are some 'Blues' that inspired Rock artists, a few of these songs are more well known than others.


Confessin' the Blues by The Rolling Stones was recorded  June 11, 1964 and released on a 7" record of five songs on August 14. Written by Walter Brown (vocals) and Jay McShann (piano and bandleader) originally released in June of 1941. Covered about 35 times including Chuck Berr…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus "to infinity and beyond!" I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the final cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.




76. "Flip Flop and Fly" is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic "Shake Rattle and Roll" written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1955). The first time I heard this was at a club in my hometown I'll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band, later known as just 'Downchild'. Still the best cover for me although I've heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standa…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

There has been a very positive response to the first two 'Greatest' posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition in the near future and that will be out of my system. But what if I do lists by genre, just thinking out loud, sorry but I will keep blogging on various topics as long as people continue to click.

51. "I Put a Spell on You" written and originally recorded by Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can't get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it's ear to give it an entirely different sound.


52. "Strange Fruit" was a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holiday from 1939. A song written as a poem by another b…

Music Myths and other Silly Things

Music Myths and other Silly Things
Who doesn't like a good story? There are many great ones and some not so much about music. I try and put a little story into my blogs and during the course of my research I have run across some that are quite curious. Some of these myths about songs and artists have innocent enough beginnings and have been perpetuated or at least not denied by the artists themselves, others come from malcontents and the misinformed.



Here is one that falls in the category of a silly thing; Bob Dylan and the 'Stealers Wheel' song "Stuck in the Middle with You", released in April, 1973.

1. Bob Dylan did not write this nor did he sing this song, nor is this song about Bob Dylan.

2. If you do a search for 'Dylan and Stuck in the Middle" you will get results like the following:
Home » Artists » Bob Dylan » Stuck In The Middle With YouBob Dylan - "Stuck In The Middle With You" lyricsBob Dylan: CD's Sheet Music Tablature, Stuck in …

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #1-25

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs

Nothing quite grabs the attention more than a list of the greatest this or that, so at 85 posts about cover songs I thought it about time to get to it. As I advised with my other 'Greatest' posts we all have our favorites so anytime there is a list, something or someone 'great' gets left off. And the debate ensues, why is this and that at #11 not #4 and vise versa. My list therefore, shall be no different for it is not scientific but subjective and it is biased by my own tastes and exposure to music. Having said that it's hard for me to have missed many of the truly great cover songs of all time, indeed I think I've talked about quite a few:


"Respect" from the writer and original recording Otis Redding and a cover she made her own, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. More about the song and Aretha in these posts. Before I get to some cover's I've not mentioned, here are more songs from my previous issues that are …

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt

Just recently I watched "Linda Ronstadt, The Sound of My Voice" on CNN and I don't mind saying I was moved to tears more than once. Narrated by Linda herself and including rare footage and photo's in addition to some great interviews, it paints a wonderful picture of a remarkable career. If you get the chance you really should watch it, but for now a mini bio and then to some of her music from that amazing voice.

Linda was born on July 15, 1946 and grew up on a ranch in Tucson Arizona in a prosperous family. Music was a very important part of daily life so her exposure and interest came very naturally. She began her career in the mid sixties joining the growing country/folk rock scene. Ronstadt met Bobby Kimmel at the University of Arizona and later met Kenny Edwards and they formed the band the 'Stone Poneys'. She would release some solo material starting in 1969 and then tour with Jackson Brown, Neil Young and the Doors. She began having hug…

Radiohead

Radiohead



When talking about the band I have to confess I'm out of my depth so I will tread lightly. We should however get right to their beginnings and major influence, that being the 'Talking Heads' and their namesake song "Radio Head". The band had been called 'On a Friday' but their record label requested they change it before signing a contract (with EMI records) in 1991.
Radiohead are one of the most successful and influential Rock bands since their debut album "Pablo Honey' (Jerky Boys) in February of 1993. All their songs are credited to the entire band Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway and Thom Yorke. And there's the 'sixth member' producer Nigel Godrich who's done all their albums since 1994. Their song "Creep" charted top 40 across the world and it's depressing tone eventually wore the band down to the point they stopped playing it live for a long period of time. The songs melo…