G5E1 – Origins of Rock ‘n’ Roll – The Beginning

Includes: Jackie Brenston, Bill Haley, Elvis, Little Richard.

Welcome pop pickers to an ambitious series of articles covering 6 genres, each with 6 episodes. To give a bit of variation, the next episode of each genre will be published 6 weeks after the previous episode.

This is based on stuff like what I like, there will be various bands and artists to try and cheer you up and kick-start your weekend.  Hopefully for many of you, to bring back some fond memories and get your foot tapping.

This week is the origins of good old Rock ‘n’ Roll. This is the sort of music that makes you want to tap your feet, dance and singalong.

Thank you to Wiki, Britannica and Top of the Pops.

Courtesy Britannica

Rock ’n’ roll is a style of popular music that originated in the United States in the mid-1950s and that evolved by the mid-1960s into the more encompassing international style known as rock music, though the latter also continued to be known as rock and roll.

Rock and roll has been described as a merger of country music and rhythm and blues, but, if it were that simple, it would have existed long before it burst into the national consciousness. The seeds of the music had been in place for decades, but they flowered in the mid-1950s when nourished by a volatile mix of Black culture and white spending power. Black vocal groups such as the Dominoes and the Spaniels began combining gospel-style harmonies and call-and-response singing with earthy subject matter and more aggressive rhythm-and-blues rhythms. Heralding this new sound were disc jockeys such as Alan Freed of Cleveland, Ohio, Dewey Phillips of Memphis, Tennessee, and William (“Hoss”) Allen of WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee—who created rock-and-roll radio by playing hard-driving rhythm-and-blues and raunchy blues records that introduced white suburban teenagers to a culture that sounded more exotic, thrilling, and illicit than anything they had ever known. In 1954 that sound coalesced around an image: that of a handsome white singer, Elvis Presley, who sounded like a Black man.

Presley’s nondenominational taste in music incorporated everything from hillbilly rave-ups and blues wails to pop-crooner ballads. Yet his early recordings with producer Sam Phillips, guitarist Scotty Moore, and bassist Bill Black for in Memphis were less about any one style than about a feeling. For decades African Americans had used the term rock and roll as a euphemism for sex, and Presley’s music oozed sexuality. Presley was hardly the only artist who embodied this attitude, but he was clearly a catalyst in the merger of Black and white culture into something far bigger and more complex than both.

In Presley’s wake, the music of Black singers such as Fats DominoLittle RichardChuck Berry, and Bo Diddley, who might have been considered rhythm-and-blues artists only years before, fit alongside the rockabilly-flavoured tunes of white performers such as Buddy HollyEddie Cochran, and Jerry Lee Lewis, in part because they were all now addressing the same audience: teenagers. For young white America, this new music was a soundtrack for rebellion, however mild. When Bill Haley and His Comets kicked off the 1955 motion picture Blackboard Jungle with “Rock Around the Clock,” teens in movie houses throughout the United States stomped on their seats. Movie stars such as Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) oozed sullen, youthful defiance that was echoed by the music. This emerging rock-and-roll culture brought a wave of condemnations from religious leaders, government officials, and parents’ groups, who branded it the “devil’s music.”

The music industry’s response was to sanitize the product: it had clean-cut, nonthreatening artists such as Pat Boone record tame versions of Little Richard songs, and it manufactured a legion of pretty-boy crooners such as Frankie Avalon and Fabian who thrived on and who would essentially serve as the Perry Como’s and Bing Crosby’s for a new generation of listeners. By the end of the 1950s, Presley had been inducted into the army, Holly had died in a plane crash, and Little Richard had converted to gospel. Rock and roll’s golden era had ended, and the music entered a transitional phase characterized by a more sophisticated approach: the orchestrated wall of sound erected by Phil Spector, the “hit factory” singles churned out by Motown records, and the harmony-rich surf fantasies of the Beach Boys. By the mid-1960s this sophistication allowed the music greater freedom than ever before, and it fragmented into numerous styles that became known simply as rock.

The Tunes:

The featured song is by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats – Rocket 88, The most widely held belief is that the first rock’n’roll single was 1951’s Rocket 88, written by Ike Turner, sung by Jackie Brenston (the saxophone player from Turner’s backing band The Kings of Rhythm), and recorded by Sam Phillips, who later went on to found Sun records and discover Elvis Presley.

I suppose we had best do Bill Haley and Rock Around the Clock!  From 1955. Bill was 30 when he recorded this.  Quite old really!  This film and the songs put Rock ‘n’ Roll on the map in the USA and the UK, our first touch of violent youths slashing seats in the local flea pit cinema.

Bill followed this up with Bill Haley & The Comets – Shake Rattle & Roll (In colour, from 1956.  I was born in this year.

Another huge hit was of course Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around The Clock See You Later Alligator,  This a bit special, live in 1979, introduced by Noel Edmunds.  It’s a shortened version as you have to have Rock Around the Clock as well!

Now, about dancing.  This was how it was done in the 50’s:
Real 1950s Rock & Roll, Rockabilly dance from lindy hop!  Rock it Up.  If you wondered why grandma and grandad had bad hips, this is why.

Hot on the heels of Bill Hayley cam Elvis:

Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock   This is from 1956, so is now 65 years old, and as good as any produced today.

Another Elvis favourite of mine is Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” (October 28, 1956) on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The immortal Fat Domino with Jambalaya.  My grandma had this I and remember playing it a lot on the gramophone.

Another from 1956, and Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (1956) – A wop bama lou mam, a wop bam a lou.

Little Richard – Long Tall Sally, in colour! (1955).  What an absolute classic, covered by many, many artists.

I fish off this opening episode with Little Richard – Lucille Live from 1973.

Singalong, enjoy and be happy!

Links to Origins Series:

Genre 1 Episode 1 – Motown – The Beginning Genre 1 Episode 2 – Motown Genre 1 Episode 3 – Motown
Genre 1 Episode 4 – Motown Genre 1 Episode 5 – Motown Genre 1 Episode 6 – Motown
Genre 2 Episode 1 –

Glam Rock – The Beginning


Genre 2 Episode 2 –

Glam Rock

Genre 2 Episode 3 –

Glam Rock

Genre 2 Episode 4 –

Glam Rock

Genre 2 Episode 5 –

Glam Rock

Genre 2 Episode 6 –

Glam Rock

Genre 3 Episode 1 – The Singers


Genre 4 Episode 1 – Northern Soul and Disco – The Beginning


Genre 5 Rock ‘n’ Roll Episode 1 – The Beginning


Genre 6 Episode 1 –



Featured image: “rock ‘n’ roll greats” by badgreeb RECORDS – art -photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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