The decade of the 1950s dawned with Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train” at the top of Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100. It was soon followed by Gene Autry’s “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. The popular hits of that first year of the Rock n Roll decade were anything but Rock n Roll. Guy Lombardo, Patti Page, Perry Como, and The Andrews Sisters all graced the top of the charts. Country Western singers, Broadway and movie stars, TV Theme songs and Folk Music dominated the radio waves. The great folk singer Pete Seeger and his folk group, The Weavers landed atop the charts from the summertime right through the Fall with “Goodnight, Irene“. That was what America sounded like in 1950 and against that backdrop, the foundation for a new form of music was getting ready to explode upon the world.
January 1, 1950 – Sam Phillips opens his Memphis Recording Service.
Sam would record anything, anytime, anyplace. He was a DJ and an entrepreneur. He listened to and recorded all kinds of music around Memphis (even some weddings), and he had an eye for anything that would make him a buck.
We know who coined the phrase to describe this music. Allan Freed. And we’re pretty sure we know who recorded its first rumblings. Sam Phillips. But, just who invented this music that shook the world? Clearly, no one person or group invented Rock and Roll Music. It evolved over time. Here are some historically significant events that led to the emergence of Rock and Roll; the artists and personalities who lived in the culture and created the atmosphere surrounding the birth of a distinctly American art form. This is the stage onto which Rock and Roll burst.
The Nominees for the first Rock n Roll recording ever are:
Roy Brown recorded his song “Good Rockin’ Tonight”. Probably the first recorded “Rockin'” reference, but let’s be honest, he was swinging not rocking.
Jackie Brenston “Rocket 88” is credited to lots of folks. Ike Turner (Yes, that Ike Turner. Tina’s Ex.) had a major hand in this song, which he arranged. It was a take-off on a song called “Cadillac Boogie” earlier that year. There was also a similar sounding “Rocket 88 Boogie.” But, the 1951 Bill Haley recording probably was the most memorable.
Bill Haley and the Comets “Rock Around the Clock” is the first widely acclaimed Rock and Roll record. (Yes, it took a long seven years before the greater American public became aware of Rock ’n’ Roll.) His cover of the Sonny Dae and the Knights song benefited from its inclusion in the film “Blackboard Jungle”. From this point on Rock and Roll was here to stay.
Elvis Presley listened to these early recordings and added his own intensity to Arthur Crudup’s song “That’s Alright Mama”. The B side of that single was a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Elvis never considered himself the first Rock and Roller. He readily admitted to listening to and trying to copy the black singers he’d heard as he was growing up.
“Rock and Roll” as a term can be traced back to Gospel music. As early as 1916 “Rocking and Rolling in the Arms of Moses” appeared in a song. Over the years Rocking and Rolling crossed over into dancing, partying, loving, and hot and sweaty human behavior. It eventually became slang (code words) for making passionate love. Make no mistake, jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton wasn’t fat. He was a lady’s man, known for his “rollin'”. Probably the earliest recorded proof of the words “Rock n Roll” in a song were recorded in 1922 by blues singer Trixie Smith. “My Daddy Rocks Me” (with one steady roll) blatantly recounts around the clock lovemaking session.