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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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Crotchet

The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Original Recordings 1945-1954

NAXOS Nostalgia 8.120801

 

 

 

  1. Good Rockin’ Tonight – Wynone Harris
  2. Old Man River – The Ravens
  3. Caledonia – Louis Jordan & his Tympany Five
  4. It’s Too Soon to Know – The Orioles
  5. Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee – Stick McGhee & His Buddies
  6. The Fat Man – Fats Domino
  7. Rocket 88 - Hackie Brenston & His Delta Kings
  8. Sixty Minute Man – The Dominoes
  9. 5-10-15 - Ruth Brown
  10. One Mint Julep – The Clovers
  11. Hound Dog – Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton with Kansas City Bill & Orchestra
  12. Work With Me, Annie – The Midnighters
  13. Shake, Rattle & Roll – Joe Turner
  14. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets
  15. Sh-Boom – The Chords
  16. Sincerely – The Moonglows
  17. Hearts of Stone – The Charms
  18. That’s All Right (Mama) Elvis Presley, with Scotty & Bill
  19. I got A Woman – Ray Charles
  20. Good Rockin’ Tonight – Elvis Presley, with Scotty & Bill

If the blues and country music had a baby, and they named it rock 'n' roll, listening to these songs is a lot like having been in the delivery room. That does lead to the question: just what was the point where rock 'n' roll became something different? When was it no longer R&B, the blues, boogie-woogie, jump music, or country? Logic dictates that there must be a first rock song, but just what that song is has been a matter of debate among musicologists, critics, and fans for years. It is certainly true that rock 'n' roll didn't spring fully formed from a single source. Little Richard didn't invent it from whole cloth. Neither did Fats Domino or Elvis Presley, even if you want to claim that one of them actually was the man who sang the song in question. Rock and roll was the end result from a long process of musical evolution.

That said, there still has to be a first rock song, right? Therefore there are a large number of songs that have their supporters. Twenty of the most commonly defended as that magical first are collected on this CD. Additionally the liner notes do a decent job of highlighting the elements that make each a candidate for the first song in rock and roll. For instance, Wynonie Harris's "Good Rockin' Tonight" was later covered by Elvis, included a heavy backbeat and jump vocals, and led directly to Joe Turner's transition from blues singer to rock pioneer. "Ol' Man River" by the Ravens inspired a generation of early rock vocalists and provided the template for '60s groups such as the Temptations. Of course on the other end of the timeline, Elvis Presley was one of the first white artists to combine all of the elements, and his charisma may have been the element needed to transform the disparate parts into a unified musical onslaught that parents would hate and teenagers embrace the world over. Surely either his first local or national hit could be part of the consideration.

So as you progress through the CD you certainly can see the synthesis of R&B with gospel, country, and the blues as it happened. There is no claim here that a definitive answer to just which song is the most worthy can be provided. It simply attempts to assemble many of the most worthy candidates into a single location for reference. As a result, the disc is a really fun trip through the formation of rock music. Each song is worthy of consideration. Also, regardless of classification, each song is memorable and has that "thing" that makes it a good song, whatever that is. So even if you decide that one song or another is unworthy of the title of the definitive first rock song, any fan of early rock music is going to enjoy these tracks. After all, how many people are really all that concerned with whether Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" was R&B while Elvis's was rock? Most people that like Elvis's version are going to enjoy hers as well.

That's probably leads to the definitive statement about this disc. If you're a fan of early rock and roll, you're going to enjoy this disc. While there are probably other collections around with these songs on them, this is as good a collection as any. In many ways this collection may be better than most. The recordings themselves are clean, with little tape hiss and no other noticeable noise in the transfer. Most of the songs have even sound quality throughout, although you may notice some fidelity shifts occasionally. With older recordings that often cannot be avoided, and it truly shouldn't effect your enjoyment..
Since this is an attempt in some ways to give most people the raw ammunition to enter the argument about the progenitor of rock and roll, and not just explore its early development, there is no attempt to display anything recorded after The Blackboard Jungle was released. After all, no serious contender for the spot of "first" could be put forward after rock and roll had gone into the mainstream. So if you're looking for Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Big Bopper, or Little Richard, you're looking for a greatest hits album. That said, perhaps the most surprising thing is how familiar these songs are. This is especially true since they may or may not predate rock music. Even people in their 20s will be familiar with most of these tunes in one form or another. Surely that durability has to be a testament to these songs' quality. Perhaps that's what makes the discussion so fun. In order to make a good argument you have to listen to these great old songs over and over again.

In short, this is a disc of some of the most fun and influential music from the middle part of the 20th century. Without these songs, the Beatles might just have been a skiffle band in Liverpool, Bob Dylan a poet or folk artist, and Bono simply a politician. They were at the forefront of something that has given most of our lives a soundtrack. Without them we all might have been stuck with a choice between twangy guitars and disco. Thank God we all get to rock around the clock again tonight.

Patrick Gary

Don Mather has also listened to this disc

Like many other genres, Rock ‘n’ Roll is, or is it was, jazz based. It helped many fine jazz musicians to make a living, which could not be had, from pure jazz. The 12 bar blues format is the background for most of the compositions, many performed by black artists who understood the music before it was adopted by their white colleagues. Many of the bands had fine jazz players in their ranks and they often play some good blues performances here.

As a genre the continuous hard off beats make it hard for the music to swing, but for the young it was great music to dance to. Most musicians are touched by Rock ‘n’ Roll somewhere, even I had several months with a band called the Majestic Aces. It was not the most musical band I have worked with, but they were a great bunch of guys and if you have to travel a distance to your gigs, it was the sort of company that helps a lot. Several of the Majestic Aces went on to be top session men with Rock ‘n Roll bands. I went back to big bands although I must confess to wondering whether they had any future at all! Fortunately 45 years on Big Bands are still around.

The irrepressible Louis Jordan, who is heard on track 3, Caledonia was a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer although a lot of his gigs were on the jazz circuit. Even today many of the UK jazz festivals have an evening with King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys. There is some early Elvis Presley, when these tracks were recorded few could have guessed the impact this Memphis boy would have on the general public. Ray Charles always included both Rock and Jazz in his concerts, I wonder if he plays the alto solo on I Got a Woman?

This album certainly achieves its purpose and as the sleeve note says, a discussion as to which was the first Rock disc would go on forever. The sleeve also suggests that it is a question to which there is no definitive answer.

What I would like to know is who plays the tenor solo on Hearts of Stone?

Don Mather

 



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