I recently came across a YouTube video titled Old Time Rock’n’Roll – Legends in Concert.
I pressed play expecting some Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, maybe even Fats Domino.
But what I got was a melee of early 60s pop singers mixed in with some Motown and a bit of Brill building r’n’b.
Obviously, I left a comment. I thought you might be entertained by the consequences of my folly.
Me: Don’t want to spoil the party, but with the possible exception of The Crickets, no-one here counts as rock’n’roll. Mostly they are pop or r’n’b acts from the early 60s. Rock’n’roll was Little Richard, Bill Haley, earliest Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Del Shannon, Bobby Vee, Troy Shondell, Billy J. Kramer, Brian Hyland were all post-1960 pure pop. Martha Reeves and The Contours were on Motown; Spencer Davis was British r’n’b; The Dovells were a 60s doo-wop throwback; Joey Dee (not Vee) is on the Twist bandwagon here. So, where’s the rock’n’roll? Rock’n’roll was over by 1959.
Jon Emery: If you think that Del Shannon isn’t Rock n Roll, all I can say is you don’t know jack shit about Rock n Roll……
Charles C: Clearly, you didn’t grow up during rock’s early years. Here’s a FACT for you, my pompous, sanctimonious, ignorant friend: In the dawn and early years of rock and roll, the term “rock and roll” embraced a wide umbrella of all types of music, including what we now categorize as rhythm & blues, folk, country, blue grass, soul, and even country.
So, the next time you tout an ignorant “opinion” as “fact,” I suggest you do your homework.
Me: I was born at the beginning of January, 1949, Charles. Don’t know whether that qualifies me as ‘growing up during rock’s early years’ for you? But also, you make the mistake of confusing rock with rock ‘n’ roll.
Rock ‘n’ roll was over by the time Elvis came out of the army. Rock started when Bob Dylan plugged in.
Soul music is a 60s category for an offshoot of r’n’b, and there was definitely no bluegrass in rock’n’roll. Those early country artists were horrified by rock’n’roll, given that it came out of ‘race’ music. If you want more, I’ll give you more.
Jon Emery: Believe that if you want to, but you can’t make me believe it. I guess CCR didn’t rock either, right? Del Shannon was the first to write Rock n Roll songs in a minor key. I happen to be a big fan of all those other artists that you named, but, in my opinion, Rock n Roll didn’t stop there……
Me: Rock music is very different from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Rock ‘n’ Roll derived from some very specific riffs and beats that developed in the late 40s. The first Rock ‘n’ Roll record is often cited as Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston (actually Ike Turner). If you listen to collections like The Black & White Roots of Rock & Roll, you’ll see that even Rocket 88 wasn’t the first. But by the time Elvis came out of the army, Rock ‘n’ Roll was over. From then on it was mainly pop or r’n’b, some of it – for sure – with a decent back beat.
Rock music, on the other hand, started the day Bob Dylan plugged in and turned up to 11. That’s when things started to get loud. Just because you don’t agree with what I’m saying doesn’t mean you can rewrite history. Go and listen to some Big Joe Turner, or Ella Mae Morse or Big Mama Thornton, or That’s Alright Mama by Elvis and tell me what they have to do stylistically with Del Shannon or any of the other artists in this video.
Charles C: You state that rock ‘n’ roll was over by the time Elvis came out of the army and that rock started when Bob Dylan plugged in. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to call you out: You’ve made dogmatic statements without supporting them with an iota of evidence, reference, or verification. My friend, you may be selling, but I’m not buying. At least, not until you back up your statements with documentation.
Me: First of all, Charles, I’m not ‘selling’ anything that I need you to ‘buy’. But – here goes for a little context.
Rock’n’roll was that wild and exciting music as practised by, among others, Little Richard, Wynonie Harris, Jackie Brenston, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and, of course, Elvis in his Sun days and his early RCA recordings. This was music rooted in r’n’b, although the white boys brought some country (western swing) to the mix. If you listen to House Of Blue Lights by Ella Mae Morse (there are dozens of other examples) you can hear the roots of rock’n’roll going back to the 40s. But this is still r’n’b, and a little bit more polite.
What Little Richard and Chuck Berry did was take that template, rough it up, add a back beat so the rhythm drove really hard. Jerry Lee’s Whole Lotta Shakin’ is a perfect example. The two things that did for rock ‘n’ roll as a commercial enterprise were Elvis going into the army and the payola scandal.
By the time Elvis came out of the army, the record industry had wrested control of the music back and started feeding white bread pretty boys like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vinton and Pat Boone to the public. Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper were dead, Jerry Lee was in disgrace for marrying his 13-year-old cousin and Elvis found it easier to hit the number one spot with songs like It’s Now Or Never and Are You Lonesome Tonight rather than A Mess Of Blues.
From there on, Tin Pan Alley dominated (with some admittedly pretty great pop music, but also a lot of dross) until The Beatles came along (in the UK at least) at the end of 1962. The quality and excitement levels went up, but this was still pop music.
And then Bob Dylan plugged in and turned it up LOUD and began to play what we can now recognise as rock music. He influenced The Beatles, they influenced him. By 1968, The Stones had gone back to their roots, The Beatles were recording influential and loud rock music like Helter Skelter, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide and I Want You. Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton threw off their blues roots and we were off on the big rock adventure.
I didn’t set out to write a history of the music industry, Charles! I only came on this thread to say that none of the people in the video above – bar, briefly, The Crickets, and only with Buddy Holly – qualify as rock’n’roll. They are all from the pop era that immediately followed the payola scandal and Elvis’s transition to crooner.
Jon Emery: You think you’re the only rock historian? I know about the history of rock music because I’m a musician who has been playing this music for over 50 years. So tell me that I’m rewriting Rock n Roll if you want to, but I know about Rock History because I’ve been a part of it.
Me: Why don’t you Google me?
Jon Emery (several hours later): Well, I’m impressed with your track record—Looks like we’ve both been around the block—I take back the ‘You don’t know Shit” statement with my apology.
Charles C: I wish to thank you for your most informative information. It was not only enlightening, but interesting and nostalgic as well. Indeed, reviewing and researching your information took me on a pleasant stroll down memory lane. I shall, of course move forward, continuing to enjoy rock, pop, & rock ‘n roll music, but now with a broader and deeper understanding of its history. Take care, my friend. Cheers. And, thanks again.
And we all lived happily ever after…..and no reason not to watch this great line-up of pop legends in concert. Just don’t tell me it’s rock’n’roll.
And now we can get into the really geeky arguments with all the people who actually know something. Bring it on Geoff; bang a gong John; rant and rave, Dave. Let’s Have A Party….
It’s quite easy to be pompous, sanctimonious and ignorant, and to know jack shit about a subject, all you have to do is have an opinion that’s different from someone else’s, and voice it. Still, seems like a pedantic pigeon-holing exercise to me.
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Well, I’ll take ‘pedant’ over ‘ignorant’ any day, Michael! As a journalist, writing for the record industry, we were expected to get these things right, and I guess it stuck. Really, it’s all pop music, but these days you’re expected to know the difference between Grime and Hip Hop. It’s all got a bit ridiculous.
Even I know that early country musicians didn’t like rock’n’roll because of it’s “race music” origins and I’m only 20…I once read an actually very detailed children’s book on Elvis (in the Dead Famous series)
A children’s book on Elvis – wow! That seems extremely rad. I am now going to look up the Dead Famous series.
LOL! I looked it up and apparently they’re reprinted under the name Horribly Famous 🙂
I found them on Amazon in their original format – all for a few pence, so I guessed they were out of print. Will now go back and start buying them for the youngsters in my family.
I blame Paul McCartney. Well, not really. But in the last 20 years or so, he has consistently come up with the line, in interviews, “The Beatles was a great little rock ‘n’ roll band’.” And I invariably shout at the TV, the DVD player or the music magazine he’s saying this on/in, “No, it wasn’t! The Beatles was a pop group!!” If it had been in any way a rock ‘n’ roll band I would have run a mile. Instead I adored The Beatles. I was ten when the group had its first UK No.1 and seventeen when The Beatles officially split. During those years, ’63 – ’70, I hardly ever (if ever) heard any of the pop stars of the day even mention ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, The Searchers, were all Pop Groups making increasingly fantastic pop music. Rock ‘n’ Roll, if ever discussed at all, was “so yesterday, man.” Our pop group heroes appeared regularly on Top Of The Pops, not Top of The Rock ‘n’ Rollers. For us kids buying the latest pop hits at Javelin Records in Bury in the ’60s, the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ section was usually somewhere at the back of all the L.P. boxes with a sad little cardboard tag, full of crappy looking L.P. sleeves garishly announcing Gene Vincent!, Bill Haley & The Comets!, Jerry Lee Lewis!, all steadfastly ignored and treated with disdain by us trendy punters as we proudly took our brand spanking new copies of You Really Got Me and Hard Day’s Night to the counter. Even when The Beatles recorded covers of Long Tall Sally, Kansas City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, they were pop interpretations, Paul screamed a bit like Little Richard (although in 1964 I had never heard of Little Richard) but somehow it was much less frenetic, so much more pop and modern, and beautifully produced by George Martin to give it that ’60s sheen. When Jerry Lee Lewis appeared on Ready, Steady Go! in 1964, throwing himself all over his piano and screeching and writhing rather pathetically, I remember thinking “Who IS that old bloke who looks like my Dad’s boss after a few drinks?” It was only by the early ’70s that we were faced with new-style ‘rock ‘n’ rollers’ in the shape of Showaddywaddy, Alvin Shane Stardust and he who cannot be named any longer, that plump bloke with the tin foil suits, y’know, whisper it, gary glitter. The new rock’n’rollers were existing, teetering, on the periphery of Glam Rock, an odd, often unpleasant mix of ’50s r’n’r and futuristic pop, exemplified most brilliantly by Roy Wood and the fabulous Wizzard’s glorious send-up of that time none of us could recall, while dressed in Glitter Drag For Modern People. Bolan pretended he was a wee bit rock ‘n’ roll by covering Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, but it sadly sounded like a hippy’s idea of what rock’n’ roll had been about. T.Rex were so much greater when they blasted our speakers with the Right Now Pop of 20th Century Boy. The always savvy Bowie warned them all in Hunky Dory’s ‘Changes’, “Oooh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers!”, a clarion call for the future if ever we heard one. And on the subject of the reputedly biggest rock ‘n’ roll star of them all, Elvis, his breakthrough hit Heartbreak Hotel wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll at all. It was so much more and so much better than that. It was the equivalent sonically and production-wise of David Essex’s Rock On, which, by the way is now a truly undervalued piece of pop genius. In fact, let’s be honest, even Elvis really wasn’t rock’n’roll, he dabbled for a couple of years with a few singles in that genre, but he was in fact simply a really cool singer making really cool records, at least until 1963 when a certain pop group came along and replaced him and he spent the next few years making dire movies. Rock ‘n’ Roll, like Beatlemania, was really a genre dreamt up by journalists who needed a tag to hang their headlines on, as relevant as calling Ella Fitzgerald Jazz, as accurate as calling Burt Bacharach Easy Listening.
Can’t let the ‘country musicians didn’t like rock because of the racial origins’ platitude go. Country musicians didn’t like rock’n’roll because it was eating into their markets and making them has-beens. Countless country artists acknowledged their musical debt to black players at the time, not least Hank Williams. And the establishment of ASCAP and BMI etc around WWII meant that illiterate black country musicians who couldn’t write (literally) their own stuff lost out to white ones who could, and didn’t rely on old covers whose ownership was claimed by different publishers.
Some of what you say is correct, Justin. But the fact remains that ‘race’ music was not allowed on radio stations for white folks, which was why Sam Phillips was so keen to find a white guy who could deliver the black sound. And, whether a few country stars here and there (not ‘countless’ by any stretch) acknowledged a debt, there was an awful lot of racism in country music. While it’s obvious why there are not more black country artists (they have more than enough of their own cultural heritage) you would have thought Charley Pride would be welcomed with open arms. But that’s not what happened. There were song publishers who tried to stop him covering their copyrights. Among his early champions were the usual outlaw suspects, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. To his eternal credit, Mel Tillis went against his own publishers’ wishes and encouraged Charley to record The Snakes Crawl At Night. Still, even his own agent blocked photos of Charley going out to radio stations at the beginning of his singing career. Even today, it is notable when a black man sings the whites (to coin a phrase). So, gently and politely, I reject your ‘platitude’ critique.
‘Race music wasn’t allowed on ‘white’ radio stations’ is not the same thing as ‘Country musicians didn’t like rock’n’roll because of its race music origins’. Is it?
Not the same thing, just two separate and accurate statements. Did you see what happened to Elvis when he went on the Grand Ole Opry?
‘Race music wasn’t allowed on white radio stations’ is a verifiable statement of fact. ‘Country musicians didn’t like rock’n’roll because of its race music origins’ is an unprovable generalisation and a slur on country musicians of the time who supported Afro-American musicians as far as contemporary racial laws and customs permitted. As for the GOO, before WWII DeFord Bailey was a major black star of the Opry whose membership was terminated (according to him) because he wasn’t allowed to perform half his repertoire of covers – this may be untrue, but to say ‘Country musicians didn’t like … race music’ is a platitude if ever there was one.
Well, first of all, it wasn’t me who said that country musicians didn’t like rock’n’roll – it was left as a comment. And yet, “To some country fans, Elvis was a genius. To others, particularly traditionalists and conservatives, he was a pervert, and this split, with its blurring of cultural prejudices and musical tastes is probably as emblematic as anything of the complicated attitudes toward the issue of race that run through the history of country music.” Read more, here, if you want, and then go argue with that writer.