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….