Top Moments in Early Rock 'n' Roll
Whether you start the clock with Roy Brown's release of "Good Rockin' Tonight" in 1947
or with Elvis crossing the threshold of Sun Studio, rock 'n' roll is full of moments
that illustrate how vital and dynamic the art form can be. Herewith, a timeline of
some of the biggest:
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup records "That's All Right," 1946. It's a sin that Crudup's song --
which Elvis Presley later recorded -- hasn't been properly acknowledged for launching rock 'n'
roll. Arguably, it rocks harder than Presley's version. The rhythm section starts slowly
and then takes off intensely, especially during an instrumental break that is pure rock 'n'
roll. And Crudup's electric guitar drives the song as if there's no tomorrow as he
sings of his love troubles (he quotes his father in the lyrics "Women will be the
death of you"). The Mississippi-born Crudup released the song on RCA Records,
and it was not a hit at the time, but the visceral excitement of the tune
is unmistakable. (Elvis also recorded two other Crudup songs: "My Baby
Left Me" and "So Glad You're Mine.") STEVE MORSE
Roy Brown records "Good Rockin' Tonight," 1947.Few pioneers are as underappreciated as Roy
Brown, the New Orleans native who disappeared for long stretches because he was tired of
record-label exploitation. But his "Good Rockin' Tonight" is an all-time rock classic.
The words "Did you hear the news -- there's good rockin' tonight" caught rock's simple,
hedonistic theme as well as anything from his era did. The song was later recorded
by Elvis Presley (on his debut album) and by Jerry Lee Lewis and Ricky Nelson.
Rhode Island's Roomful of Blues backed Brown at a memorable show at Cambridge's
Jonathan Swift's club not long before Brown died in 1981 at age 56.S.M.
The Bo Diddley beat, 1955.Rock music is a series of brilliant guitar riffs -- Keith Richards's
snarling guitar in "Satisfaction," Kurt Cobain's stuttering chords in "Smells Like Teen Spirit,"
Ritchie Blackmore's ominous opening to "Smoke on the Water." But the first great one belonged to
Ellas Otha Bates McDaniel -- better known as Bo Diddley. So influential was his riff
in his 1955 song "Bo Diddley" -- a rockin' locomotive beat filled with swagger and sex --
that it was borrowed by Buddy Holly ("Not Fade Away"), the Who ("Magic Bus"), and Bruce
Springsteen ("She's the One"). Fun fact: During Diddley's first appearance on "The
Ed Sullivan Show," Sullivan told Diddley to perform "Sixteen Tons," a hit for
Tennessee Ernie Ford, instead of "Bo Diddley." Diddley agreed, but on the live
broadcast, Diddley, much to Sullivan's chagrin, launched into his signature song.
It was the last time Diddley appeared on the show. RENEE GRAHAM
Paul McCartney meets John Lennon, 1957. On a July afternoon in 1957, a 15-year-old
Liverpudlian named Paul McCartney turned up at the Woolton Parish church social to catch
a set by a local band called the Quarrymen, which featured another hometown musician,
17-year-old John Lennon. While a group of local teens milled about after the gig,
McCartney picked up Lennon's battered acoustic guitar, turned it upside down,
and played "Twenty Flight Rock" and "Be-Bop-A-Lula." Then he tuned it,
which so impressed John he immediately invited Paul to join the band.
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