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Rock n' Roll kept Alive by Freed

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Alan Freed

Many people think of rock and roll as fast, up-tempo, heavy beat music, but the genre has a slow romantic side to it, as evidenced by some of the earliest pieces of rock and roll music. Moving away from the Internet, which is sometimes misleading, and instead relying on the authentic liner notes from original vinyl albums gives more accurate information about events and artistes. Examining liner notes from the original vinyl album, The Clovers - their greatest recordings, it was revealed that the group recorded the slow, rock and roll piece, Don't You Know I Love You, at the Apex Recording Studio in New York on February 22, 1951.

On record, it may very well be the first piece of authentic rock and roll ever executed by man, and for all intents and purposes, this was the pace at which the genre began. In 1952, Shirley and Lee, exhibiting a similar pace, rocked the world with an enduring slow rock and roll ballad called I'm Gone, among several others. An accompanying dance called 'The Yank' evoked an erotic exertion of the waistline, that swelled hospital lines with dislocated hips.

Throughout the early years of the genre (1951 to about 1955), before Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, several other rock and roll groups emerged that have demonstrated the genre in a manner that thrilled millions and have left audiences spellbound. Jamaicans, who were devout fans of American rhythm and blues and rock and roll, were immersed in the music being played from a jukebox or a radio (we had not yet created our own music) and it was not an unfamiliar occurrence to hear them humming or singing along to songs like, Little Anthony and the Imperial's slow rock and roll hit, Tears On My Pillow, which ran in part:

"You don't remember me, but I remember you

'twas not so long ago, you broke my heart in two.

Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you."

Other early rock and roll (some call it doo-wop) hits of the period included Oh What A Night by The Dells, Sincerely by The Moonglows, Earth Angel by The Penguins, later reworked by the group New Edition in 1986, Sixteen Candles by The Crests, Silhouettes by The Rays, later a number one hit for Dennis Brown, In The Still Of The Night by the Five Satins and Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino, a popular piece that had music fans singing along to the lyrics:

"I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, on Blueberry Hill where I found you.

The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill, it lingered until my dream came through."

The Platters were another of the vocal groups that positively impacted the early rock and roll scene. Uniquely assembled as a vocal quintet of four males and one female, they belonged to an even more exclusive fraternity of rock and roll singers, who carved out for themselves, a niche that was unmatched in the history of rock and roll balladry. The first black rock and roll group to put a number one single on the American charts, (The Great Pretender in 1955), they debuted with four consecutive million sellers on their first four outings, a music industry record statistic still to be challenged. Their other hits included Only You, The Magic Touch, My Prayer, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and others.

Although the evolvement of rock and roll music seems to be a spontaneous occurrence, there is no doubt that it had ingredients of rhythm and blues (R&B), and hardcore blues from the deep south of the United States. Its survival owes a lot to the hard, dedicated work of the Pennsylvania-born Caucasian, Alan Freed, whose major importance was as a supporter and champion of rhythm and blues. As a disc jock, he played a decisive role in broadening the audience for R&B to include white teenagers in the early 1950s, while in the later rock and roll years, he supported many black artistes by playing their records on his radio shows, securing for them appearances in films, and including them on his self-promoted stage shows.

His albums, Alan Freed's Top 15, and Alan Freed's Memory Lane, showcase 29 of his best promotions, spiced up by introductory comments at the start of each recording. In a sense, he was doing for young rock and roll American artistes, what Vere Johns did for young aspiring Jamaican singers in the 1950s. The promotion of Freed's stage shows not only unearthed many talents, but kept rock and roll alive, when many were predicting that it would die. Freed was also credited with giving the genre its name. One reliable source said that he coined the phrase, back in 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio, while working as a disc jock on radio stations. "Are you ready to rock and roll", he would urge his listeners.


Freed's shows eventually took him all over the USA, where his promotions included artistes like Elvis Presley, Joe Turner, The Harptones, The Clovers, The Drifters and Fats Domino. Most of Jamaica's early R&B recordings were fashioned off early American rock and roll or rhythm and blues songs. As the years wore on, artistes like Louis Jordan, Roscoe Gordon and Professor Longhair began to have a deeper influence on early Jamaican music.

From a slow-tempo beginning, rock and roll assumed a faster tempo overall towards the end of the decade. Other influences were at work: The urban American vocal and instrumental uptempo music called rhythm and blues, created by Louis Jordan, Roscoe Gordon, Joe Turner and others, was the main catalyst in the development of this type of rock and roll.

Characterised by heavy beat and simple melodies, it entered American music around the mid-1950s and immediately gained popularity. Of the many black and white artistes who joined the rock and roll explosion of the late 1950s, perhaps two of the better known were the Negro Chuck Berry, and the Caucasian Elvis Presley, both accompanied by their guitar.